Dinner Dilemma: Kids or No Kids?

Kids & restaurants: a good combo?

Kids and restaurants: a good combo? / Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Karen Hendricks

Have you heard about the recent controversy caused by a number of restaurants establishing “no kids” policies?

Some have outright banned kids, saying they want to establish a place for parents or couples to “escape,” while other restaurants have declared a “no kids under 7 after 7 pm” zone.

People have come out in favor of each side, with some of the points being:

  • There are too many parents bringing their kids to restaurants without expectations of appropriate behavior, leaving other diners disturbed by tantrums, screaming, etc.
  • All patrons deserve an enjoyable night out.
  • Not all families should be “punished” by these policies, as some parents truly do set rules and expectations for their kids.
  • Many family-friendly restaurants still do exist.
  • There are plenty of restaurants that don’t come out and say “no kids allowed” but if they don’t have high chairs or a child-friendly menu, the writing is on the wall. Some restaurants are simply geared towards adults.

I had mixed reactions as some of these news stories broke over the past few months. As the mother of three teens, our kids are beyond the tantrum stage (thank goodness!) but when they were younger, we truly limited our visits to restaurants because it often felt like more of a hassle than what it was worth. Our two youngest children are only a year apart, so I do remember getting “looks” several times when we dined out and needed two high chairs. We were always on edge, aware of every sound they made, in tune with their moods, and if they started to shift… it was time to ask the waiter, “Check, please?!”

We never wanted to upset other diners around us, especially those who didn’t have children. When we were younger (PC… “pre-children”), I have to admit, we were often disturbed by crying babies or toddler tantrums. Let’s just say they didn’t help set the tone for romantic candlelight dinners. But, in those PC days, does anyone truly understand what it’s like to be a parent? I know now… children are unpredictable, even for those of us who try our best to parent, establish rules, etc. Our tolerance levels shift, our understanding deepens, as we become parents ourselves.

Part of me wants to stand up for the idea of families doing something as basic as eating a meal, together. As a society, I feel as though we should support families more. We need all the help we can get!

On the other hand, we are so very blessed in America to have the ability to start up any type of business we’d like—law-abiding, of course. And if we wanted to open a restaurant geared towards adult clientele, or pint-sized patrons, then that’s our right. It’s the American dream, right?

So after chewing on this issue for a while (bad pun alert)… here’s how it all shakes out for me. I think the real issue is with the segment of parents who simply don’t parent. Maybe they don’t like to tell their children “no.” So for that reason, I’m going to say “yes,” I’m completely in favor of restaurant owners who decide to establish a no-kids policy. There are still plenty of other dining options on the menu for patrons of all ages.

Do you agree? Do you eat out with your family? What have your experiences been like? Feel free to join the conversation by leaving a comment below.


Texas restaurant bans kids under 7 after 7 pm 

New sushi bar bans those under 18 

Café owner shames moms and kids on Facebook 

Food & Wine lists a number of restaurants with no-kids policies 

The Washington Post follows-up and reports the no-kids sushi bar is doing just fine


Summer Memories

By Karen Hendricks

Ok, I know it’s officially fall on the calendar now. However, I feel as though fall was forced upon us this year. Candy corn started appearing in the grocery store in mid-August, before the summer’s salt water taffy supply had run out. Even Mother Nature was rushing into fall–most of August was unseasonably cool here in the mid-Atlantic. September (which IS still summer, through the 21st) has been a bit chilly. I feel cheated.

So, in an attempt to bring back some summertime warmth, I’ve put together a collection of favorite photos from our family beach vacation in Bethany Beach, Delaware. I snapped all of the photos below during an early-morning adventure. That morning, we all woke up (some of us easier than others) around 4:45, packed up a basket of goodies, and enjoyed breakfast on the beach as we watched the sun rise over the ocean. It’s one of my most treasured memories of the entire week and I’m glad we made the effort to roll everyone out of bed.

Beach Sunrise 02

5:18 am – The sky is brightening… Some of us are still sipping warm tea and relaxing on the picnic blanket, while some of us are exploring the beach

Beach Sunrise 01

I was intrigued by this children’s flip-flop, which someone had kindly stuck atop the beach fence, in hopes that the owner would easily spot it and reclaim it. There are indeed kind people in the world…

Beach Sunrise 03

5:25 am – Isn’t it incredible, that no two pictures of the ocean are the same? I love trying to capture the variety of rippling effects made by waves crashing on the beach

My husband always has an interesting relationship with the birds at any given beach... I'm not sure what that's all about...

