The 9 Stages of Eating Dinner in a Bar With Your Baby

by Leigh Anderson
Originally Published: 

1. Desperation. It’s a freezing and dark Sunday afternoon. You’re hungry, there’s no food in the fridge. The local bar has gypsy jazz on Sunday afternoon; the interior design is a nod to the saloons of 1890; the bartenders are dressed like Jesse James and the people who killed him. The hamburgers on the very short menu are good, even if they cost $16. The bar has a few high chairs, so they can’t be totally anti-kid. Also you like their cocktails, especially the one named Lozenge that tastes like grape soda.

2. Optimism. There are tons of other kids in this bar. The actors Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are apparently hosting a party for children in the whole back half of this bar. Plenty of parents are enjoying tenor guitar and Dark and Stormys and their kids are relatively quiet—why should yours be any trouble?

3. Dawning horror. Your kid is 15 months old. This the absolute nadir of “can I manage this child in a bar?” Before 15 months, they’re blobs in a car seat. After, they can be bribed or distracted with Frozen on the phone. Fifteen months is the moment when mobility—determined crawling, addled walking—and intractability meet in a hellish mashup. It’s like wrestling with a determined, screeching pig.

4. Creeping fatigue. This freakishly strong pig-kid is going to scale your head to get to the sconce on the wall; he is going to chuck the candle, hot wax arcing into your hair, into the booth behind you. The people sitting there are polite about it in a strained way; you buy them a Lozenge and get another for yourself while you’re at it.

5. Embarrassment. Your older son, previously engrossed in Frozen, looks up and says, “Mommy, I’m a superhero.”

“That’s great,” you say.

“Do you want to know what my superpower is?” he asks.

“Umm-hmmm,” you say, preoccupied with picking wax out of your hair.

“Do you know what my superpower is?” he persists.

He pauses. “It’s stinking.”

In a moment it becomes clear what he means. You bury your nose in your Cepacol-infused drink and pray that no one else notices.

6. Self-pitying self-doubt. Why did you think this was a good idea? You should’ve gotten takeout. At home you have all the right strap-the-baby-down equipment, like the Swedish high chair that resembles Hannibal Lector’s mask.

7. Resignation. The baby, now in his high chair, extends his grubby hands towards the ass of anyone who walks through the narrow space between the booths and the bar. Sometimes he gets ahold of jeans pockets and apron strings. For a brief moment he has possession of someone’s wallet, attached to a chain attached to a belt loop; that person is tugged backwards like a hooked fish. You buy them a cocktail named Dramamine; one more for yourself while you’re at it.

8. Lightheadedness. You have not been this drunk and desperate for food since your twenties, when you’d wobble into a falafel stand on the Lower East Side at two in the morning. When dinner comes you rip apart a hamburger with your bare hands for the kids. You finish your own meal in less than four minutes.

9. Desperation. The bill comes. The server sets the check in its silver tray right in front of the highchair. The baby seizes it and hucks it into the next booth, which he apparently thinks is some kind of bin. You get the kids, the strollers, the bags and the coats out the door and try to reassemble yourself on the sidewalk. Jesse James and the Ford brothers are staring after you in poorly disguised relief. It’s 4:45. Only three hours till bedtime. Maybe you should get ice cream?

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