Defining “good.”

My family is just home from a whirlwind week in NYC. Will and I had a fabulous time when we went, just the two of us, in May, so when my dear friend floated the idea of an autumn NYC trip with her family we pounced.

It was a glorious week, and interesting on so many levels. Our weather was beautiful (as was my friend’s new baby—so fun).

My kids have spent a good bit of time in Chicago, but NYC is on a whole different level, and they’ve never experienced anything like it. Will and I watched their little minds explode over and over again as they took everything in.

The kids were interested in many of the same things the grown-ups were: to my relief, they enjoyed just walking around the city. They were enthusiastic about the handful of museums we visited. And they loved the food.

We ate our way through the city. There were nine of us for this trip, and we family-styled it all over town, sampling widely. We sampled Japanese, Sardinian, Turkish, Korean, Mexican. We ate pizza and bagels. We sampled a whole lot of desserts. I had no idea how much my kids would love the food.

On our last night, the family groups split up. My family of 6 set out to find dinner for our last night.

We were exhausted: we’d been on our feet for hours that day; over the course of the week we put in 20 – 25,000 steps a day. (I had no idea my kids could walk that far.) We weren’t particularly hungry (thanks to 3 p.m. falafel) but didn’t want to skip dinner either.

Will and I wanted the kids to be happy with our last meal. When we asked them where they wanted to eat, they said they didn’t care, as long as it was someplace “good.”

We quickly flipped through our mental list of options: there was a highly recommended Thai place we wanted to try, or Southern comfort food just a few blocks away. We thought they’d enjoy the classy but family-friendly white-tablecloth place the two of us dined at in May. Or we could seek out some truly fabulous New York pizza for our last night.

We had to figure it out fast, because we had to sit down.

Will and I did a quick mental review of where we’d been that week: the kids loved the ethnic meals when we had twenty dishes (no joke) on the table, passing them around. They adored the French bakery where they got a whole cookie all to themselves, and the time we bought a whole bagful of pastries to share.

But they seemed disappointed in a cozy Italian place that Will and I loved, even though the mood was divine and the pizza out of this world. We dove in for a snack just hours after an enormous late lunch, mostly to get out of the rain. The kids were underwhelmed by our small sampling of dishes, even though the food was amazing. Likewise, they seemed disappointed in Shake Shack. (Who is disappointed in Shake Shack?) We ordered a few shakes to split, and later it came out that they all wanted their own.

We really wanted to make the kids happy on our last night. As we stood there on the sidewalk, assessing our options, Will and I realized we’d been thinking of a “good” restaurant—by our standards.

But that wasn’t my kids’ idea of good. They like quantity, and they like choices. They like tasty food, but they’re not quite as discerning on that score yet. (I’m not thrilled with their priorities; we were assessing the facts, not the priorities we wished they had.)

And so we stepped into the closest diner-style place, the kind where you can walk up to the counter, point to what you want, and get it on a plate, immediately. Then we let them pick out any drink they wanted from the refrigerated case. (They drink water pretty much all the time, so that’s a big deal.)

The pizza was decent, not amazing. But the kids thought it was good. The kids thought it was great. Because their definition is not my own.

Defining “good” in a given situation isn’t confined to kids vs. adults. It could be about where to live, what route to take to work, how to spend a Sunday afternoon or the Christmas season. Or it could be about where to go for dinner on a Saturday night.

I’m just glad my kids are still talking about their pizza.

I’d love to hear examples in comments of how differing opinions and disparate definitions of “good” have played out in your own life. 

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  1. Dawn says:

    My kids and I just found a great compromise on this sort of thing when it comes to ice cream. I love sampling the plethora of options for ice cream shops in the Twin Cities, but the only thing that makes it magical to them is the waffle cone. So now I go to the closest ice cream parlor, buy cones for $1 each, and fill them with ice cream from home. BAM! Amazing ice cream night.

    • Ana says:

      yes! In fact, my kids just want CONES period, so I bought some from the grocery store & put any old grocery store ice cream into it (we save the $4/scoop fancy flavored gelato for ourselves; they only order chocolate and vanilla anyways)

  2. Guest says:

    SO. TRUE.
    Since having kids, I’ve found there have been many times over the last eight years that I worked so hard for great and our kids barely thought it was okay. Interestingly, those are also the times my anger is barely contained because *I’ve worked so hard* for something that is apparently not important to them (I’m working on it). Nice dinners are definitely up there as a “meh”. Elaborate holiday rituals are not only a “meh” but a “no thanks” I’m finding.
    I may get lit up with nasty responses but the one that just slays me is Christmas lights. I love simple, elegant things. Simple, white, twinkling lights are heavenly to me. Our kids ADORE multi-colored, Charlie Brown-style Christmas lights. I finally buckled last year and they were thrilled. I winced when I would pull in at night to our Rainbow Brite house but decided they’re only small for awhile and if it’s magical to them, so be it.

