When I was a kid, my brother and I received the same speech before our parents would take us anywhere. Don’t touch anything, they said. If you act up, you will go and sit in the car or we will drive home. It was the 70s. Parent didn’t tolerate much in those days. At least my parents didn’t. Going out was a treat. Disrespect the treat and it would be taken away. My parents were remarkably disciplined about their word, and I remember sitting in the Chevy Impala with my brother while they shopped in Montgomery Ward.
Ken and I take Simone and Nadia pretty much everywhere. Since I’m the mean parent, I give a speech similar to the one my parents gave me. We take our girls outside of public places when they can’t calm down. We wouldn’t dare banish them to the car, but I am here to tell you that little punishment worked and didn’t seem nearly as dangerous back then as it does today. It was a different time.
Simone and Nadia are well-behaved in public. We don’t stay anywhere too long or otherwise put the girls in a situation they can’t handle. They receive compliments all the time. Of course, I don’t think they are angels. I know they are not. They give us plenty of trouble at home. Sometimes when people say how well-behaved they are, Ken and I shoot each other a look that says those people have no idea what transpired before they met the girls. On any given day, there are — let’s call them conversations — about hair, what to wear and anything else they’d like to discuss.
We usually get out the door and to our destination. Some days, though, you can just feel that something bad is going to happen. You’ve had a string of good outings, and it’s your turn to have an embarrassing moment with your children. Here’s how I remember one of those times.
The girls woke up early and it was a bit cooler for a change. We loaded their bikes in the car so that they could ride them in a nearby park. We went to a nursery, where I purchased a tree while the girls chased butterflies. Then we were off to the park. The girls threw a few rocks in the river and then rode their bikes.
Simone is a pro; Nadia is not. There was much wailing and flailing of arms because Simone was going too fast. Nadia played catch up most of the morning. Then it was time to get a little something to eat. Since we had started so early, the restaurant had just opened. There weren’t many customers, which is the way we like it. If a kid gets boisterous, she won’t bother too many people.
On this particular day, Nadia was already grumpy from the bike ride. We hadn’t been sitting very long before she protested something outside of our control and threw her head back, bumping it hard on the seat. That was the first wail. Then there was another and another. I turned to her at one point and asked, “What’s wrong with you today?” Parents shouldn’t ask such silly questions. It’s just inviting more trouble, and that’s exactly what we got.
We were at an Italian place, which is why there was parmesan cheese on the table. Between one of Nadia’s wails, Ken had sprinkled a little cheese on her plate. Nadia liked that. She shook the canister of parmesan cheese and laughed at what she could do with it. Then she’d stick her finger in the cheese and put it in her mouth. That’s not the best table etiquette, but it kept her quiet.
At some point, Nadia couldn’t get the parmesan cheese out of the canister. Our waitress returned to the table and asked whether we needed anything. Nope, we were fine. Just before the waitress turned away, Nadia picked up the canister and shook it. When nothing came out, she did what any 3-year-old who wanted what was inside. She licked it, and I bowed my head in shame.
It’s a good thing waitresses don’t score the people they serve. I am grateful Nadia didn’t get sick from millions of germs resting on the canister and that the waitress took it away and cleaned it. Of course, it was our fault. We hadn’t enforced our cardinal rule: Don’t touch anything.