Birthday Date Night

Sunday was my husband’s birthday. I took him to an area steakhouse for his birthday dinner. He loves a good steak and enjoyed the one he was served.

Philip modeling his daddy's new desk chair, a gift from Grandpa & Grandma for Peter's birthday.

My parents watched Philip while we went out. I can’t remember the last time that we actually took Philip to a restaurant with us. I looked back through the blog archives, and the last entry that mentions going to a restaurant was in July 2010. I also see that, prior to that, my parents treated Peter, Philip and me to  dinner out for Peter’s birthday that year. There was steak involved, but all you see in the picture is mashed potatoes.

My husband is quite the homebody. Remember how I wrote about how much I dislike crowds? That goes double for him. He just prefers being in the comfort of his own home. Not alike most people, we are also aware of our budget constraints, so we know that eliminating eating-out is a way to save money.

And then there is Philip.

Don’t get me wrong. I hope that it is obvious that I love my child. But he is part of the equation when we considering whether to dine-in or carry-out. For over a year, we have chosen the latter when buying meals from restaurants. This suits my husband and our budget well.

Why not go to restaurants with Philip?

The polite response is to say that he is still working on his table manners. Eating is a sensory experience for Philip, so he likes to manipulate his food. If he doesn’t want to eat something, it is not unusual for him to throw the food. We are slowly breaking him of the habit, but I would rather practice this at home instead of in public.

When we have taken Philip to restaurants in the past, we have tried to select them carefully. In addition to the quality and price of the food, we always considered timing: how long will we have to wait to be seated and for our food to be served. Not only is eating a sensory experience for Philip, but life in general is, too. Sitting still in a booth or in a high chair requires patience or plenty of sensory input. The diaper bag can only carry so many different toys and objects with which I can ply Philip. If he rejects these distractions, I have to prepare for protests.

I know some parents of special needs children feel (or are explicitly told) that their parenting is being judged by other diners if their children are not model diners. Sure, I think about this, but I am more worried about what kind of experience Philip is having. I try to think of it from his perspective.

Our second option, should we choose to eat out but not take Philip is to arrange for babysitting. The only people who have ever babysat Philip are my parents. When they used to live over an hour away, we just stayed home or took Philip with us wherever we went. The thought of writing out instructions to a babysitter put me in mind of the days when I was teaching and I would have to write lesson plans for the substitute. I hated trying to put in writing every possible contingency, to try to guess whether I was leaving enough material behind for the sub to use. It always seemed like a better idea to go to work than to write sub plans.

I’ve written before about how I used to read those “what to expect” messages, the ones that told you how to prepare for a babysitter. The same ones that said your baby would be asleep after his bath time. The ones that didn’t say a word about my reality: an energetic, non-verbal child who stayed up late. Maybe it goes to show I’m a control freak, but I just couldn’t imagine going out and leaving Philip with a stranger. Would they know how to calm him? Would they be prepared to chase him around to prevent him from climbing the furniture, to stop him from eating non-food items, to interrupt his destruction of toys and other objects and handle this all-around bundle of energy?

In retrospect, I can’t say like I feel as if I missed out on some wonderful opportunity because of Philip. I don’t feel deprived or chained to my house. Instead, I’m appreciative of all the time that I’ve had to spend with my son.

I’m also appreciate that my parents are willing (ha-like I have to twist Grandma’s arm!) to help us out when needed and watch Philip. Last night as we parted, I said to my dad, “I hope he wasn’t any trouble.” My dad said, “We never have any problems with him.” He smiled and left.

I smiled, too. That’s good news to hear. Plus, it reminded me of an episode of “Curious George.” Professor Wiseman takes George to a dog show. When she drops George back off at the apartment, The Man with the Yellow Hat says, “I hope George wasn’t too much trouble.”

“He was no trouble at all,” replies the professor.

In a quietly stunned voice, the Man replies, “Wow.”

Wow, indeed.

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