Rimini

by Circe Olson Woessner

Recently my husband and I went out to dinner, something we infrequently do. The restaurant was new to us—and it was packed.

The waiter led us to a booth near a table where a family with three small children was sitting. I quickly looked around the room for any other empty table—but didn’t see one. Resigned, we sat down.

I was pleasantly surprised. The two oldest kids were busily coloring on coloring mats and the youngest was occupied by something he was nibbling. So far, so good!

Servers bustled around, bringing meals at a fast clip. Soon the family with the three kids left, and another group filled their seats. Our meal was delivered in short order, and while I wouldn’t say we felt rushed, I can’t say we were encouraged to linger.

I grew up in Europe, and my parents wrote travel books, so, dining out, as a child, was very different from my recent experience.

While my parents didn’t subscribe to the “children should be seen and not heard” philosophy, they did expect me to be quiet, well mannered, and patient during the sometimes hours-long meals.

When I was little, I would bring a pencil or pen to dinner, and, after I’d finished eating, I’d draw on the stiff paper tablecloths many restaurants in the 60s and 70s used. Because I loved drawing and had a large surface to work on, I got really detailed with my creations. I often gifted my “artwork” to the waiter or chef, who always accepted my offering with amused politeness.

Years later, my parents, husband and I went back to one of my favorite childhood restaurants, and the chef’s wife told me that she still had one of my tablecloth drawings!

When I was five, my family traveled to Rimini, Italy. We stayed at a grand hotel where elegant dinners were served in the ballroom. There was a live orchestra—and no paper tablecloths.

After I’d finished eating, and my parents were still working their way through a multi-course meal, the empty dance floor beckoned. I asked if I could go watch the orchestra—“yes, but don’t disturb the other diners.”

I edged over to watch the musicians. My toes started tapping and the budding ballerina in me started pirouetting and leaping. Soon, I was on the dance floor, doing all my ballet moves as best as I could. I was so into the music, I didn’t look to see the reactions on my parents’ faces.

When the music stopped, the diners applauded. I assumed they were applauding for me, so I curtsied.

I looked over at my parents, and my dad gave me a slight nod, so I continued dancing (quietly, so not to disturb the diners) until my parents finished their meal.

I don’t know how the other diners felt that night over 50 years ago at the Grand Hotel in Rimini; I hope I didn’t disturb them. At the time, I wanted to perform for them and bring them joy.

Last week, as I sat in the restaurant, those children coloring brought ME joy—they sparked a memory of me at their age, drawing pictures and dancing…

I applaud parents who include their children in family outings, and who set boundaries by providing both structure and creative outlets so that they, the kids—and their fellow diners— can enjoy a much-needed relaxing evening out.

As they say in Rimini, “Grazie.”

 



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