I have been very fortunate to have been taken on a family vacation every winter over Christmas break. Whether we have gone on a cruise, traveled to a destination, or visited an exotic island, my family has experienced the perfect beaches, unbelievable views, historic landmarks, and, of course, exceptional food.
I was raised in a typical, Jewish household. Food was the focus of our lives; menus were planned weeks in advance, reservations were made months prior, and we discussed what and where we would be eating our next meals before the day even started. Normal? For us, it has been.
We were accustomed to sitting around a dinner table enjoying each other’s company, kibitzing, sharing entrees, and relaxing. Dinner was always our biggest and most exciting meal on vacation. It was a time to shower, clean up, and get ready to decompress from a day in the sun. It was an experience we all looked forward to at the end of each vacation day.
…That was, until we had my second child.
In his defense for a tiny second, he has been through hell and back with food. Granted, he does have severe food allergies, was in a feeding clinic, and has been diagnosed with an esophageal condition. But, he is now eating healthily, thriving, and appropriately developing to that of a 2-year-old.
However, his behavior is unlike any other 2-year-old I have ever witnessed. Upon our return home from our annual family vacation to Mexico this past week, my husband and I looked at each other on the flight home with a combination of frustration and relief. We somehow survived an international trip with severe food allergies and managed to dine out at restaurants as a family each night in Playa del Carmen. But, let me elaborate on the words “dining out.”
Because Austin has food allergies, we are required to bring his food with us wherever we go. Therefore, he has never been to a restaurant, ordered off a menu, serviced from a waiter, or has had to wait patiently for his meal to be delivered. He knows his food has already been prepared, ready to eat, and packed nicely in my bag. So, the second we were seated, Austin demanded his food. Let me, also, define the word, “demand.” As soon as Austin was seated in the high chair, he immediately screamed, grabbed onto the fork and knife from the place setting in front of him, banged the table, and then reached for the empty bread plate set so nicely in arm’s reach to attempt to throw it as if it were a baseball. My husband on one side, I on the other, ripped the utensils out of his hand, too slow to where the fork had already been thrown on the ground, and riled him up even more by physically tugging away all breakable items. Meanwhile, we had not even been asked what we wanted to drink, menus hadn’t been passed out, and Austin was already obliging us to feed him. It was either we offered him his dinner or some unrelated victim was going to get hurt.
Out of desperation, my husband and I made eye contact, in agreement, that we must give him his hot dog. “Just try to give it to him slowly,” my husband always insisted. Yes, that sounds ideal, but my son is the fastest eater that has ever existed. He can throw down a hot dog quicker than I can blink. So, as I attempted to give it to him piece by piece, his tantrums continued with him screaming, “more mommy, more.” Given no choice out in public again, I put the entire hot dog on his plate. Still, we hadn’t ordered yet, and Austin was already done with his main dish!
So, when the waiter approached our table, it appeared we had either Tourette syndrome or were just beyond starving. We frantically demanded we place our order, urged him to bring it out as soon as it was ready, and continued to try to slow Austin down. We managed to scare every single waiter at every single restaurant. But, our intimidation factor was not even a resolution.
“Ah.. yummy!” I thought, as he placed the warm, fresh bread basket in front of my face. It looked delicious, and I was hungry. So, while feeding and assisting Austin with one hand, I grabbed a roll in the other. I devoured it. I don’t think I even tasted it–I think I enjoyed it, but I couldn’t really decide because I don’t even think I fully chewed it. I was too anxious managing Austin. And, that was exactly what a meal was like on our family trip.
I would leave a beautiful, elegant, upscale restaurant knowing it was amazing, delicious, and unique. Despite dealing with a toddler screaming, demanding, throwing, and climbing out of a high chair, I attempted to eat like a normal person. But, instead, I devoured an excess amount of food, not even realizing it, didn’t get to actually enjoy it, and would leave wondering if I just set a record for most calories consumed in the shortest amount of time. Did I even chew the food?
Food will forever be the focus in my family. Vacations will revolve around amazing meals, upscale restaurants, and fine dining. At some point, my husband and I will be able to chew, taste, and enjoy our food. But, in the meantime, we can return from a trip with the memories of the exceptional restaurants we dined at with our overly active, impatient, poorly behaved toddler, and appreciate any opportunity we get to eat a meal in peace. Until then, we will continue to appear to have Tourette’s, consume food we don’t even realize we are eating, and not take a deep breath until we depart the restaurant, get home, and put Austin to bed
…or hire a babysitter.