Any mom worth her salt has figured out some tricks for surviving mealtime. With three little boys, I’m constantly chasing kids around, pleading with them to sit down at the table, and catching plates as they plummet toward the floor. Eating with one hand, being spilled on, racing to finish my meals before they’re eaten out from under me. I dreamed of lingering over meals, enjoying civilized conversation; instead I added short-order cook and hostage negotiator to my résumé and felt exhausted after every meal.
I cut down on messes with Happy Mats, one-piece silicone mats with built-in plates that stop little hands from throwing an entire plate on the floor. I slowed spills with ingenious silicone sippy cup lids that stretch to fit over nearly every cup I’ve encountered at home or away.
Yet I still struggled to keep everyone sitting down at meals. High chairs keep the littlest adjacent to the table but not actually sitting at it. Booster seats slipped off chairs or whacked the table when you tried to push the chair in.
Then we had child No. 3, Harry Houdini reincarnate. He escapes from nearly everything. Even using my husband’s belt as a restraint buckle failed to hold our little Harry in place. Bribes also failed to work. Once free, he darts around the room, peanut butter dripping from his hands, grabbing silverware from other tables, making a beeline for a stranger’s clean clothing.
Then one day I walked into a funky vegetarian restaurant in Belfast, Northern Ireland, anticipating another chaotic meal.
“Do you need a high chair?” the waiter asked me.
“He won’t sit in it,” I warned.
“I’ll bring it anyway,” he insisted.
I looked around. Where did they keep high chairs in this tiny place anyway?
The waiter returned to the table with something tucked under his arm. With a swoosh and a click the booster seat opened like some kind of origami project. One clip later it was secured to the chair, its straps wrapping around the back and under the seat.
I laughed and threw my husband a knowing glance. This seat would be no match for our 1-year-old. I braced myself for the loading sequence—little Houdini puts up a fight any time he senses he is going to be buckled into anything. My husband grabbed a snack from my purse and distracted the little guy while I strapped him in. Once the elastic straps were wrapped around him, he looked like he was wearing suspenders.
Realizing he was trapped, he tried all his usual moves. He pulled his legs up to this chest. He pulled his arms through the arm straps. He arched his back. He threw himself completely to the left, then completely to the right. He hung there like a rag doll. He was still in the booster. The booster was still on the chair.
The rest of lunch was a blur. At some point he abandoned his escape plans and simply sat and ate. The mess of his meal made a perfect circle around his chair, but I was well outside of the spray zone.
My Bombol Pop-Up Booster arrived before we were back from our trip. I packed it in a backpack and took it everywhere we went, amazing people as I clicked it open. Amazing myself as my child sat during meals. We now dared to dine at high-backed bar stools at restaurants and wide-armed dining chairs at friends’ houses. We safely returned to restaurants armed with our gear and a few activities. We don’t linger over meals, and conversation is far from civilized (tonight we mostly discussed poop). But we eat as a family, and our table is full of laughter.
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