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Check, Please

When I’m dining out, one of my most favorite things is to watch someone have a birthday. The candles, the ice cream, the singing wait staff. It’s nice to see people having a good time, pretending to be embarrassed as they revel in their thirty-three seconds of “Happy Birthday” eatery fame. At least, it used to be one of my favorite things.

 It very rapidly ceased being so a few days ago, when our family was eating out at a family restaurant. My husband had taken my stepson to the bathroom, and my stepdaughter and I were perusing the menu. Suddenly, six faux-cheerful servers bounced out of the kitchen clapping and singing while handing a teenaged girl an ice cream sundae. As I smiled on, glad for her happiness, my stepdaughter screeched:

“Well, it’s the BIG GIRL’S birthday!”

Now, if you’re thinking “big girl” along the “not a kid” lines, you probably would have been the only person in that restaurant that did not shoot me a look of sheer, withering hate. Very clearly, I explained to her that all things do not need to be voiced. Even then, to my dismay, no amount of wishinghopingpraying was going to prod the seat cushion to open up and swallow me whole. It rapidly became clear that our dinner was going to consist of being glared at by an entire red boothed room full of people. Which (in my defense) was just dumb, as I wear a size sixteen. It’s not as though I’m teaching my children to voice disapproval over appearances. Rather than ignore my stepdaughter’s “out of the mouth of babes” snafu, repeated disdain for our general existence was made clear by all those sitting within earshot.

I could hear the whispers, ranging from my inability to teach my stepdaughter appropriate public place conversation to my ten-month-old son’s shrill excitement over my husband’s return from the restroom. Then came the stares of inconceivability as my stepdaughter handed me her flip-flop to fix and my stepson asked the waitress for French fries for dinner (like we’d have actually let him eat just those. Geez.) After the food arrived, we were met with open hostility from tables two through thirty-six as I cut up the youngest a hot dog and an apple.

 Now, I’m an assertive individual, and I happen to pride myself on cheerfully waving at the people (ahem … big stupid heads) that are rudely condemnatory of my less than perfect parenting. But on this particular occasion, for some reason, I became so uncomfortable that I asked for to go boxes and retreated to the safety of my car. Why was I so uncomfortable? What did we do that was so wrong? How do I avoid this situation in the future?

And, if any of you horrible, mean, judgmental people are reading this now, if that hot dog and apple dinner for my baby made you think I was a bad parent ... well, you should have seen the entire can of fruit cocktail he ate yesterday. So there.

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