Money is tight when your household subsists on a teacher's salary and a part-time freelancer's pay, so we don't go out to eat much.
But sometimes my husband takes the leftovers I'd planned on for dinner to work for lunch. Or some emergency of daily life thwarts my plans to get to the grocery store. So sometimes we go out.
We're not fancy people, so we're perfectly happy to hit Char-Grill or Chick-Fil-A (in their post-gay-hating era, that is) or McDonald's, and that's right up Nora's alley.
She calls all of those places (and others), collectively, "the restaurant" and lights up when she finds out that's where we'll be dining. For one thing, her chances of getting chocolate milk go way up in a restaurant. It's hard to say no when she begs for it so adorably that the cashier or waiter says "awwww." Also, it's very likely that she'll leave "the restaurant" with some sort of treat, either something that came with her meal or something that a kindly waiter or cashier finds to give her. Being cute has its advantages, clearly.
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On a recent chilly weekend, my husband and I were both craving hamburgers, so we decided to give in and trek to Char-Grill (one with indoor seating). Nora was delighted -- they have chocolate milk! -- and, sure enough, she was presented with a treat. One of the employees came around with a jar full of lollipops, and Nora picked out a pink one.
We told her she could have it when we got home -- this was both incentive for her not to go nuts during the car ride home and a way to ensure we could help her eat it. At 2 1/2, she's not quite adept at lollipops yet. We fully intended to follow through on that promise, but you know how it is. You talk about other stuff on the drive home, you get there and have to feed the dog, you're searching under car seats for an errant glove, etc. We completely forgot about that pink lollipop I'd stashed in my purse. But not for long.
An hour or so after we got home from dinner, we put our darling to bed … where she proceeded to talk and sing to herself for another hour or so. Standard operating procedure. She finally starting to drift off to sleep, it seemed, when over the baby monitor I could hear her talking about "the restaurant." She talked about her chocolate milk, her grilled cheese sandwich, the big TVs we saw and "lady" -- a teenage girl who was wearing a pink hair bow Nora liked. All of this was in quiet, contented tones. But then there was a pause. And next, a little louder, came: "Where … is … my … pink … lollipop???"
From the room next door, I tried to offer reassurance: "We still have your pink lollipop, kiddo. We'll eat it tomorrow!"
Too late. Tears.
So I went into her room, soothed her a bit and got her to settle down. As soon as I emerged, I took the pink lollipop out of my purse and placed it in the middle of the kitchen table. No way was I going to forget that again!
It all made me realize that kids don't need fancy stuff to make them feel pampered. She doesn't care if "the restaurant" is five stars or merely a food truck. She doesn't even really care if the food is good. (FYI, Char-Grill's interpretation of a grilled cheese sandwich is two slices of American, not really melted at all, between hamburger buns flipped inside-out. I'm far from fancy myself, but … ew.) She just wants that chocolate milk out of the experience, and a little treat to remember it by.