Since arriving in the US, we've eaten out a fair bit - but always with the Littleboys. And dining en famille, while fun in some ways, is not a relaxing experience. It usually starts off well, with restaurant staff smiling indulgently at the boys in an 'aren't they cute?' manner, and as long as their food appears quickly, everyone is relatively happy. (Note to restaurants: never, ever think that it is a good idea to bring the adult food before the kids' meals. Unless you fancy a force 10 tantrum on your hands).
By the end, however, we are usually scrambling to pay the bill as the boys charge up and down the restaurant screaming, leaving a trail of half eaten food, spilt drinks and destruction in their wake. Our culinary experiences have therefore been limited to pizzerias and so-called 'family-style' establishments where everything comes with fries, a salad bar and a choice of seven thousand dressings.
So when I discovered a local centre that offers a creche on Friday nights so that parents can go out, I jumped at the chance. It was The Doctor's birthday so what better way to celebrate than dinner a deux? I signed up the Littleboys for childcare, which was on offer from six until nine (which would seem a strange time frame in the UK, but you have to remember that Americans eat early).
That afternoon was hot and humid, and the boys and I had been out to the local park. When we arrived back, we were all sweaty and Littleboy 1 decided to indulge in his favourite activity of watering everything in sight with the power hose. I always try to direct him towards the rose beds but inevitably we end up with all of us getting a good soaking. By the time we had finished, I realised it was 5pm. They, and I, needed to be ready to go by 6pm, I thought, if The Doctor and I were going to have any chance of a decent evening out. The following then ensued:
5.10pm. Start cooking the Littleboys' supper, which I had planned on being quick and easy with minimal mess - fishfingers, baked potato and slices of cucumber.
5.20 pm, Somehow, between rushing around trying to assemble bags for them and remembering I am supposed to provide 'snacks' to take to the babysitting room , I manage to burn the fishfingers, setting off smoke alarm at the same time.
5.25pm Disable smoke alarm. Oh well, I think, they'll just have to have potato and butter. The boys are unimpressed by the solo potato, and insist on ketchup, which always results on sticky fingers wiped on clothing (already damp from the hosing) and the most horrendous mess. There is nothing for it but to strip them down and give them a bath.
5.30 To save time, shower myself, whip a brown sundress and some heels on and slap on some makeup in record time (nothing like getting ready for a date when you have kids, hey?).
5.35pm Bathe Littleboy 1 at a speed that I think even surprises him. Littleboy 2, meanwhile, is still pottering by the loo. I leave him there while going to get Littleboy 1 dressed and ready to go.
5.40pm Re-enter bathroom to find Littleboy 2 smearing himself from head to foot in Sudocrem*, which he has somehow found and opened. He looks at me wide-eyed and says "I got cream, Mummy."
5.45pm Put him in bath and scrub him within an inch of his life.
5.50pm Still scrubbing. Sudocrem incredibly difficult to get off. All over him, any bath toys which he has touched and three flannels which now need industrial washing. Why has he chosen this particular activity, I wonder - something which has never occurred to him before - on our first evening out on our own for about three months?
5.55pm. Finally he looks acceptable and less like the abominable snowman. Whip him out, dress him and finish assembling snack (Marmite sandwiches in the absence of any other food in the house. Well, might as well live up to eccentric Brit stereotype). Make pathetic attempt to clean supper mess from kitchen.
6pm: Amazingly, we are ready to go. The Doctor arrives home, and although hot and sweaty is frogmarched out of the house without time for a shower. We all set off.
Of course, I hadn't taken into account the fact that American restaurants are incredibly efficient. There always seem to be about three waiters per table, food appears speedily, and when you're done they whip out the bill immediately. So, we sat down for our meal - delicious fresh Long Island scallops and soft-shell crab, accompanied by much-needed martinis - at 6.30pm and it was over by 7.45.
This left us with over an hour before we needed to collect the Littleboys. We wandered down through the town to find an orchestra about to give a free concert in the little harbourside park. We perched on a park bench and listened, while watching dusk fall and the lights twinkle on over the boats in the harbour, until it was time to find the Littleboys again. They, meanwhile, had had a wonderful time making pictures of rainbow fish and charging about. So, a successful evening all round, despite its unpromising start.
And it wasn't till the next day that I noticed, on my brown dress, a nice, big white splodge of cream which I must have worn all evening. Classy.
(* For non-UK readers, Sudocrem is a thick, heavy, nappy rash cream....)