IN case you ever wondered what it's like to go on a solo brunch with the infamous Josie....
It’s 10AM on a Sunday. I push my mountain buggy nano with Josephine strapped inside and the booster seat on top into Park Chow on Irving & 9th in Inner Sunset. It was promising not to see any people standing outside --- often this place gets so crowded on a sunny weekend that despite having two floors and plenty of tables, the wait can still be long. I’ve made many pilgrimages to Park Chow to immediately know that not only would there be no wait today, the service would be blazing fast.
The hostess greets me and I say “Just the two of us. I don’t need a highchair.” I have done my solo dining out experience with Josephine enough to condense information down to just this. No need to say one adult and one baby since we would both be needing regular chairs. I bring my own booster seat because Josephine climbs out of high chairs.
I park the stroller by the entrance waiting area where there is just one folded up umbrella stroller right now. Holding Josephine in one arm and my purse and booster seat in another, I follow the hostess upstairs. Despite having been here many times this is the first time I am being seated upstairs. The hostess leads us to a little cove with a well-shielded fireplace (which I immediately mentally check as properly child-proofed) where we are the only seated party. Excellent! I sit down, set Josephine in my lap and study the menu. Josephine wriggles and grabs a pouch of sugar from the table. I ignore her and offer her a pair of chopsticks to play with.
Josephine pulls my shirt and says “nana” which is her current rendition of mandarin for boobies (it really should be “nene” not “nana”). I give her the boobies to have more time to examine the menu. Another party is led into our little cove. It’s a mom with her daughter and a female friend. Hearing the party approach, Josephine looks up. The mom and I have some polite exchanges and I learn that her daughter is 2 years old. The two year old is sitting in her mom’s lap quietly and giggling at her own reflection in the mirror. Our side of the little cove is a complete wall of mirror.
The waitress comes. I order coffee, veggie scramble, and baked apples. Once ordered, I put Josephine down since she does not want to be still. She immediately starts walking around the premise, causing a little slow down here and there, though I mostly keep her out of the way of staff and other customers. The waitress comes back and lets me know that baked apple is out; I order a side of fruit instead. Josephine continues to walk around the second floor, but she is at least holding my hand and does not protest when I steer her out of peoples’ ways. Surveying the second floor, I notice there is a large family with two kids who are about to leave; a table with two couples and a baby in a high chair; a table with four adults and no baby; another table with a couple who smiles at Josephine as she walks by. Park Chow is known to be kid-friendly, boasting two bathrooms, changing tables and plenty of high chairs, so neither the staff nor the patrons are strangers to roaming toddlers.
The waitress brings coffee for the table with the 2-yr old. I look at the cup of coffee longingly. Then, a waiter leads a young couple to be seated next to me. Their table is only inches away from us. I ask the young lady if it’s OK that Josephine’s booster seat-strapped chair is literally right next to her. She says it’s OK. I’m a little anxious: she might be too young to know how obnoxious a messy screaming toddler can be. I can only hope for the best. A waiter leads another party of 4 adults and no children to sit at the only table left in the little cove. It is getting crowded and I am bracing myself for the worst. Josephine is generally not too bad dining out, but I’m going solo and if she gets too cranky, I am prepared to use my ultimate strategy: nurse her while I eat. This trick has worked like a charm since day one. I would prefer if she eat actual breakfast so this is always a last resort. Also, though I am at this point very skilled at eating with one hand, I still prefer to use both.
The food arrives for the 2-yr old table. The mom got pancakes for herself and her daughter. My food arrived right afterwards. I put Josephine in the booster seat and put her bib on. She immediately tears off the bib and hands it back to me; I don’t try bibbing her again. I knew this might happen and have dressed her in a shirt that was already tainted with strawberries and have a second clean shirt in the bag. I start putting cut pieces of eggs on her plate. I know she would eat because it’s been over two hours since she woke up. Indeed she immediately starts eating, dropping small bits of melted goat cheese on her shirt. I bite into the toast and casually observe the 2-yr-old chewing on a piece of pancake and think to myself: sigh, why can’t Josephine be as calm and nice as this kid? She doesn’t even need a high chair. I turn back to Josephine and break off a piece of toast to her. She chews it down while playing with chopsticks and a fork. Her new thing is to be fed with a fork. If you offer her food on a fork, the chance she eats it goes up by 50%.