    • I remember HATING white lights as a kid! (Of course, now I find them classy.) My mom never gave in; we never had colored lights. I’m glad you’re letting your kids have their moment. 🙂

    • Anne says:

      “Our kids ADORE multi-colored, Charlie Brown-style Christmas lights. I finally buckled last year and they were thrilled. I winced when I would pull in at night to our Rainbow Brite house but decided they’re only small for awhile and if it’s magical to them, so be it.”

      This cracked me up. (I love white lights now, but as a kid I adored the rainbow ones, too. 🙂 )

  3. Jessica says:

    It never ceases to amaze me how differently my kids and I define good. For them, it often means something unexpected or out of the ordinary, even the smallest thing.

    Last year, my son came down with the flu on the same day my husband left for a business trip. I called in sick to work and stayed home with him. Later in the day, I had to take him with me – bucket in hand – to go pick up his sister. I felt terrible because he was so miserably sick. That night though, he told me that it had been a “good day.” I was stunned and a little confused (especially given how many times I had cleaned the bathroom). “I got to stay home with you today,” he said. “Wasn’t that lucky?”

    I’m grateful that my kids standard of good is so much lower than mine!

  4. Jamie says:

    This is a great post, and something I think is worthy of a lot of reflection. As a Nutritional Therapist, this idea often shows up in my work. What my clients value (weight loss, being able to go out to dinner with friends without being the “high-maintenance” one, etc.) is not always the same as what their assessments tell me they need, or what I would wish for them (choices and habits that get them to their best possible level of health).

    I’ve been challenging myself recently to really listen and hear people when they tell me what “good” looks like for them, and then to figure out how to tailor their plans to best support that reality – whether it’s what I would have chosen or not.

  5. Girl in Boston says:

    Gretchen Rubin has a great thought about how what others like isn’t necessarily what I like. I love the idea of giving ourselves permission to not like shopping, sports, etc. that “everyone else” likes.

  6. Tiffany says:

    Thank you for writing this post. We have decided to take our two young-ish boys to NYC in December (they are 8 and 5). Several people have commented that we’re crazy taking our kids there, but I think they will love it. Would love to see another post on tips for kids in the city and things you did.

    • Anne says:

      Our trip wasn’t hugely different than when my husband and I went alone in May. We thought we’d take a lot of taxis this time but we didn’t need to; my kids had more stamina walking than we expected, and we stayed right by a subway line so that was easy. (It did help that my husband and I had just been there alone, so we already had the hang of the subway system and didn’t have to figure it out with our kids standing there waiting on us.)

      We didn’t do a lot of kid-focused stuff. We visited MOMA for an hour (at the end of the day, so tickets were unexpectedly half price), went to the Museum of Natural History twice, and did a Statue of Liberty ferry. Those were our only “touristy” things.

      MY 8 and 5-year-old had a great time. My 5-year-old already wants to go back. 🙂

  7. beth says:

    It is so hard sometimes to remember that what I like or think will be great is not necessarily what my kids will like. My kids adore a buffet. They love to have a selection of endless choices. A buffet is almost never my first choice. Also, when traveling I always try to remember that my kdis will do fine going to to breakfast or lunch but by dinner they are so done. They are generally tired from the activities and in no state of mind to sit nicely in a restauarant (they are 4 and 6).

  8. Deborah says:

    My goodness is this true for us. We travel with our four-year-old son a lot, and try to balance the things we like with things he likes. Sometimes there is overlap, which is awesome. We just took a trip to Italy, and he loved the Colosseum and Forum as much as we did because he could touch just about everything. On the other hand, we skipped some really cool stuff in the Vatican so he wouldn’t lose it before we reached the Sistine Chapel, which he had studied and loved seeing. When we don’t have our little man with us, we try to find restaurants that meet our definition of “good” and we linger over meals. In Italy, we did lots of to-go pizza and quick pasta places. We also did a farm stay, which was a perfect way to enjoy Tuscany. Our son got to run around and play with farm animals while we relaxed with glasses of wine and enjoyed the view. A win for everyone! It sure took lots of planning, though.

  9. Danae says:

    I’ve found that my definition of good often correlates to whether my expectations were unmet, met, or exceeded. It’s been easier to reflect on experiences with my husband and kids when we first ask questions about what we were expecting or hoping for. Often we plan something with the best of intentions but misread someone’s expectations and the resulting experience doesn’t meet their definition of “good”.

