Parenting is filled with all sorts of milestones. Some are big, like the first step, the first word, or the first full night’s sleep. Others are small, like the first thank you or the first smile. While we tend to record the big ones, we often forget how much a difference the small ones can make.
Tonight I experienced one of these smaller milestones: the first no mess dinner.
My wife was out tonight, and I had planned on having leftovers with my two kids. However, as soon as I got home, my four-year-old daughter, Ayelet, immediately started imploring that we go get pizza like we often do when it’s just the three of us. I’m a bit of a pushover, so off we went, to the delighted squeals of joy from both my daughter and my 22-month-old son, Rafael.
I often describe my son as an OCD wrecking ball. In some parts of his life, he is adamantly organized – every door must be closed, and he will insist that I take off my shoes and coat as soon as I walk into the house. Elsewhere, he is chaos incarnate – he loves dumping out all the bins of toys, and when he eats… it gets everywhere. All over his shirt, the table, the chair, the floor. Everywhere. And of course, he absolutely refuses to wear a bib.
Of course, this means trips to the pizza parlor are a mess. I try to tip well given how much cleanup the table, floor and chairs will all need, and I always bring a a bag of wet wipes to help control the damage. Tonight looked like it was going to be particularly bad, since the pizza was very saucy and the cheese was dripping off.
I cut Rafael’s pizza into pieces since it was still too hot to eat, and I watched him alternate between half hearted attempts to eat it with the fork he insisted on holding and just picking up pieces with his hands and stuffing them into his mouth. Over the course of the next 10 minutes, he wolfed down two slices.
Then I noticed something odd. There was pizza on his hands, and his cheeks… and nowhere else. Rather than half of it sliding onto the floor, it had all ended up in his mouth, and he kept using a napkin to wipe his hand. The table and chair were clean as well. The only mess was on his plate, where it belonged.
Over the past few months, Rafael has slowly been getting neater in his eating habits. The piles of food on the floor have been slowly diminishing, and he can now wear pajamas more than once before getting his breakfast all over it. However, it wasn’t until tonight that I realized just how far he had come. I didn’t need to use a single wet wipe.
To non-parents, this probably doesn’t seem like a big deal, but to me, it’s huge. Having kids involves lots of yelling, crying and frustration. The idea of going out for a nice, quiet dinner at a restaurant feels like a fantasy.
This isn’t to say that dinner was peaceful. My daughter had fits about the air bubbles in the pizza, and at one point Rafael tipped his chair over. But it gives me hope.