Dear Mom,

To anyone watching us that night a couple weeks ago when we went out to dinner at one of Seattle’s new favorite restaurants, my bet is they felt either 1.) sorry for us, that we were having such a tough time with our kids, or 2.) judgmental about our parenting skills. I have thought one (or both) of those things about families I have seen out to dinner in the past. I sympathize often, but I judge, too.

This particular night was remarkably similar to other recent dining-out experiences. Jordan was grunting and splayed out along the booth, frustrated that we had dared to come to a restaurant that did not serve pizza. He was unable to decide on a beverage, and the waitress had to return three times before he would consent to place his order.

Isabella was also not thrilled with the menu, preferring just plain noodles with butter (not on the menu) to mac and cheese (a house special). Both kids wanted a milkshake (at $5 a pop) AND dessert, and when we clearly but firmly (thank you family counselor) said they could have one or the other, there was a chaotic moment that somehow ended with Isabella yelling at Jordan and Jordan slugging Isabella.

This particular restaurant was not a Denny’s, or McDonald’s, or (obviously) a pizza joint. Although many families were there, it’s not necessarily what I would even call a family restaurant. It is casual and comfortable, but the food is prepared with care, the space is hip and new, and they serve, thankfully, cocktails. For our kids, it is a bit of a stretch, but not anything they shouldn’t be able to handle.

By meal’s end, I felt that the entire event was an unmitigated success. Jordan found a milkshake flavor he loved (whew) and Isabella negotiated the mac and cheese dilemma on her own with the waitress. Prior to our food arriving, we discussed our roses and thorns for the day (the good and bad experiences; thank you Aunt Krista) and the kids colored and played hangman on their placemats. Both kids ate a meal in a restaurant that was not pizza, and papa and daddy ate a decent meal and had a cocktail (thank you lovely restaurant).

So, an ordinary family meal ended and we left, much more quietly than when we entered and began, and curious patrons who were just settling in had no idea that they should feel sympathy for or judgment towards two tired but satisfied parents.

I pretty consistently feel that our family is on display. No matter where we go, even in liberal/gay Seattle, we stick out like a sore thumb. Whether we are out as a gay couple for a nice dinner and a movie, or out as a family with a daddy and a papa, we very rarely see other same-sex couples or families with two moms or dads.

Of course I cannot be sure that anyone noticed our family that night, or remarked on its difference, or sympathized, judged or cared. What I know is that I felt so…proud. Our kids can be a handful. Many parents would sneak out of the restaurant, ashamed at the behavior our kids displayed. I felt elated.

Although the behavior was not great I felt that we had turned a corner somehow. You are planning a visit this week, and I am hoping that you will see some changes in our kids, too. I hope we can all go out to dinner and not worry that Jordan will have a complete meltdown, or that Isabella will decide to dwell for the entire time in a tween snit. I cross my fingers and hope.

I know that other parents feel this same struggle, and have these same hopes for their kids’ behavior. We are certainly not alone. I also know that not every kid has the kinds of breakdowns our kids have had in the past. We are that family with more challenging kids. Although we love them dearly, and would never change this parenting experience for the world, sometimes it is heartening to chat with a friend, or share an experience with you and dad, or catch another parent’s sympathetic eye in public, and know that there is not judgment, or pity, but real understanding.

Looking forward to some wonderful meals while you’re here. Let’s all keep our fingers crossed.

Love Christopher