The Big Spoon: Now I Know Why You Don't Dine Out with Babies

click to enlarge JESS ELIZARRARAS
Jess Elizarraras
Editor's Note: The following is The Big Spoon, an opinion column on San Antonio's food and drink scene.

Though still very childless, I’ve somehow eaten out with more kids in the last few weeks. Here’s how I survived.

In early August, I joined a friend and former coworker on a road trip halfway to Kentucky with precious cargo in tow. Now, any road trip has the propensity to go awry, but we had two extra variables that made out trek even more fun: Lady, a 55-pound hound mix who hates car rides, and Baby M, an almost one-year-old with a tendency for diaper blowouts.

I took for granted how varied my eating schedule is, but for 36 hours, I was on Baby M time. It’s not that she isn’t an amazing baby – she’s a morning person, and only fussed close to nap time. It’s that I didn’t have a say in when I would eat or how much or for how long.

Unbeknownst to me, there are several widely-read parenting articles on why a messy eater is a good thing. It helps babies develop chewing skills and a taste for a variety of foods. So it was actually a good thing when Baby M and the foot-long radius around her was covered with a thin layer of hummus or yogurt or watermelon juice.

Good for her, not so great for my phone or my clothing.

But most of the snack times happened away from our hotel, and away from her inflatable rubber ducky bathtub where she could be rinsed off without a fuss.

Instead, meals took place along our route. First, at Magnolia Silos of Fixer Upper fame where I spilled most of my coffee. Then at Chili’s (the only place in Sulphur Springs we could all agree on), where freeze-dried yogurt and apple-flavored puffs were the snack of choice for Baby M as mom and I scarfed down sandwiches and maybe a cold beer or two.

Baby M tried her first French fry, and though she wasn’t a fan of the taste, she celebrated the discovery of a new flavor by flailing her arms and spreading fry innards all over the place. The splash zone was contained, but even though the snacks weren’t in liquid form, the disaster swath we left in our trail was at least three feet wide.

There’s not a whole lot you can do other than skulk out of the restaurant and avoid most eye contact.
The rest of our stops were more of the same and truly blurred into one hummus-smeared event. Just outside of Texas in a picturesque Arkansas rest stop, we stretched our legs and Baby M enjoyed a serving of yogurt, which I hear works wonders on your skin. In Brinkley, Arkansas, the stop was less idyllic and more frantic as yet another diaper situation and a hangry baby necessitated a Sonic stop. Thankfully, the staff was gracious and helpful as we hurriedly exited from the car, took care of yet another blow-out, set up a bag of snacks and ordered food from the window.

Baby M covered herself in hummus once more, babbled happily and tried to reach for more of my tots than I cared to share. By the time we got back on the road, with just over an hour left on our journey to Memphis, I was worse for the wear but filled with insight. So THAT’S why parents can’t go out to eat whenever they want. That’s why some restaurants have ditched high chairs altogether.

But I’ve never seen anyone eat chickpea spread with such gusto, or feel as accomplished as she did when she figured out how to hold watermelon the right way, or as indignant as when her mother would wipe her face (and there was somehow still hummus everywhere).

It’s not the tidiest, but it’s still pretty neat watching a baby realize a love of food. Parents shouldn’t feel guilty for trying to have a good meal, especially given that they’re probably sleep-deprived and might need a strong drink — or maybe that was just me?

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