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High Crimes and Restaurant Demeanors


Easter Sunday we blamed it on the candy.

We knew that, contrary to what medical experts claim, only the special sugar found in jelly beans and chocolate bunnies could have turned our normally restaurant-ready kids into the pair of unrecognizable frolicking fiends sitting next to the Big Guy and me. Twelve-year-old Thing1, normally my gentle giant, should have known better, for example, than to instigate a game of table hockey with wadded up straw wrappers for pucks and burgeoning glasses of OJ for goals. Six-year-old Thing2 definitely knew better than to lap his milk like a dog. But chalking the antics up to the candy, the Big Guy and I doled out the discipline and, once back at home, buried the incident in our subconsciouses with the rest of the childrearing-related traumas we’ve accumulated over the past twelve and a half years.

But the medical experts turned out to be right about the sugar. Another saturday and another breakfast at Bob’s (our favorite) rolled around, and we were joined once again by our children instead of the two imps who had overtaken Easter Sunday Brunch. Things seemed back to normal, so we decided to tempt fate again on Sunday. Sadly, fate took the bait.

Unlike the previous Sunday, Thing1 and Thing2 hadn’t been freebasing candy since dawn, but, for some reason, they could barely contain their giggles as we walked in the door, and we knew we might be in trouble. I haven’t had to carry one of my kids out of a restaurant or store in years, but, even though my instinct suggested we should do that right now, we thought a quick ‘ENUFF!’ would put the kibosh on any drink-spilling festivities. I should have listened to my instinct.

By the time the drinks came, they had lost every privilege we could think of. They had been sentenced to firewood stacking by the time the order was put in. The food came just as I was wondering if the Big Guy was still capable of carrying Thing1 (who’s taller than I am) back to the car. The imps fell quiet as they feasted, but not even the long list of chores they had racked up could keep the silliness from jumpstarting again as soon as they got back in the car.

I’ve come to expect a day of defiance from one or both kids here and there. Two almost consecutive episodes of abysmal restaurant demeanors, however, were beginning to shake my confidence that, after twelve and a half years of long nights and time outs and minding their manners, I had any idea of what I was doing.

As we drove home, we tried to determine the cause of the craziness and, more importantly, the corrective. By the time the Big Guy had reached the top of the driveway, we had decided that wood stacking would be followed by a full-scale room cleaning would be their penance. Despite the threat of more dire consequences – an evening of Jane Austen movies – if the jobs were not completed in short order, however, the giggles from the back seat and then the hazard zone at the near end of the hallway continued.

In the end they got their chores done (there’s nothing like the threat of hours of costume dramas and star-crossed romances to wrest order from two chaotic boys). As I listened to them giggle and clean, however, I heard two brothers who, in spite of their ability to argue over the color of the sky on a clear day, can ultimately pull together when the chips are down.

When the Big Guy and I finally peered into the bunk room, my confidence was on firmer ground. The floor was clear, the beds were made, the point had been made and we were clearly getting the hang of this parenting thing. To the back of my mind, like so much dirty laundry to be hidden until next years’ spring cleaning, I shoved the admission that this round had almost been a draw and not a victory.

But it was a victory, and I’ll add it to the little collection of trophies we’re accumulating as we shepherd our boys through their childhoods. They’re the reminders that we do have some successes – even a few important ones. The reality, though, is that I’m not sure we’ll ever completely master this game. If we do, my guess is that it we’ll hit our stride about two days after Thing2 moves out of the house.