Any insight on how to enjoy a restaurant meal with a three year old that doesn’t involve handing over the iPhone? The coloring book is kind of wearing off–and a few weeks ago my family went out for my bday dinner which kinda felt like a flush of $75 down the toilet because we spent most of the dinner telling her to stop standing up on the (red velvet) banquette and eavesdropping on nearby diners. I feel like if we were to hand over our phone, she would be so happily engaged, but then the seal would be broken, and she would ask for the phone all the time — not just at restaurants but anytime anywhere — and whine for it, and then it would just become that process of saying no all the time. So in a way, I’d rather stay in or have the lame dinner with her than initiate a daily (hourly?) nagging moment, Can I play with your phone? What do you do? What do your readers do? Is it, as I imagine, a better investment of $150 to dine out and hire a sitter than drop $75 and bring the daughter?
I feel for you. I mean, what’s the point of going out to dinner if it means either a) being ignored by your children or b) yelling at them. Unlike many claims we’ve made about parenting before we actually became parents (my favorite: “We will never be a slave to the nap”) we’ve somehow managed to stick with a No-Electronics-at-the-Restaurant policy. In large part this was because early on we discovered that the attention span for one of those little Dover sticker books seemed to correlate almost exactly to the amount of time it takes for a plate of popcorn shrimp to be prepared. The books come in all themes — firehouse, zoo, airport, bakery — and for my daughters are almost like portable doll houses. I used to buy them by the bucket load and just kept one or two in my bag to pull out as needed. I have other friends who swear number puzzles (where kids match the number on the stickers to numbers on the grid to piece together a puzzle) do the job just as well. But either way, in my experience, the most important thing to remember when rolling out an activity in these kinds of situations is to make it a surprise. I always found that the novelty and the newness of the item is what buys us extra time. That and the imaginary goodwill I am convinced it fosters — Mom, you were so nice to get me a present that I think I’ll behave for the rest of the meal. (If anyone out there has a solution that doesn’t involve bribery, please enlighten.)
Now, I have yet to try these out on the pre-K segment of the population, but my guess is that many young diners would be thrilled to show up at the local Tex-Mex to find one of Marion Deuchars‘ placemats set before them. You know her, right? Well you probably know her even if you don’t know her. She’s the world-famous illustrator whose sketches and handwriting help give Jamie Oliver cookbooks so much of their warmth and homespun appeal. A few years ago, she delighted design nerds the world over when she entered the genre of the oversize, design-minded Doodle Books for kids. Well, anyway, we are all in luck because Deuchars’ latest book in this genre is geared towards the dining population and it’s called Let’s Make Great Placemat Art. To get an idea of how different and cool it is (no wordsearch and mazes here), check out a few samples below. Stick the pad in your bag before you go out to dinner (you can rip one off at a time) and I’m betting all the diners at the table end up happy.
I might also add that the book costs decidedly less than a babysitter.
PS: Marion Deuchars was nice enough to offer a free downloadable placemat exclusively to DALS readers. Give it a try and let me know how it goes.
PPS. I have some fun giveaways coming up on facebook, so be sure to follow me there if you want in on the action.
This is part of the School Year’s Resolution Series. Please click here for Resolution 1 (More Freezer Meals) and here for Resolution 2 (Master the Weekly Shop). And feel free to request some advice about your own resolutions — jenny AT dinneralovestory DOT com. If you have questions for Andy, just let me know and I will forward on to him.