I’m sitting facing the mirror wall, and through the reflection I see the other table with a baby in the high chair. The baby is holding a crayon and appears to be content. Sigh, I think to myself, Josie would never sit still in a high chair like that.
I turn back and notice the two-year-old is now smearing pancakes on the mirror. I laugh inside: guess she’s not so still after all! The mom notices and scrambles to get her to stop. In the process, the two-year-old starts screaming. The mom leaves the seat with the toddler and starts walking up and down the same route Josephine was doing earlier. The mom’s friend is now sitting alone at the table eating.
Josephine proclaims herself done on eggs and toast and begins to throw it on the ground. She stabs the young guy at the table next to us in the back with the egg-soaked fork. The guy turns back and I quickly apologize. He smiles indifferently and turns back, too focused on his equally kid-oblivious companion. Their order arrives and I can tell they are really freshly in love, as they feed each other bites of strawberry pancake. Feed on, young lovers, I think to myself, one day you will be feeding the same stuff to your kiddos and it won’t look this pretty.
I move on to the fruit plate and offer Josie a piece of banana. She opens her mouth wide and swallows it whole. I’m amazed. Through the reflection in the mirror, I see the baby in the high chair is now crying and kicking. The mom stands up and puts the baby in a carrier and starts doing the “baby swing” --- standing next to the table and swinging back and forth --- while her husband continues to engage in conversation with their couple (and likely child-free) friend. I guess that baby can’t stand the high chair forever, either.
I feed Josephine one piece of banana after another. She eats it all. Off in the distance, I hear some baby scream, though it sounds more like a newborn crying. I stop Josephine from waving the dirty fork which is only inches away from the young guy next to us. The young couple continues to ignore the rest of the world and is smiling and talking at each other. I offer Josephine the chopsticks she dropped on the ground in exchange for the fork; she refuses and now has both a fork and a single chopsticks in hand.
The mom with the two-year-old comes back. Her friend gets up and takes the toddler off to walk up and down again while the mom sits down to finish the pancakes in solitude.
I pick up a raspberry with my fork and offer to Josephine. I tease her: “It’s gonna be sour, baby!” She’s never had it before. She swallows it whole and stops, a stunned look appears on her face as she pushes the raspberry half way out of her mouth. I laugh victoriously at my little misdeed. But no, she takes the raspberry back and eats it. I give her another whole raspberry. This time she eats it without hesitation. I am all amazement and a little sad my prank didn’t work.
I look in the mirror. The husband is still talking energetically with his friends, but the mom has now put the baby down to stand next to the three-step stairs. The baby can stand but can’t quite walk yet, so that’s the extent of his active zone.
The waitress comes and I ask for a box for the remaining fruit and the check. I take out baby wipes and start cleaning the tray. Josephine takes one of the wipes and fervently wipes the tray along with me. The check comes. I pay, and put Josephine on the ground to roam around on her own while I finish the cleaning. Except for a small bit of egg on the ground and the tray itself, there actually isn’t much mess. Out of the corner of my eye, I see that Josephine has reached the three-step stairs and is going down on it butt first, with the standing baby and his mom watching.
“She did very well!” The two-year-old’s mom, who is sitting alone at the table, smiles at me and says.
“It’s a good day today.” I smile back.
Josephine went down the stairs and immediately came back up, babbling and laughing as she walked towards me. I leave a handsome tip, pack up my purse and booster seat, pick her up in the other hand and goes down the stairs. There are now three strollers parked next to mine. I extract my stroller, take Josephine outside, and change her into a clean new shirt. Then we stroll away.
One must cherish every little victory in life, and in this case, it is defined by a clean shirt and wipes left to spare after a decent warm breakfast.