Kids Eat Free!
It had been a long and unrelenting Buffalo winter that year. February break was approaching for the school kids, and a number of families were planning a warm weather vacation. With five children, a Florida get-away was not a possibility for us.
The budget was tight, but we were all feeling that “cabin fever”.
So when Dennis saw an advertisement in the paper, a family adventure began to take shape. Perhaps business was slow in the hotel industry around Toronto that year, because a hotel chain, normally well out of our price range, was offering a “kids stay and eat free” promotion. Toronto is easily accessible from Buffalo, so we decided to head north for an overnight stay and a visit to the Toronto Science Museum.
We had always told the children that the goal of good behavior was to be able to take them anywhere. So here was our chance to make good on that promise and expose them to both an educational and cultural experience.
The Science Museum was wonderful, and the kids learned a great deal. Probably the highlight for them was setting Mom up for the “sneeze door” in the Human Body Exhibit.
One had to sit on a stool, and open a small door…at which time there was the sound of a loud sneeze and a mist shot out from the wall. The sound of the stool tipping over as I jumped was muffled by the sound of my five comedians convulsed with laughter!
Then it was back to the hotel for an early evening swim before dinner. The swanky pool was part indoors and part outdoors, separated by a thin plastic shield that you could lift up or swim under. They discovered that if they got out of the pool on the outside, the steam would come off their bodies as they stood in the winter chill. Then they would jump back into the pool, and warm up so that they could do it all over again.
Now it was time for a bit of sustenance. The kids’ eyes were wide as we entered the fancy hotel restaurant. One of them said, “This is fine dining!” At home, we used this phrase if we were eating after 6:00 PM. But in this case, it was indeed fine dining! The hostess took one look at us, and knew what to do. We were ushered into a back alcove, pleasant but secluded. Obviously this was the “family spot”.
Our waiter approached, a dapper fellow in a white shirt, black vest and bow tie with a towel over one arm. In a slight French accent, he greeted us and asked if we would like a drink. Five sets of eyes met mine with approval as we ordered chocolate milks, along with a glass of wine each for Dennis and myself.
I could see that there were a number of middle aged and older couples in the restaurant, in various stages of ordering and enjoying their meals. Not too far from us sat a well-dressed older couple. I began to chuckle to myself in amusement at the sharp contrast between the questions our waiter had to ask them versus those that needed to be asked at our table.
For example, I heard him ask them if he could suggest a “delightful sauvignon blanc” to accompany their meal, and in the next breath at our table ask whether french fries or cheesy mac were the desired side-dishes to accompany the dino-chicken bites. I grew to admire our waiter, who had to continually make this shift between impeccable professionalism and serving the hungry masses.
Dennis and I were very proud of our well-mannered children. They remembered to put their napkins on their laps, and to say “please” and “thank you”. But they were children, after all, and our usual meals included an average of two spills, three bathroom visits, one or two sets of tears for various reasons, and clothing that needed to be washed immediately.
At the end of our meal, we thanked our waiter, his bow tie now slightly askew, and his towel laying in the center of our table to mop up the spilled chocolate milk. And as we were leaving, our youngest, Jessie, looked up at him and said, “See you for breakfast!”
As we approach the season of summer, families will be traveling and having adventures of all kinds. Pope Francis has encouraged parents to “waste time” with their children.
More often, the memories we share as a family involved simple outings or experiences. But large or small, expensive or budget constrained, it is the time together that has blessed us with a wealth of laughter and family memories.
And when our family gathers together, these are the stories that are retold. Our faith is interwoven with our ability to laugh and reminisce, for we know that each family memory is part of God’s gift to us, something to be treasured forever.
Now, get busy and start “wasting time”!