My husband always has an interesting relationship with the birds at any given beach… I’m not sure what that’s all about…

Beach Sunrise 04

Fishermen try their luck in the pre-dawn hours…

Beach Sunrise 05

5:33 am – The warm glow of the sun is starting to break through the morning’s overcast skies…

Beach Sunrise 07

Don’t you love the birdie posing for a pic along the surf?

Beach Sunrise 08

5:38 am – My daughter captures the sparkle of sunshine we’re beginning to see across the ocean

Beach Sunrise 09

Gorgeous colors and the promise of a beautiful day at the beach

Beach Sunrise 10

5:40 am – I think this might be my favorite pic of the entire series

Beach Sunrise 12

Our three loves…

Beach Sunrise 11

The reflection of sunshine stretches across the sand… would that be called “sandshine?”

Beach Sunrise 13

5:45 am – Hurray! An hour into our adventure, we’ve successfully watched the sun rise over the Atlantic.

Although it’s something that happens every day, how often do we truly stop to watch the sun rise (or set)? This was our one day to see the entire process, to soak it all in, and tuck those memories away to warm us on cool fall and winter days. It was a simple, but beautiful way, to enjoy time “off the merry-go-round” as a family.

How do you keep vacation memories alive? What special moments stand out during your summer travels?

Updates from the Emptying Nest: Getting Ready for Fall Break and Thanksgiving Vacation

4042911267_a4124b6191By Chris Little

This morning it’s just 23 days until my beloved first-born, now a bona-fide college freshman, comes home for his first Fall Break. And after that, just a month or so until Thanksgiving. It seems like I’m only beginning to get used to setting one less place at the dinner table, and already I’m thinking about how soon he’ll be back. (Hooray!) Here are some things I’m doing to get ready:

1. Talking with him about travel arrangements. I’m not looking at bus tickets though—he’s a big boy and he’s got a credit card, so he can do the actual planning and ticket buying. But I know he’s got his mind on other things (his studies, right?), so I’m doing a little friendly reminding (read: gentle nagging) so he’ll take a look at transportation options sooner rather than later. After all, bus seats fill up fast for weekend and holiday travel—not to mention plane seats, for those whose kids are further afield—and I’d like to avoid having to drive out to pick him up if I can.

2. And appointments. Okay this doesn’t matter so much to my son, who’s happy to slip into pretty much any friendly neighborhood barbershop when he needs a trim, but if you’ve got a suave son or daughter who’s committed to a particular hairstylist, you might remind him or her to call soon for that Thanksgiving-weekend appointment. The same goes for the orthodontist, physician, or dentist … we all know freshmen who get their wisdom teeth pulled the day after Thanksgiving—if yours needs to be one of them, getting an appointment early will save a hassle later.

photo (3)3. Planning a few favorite menu items. I know my son loves my chicken potpie and baked spaghetti casserole, and those lemon bars I make in the summertime, so I’m beginning to think about when I’ll be making them over his break. And I think I’ll pick up an extra set of food storage tubs so I can send him back to school with some leftovers to heat in his microwave…

4. Talking about activities. I certainly don’t want to fill up all his time, but is there anything special he’d like to do as a family, or as an extended family, while he’s home?

5. Managing my expectations. I’m pretty sure my dear freshman will be happy to see us when he gets home—but he’ll also be eager to check in with his high school buddies, and to sleep late in his own bed. Chances are we won’t spend hours and hours sitting cozily on the couch together with mugs of tea talking about his feelings and hopes and dreams. I can daydream about those conversations, but I’m trying to stay realistic: He might spend the weekend asleep or out of the house! I have to be okay with that, and so far I am.

It’s going to be great to have him home — to set four places around the table again! — but I’m sure it won’t be exactly how I imagine it. And it’ll go by so fast, and then he’ll be gone again. So these days I’m  enjoying looking forward to his visit, and doing what I can to make sure things go smoothly.

Of course I’d love to hear how more experienced empty-nesters approach vacations. What do you do to plan? How do you prepare? What are the best parts? The most challenging parts?

First image: Some rights reserved by lynn dombrowski. Second image: My dinner plates!

Cause for Celebration!

red cakeBy Karen Hendricks

“Off the Merry-Go-Round” is celebrating its first birthday! And we are so grateful to everyone who has joined us on this journey.

