I vaguely remember a time before children when eating out at a restaurant was a pleasant, relaxing get away. A mini vacation where you could sit in a booth as if it were a blanket on the beach in France and lazily eat interesting foods with exotic hard to pronounce names. “Pardon me, monsieur, but would you like to try the Rossbiff à l’alsacienne, compliments of the chef?” and I politely ask for two portions with a side of hibou jus fondue. And I would take my wife’s hand and we would look deep into each other’s eyes and say, “this is so wonderful. We should start a family and someday bring our children here.” and we would giggle to ourselves thinking about the wonderful future and the sun would set revealing our delicate silhouettes raising a glass to toast our own glowing horizons.

But that was before children. That was before the “great war”. Now the decision to go to a restaurant is made months in advance and drawn out on topographic maps by men with stoic faces. We consult balding advisers that chew cigars nervously and say we are crazy to even consider such a plan. But we are determined. The approach vectors are intricately mapped. The troop carriers packed to maximum efficiency. The soldiers are drilled, trained, retrained, pushed to their limits, broken and built back up in preparation. Final letters home written and mailed as we cram into the troop carrier and head out to sea.

As commander I sit at the helm of the transport ship and as the destination comes into view I am forced to give speech. “I’m not going to lie to you men,” my voice quavers. “We may not all make it off this beach today.” A bitter chorus of wailing erupts from the back section of the ship, “We may not even make it onto the beach.” beads of salty sweat appearing on my brow, “But we are going to remember our training, and we are going to fight to our last breath. Because evil shall not be allowed to take root in this world. Our good world. A great light must be made to shine in the darkness of this Qdoba,” We rise to our feet as our transport hits ground and the doors fly open, “And if our blood must fuel that lamp eternal then so be it God, take us as you please and forever have mercy on our ignorant souls!”

And from that moment on you encounter horrors and trials the likes of which no parenting book can prepare you for. Grown men fall to their knees in tears as children fling coffee creamer into the adjacent booth. “Can I eat mine with a spoon?” No. “Can I eat mine with spoon?” No. “Can I eat mine with a spoon?” Sure. “I dropped my spoon.”

“Eat your Rossbiff à l’alsacienne.” we say, and the response is, “No. It tastes like horse meat.” “It’s not Horse meat.” “But it tastes like horse meat.” “I paid a lot of money for this. It’s not horse meat.” “then what is it?” A quick look at the fine print in the menu. “Rossbiff à l’alsacienne… Okay, it’s horse meat. Just eat around it.” I return to my own meal. It is no longer very appetizing. It has grown cold anyway. My owl juice fondue turned hard and half of it is spilled across the table and the seat next to me. A second child is desperately trying to balance her plate on her head. “Take that off your head before you drop it.” I say, “I won’t drop it.” she responds. As she says this, she drops it.

You suddenly remember that your wife is there. You had forgotten. You stare into her eyes for half a moment and the world fades out. Shell shock. Blurred vision. As your senses slowly come back you hear a voice repeating. “Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom.” “Yes?” She says finally. “Can I squirt this lime into the baby’s mouth?” The child holds a quarter section of lime poised above her laughing little brother’s face. In unison the entire company dives on top of it like a live grenade.

The day is lost. The invasion force decimated. We return home exhausted and defeated. Aching in every joint. The dirt on our faces holding back the glow of our ghostly paler. Our memories scream in our ears. We check the calendar and mark the next family night with a bright red X.