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You deserve a fork today

Rachael O. Phillips

“Why didn’t we think of this years ago?” I savored my pasta and sipped a leisurely cup of coffee the waitress poured for me. My husband clasped my hand across the restaurant table and grinned.

We both knew the answer.

Dining out together now: priceless. Dining out as a family three decades ago: panic.

Like many young parents, we cruised drive-thrus. We considered the pizza delivery man our patron saint. Occasionally, cabin fever drove us to risk our sanity at a few kid-friendly establishments. Or maybe it was just the desire to watch our small children trash somebody else’s property.

When I ventured out alone with three little kids, I often wished I had sprouted an extra arm during my last pregnancy. I wouldn’t have felt that much uglier, and it would have come in handy. The minute we pulled into a restaurant parking space, my children shot through the parking lot like pinballs. After I chased them down and gathered survival gear, we headed for the front door.

If fast food establishments were truly in tune with young mothers, they would provide parking lot pack mules to carry kids, diaper bags, baby seats and the Strawberry Shortcake potty my discriminating two-year-old favored. As it turned out, the pack mule answered to the name “Mommy.” Sigh.

Normal people at fast food joints stood in line, chose their favorite flavor of cholesterol and ordered. Me? I never gave the menu or counter person a glance. Instead, I led my caravan to the restrooms. As we headed toward the back, I watched people eating giant juicy burgers with gooey cheese and bags of hot, crusty French fries.

I hadn’t tasted anything warm since the Æ70s — except maybe melted ice cream.

Potty Party trumped Pity Party, as always. I unbuttoned, unzipped, toilet paper ripped, then reequipped. I sang the Strawberry Shortcake song the usual 19 times and did the motions. I passed out compliments and balloons for jobs well done. Only two hours later, we emerged triumphant. I counted our entourage, then returned five extra kids to other tables along the way. Guess they liked our Potty Party.

We finally made it to the counter, where we received gold cardboard crowns. My son ate his.

World-class negotiations commenced. A naïve observer would have assumed decisions were based on food choices.

Wrong.

The entire operation depended on which “free” toy accompanied what order. Sisterly relations disintegrated when the cashier informed us they had only one Princess Piddle Penelope toy left.

The dolls had been discontinued.

Forever.

Having accepted Princess Piddle Penelope Sings Punk cassettes instead, I let my disgruntled offspring talk me into a picnic outside on the playground.

Looking back, I puzzle about fast food restaurants’ responsibility for obesity in American youth. Of the 11,451 hamburgers I ordered during my children’s early years, only 5.37 actually made it inside my kids.

I also wonder why parents gain weight at these establishments. I, who burned a few million calories climbing the big curly slide and swimming through plastic ball oceans, should have needed a few triple cheeseburgers per restaurant visit just to maintain my weight.

Fat chance.

After years of fast food fun, adults often decide it’s time their children learn to behave in restaurants where patrons don’t dine while riding horsies.

When our family attempted this charade in “nice” restaurants, snoozing babies always awoke on the wrong side of the crib just as our food arrived. Sunshiny, rested toddlers dropped their smiles at the door like discarded toys.

At 18 months, our son harbored an obsession with forks. Fast food plastic forks usually did not prove fatal, so we permitted his fork fetish.

However, in a “nice” restaurant, we hid our own forks and handed him spoons. These insulted his toddler dignity. He sent them flying like boomerangs, yelling at the top of his lungs, “FORK! FORK! FORK!” for a solid hour.

Only he couldn’t pronounce his Rs.

You figure it out.

The following week we wore gold cardboard crowns again.

But no more. Now my husband and I dine out once a week together, a custom I hope endures until death does us part. We have abandoned eating aerobics and gold crowns. We remain seated throughout the hot, delicious meal and converse.

I don’t even have to hide my fork.