When the kids asked, “What’s your favorite restaurant, Mom?” I had no idea they planned to take me there for my birthday. Otherwise, I would have fibbed and said “Wendy’s” or “UNO,” some place suitable for dinner with three children under the age of 11.
Instead, and without hesitation, I told the boys that Thistles, a nice, romantic restaurant in our downtown area, is one of my favorite places for dinner. The next day, Dustin told me that he and the kids had made a reservation for us — all five of us — at Thistles for my birthday.
Now, I come from a long line of cautious women. My grandmother hasn’t flown in decades. My mom has never played contact sports. While I was in labor with my first child, I climbed eight flights of stairs to avoid the elevator. Everything in my body told me that going to a fancy restaurant with three young boys was dangerous.
And yet, some of the women in my family also have unusual outlets for their repressed daring nature. For instance, my mom’s idea of an extreme sport is having a refrigerator that is nearly empty, or near enough to empty that she and Dad are in danger of going hungry, if even for a day.
“I love an empty fridge,” Mom says.
When she is just to the brink of having nothing but an old box of baking soda, Mom goes to the store and stocks up again. You can almost see the rush of blood to her face when she returns. It’s as if she might put down a sack of groceries, wipe her brow and say, “Whew, that was a close one!”
Perhaps it was time for me to pick up an extreme sport, too.
I said yes to the reservations at Thistles.
And I felt good about my decision, until I woke up to my homemade birthday breakfast: dry toast, cereal swimming in spoiled milk, a Nutrigrain bar, a warm diet Dr Pepper and a side of ricotta cheese. Yes, ricotta cheese. I had less than 12 hours to ensure that my children would fit in at Thistles.
Later that day, Dustin helped the boys get into their coats and ties while I put on a nice dress. We met at the car, where Dustin and I said a silent prayer for what we were about to do. My heart beat in my ears.
Thistles has low, romantic lighting and a man playing soft jazz in the corner. The tables are topped with fine cloth and candles.
I watched as the boys absorbed the atmosphere. They were stunned and quiet.
Owen spotted a waitress grinding pepper over someone’s pasta. “Dad, that’s the thing from ‘Saturday Night Live,’” he whispered, referring to the famous “Pepper Boy” skit starring Adam Sandler.
“A pepper mill,” Dustin said.
Owen smiled. “Do not be afraid of the-a pepper,” he said in an Italian accent.
They were dangerously close to whoopie-cushion talk. I steered them away.
“So, has every looked at the menu?” I asked. They didn’t realize that the “hardcover books” in front of them were actually menus.
The waitstaff was exceptionally kind and patient with my family, even though they are not typically a restaurant for kids. Lindell ordered a grilled cheese sandwich, which was, according to him, the best he’s ever had, proving Dustin’s theory that even a sandwich can be made fancy if you cut it diagonally.
Ford and Owen ordered pasta with butter. We went through a lot of butter. Never mind the delicate pat Thistles usually provides for the small basket of bread; eventually the waitress brought over half a stick.
Everyone was quiet while they ate. This amazed me. They didn’t talk with their mouths open, and they kept their napkins in their laps. However, I did notice that Ford was scarfing down his pasta. When he sat back, he smiled and rubbed his stomach. “That was the single most buttery thing I’ve ever eaten,” he said, looking like he’d just finished Thanksgiving dinner.
Owen agreed: best boiled noodles he’s ever had.
There’s a reason Thistles is one of my favorites: I’ve never been disappointed with my meal. But I had no idea they could make a five-star sandwich and pasta, too.
When we walked out of the restaurant, I felt a rush of relaxation similar to when the body’s adrenaline abruptly lowers after a near-miss on the highway.
“That was a close one,” I said to Dustin.
We asked the boys what they thought. Although they enjoyed the experience, they agreed that places like Thistles are best left for the adults.
“People think that ‘romantic’ is nice,” Ford explained. “But for kids, ‘romantic’ is scary.”
Scary? He doesn’t even know the half of it. He’s never taken three boys to one of the city’s nicest restaurants.