So there we were. All piled in the car outside Panera Bread negotiating the "terms" of eating out.
Me and two toddlers.
Is there any negotiating with toddlers? I was asking for trouble. This, I knew. Deep in my gut. But we were going anyway.
"So what do we do when we get out of the car?" I asked.
In unison, in such sweet voices, with so much excitement, they responded, "HOLD HANDS!"
"And when we get inside, what do we NOT do?" I inquire, asking myself totally different questions in my head. "Why am I doing this to myself? Am I nuts?"
"WE DON'T RUN AWAY FROM MOMMY!" they screamed.
"Okay! Let's go," I muttered as I gathered up the courage --along with a 2-year old and 4-year old-- to walk inside the cafe.
Held hands in parking lot. Check.
Skipped and let out happy noises on our way. Check.
Stood in line with kids right by my side. Ummmmm...
.....they tried. But they were just too excited! There were so many people and so many other kids and pastries, and the M&M cookies, oh my!
I started to feel my patience waver, and then I saw my beautiful friend Shannon, who was there with only one of her two toddlers. We smiled and said hello, then she looked at me, glanced at my two suspects and she said, "I just will not do restaurants by myself with two," shaking her head.
That should've been Clue #1 that it was time to turn around and leave. But the line was moving quickly. The kids really, really wanted to come to Panera. I was off work that day. And they'd done so well lately at Hacienda and Dixie Cafe, our two "go-to" kid restaurants.
All within about ninety seconds, we moved ahead in line, I bribed my son by promising him a Sprite if he'd "stay by my side gosh-darn-it" (Clue #2 it was time to bail), and we ordered. The kids picked our seats, and big-boy got to hold the buzzing pager and tell me when it vibrated so we'd know our food was ready.
Sat down and began freaking out about the fact that, at Panera, you have to go pick up your food rather than have it served. How am I going to maneuver through the crowds to get our food when it's ready? Should I take two rambunctious toddlers with me? I cannot leave them at the table. How will I carry the food? Oh Lord. You mean, I'm going to have to make two trips with two toddlers back and forth through a crowded Panera?
All that mind chatter? Clue #3-- get it to go! Have 'em pack it up, eat it at home.
Right then, the buzzer went off, and the children nearly jumped out of their seats so thrilled and stunned!
"Let's go get our food!" I said, so excitedly. (Faker, I'm thinking. This. Is. Going. To. Be. A. Nightmare.)
Thank God for the nice man who was helping gather the buzzers and arrange the orders. He walked two of our plates to the table. I had the other two, barking (a little louder this time) at two precious ones navigating a restaurant, which, in their eyes, was really nothing more than a new playground! This food-pick-up trip, was really just a chance for them to scope-out the lay of the land.
Tiny panic as we all sat down. Deep breath. Interrupted by 2-year old whining that "I wanted the peanut butter and jelly. Not macaroni and cheese!"
"Well, sweetie, maybe we can share," I suggest (still fairly calm).
"NO!" snaps big brother. "I don't want to share my peanut butter and jelly!"
Then, another reason to give thanks: baby girl spots my bread. "I want THAAAAAT!"
A little more panic. A few minutes and several bites pass. Heart races. Deep breath. Interrupted by 4-year old, "Mommy, I need to go potty."
Okay. Deep breath. I politely asked the ladies next to me to make sure the Panera peeps don't clear our table, please. "You've got your hands full, you poor thing," one of them commented.
Off to the restroom we went. "Mommy, I need to poooooooop." Okay. Then the younger one, who is newly potty trained played copycat. "I need to pooooop too, Mommy." Okay. Deep breath. Cover toilet #1. Deep breath. Cover toilet #2. Deep breath. Both stalls full. With my children. Line starts to form. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. "Let's hurry up, guys," I bug. Tick-tock. Tick-tock.
At this point, 15 minutes has passed. I'm certain they busboys have cleared our table. I know for a fact that at least one lady was about to pee her pants. Then one after another, "I'm done, mommy, will you wipe me?"
Hands washed, no worse for the wear, back to the table we go. Our food is still there. But the kids were distracted and barely eating. And they were antsy. (Clue #4. Get the hell out!).
A sweet Panera lady walked by just then, and I begged her to bring me to-go boxes. She was happy to help. I stood up to collect our food, and apparently, my 4-year old took that as his cue to begin running, yes running, through Panera Bread. Circle after circle, as if Panera were a track, he ran the playground he'd earlier scoped.
Baby sister then joined in, but I was able to corral her. Not him. I looked around, and everyone was staring. One lady had a bite of food ready to eat, but her jaw had dropped staring at us. I heard another person say, "Isn't that the lady on Channel 11? Poor thing." Great. After publicly yelling for him to stop (he was too fast for me, and I looked like a fool trying to chase him, with toddler-diva in one arm, food in the other), a sweet old lady reached out her arm and grabbed him like it was no big deal. She nodded to me with a satisfying, but smug, smile, as if to say, "come and get your unruly brat."
I grabbed him by the arm so hard, it scared even me. At the entrance of Panera, he was sternly told how disappointing his behavior was, how all toys and privileges were, that day, removed, and how we would never, ever come back to Panera again. It was actually the thought of never coming back that made him cry.
He was nearly dragged to the car. Cried all the way home. I did too. My adrenaline high had crashed me. I was sad that I had subjected anyone publicly to two toddlers. Upset that I had to publicly scold my children. I was beating myself up that I brought them there in the first place and up-ended their schedule. Disheartened that I would never get to eat out again unless I hired a babysitter. Deep breath.
Later, everyone calmed down, and we politely talked about the lunchtime mayhem. Wild-child explained what he'd done wrong, and he apologized. He also begged to go back to Panera.
In my mind, never.
But turns out, we went back the next week. That time, we brought Daddy along. And, of course, everyone behaved.