Whether you are a parent, mom or dad, or even a grandparent, working in an office or working at home, juggling your family with part-time or full-time employment, we are thankful that you are reading, laughing or stressing with us, commenting, offering advice and adding to this community.

When the six of us embarked on this venture a year ago, we sure hoped YOU would find us… and plenty of YOU did and are still finding and joining us. Thanks a bunch! We love hearing from you and reading your words of wisdom.

Check out this COOL word art, created when we plugged our website URL into It’s generated from the most commonly-used words over the past year. Any surprise that “family” and “time” are the most prominent words? Pretty fascinating, eh?

one year wordle

When we launched this website a year ago, all six of us had pretty much left full-time employment in the dust. We all worked (certainly inside the home—but outside the home as well!) and our careers were all taking a backseat. Our first stab at a mission and tagline went like this:

Mission: to provide a place of community & inspiration for moms who have left corporate or full-time careers in order to spend more time with their children & families. Re-prioritizing, they are seeking more meaningful, enriched family lives.  

Welcome and congrats for “jumping off the merry-go-round.” Enjoy this blog as a source of community and inspiration for all moms who have scaled back their professional careers in favor of more enriching family time.

A lot has changed in the past year! Several of us have taken on new jobs and larger career roles… and there are times when we wonder if we are truly “off the merry-go-round.”

Most of our subjects here are about balance… trying to maintain balance between work and family, sanity and insanity! But seriously, we don’t want to make anyone feel excluded. Just because a parent is a full-time working parent doesn’t mean he/she can’t still cherish family time. And we wanted to be honest about our situations… we aren’t 100% stay-at-home moms, yet we all strive to carve out family time, to make life as meaningful as possible for our families. We want this website to reflect how much we love and care about our families as our number one priority.

We wanted to reflect this slightly different outlook so we switched up our mission/tagline and are redefined as:

Off the Merry-Go-Round: A place of community and inspiration for parents who cherish time with their children and families.

* Let us know what you think about our change! And we sure hope you stick around for the next year… 🙂


Real Estate Negotiations: What to do with your child’s room (and her stuff) after she heads to college


By Chris Little

If you’ve got a new college kid, by now she’s off at school. You’re likely adjusting to the quiet, doing a little less cooking and laundry—and walking past her empty room a couple times a day.

About that room: It’s no longer in active use—at least her half of it, if your kids share. So what are you going to do with all that space? And all the stuff in it?

Maybe you’re one of those parents who was tempted to stop by Sherwin Williams on your way home from dropping your freshman off at orientation, so you could set right to work repainting that room and converting it into a home office. Or maybe what you really want to do is shut the bedroom door and leave your kid’s room completely intact, as a memorial to his early days.

I suppose most of us fall somewhere in the middle. As for me, I wanted to leave my son’s room more or less the way it was, so he’s got a comfortable, familiar space to come home to at Thanksgiving. But to be honest, his room was too much of a mess to leave untouched. (No, that’s not his room up above, but you get the idea!)

Over the years I’ve been pretty laissez-faire when it comes to the tidiness of my kids’ rooms. My stance has been that the kids’ rooms are their domain, so they should get to decide how tidy to keep them—within limits, of course! So once the kids got old enough to help, I expected them to pitch in with the house cleaning when I asked them to, but I didn’t clean their rooms for them, and I pretty much let them decide how much or often to clean them—but no dirty dishes or uneaten food allowed!

As it turns out, my daughter is pretty fastidious, but my son is, well, not. Certainly he’ll clean up if he needs to (like when his grandmother is coming to visit), and he vacuums his carpet regularly enough—but the place hadn’t been dusted in quite awhile. I have to admit that part of what got me through sending him off to college was the thought that I could finally get in there and wipe down his bookshelves!

Tidy bedroomNow to be sure, we talked about it beforehand—I told him my intentions, because I didn’t want to invade his space unannounced. And so last weekend, armed with dust rags and wood polish, I addressed myself to his room, dusting off his dresser, bookshelves, and desk, carefully replacing his books and treasures where I found them, and resisting the urge to do much organizing or discarding. I kept in mind that this room is still his room, and the decision about whether to throw away those old movie ticket stubs is his to make, not mine.

I also did some reading about what other parents have decided to do with their kids’ rooms. It seems like there’s a consensus that rushing into renovations is a bad idea. Here’s what I learned:

1. Leave their room intact, at least for a while. For at least the first semester, it’s probably a good idea to leave your college kid’s room pretty much as-is, if you can. Of course it’s a different story if you’ve got younger siblings eager to expand into the empty space (see below). But otherwise, go ahead and do some dusting and tidying, but don’t change things around too much. They’ll be home before you know it for fall break and Thanksgiving, and you want them to feel like they’ve got a home to come home to.

