DISNEY DINING BOOT CAMP
There is a bit of advice often tossed out to parents: Pick your battles carefully. The idea is that you can’t force your way upon your children in every situation, so choose the scenarios that are of the most importance to stand your ground. Let the “less important” matters go by the wayside because they aren’t worth the fight and can actually cause you to lose the greater battles.
I have always thought these words to be very wise and wished I could apply them the way I preferred. But many years ago, when we were first hit with medical issues, I lost my ability to pick my battles. At that point, the battles were chosen for me. I couldn’t choose to make my children sit still in church because I had to wage war at the hospital lab to get them to sit still for blood draws. I couldn’t choose to get serious about potty training because I had to take extraordinary measures just to get my kids to pass a bowel movement at all. I couldn’t go toe-to-toe on the thumb-sucking issue. My primary concern had to be getting my little people, who were not yet a half-decade old, to swallow horse pills.
Table manners were among these “less important” issues when we found ourselves at the mercy of special dietary needs. It was no longer about how my kiddos ate their preservative-free, sugar-free, gluten-free, casein-free, soy-free, completely whole foods meal. It was simply about them eating it. This compromise always seemed of little consequence, though. We didn’t eat in public, and our menu was far enough from the standard American diet that no one wanted to come over and eat with us. Therefore, there were never any witnesses to the barn-like mentality of my children at the dinner table except DH and me (and we overlooked it since we were simply grateful that our little animals cooperatively consumed their brussel sprouts and other edibles).
But now I realize that disregarding table etiquette may have been a misstep. We will be eating out when we visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios . . . in a five-star restaurant no less. My trio of miniature omnivores is ill-prepared for their entrance into the world of fine dining, and I cringe at the thought of their meal-time antics in public. There is no alternative. A new battle has been chosen, and to prepare for it we must now institute Disney Dining Boot Camp.
As soon as I get my little ones seated at the table, I give a brief introduction to the concept. “OK, guys. When we go to Walt Disney World, we will be eating in a restaurant. It will be a very fancy restaurant, and we may even see Chef Patrick.” DD7 speaks up, “Yeah. We know this, Mom.” I instruct, “What you don’t know is how to eat properly when you are in this restaurant, but you are going to learn. You three have certain table habits that are unacceptable when eating in public. We don’t want Chef Patrick to regret that he invited us to his wonderful eatery, do we?” My troops are solemn and shake their heads. “Well,” I continue, “then we have to learn a new way of eating, and we have to learn it fast. From this moment on I will be like Roz in Monsters, Inc., watching you . . . . always watching. When you show bad manners, I will tell you. You will correct your behavior, and you will learn appropriate Disney table etiquette. Got it?” My three dwarves answer with a resounding, “Got it!”
In preparation for this moment, I created the meal that will be served in the restaurant. This way my diners can begin their training and develop good habits in reference to the exact foods they will confront at the time of testing. So as I place a plate of grilled chicken, peas and blanched strawberries in front of them, their eyes widen and their lips smack.
A prayer of thanks is expressed and the children immediately grab their poultry to sink their teeth into it. “STOP,” I yell. Frozen in time, chicken pieces are held en route and mouths hang open in mid-bite. The only things that move are little eyes as they turn toward me. “When we are in a restaurant, you do not touch your food with your hands. You use a fork or a spoon to get the food to your mouth,” I instruct. All chicken pieces are placed back on the plates, and my kiddos patiently wait for me to cut their food into bite size pieces.
Once the pieces are cut, the kids resume eating. All looks well except for the sight of DS5’s morsels being mangled between his teeth and sloshed in his saliva. “DS5,” I bark, “Close your mouth while you chew. It will bother the other diners if they can see the food in your mouth.” DS5 shrugs and tries to remember this new form of chewing. When he momentarily forgets, DD7 quips, “Kip yo mof cwohsed!” “DD7,” I explain, “that would be more meaningful if you didn’t have food in your mouth when you said it. If I can see the food in your mouth when you talk, it is just as bad as seeing it when DS5 chews. With Disney table manners, you can either eat or talk, but you can’t do both at the same time. You choose which one you want to do most.” DD7 nods her head to communicate that she understands.
I glance at DD2 who has begun to make a pile of discarded chicken bones on the table next to her plate. I gasp in horror at the sight. Once again the children cease all movement and look to me. “No, no, no, DD2,” I reprimand, “That is yucky! You never-ever put food on the table. All the food must stay on your plate.” “But I don’t like the bones,” she expresses. I explain, “That doesn’t matter. You just put the bones on the side of your plate.” DD2 begins to cry, “But I don’t want them on my plate.” I breathe a heavy sigh and am about to relent due to her apparent lack of reasonability. However, I note that my other two students of etiquette are intently watching my response to this situation, and I know I cannot falter. This battle has now been picked. I must stand my ground. Chef Patrick is counting on us, and I cannot let him down. “DD2,” I declare in a firm tone, “You will not put food on the table. It will remain on your plate until it is thrown away. If you cannot cooperate, you will not be permitted to eat in the restaurant at all which means you will not go to Disney’s Hollywood Studios.” This time the children are the ones that gasp in horror. I have become the Disney Dining Nazi, but there is no going back. My mission is of such magnitude now that we will “do or die.”
The rest of the meal is filled with terse instruction. “DD7, don’t reach across the table to get the salt. Ask for someone to pass it.” “DD2, I don’t care if it was the best strawberry of the bunch. If it falls to the floor, you may not retrieve it.” “DS5, you may not wipe your mouth on your sleeve. That is what a napkin is for.” “All of you, under NO circumstances are you allowed to pick up your plates to lap up the strawberry juice!”
I confess to myself that it has been a tough time of instruction, but by the end of the meal, my small Disney diners are getting the hang of this new style of food consumption. Rather than a trough, my Piglets seem worthy of the dining room table. I am pleased, and I feel confident that we will be ready for the ritzy restaurant that lies in our future.
A few hours later, some movement catches my eye as I walk past the dining room table. Upon closer inspection, crumbs are found all over the table and floor of one seat’s position. It has attracted a small gathering of ants that are thrilled with the treasure they’ve found.
I summon my trio to the crime scene and ask for an explanation. DS5 admits that the mess is his and that he made it when I gave him permission to indulge in a snack. “Well,” I interrogate, “why didn’t you use your Disney table manners?” Defensively DS5 responds, “I DID use Disney table manners. I just forgot to use a plate.” I look at his big, sincere eyes and realize that while we have accomplished so much today, we–apparently–have more ground to cover.