  10. Dana says:

    I think the same thing can be true for spouses. What I define as good does not always line up with what my husband thinks either. So we have learned to define what we each want out of our trip and then create a balance of seeing and doing things that each of us values. We have each broadened our interests and honored one another’s passions. After all these years, I have become a baseball fan ( I even like keep a score book now) and he has learned to love art museums and galleries. The great commonality that we have always shared is a love of bookstores of any kind or size.. We met in one 29 years ago.

  11. Ana says:

    I LOVE this perspective, and found myself enthusiastically nodding along to pretty much every comment. Yes the ice cream cones and multi-colored lights, and take out pizza & sandwiches while traveling. Double yes to having to think about this when you are providing advice to someone whose priorities/lifestyle does not align with your own in any way (try counseling TEEN BOYS on nutrition!)
    This weekend was a perfect example for me: it was beautiful outside and I wanted to spend the whole day outside, hitting up the fun fall festivals & picking apples or pumpkins, yet we didn’t plan well and stayed home most of the time. I was disappointed and vowed that next weekend would be better, but the kids were all “This was such a gREAT WEEKEND we got to work on TWO lego kits and do 3 puzzles”. They are out of the house 9-5 every weekday, they just want time to play with their toys, they don’t need fancy activities.

  12. Anna says:

    I have been aware for a long time that my kids & I have different ideas of good food. I like to play around with different recipes and new tastes. They like plain and basic, lots of repetition. We compromise by having some of each, with more repetition, because it’s a lot easier and less time consuming.
    I also think of this in relation to other things. My sister has planned themed parties for her kids’ birthdays, and spends a lot of time on making a good experiences. My kids get a basic cake/ cupcake and a few close friends or family. To her, the memorable experience is the good thing. To me, the simple (stress free) experience is the good thing.

    • Anne says:

      “To her, the memorable experience is the good thing. To me, the simple (stress free) experience is the good thing.”

      Love the way you articulated this.

  13. Allison says:

    Deciding what is “good” for me comes from the other end of the spectrum. Maybe this is because my mom died recently and our relationship was, as they say, “complicated!” Our tastes and values were very different, so learning to decide for myself what is “good”, whether it is the kinds of food I like, clothes, trinkets to buy, or even way bigger issues such as what to do with my life–or NOT do with my life–have all been a battlefield in my mind. I have heard her voice constantly “You don’t want that, do you?” “Are you going to wear that?” “Why do you like THAT?” Etc. Have some of my choices been birthed in rebellion? Perhaps. But I think learning what is good, what we like, don’t like, irrespective of others’ opinions can sometimes take a great deal of courage!

  14. Yes to quick, abundant choices. I remember that from my childhood, too. I loved salad bars and restaurants that offered several different types of soups to choose from. Children don’t often have much control over many aspects in their lives, so choice makes a meal memorable.

    • Anne says:

      “Children don’t often have much control over many aspects in their lives, so choice makes a meal memorable.”

      I think that’s true for my kids.

  15. Hannah Beth Reid says:

    This post puts into words thoughts I have had after conversations with adults about experiences we’ve had and each person comes out with a different opinion of the end result. I love how you transferred that to parenting and making the best choices for our children!

  16. Ashley says:

    Such insightful comments. No offense is intended when I say the comment section was even better than the post. 🙂 We have a 17 month old, and I’m a recovering perfectionist so this was good to read now! I hope I can remember some of these things in the next few years.
    As for colored Christmas lights, hello it is the only way to go!! I’m a traditionalist and the only one my age who still does colored lights by choice. LOL I hope my kids love them.

  17. JR says:

    Who doesn’t like Shake Shack INDEED! Did you get them burgers, or just shakes? In my opinion, the burgers are where it’s at (I don’t like ice cream) and the whole place was mis-named.

  18. Cheri Smith says:

    Anne, my family just got back from a trip to Disney World. I spent weeks planning everything in detail, and we had a great time and ate at some amazing restaurants. On the last night, I got reservations for one of the nicest restaurants on Disney property, the California Grill. We watched the Magic Kingdom Halloween fireworks over Cinderella’s castle in the Magic Kingdom from the observation terrace. We ate delicious steak and sushi. The experience, for me, was amazing, and the food was great too. On the flight back home, my 15 year old daughter confessed to me that her favorite meal of the whole vacation was the macaroni and cheese at the counter service restaurant (Friar Tuck’s) in the Magic Kingdom park. So, needless to say, I think this post was written specifically for me! What I thought was amazingly good was only okay for her. I wish I had known that before spending so much for the last night’s celebration. A little mac-n-cheese would have been more than enough. Thank you for your insightful writing. Your blog is my favorite!

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