2. Before you toss it out, talk it over. I’m a stickler for privacy and boundaries, so I won’t pick up anything more than a wet towel in my kids’ rooms without making sure they’re okay with it. More reasonable parents might have a great routine for how much cleaning they do in their kids’ rooms. But regardless, before you go in there and start tossing out old school work or donating their Legos to the homeless shelter, it seems respectful that you’d check in with your college kid, preferably before she leaves home or during a break from school. You want to make sure you don’t accidentally throw out something precious to her—and you want to give her a chance to stash her journals, love letters, and anything else it’s really not your business to find.

3. Same goes for big changes. If you’ve got younger siblings who need the space your college kid has vacated, or if you really need to convert that room into a home office, be sure to talk it over with your college kid before you break out the paint brush. And make sure you reserve some closet space and a corner for her bed, or at least a sofa bed, so she’s got a place to sleep and stow her stuff when she comes home for winter break.

4. Be patient. Chances are that when your college kid comes home for Thanksgiving his room will already feel a little alien, the posters a little juvenile, and the old ticket stubs less meaningful. It could be that your kid will even help you do some decluttering over the winter holidays!

5. If you can, let them bunk with you until after graduation. While we don’t want our homes to become storage units for our absent children, letting our kids keep their claim to their bedroom real estate until they’re settled into their own apartment after graduation can pay off for you. It’ll make visits home less stressful—and more likely to be repeated—if your kid has a comfortable place to stay. It may also help your kid make smart choices knowing she’s got a safety net if she needs it, rather than rushing into just any housing situation because she needs one. And keep in mind that even though today it might feel like your college kid has moved out for good, the reality is she probably hasn’t—some studies find that well more than half of college graduates move home for at least a little while after commencement while they’re looking for work.

How about you, empty nesters? What did you do with your college kids’ rooms after they left? And how soon did you do it? I’d love to hear your advice!

Images: Messy room: Some rights reserved by Rubbermaid Products; Tidy room: Pottery Barn Teen.

First Day… Hurray?

By Karen Hendricks

Here comes the bus... Source: Wikimedia Commons

Here comes the bus… Source: Wikimedia Commons

‘Tis the season… The back-to-school season! Do you cheer with a “Hurray” or reach for the tissues? Are your kids excited or scared–or both? The phrase “back to school” conveys a variety of emotions and meanings:

  • The excitement of new beginnings
  • Sadness over the end of summer vacation
  • Fear of the unknown
  • Changes… a new grade, perhaps a new school, a different bus
  • Another year older
  • The passage of time
  • Time moving too quickly
  • Milestones
  • Growing up
  • Happiness at being reunited with friends
  • Worrying about finding classrooms
  • Picking out and planning the first day of school outfit
  • Brightly-colored, new backpacks
  • New sneakers, squeaky-clean
  • Getting back into a familiar school day routine
  • Adjusting to new schedules
  • Dreading homework
  • Yellow pencils, pink erasers
  • Early mornings and alarm clocks
  • Posing for first day of school pictures

I think you can see all of these emotions and examples, in the photo collection (below) from our Off the Merry-Go-Round bloggers and families, as they rang in the first days of school recently. Enjoy! Wishing our readers and their families all the best, as we all embark upon a new school year together.

What does the first day of school mean to you? Make sure you take pictures to capture these precious moments and emotions!

(Click on any of the photos to open a slideshow.)

Saying Goodbye to a Pet

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

Untitled Poem

In my last blog, “Saying Goodbye to the Baby Years,” I mentioned that Kalli Dakos has a wonderful collection of “goodbye poems” to mark occasions of love, loss, and moving on (click here for her website). The poem above is a touching tribute to a beloved dog – missed by a child even into adulthood.

When you have children, addressing the loss of a pet can be especially tricky for two reasons: you are demonstrating how grief in general is handled in your family, and you are building the foundation for how your child will cope with loss in the future.

Several months ago, my family and I went through this process as we grieved the loss of our beloved American Eskimo dog, Bebe. I purchased Bebe in the late 1990s from a well run, local pet store where I lived in St. Petersburg, Florida. She saw me through a painful divorce, the sometimes loneliness of single life, and many career and personal adventures in between.

