It’s been a rough couple of days at our house. We were in the middle of a salmon trial and it turns out E likes fish about as much as I do. Getting him to eat the salmon required all of my energy in addition to several pathetic renditions of all of the Dinosaur Train songs. Eventually even yelling “time tunnel, time tunnel approaching,” was not enough to get him to open his mouth. I was so focused on the fact that he wasn’t eating the salmon to notice that he really wasn’t eating much of anything, which for E only means one thing – he’s getting sick. Sure enough, by Sunday he had a full-blown cold – stuffy, runny nose, cough, and incredibly high level of irritability. His coughing wakes him up so naps are short and nighttime sleep is fragmented. It seems that everything little thing sends him into a meltdown. And my husband is traveling for work.
I was at the end of my rope by the time bedtime crawled around Monday night and feeling pretty sorry for myself. I could write an entire post about all of the things that seem to be going wrong lately, but no one wants to read that. Instead, I decided to put the salmon trial on hold, give my sick little pumpkin lots of cuddles, and brag about a huge accomplishment we had this weekend.
First let me give you some context. Jonathan and I love restaurants. Prior to E’s arrival we ate out way too often. Like, we knew the wait staff at several restaurants in Tampa. Of course we figured we’d have more “home-cooked” meals after E was born (does frozen pizza count as home-cooked?), but I think we always assumed that we would raise our children to know how to behave in and enjoy restaurants. Well, that isn’t really the way it worked out for us.
Because of E’s allergies, we generally don’t even eat together as a family when we are home. It’s just easier for us to focus on feeding him his safe food and then Jonathan and I eat once he’s in bed (lunch at nap time and dinner after bedtime). This way we can still eat our dairy-laden favorites (not that we should eat all that cheese) without worrying about cross-contamination or him wanting something from our plates. When we do eat together at home we do our best to have a completely E-safe meal so that we can relax and enjoy, otherwise it’s too stressful and we end up not really tasting our food.
As your can imagine, restaurants are like a ticking time bomb. There are so many chances for him to be exposed to an allergen. From shmutz on the highchair to him finding a crumb on the table, to him sneaking something from our plate, or us (or worse – a waiter) touching him with a possibly-contaminated hand. And then there’s the fact that we don’t trust anyone else to prepare or handle his food. Seriously, do you believe that a restaurant can cook something that in no way comes in contact with butter? And let’s be honest, if butter isn’t that important to the chef, I probably don’t want to eat there 🙂 So we have to bring all of the food that E will eat. That means packing a large amount of food so that we have enough to keep him happy for the entire time we are there. This also requires having a repertoire of safe food that travel well, which wasn’t always possible. Dining out is so stressful that it generally isn’t worth it.
But mommy was craving a fried onion and steak with a horseradish crust, so we made the leap. We didn’t call ahead and had a short wait. We momentarily panicked because we were afraid E would want to spend that time walking around, exploring, and touching who knows what. But we forgot what a novelty this experience was for him – he was totally overwhelmed by all of the people and new things to look at and was content to sit in our laps, checking out his surroundings and pretending the pager was telephone while we waited. Once we were shown to our table, we were like a swat team wiping the down the highchair and table. We tried to be discreet but I’m sure we looked like crazy germophobes. Oh well. After attaining a sufficient level of cleanliness we put down a placemat, so he couldn’t touch the table anyway, and plopped him in the highchair.
E loved the experience of being around so many people! We opted not let him use the crayons that came with the children’s menu because we couldn’t be sure of what was in them and have to assume that everything will end up in his mouth, but I came with a bag of toys and only needed a couple to keep him busy. He did a great job drinking water like a big boy from the kiddie cup, which he thought was swell and kept him more entertained than his toys. He also tried to make friends with small children nearby and did more than his fair share of flirting with an elderly woman at the next table. He was in his glory!
Because this trip was spur of the moment, I didn’t have any tried and true safe snack food on hand. I did have a bag of Veggie Straws in the pantry that I had been planning to try when we had the time. They (theoretically) don’t contain any allergens and he had most of the ingredients before but he had never had this particular product. I decided to be brave and give them to him anyway to keep him happy while we had our appetizer. It was a little unnerving, but he loved them and hasn’t shown any sign of a reaction. When our dinner arrived we gave him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich – when pb&j became safe our whole lives got so much easier! Jonathan and I each did our best to eat with only one hand (and silverware) and we had a baby wipe at the ready for the a quick and easy sanitization if we needed to intervene with E in any way. But he was great and independent and we all ate together without incident! It was truly wonderful.
I know, it makes me a little sad that a dinner in a loud chain restaurant at 5:00 on a Saturday night was the highlight of my weekend, but it was such an accomplishment for us! It feels great to know that maybe we can do this again and have some semblance of our “normal” back. I’m also hoping it gets me off the hook for preparing dinner every night 🙂