When I was pregnant with number two, I was convinced that second babies were quieter than their older siblings. I truly believed that given the lack of one-on-one attention from the day they were born, they would get used to having to wait for what they wanted – and that they would do that quietly.
I was wrong, of course. The baby arrived – and a few months down the line, he started competing for attention with his older brother. That meant noise - and a lot of it.
We had previously quite enjoyed taking our first-born son out for lunches and dinners, feeling pretty smug that we had a child that generally ate nicely, stayed in his seat, and didn’t cause too many people around us to ask to request to move to another table. But with a second child added into the equation, it was a whole different ball game.
Take, for example, the brunch we attempted a few weeks ago. I had heard that the staff were child friendly (tick), that there was entertainment (double tick), and that there was a special buffet for smaller people to eat the kind of things that smaller people like to eat (tick, again). We arrived feeling pretty excited about what lay in store, discovering a high chair already waiting at our table and a position near to the kid’s area. It was all falling into place.
It all worked quite nicely at first, with the toddler tucking into his plates of food at breakneck speed, while his younger brother prodded things, threw them over the edge of his highchair, and took occasional mouthfuls of macaroni cheese. The husband and I gazed jealously at couples enjoying brunch without kids in tow, but we were otherwise having quite a lovely time.
Until the toddler let out a squawk for no particular reason and his younger brother immediately copied, that is. This made the toddler giggle so he did it again – and so did his brother. This repeated in the manner of a tennis match of noise, with the husband and I turning from one child to the other, shouting stop immediately, but neither child took a blind bit of notice.
Realising that our shouts were only adding to the noise from our table, I stopped and made the mistake of catching the eye of several childless diners around us, unimpressed that their lobster and sushi starter was accompanied by two brothers testing the sound of their voices. The toddler did stop eventually, to request another trip to the buffet for a second slice of rainbow cake. My rules about cutting back on their sugar intake immediately went out of the window and I jumped up enthusiastically to serve him what he desired, leaving the husband desperately hunting around for the baby’s dummy.
Then there was the time when the toddler refused to sit on his chair and demanded his brother’s highchair (the only highchair in the whole restaurant), and the time that the baby cried and cried instead of taking his scheduled nap in his buggy, and the time that the two of them found it funny to flick food at each other so that a prawn landed with a splash in my watermelon juice, and the time that we ordered a plate of pancakes (their favourite) and they were promptly rejected and ended up a crumbling mess on the floor.
Our mealtimes inevitably follow a similar pattern these days. Food is thrown, toddlers squawk, and little brothers want to prove they have the louder voice. I have got used to scouting out the area before agreeing to a table, making sure there aren’t too many people to disturb within earshot – and when I leave, I apologise to staff for the mess we are leaving in the manner of a broken record.
There are always the evenings, of course, when we can book a babysitter and escape to a restaurant to enjoy our food in peace. We did this recently and we were seated near to a family with two small children. When the noise levels kicked up a gear (it isn’t only my brood, at least), I shot some looks in their direction and managed to catch the mother’s eye. ‘I have two at home’, I mouthed between mouthfuls of creamed spinach, but she clearly didn’t catch my words and looked away, before continuing a fruitless battle to quieten her children.
But just like that harassed mother, I wouldn’t change our little troublemakers for the world - despite the squawking matches, prawn juice, and smashed pancakes. I would probably change the volume of their voices in public places, though. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – if someone invents a volume switch for children, they will make a fortune.