Forever Friends

Forever Friends

Although Bebe died several months prior, we celebrated her life this May in our lovely azalea garden with the flowers in full bloom. No matter how you choose to say goodbye to your pet, it is important to find some way to commemorate the life of the beautiful creature that brought sunshine to your days. Below are a few suggestions for saying goodbye to your pet – no matter what kind of a pet you have.

Our Azalea Garden in Bloom

Our Azalea Garden in bloom

How to Say “Goodbye” to Your Pet

* If you have the opportunity, spend last moments of quiet time together. Hold your pet, talk with your pet, cry with your pet. These final memories will be good ones to hold onto after your pet is gone. The evening before I had to take Bebe to the veterinarian to put her to sleep, my husband watched my son so she and I could just be together. I petted her, held her, talked openly with her, and cried – a lot. We even took final pictures of her with us. I am so glad I spent that final time with her and will treasure it always.

Some final moments with Bebe ...

Some final moments with Bebe …

* Talk with others. Sometimes we may feel a bit embarrassed, even “silly,” when we grieve our pet. Yet remember that many people share your feelings. You may have heard someone refer to their pet as a “member of the family.” Pets can indeed touch our lives in some profound ways. Talking about how you feel with others will help you see that your sentiments are echoed by many. You are not alone!

*Address the loss openly and with great sensitivity. If this is your children’s first experience with death you definitely want to handle it well since it will likely have a lasting impact on their lives. It may be difficult to refrain from cracking a smile when having to flush a little belly-up guppy down the toilet, yet if you treat this time seriously and guide your children through the grieving process they hopefully will develop coping skills for future losses.

* Include the entire family in the grieving process. This is very important in order to help your children and other family members find closure. No matter how old your children, they can participate in some way. Of course for an infant it may simply be that they are being held in your arms during the goodbyes, and can look back on pictures of the day when the family discusses the event in the future. In this way, they will see that their presence was valued during that time as well. Older children can have more involved roles, depending upon their age.

* Hold a remembrance ceremony or memorial service. Every family will handle this differently. Some purchase a burial plot in a pet cemetery; others mark a special place in their backyard for burying a memory box. Still others have their pet cremated and display the ashes in a beautiful container or box. If allowing a veterinary hospital handle all of the arrangements, and no ashes or memory marker is going to be received, a family may just wish to set aside time one day for sharing memories of their pet.

Hold a special memorial service and involve all of the members of your family - no matter how young.

Hold a special memorial service and involve all the members of your family – no matter how young.

* The way you say goodbye does not have to be extravagant to be meaningful. There is no “right” way to say goodbye, nor one way over another that will make the loss any easier. In acknowledging the life of your pet, you need to choose a way that feels good to you and works for your family. Perhaps you have the money for a burial plot in a pet cemetery and feel that is a special tribute. Just know that it is not necessary to go to such great expense and effort to say goodbye to your pet. The way you say goodbye is not as important as the meaning behind whatever way you choose.

* Establish a permanent “marker” for your pet. Again, this does not have to be an expensive item – rather just something for you and your family to look at, touch, visit, and talk to. Something solid that allows you to “communicate” with, and remember, your pet during the times you miss her. Sometimes time doesn’t heal all wounds and it is nice to have a more tangible way to reminisce about your pet outside of recalling fond memories. My family chose to keep Bebe’s beautiful wooden ashes box on our display case rather than bury it. Instead, we buried a box full of memorable items from her life in our azalea garden. We marked the “grave” site with a fairly large, flat rock and placed a small outdoor dog statue of an American Eskimo on top of that. Her resting place is watched over by our garden fairy, Fiona.

Bebe's resting place

Bebe’s resting place

* Invite whomever you like. Your ceremony can be small and intimate, perhaps just the members of your immediate family as ours was for Bebe, or you can open the memorial service to extended family and even good friends. Invite whomever you are comfortable sharing the occasion with as well as whomever will be supportive of you during this difficult time.

*Plan ahead. Of course all pets will die eventually. Just as we often begin planning for our passing before it happens, the grieving process and saying goodbye to our pets can be made easier if we know how we are going to handle that time when it comes.

Saying goodbye to a pet is typically not easy yet by having a plan in place for doing so with your family, finding a special way to honor the memory of your pet, and helping your children deal with their loss you can certainly get through it.

Special sentiments ...

Special sentiments …

Please share how you handled the loss of a pet with your family – how you coped, or a special way you remembered the life of your pet.