Isn't summer great?
The sunshine, the scent of fresh flowers, the sweet sip of sangria you used to enjoy before you had kids and stopped spending your days lounging on patios, but instead chasing after tiny humans hell-bent on jumping off the tallest play structures at the park? WHY DOES THE SUNSCREEN HAVE TO MAKE THEM SO SLIPPERY?!
I used to love a good summer patio. Now that I have a toddler, I not only don't want to drink excessively in front of my child, but the ability to even sit down can seem, at times, impossible. If you're in the same boat as me, and wish you could enjoy a summer patio even though you're now responsible for human lives, fear not.
Here are my tried-and-true methods to (kind of) get your drink on (sometimes).
1. Find a child-friendly patio
They do exist, but they're rare, and not always easy to find (and those of us who do find them might not be willing to give up our secrets). So start hunting now for this most Holy Grail of summer parenting. Bonus points if the patio is fenced-in so your tyke can't take a runner.
I found my personal Mecca by accident. A friend and I decided to hang out while transitioning our children to daycare last fall, and as we both wept over abandoning our babies, we decided lunch would be a good distraction. But, because we're moms, first we used this precious and rare time away from our kids to buy them clothes, shoes and toys.
We were starving by the time we'd finished our guilt-shopping, so we went to the restaurant next door to the shop even though it didn't look like anything special. But, oh, it was so very, very special. Tucked away to the side was a completely covered patio, fenced in on all sides, with a carpeted play area fully furnished with everything a toddler could ever want: a play house, a play kitchen, a slide, several push-and-go cars, a chalkboard and two miniature picnic tables.
One day I might even be able to convince some of my old patio-dwelling childless friends to meet me there.
I vowed to return once my son was old enough to enjoy it, and I've been every week since the first thaw this year. The food isn't fancy. The decor is a little dingy. But I can (sometimes) eat (some of) a meal while (occasionally) sitting down, so it's my favourite place in the entire world. And I always order a drink, even if we're there at 11 a.m. because that's the only time that works with my son's naps, just for the novelty of being able to.
One day I might even be able to convince some of my old patio-dwelling childless friends to meet me there, if they're available for a refreshing morning beverage or a quick dinner at 5 p.m., which is when my son eats, and don't mind holding their drinks in the air every time my child sprints towards us screaming "MINE?!"
(And no, I'm not telling you where my heaven patio is, because if it becomes popular and I can't get a seat, I'll cry harder than my toddler does when I have to pry chalk out of his mouth and remind him to "SIT ON YOUR BUM ON THE SLIDE! ON YOUR BUM! ON YOUR BUM!!!!" Find your own, and god speed!)
2. Make your own patio
Inspired by the restaurant patio I'd discovered, this summer I've slowly but surely turned my backyard into Pee-wee's Playhouse in the hopes I might be able to sit under an umbrella while my son entertains himself.
I have dreams of sipping a sangria as my son plays in his fully loaded backyard, occasionally looking up at me and smiling as if to say "thank you, Mama, for designing and purchasing this peaceful sanctuary for me. Watch me as I play house, alone, for the next 40 minutes, and enjoy your drink. You deserve it."
I've written this passage in the present tense because it has yet to happen, but oh, I'm holding onto the dream, and it's beautiful. In reality, my energetic toddler spends his backyard time demanding I squat in his house with him as he pours liquid bubbles all over my jeans, and who am I to argue? He's also decided umbrellas, or "BELLLLLLLA!" are the anti-Christ, and can't be anywhere near them unless I want to enjoy an hour making them go "UP!" or "DOWN!" as he screams hysterically at their very existence, so sitting in the backyard doesn't really work unless I want to have a nervous breakdown or an extreme sunburn.
But I do enjoy the occasional backyard beverage after my son goes to bed. And, even though I'm generally too awkward to make mom friends, I might use the new playhouse to lure some neighbourhood parents over for a visit. Surely, with enough adults to man the umbrellas and the bubbles, someone can enjoy a mojito. There's strength in numbers.
3. Picnics are the new patios
Like many parents with young kids, my husband and I spend most of our weekends at neighbourhood parks. And recently I realized we can extend our time there AND get a decent summertime snack in by packing along a picnic.
I've yet to attempt bringing an alcoholic beverage, largely because I need all my wits about me when my 21-month-old decides to march up the steps to the tallest slide in the two seconds I look down to adjust my sandal, but a lemonade on a hot day is nothing to scoff at. Add a little cheese, an assortment of crackers and some fruit, and you can pretend you're enjoying a delightful fromage platter on a bistro patio instead of pulling ants out of your child's mouth.
You should be prepared for the fact that your child will devour everything you pack, and you will be left to eat the crumbs of his discards in between tours of the splash pad, but hey — you're outside. With food. And some kind of drink.
If you expect more than this in between nap-time and night-night, who are you? And did you do it? Tell me your ways.
4. You're a parent now, so just accept all your (patio-lounging, tropical-drink gulping) dreams are dead
Yes. There is also that.
5. Ooorrrr call in grandma
Before you abandon all hope for a relaxing patio drink anytime in the next 18 years, there's one last tried but true method: grandparents. If you really need an adult escape, ask them (or someone else you trust to care for your child) to babysit. They live for this sort of thing*, right?
*No, they don't, but they will likely happily watch your child with enough notice, and as long as you don't ask them every Friday from May to October.
Last weekend, to celebrate our five-year wedding anniversary, my husband and I spent the night at an adorable inn while my mother and sister took care of our son back home. And the first thing we did was sit on a patio, order actual alcoholic drinks, and put our feet up with the peace of mind that no one was going to sprint down the street or barrel head-first down a seven-foot slide on our watch.
Of course, we spent most of our time away talking about how perfect our son is, wondering what he was doing, and watching videos of him making demands of the backyard umbrella, but the drinks were cold and the sun was warm.
Maybe we'll even be able to do it again in a year or two.
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