With one hand, my son is smacking the kid next to him on the top of the head, and with the other hand, he’s forking salad off of my wife’s plate.
Before I can say “stop” for the sixty-third time today, I look over at the boy’s father and he gives me the universal sign for “don’t worry about it,” and says “he eats salad, that’s great!”
The other mother is talking to my wife. Other Mom says “you guys are lucky. If it’s anything healthy, Joey won’t eat it.”
Other Dad mouths “watch this” and turns to Joey. “I’ll give you a dollar if you eat that watermelon.”
My son is eating their other son’s watermelon right from under his nose. Joey’s negotiating fractions of a slice to cents on the dollar.
I don’t know how we went four years without having to sit at a family table at an event. I suppose we’d just left our son home with a babysitter for the weddings, baptisms and other shirt-and-tie stuff we’d been to since he was born. This Saturday event, a baptism brunch at a country club, was the first time we had an assigned table and had our son with us. Even at my sister-in-law’s wedding, there was a kid’s only table in another room. So this was new to us.
I used to dread having to sit at a family table. Before you have kids, sitting at a family table at an event is the equivalent of sitting at the kid’s table as a teenager at Thanksgiving dinner.
And on the way to this baptism, my wife and I thought that we would end up stuck opposite an older couple with inexplicably young and perfectly angelic kids. We thought we’d end up apologizing for our son over and over, after he pulled the tablecloth off the table and stomped on dishes until they were piles of porcelain sand. We imagined having to flee from the room with a semi-nude child screaming that he’s the Hulk and covered in food, while other families shook their heads.
But, it seemed, our first time at a family table was actually going to be alright. As we sat down, we noticed our son was dressed in exactly the same outfit as one of our tablemates’ children.
We smalltalked through the parts about how we knew so-and-so, as someone in the background gave a speech about blah blah blah. Then, we got our parenting on:
“So what time do they go to bed?”
“Did you know that you limit the volume on your iPhone so they can’t change it?”
“Have their allergies been bad lately?”
“Did you get those pants at Old Navy?”
Other Dad and I walked outside and watched our kids play for awhile and talked about guy stuff. My wife and Other Mom sat at the table inside and talked mom stuff.
At one point, a barefoot toddler ambled past us. the four of us looked down and mentioned that we didn’t know who her parents were or what it was she always seemed to be eating when she’d pass by. In my best baritone, I sang “and then I don’t feeeeeeeel so baaaaad.”
I’m no longer scared to be sat at a family table. Sometimes I forget that all parents share this kinship of being somewhere between absolute control and begging for mercy. We all fear that our kids will end up setting something on fire, and when they don’t, we give silent nods of congratulations.
At the end of the day, it wasn’t like we solved some great parenting mystery. We didn’t even become besties, or friend each other on Facebook. But we had a successful day sitting with (and at many times without) kids at a table at an event. And as a father, I appreciate the simple successes; I didn’t need my son to sing “Tiny Bubbles” to a room full of old, Greek people. I just needed him to not go nuclear and create a path of destruction.