Rich red wine aerates in the decorative decanter that sits atop the appetizer table. Soft lighting creates an intimate atmosphere in the dining room. Smooth jazz plays on the stereo, providing a romantic mood for the night. Dinner, consisting of Mexican-themed goodness, is displayed buffet-style, just waiting to be devoured. A cute little toddler wails for attention in short, piercing screams, providing a certain je ne sais quoi to the ambiance of the evening. And for good measure, the dog paws at the legs of our dinner guests in an effort to beg for pity scraps.
Dinner with our friends almost turned out as we imagined it would be. My husband and I hosted a small gathering this weekend in honor of his birthday. With the winter snowstorm gracing the area with nine inches of snow, all but two of our guests cancelled. Other than having enough food to feed an army, the reduced guest list suited us just fine, as we have been saying for quite some time that we should have them over for dinner. Originally, I had a babysitter scheduled to allow me the chance to not only cook a meal without a baby on my hip, but also the opportunity to engage in uninterrupted conversation with fellow adults. With the roads covered in snow and a little messy to navigate, I thought it best to cancel the babysitter.
This decision proved to be just fine during the first half of the evening. Isabella played in her kitchen, happily entertained with her play food, while my husband and I sat down to dine on real food with our friends. Every few minutes, Isabella would run in to the dinning room with a plastic cup or plastic vegetable for me to pretend eat . She would giggle and run to retrieve the next piece of play food that I was to consume. Even the dog was happily occupied with a busy bone.
About an hour into dinner, both the dog and baby decided they had enough solitary time and were ready for some real interaction. The dog felt the bonding time with our guests was best spent begging, and Isabella ... well, she did not quite know what she wanted. She just knew she wanted something. And while she figured it out, myself, my husband and our two guests were privy to her shrill cries.
Our newly married, childless friends tried to carry on normal conversation, however there were frequent interruptions to either correct the dog or soothe the child. When these unattached friends spoke of their fine dining experiences, my husband and I spoke of Red Robin and other such kid-friendly restaurants. I was, needless to say, a bit embarrassed. That is, until I started to speak about how fulfilling parenthood was for me. Our friends spoke of lazy days lounging in bed, while my husband and I recounted war stories of many sleepless nights. They said they could not fathom how we could do it. "It" being waking up in the middle of the night, and having certain limitations with regards to impromptu plans. But both my husband and I replied that we could not imagine our lives without the little bundle of joy who robs us of our nightly sleep.
At the end of a hard day of work, as sleep deprived and exhausted as I may be, I still smile at the site of Isabella's toy under the seat of my car. It may be a toy that she threw under the seat in a mini-tantrum, but it doesn't matter to me, because when I come home and she embraces me in a big bear hug, that is what energizes me. My husband and I may not dine in five star romantic restaurants, but I would favor the quirky ambiance my daughter provides over wine, jazz and soft lighting any day.