|M and DD|
It's not our favorite for any of the reasons that we picked "our" places previous to having kids.
In fact, it is almost anathema to the restaurants we used to prefer.
It's practically a cafeteria. There is no privacy. The ambiance could be described as, "Subway on Steroids." The music is almost always inaudible, but when we can hear it seems to include covers of Yes tunes by the Dixie Chicks.
But it is the perfect place to get out of the house with the kids.
We have a standard meal plan, whenever we go. M gets a chicken Cesear salad, SI gets a cheese pizza and fresh fruit and chocolate milk, DD gets grilled cheese (on wheat) with fresh fruit and chocolate milk, and I get soup or salad or a baked potato or a sandwich.
There are unlimited refills on the grown-up drinks. There's unlimited free soft serve ice cream, for after the meal.
There are kids menus and crayons to distract our children while we wait for our food.
|M and his girls|
We don't get to go to our old favorite places with our kids. They're well behaved enough, but it's a very different experience when you can't linger over your food, appreciate the atmosphere, wander around the shops in the area...
Going out to eat with kids is extremely perfunctory. You get in, you get fed, you get out.
But not quite, not when we're here.
We get in, we color, we play, we eat, and then?
Then Mommy gets to sit down for a few moments of peace. Mommy gets to breath, to finish off uneaten strawberries, to make a phone call or finish a grocery list.
And Daddy chases the girls around the restaurant.
Up and down they go, circling the salad bar, racing to the windows, prowling around the empty tables.
Usually M is clutching his uneaten ice cream cone, and the girls are laughing their heads off as they squeal, "I'm gonna get you, Daddy!"
It's that kind of place. The kind of place where people look up and watch, and they don't think to themselves that this grown man is acting ridiculous in public. That he's disrupting their meals.
|M and SI|
And none of them are really watching M. They're watching the two little girls who go running after him, running headlong into his knees and wrapping their arms around his thighs to give him the giggliest bear hugs you ever saw.
I watch M.
I study him.
This is the man I married, after all. The man that, while we were young and foolish and in love, I decided would be a good father. The man that I believed would love his children, would humiliate himself publicly for them, would do whatever he could to keep me sane when I had spent a long day, cooped up with crazy little people who outnumbered me.
And there he is.
He's a different person, sort of. He's older, he's more practical. He's less reserved. His face has changed, a little. His hairline has changed a little more than that.
The man I fell in love with? This isn't him.
This is somebody else. This is somebody different. This is not just the guy who swept me off my feet with a Super Grover costume and an encyclopedic knowledge of Mitch Hedberg jokes.
|This how M insisted on spending Father's Day last year|
I watch him pick them up off the floor, dust them off, give them kisses, and cry out, "Oh no! They're going to get me!" And he has this smile on his face...
It's a smile I might have been jealous of, four years ago. It's the sort of smile somebody only has when they're head over heels in love. When no matter what is going on, the person that the smile is for? That person alone makes the world spin for him.
That smile is for my daughters. Our daughters. His daughters.
That smile makes me fall in love with him all over again, every time.
So I sit all by myself at our incredibly messy table. A situation I might have found very awkward a few years ago, but now doesn't bother me at all. I sit at our table by myself, and I don't bother cleaning up the crayons, or the sippy cups, or reassemble the diaper bags. I just sit there and watch my husband clowning around the deli. I sit there, and I watch him, and I feel so full of love, so full of gratitude, so full of admiration that it seems unfair to him to turn my back and put all of our stuff away.
It feels like a betrayal to miss these moments.
|M and DD|
These moments are rare. M works so hard, between his job and his Master's degree. But it's almost done. He's almost ours again. He's almost reached the finish line, where he'll get to see his children every single day.
I don't take his sacrifice for granted, and I don't take these moments for granted either. These moments when he's the biggest, goofiest thing in the very large room. The moments when no matter how much of a spectacle he is, everyone is getting the same impression.
That is one good daddy.
I love that man. I am so proud of him, so inspired by him.
We are in a restaurant, and I am watching my husband acting absurd.
I am watching him become a better man. I am watching him become a better human being.
|M and his girls|
This is our favorite restaurant. It's not about the food, or the space, or the convenient parking, or the plentiful high chairs.
It's about this being the place where I see in my husband every hope I ever had for the father of my children. This is the place I go to fall in love with my husband.