Friday, September 15, 2006

table for three--(2nd course).

I was hoping for the best but preparing for the worst as I entered the restaurant with Brendan trailing behind me holding my hand. During the entire drive downtown I had tried to think of the best way to lessen the initial shock to Gretchen as I arrived for our date with my 3-year old son along as a 'plus 1'. I decided that the direct approach was probably best and that events from that point would either go pretty well or horribly wrong.

As it turned out, I had nothing to be concerned about. Gretchen was already inside waiting at the bar and her eyes certainly widened when she first saw the two of us enter. But then they became slightly misty as I began to explain the whole situation. After a quiet moment or two had passed, she told me that she completely understood and bent down to say hello to Brendan with a warm smile.

The waiter had been a little more non-plussed, but his reaction was understandable. The Astral Plane was a pretty intimate restaurant. The silk fabric draped across the ceiling and soft candlelight illuminating the room were designed to provide a single, unmistakable mood: romance. It is not the sort of place where either chicken fingers or mac-n-cheese had ever been featured among the day's specials...

In fact, it was not the sort of place that had envisioned booster chairs as part of its seating plan either. Two Philadelphia phone books stacked on top of each other and placed on Brendan’s chair did the trick. Gretchen took everything completely in stride, and made a point to say how handsome Brendan looked in his fancy suit. I appreciated her effort and graciously refrained from pointing out that there really had not been much choice for a suitable alternative, as all of the remaining items in my son’s wardrobe at the time prominently displayed either Barney, Elmo, or permanent juice stains.

I have to say Brendan really was on his best behavior that night. He could be a pretty finicky eater back at that age, so while I may have been pointing to the 'Linguine with Grape Tomatoes' in the menu as I placed his order with the waiter, I made sure that I referred to it out loud as just plain old "spaghetti". His table manners were even better than I could have hoped for. While he did begin to build a little fort out of the sugar cubes he discovered inside the sterling bowl at the center of the table, I decided to let it slide because at least that activity held zero danger of anything breaking, spilling, or staining—which in my book was a trifecta. The fact that I had to drink my coffee black that night was a small price to pay for keeping him quietly occupied.

Actually, there was one minor incident before the night was over. Midway through eating our entrees, a waiter approached the table next to ours with a four-tiered dessert cart. Brendan was transfixed as he watched each diner go around the table and pick out the dessert of his or her choosing. After everyone had made their selection, the waiter began to head off towards another group sitting over in the opposite direction from us. Brendan placed his hands on the table, stood upright on top of the phone books, pointed towards the retreating cart, and declared “I WANT CAKE” in a voice that rang throughout the dining room.

Gretchen burst out laughing and it was all I could do not to join in. I quickly shushed Brendan and sat him back down, and told him that he could have some cake as long as he behaved and finished up the rest of his lingui…err, spaghetti. Fortunately the rest of the meal went by without incident, and Brendan definitely earned every bite of his cake as a reward, even if the sleeves of his jacket wound up sporting brand new dark chocolate stains. At least they both matched on each arm...

We walked Gretchen to her car and she smiled broadly as she thanked us both for a wonderful evening. She gave us each a kiss on the cheek and then Brendan and I headed back to our house for a long-overdue bedtime story. All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect night for my initial return to the dating scene.

It’s been eleven years since that dinner--Brendan is now 14 and has just entered high school as a freshman. He doesn’t have a girlfriend yet, but I can see that it won't be long before one will be in the picture. I’ve been thinking that maybe a little karma might be in order when he finally goes on his first date. I could tag along in a spiffy new seersucker suit, prop myself up at the table with some phonebooks, and build something fun with the condiments. The only difference would be that since I’d still be the dad, I could get dessert even if I didn’t finish all of my dinner. Come to think of it…