I've read letters to advice columnists where the writer complains about unruly children in restaurants, movie theaters and public events. In my pre-children days, I may have even said "Amen" a time or two.
Now that I've walked a few miles on the other side of the coin (talk about your mixed metaphors) my whole perspective has changed. You know, if my children are annoying you, they aren't annoying me.
OK, not really to that extreme. What memories remain of my life before motherhood give rise to some empathy toward those looking for a nice, quiet -- even romantic -- evening away from home.
So, I try to keep my children's circle of influence within the boundaries of my own table. At times, I'm even successful.
There are other times, though, when the kindness of an understanding stranger saves the evening -- the waitress who brings crackers, crayons and a cup with a lid is a good example.
I found another good example recently when the girls elected to sit at a table by themselves rather than be bored by adults. Again, the setting was a restaurant where the separate table concept, combined with the fact that I had a 6-year-old and an almost 5-year-old who were wired, was a recipe for disaster.
But, the pre-emptive strike I made in the car -- that low-pitched growl of "you'd better be on your best behavior or else ... -- actually seemed to be working.
And then the owner, father of a young child himself, took it to the next level. He gave each girl a tennis-ball sized piece of dough to play with.
That dough didn't buy a few minutes of quiet entertainment. It bought two days of quiet entertainment. It was magic dough.
On day two, the dough was holding firm (likely because of the assorted small objects that had been mixed into it) and still providing quiet entertainment.
Then everything changed.
Nikki crafted her ball into a little man and was letting gravity make him a tall man. At about 16 inches, he was attacked from below when our dog reminded us exactly why you shouldn't play with food.
I've mentioned my dog before. Remember "overweight, slightly neurotic, has nightmares and an overactive gag reflex?" Yeah, that's Buddy, except now you have to add whatever physical reaction he's going to have to swallowing a mouth full of dough, the contents of which included a small plastic ball, hair, dirt, a Barbie megaphone and some crepe paper.
Now, you have to understand that my Nikki is the family's animal lover. Whether it be worms, grasshoppers, kittens or horses, she's a mother to them all. When her big eyes filled with tears and her lower lip trembled, it was nothing compared to the shock of her demand.
"I want to buy a new dog. Take Buddy back to the dog store because he ate the white stuff. What's it called mom?"
"Dough" -- which, at that point, I wished more than anything that I had a clue how to make.
"I want a new pet."
She didn't wail. Her sad statements reflected the ultimate betrayal.
By bedtime, Nikki still hadn't forgiven Buddy. He crept into her bedroom, hoping for a little affection that was usually part of our bedtime ritual, and started licking Nikki's hands. I told her that was his way of saying "sorry." I didn't tell her that she still had bits of dough clinging to her hands.
It worked. Nikki's still pushing for a new pet, but she's content to keep Buddy and even asked if he could sleep with her because "I love him now."
I thought that a fine way to reaffirm the bond between the two. Actually, I was more thrilled with the prospect of a night free of snoring, snorting, whimpering and panting.
Buddy usually sleeps in my room.
The arrangement lasted about one minute and 37 seconds before I decided that none of his nocturnal noises were as bad as the sound of him frantically scratching to get out of Nikki's room.
So, I'll find some other way to help those two reconnect.
I'll put my faith in the short memory of a child and learn to make dough.
That should about cover it.