Tonight we took our Au Pair Hany out for a birthday celebration dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory. Her birthday was actually a few weeks ago but it coincided with the flu outbreak that hit the twins and Renee for a week so we weren’t able to celebrate it at that time.
I think that going out to dinner is always a challenge for parents of young children – that is why “Kid-friendly restaurants” is such a popular search term on Google. Even the best-behaved and polite kids sometimes act a little different in restaurants than most socially-trained adults, so I know its often stressful for parents when they try to take their kids out for a meal in a restaurant. This is especially true for us with Stone (and again, nearly all kids with Autistic children).
We’re actually very lucky in the sense that we even can and do take Stone out to restaurants without major incidents. I have read and heard about many parents who can’t do the same because the behavior is too unpredictable or its just too much work and hassle. In our case, it certainly is more work with Stone in a restaurant than it is with his twin brother Ty – but its not really that bad (just different).
For example, given our efforts to restrict Stone’s diet to casein and gluten-free products, we know that if we go out to eat, it’s going to be extremely difficult (if not impossible) to find a meal he can eat that would fit that restricted criteria. And we also want Stone to enjoy the experience of going out to eat at different restaurants. So we usually suck it up and let him eat things we normally wouldn’t – such as garlic bread or pizza crust – and hope for the best. In these cases, we load him up with extra tummy medicine before he goes to bed because we don’t want him waking up in the middle of the night with a tummy ache. The other thing we try to do is bring our own gluten-free snacks for him. One of his favorite snacks are these lemon flavored wafer cookies that have frosting between the wafers. Naturally Stone doesn’t just eat the cookie whole. Instead he peels off each layer and scrapes off the frosting with his fingers or tongue (think of kids who only eat the middle of an Oreo cookie – its the same thing).
While this works well as far as keeping him occupied and happy, it tends to be very messy (as you can see in the picture). We tend to apologize in advance to our servers and explain that we’re going to be an extra messy table (and then compensate with an extra generous tip after the meal).
The other factor we have to consider is how to keep Stone sitting still in his chair/seat. He is just a very active kid so it’s rare for him to sit anywhere for extended periods of time – let along a new place that needs to be explored. So we have to plan accordingly and this is where having an iPad and iTouch really comes in handy. We have loaded them up with apps that Stone and Ty love – so they are able to play with them if and when they get bored or restless at the table.
And there are always the funny little quirks that pop up every so often. For example, when we go out to a restaurant, Stone always loves to grab the sweetener container and dump out the packets of Equal, Sugar, etc. He then likes to separate them into different piles – or will start arranging/organizing them in patterns based on the packet color. This amuses him for long periods of time – but being the smart kid he is, he realizes that other tables also have these sweetener containers so he wants to try to grab those too and add to his collection. So it’s a constant battle keeping him in his seat and making sure he doesn’t raid a neighbor’s table for their sugar packets. Tonight he did really well – but he was ready when the table next to ours became unoccupied. He bolted for it while the busboy wiped down the table and Stone grabbed as many sweetener packets as he could get. The busboy didn’t mind but we apologized anyway.
Because we’re never really sure how long he’ll last and remain content, I find myself eating very fast when we’re out with him. Making conversation is a little challenging because one eye is always on Stone to make sure he doesn’t bolt or we’re busy trying to provide him with a new activity or something to do. But overall it’s actually not that bad and we’ve been extremely pleased and impressed with how flexible and patient wait staffs have been when dealing with us.
Tonight Stone started getting a little antsy near the end of our meals so I picked him up and walked around the restaurant with him so he could check it out. This worked pretty well except he’s getting really big (and heavy) now so it’s getting a lot harder to just haul him around like I did when he was younger. After a quick tour of the restaurant it was clear he was done for the night at the table so I just took him out to the car and we hung out and played so that Renee, Hany and Ty could finish their meals in peace (and take care of the bill).
It was a great night and we were able to cap it off with a drive through Dairy Queen for dessert. It’s never a dull night going out to dinner with the twins!