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Girls' night out - Dining out

It seems there's never enough time in the day to nurture yourself. Even so, you owe it to yourself and to your family, who benefit from your sanity, to make time to spend alone or with friends. It's not too much to ask for one night a month to forget about being someone's mom or wife or daughter or sister and just be you--a grown woman with myriad interests you'd like to explore. Treat yourself.

Dining out as opposed to eating out
The dream is always the same. I walk into the restaurant. There's not a plastic bench, playground or clown in sight. Instead, the lighting's subdued, cloth napkins adorn the tables and a hostess shows me to my seat. The kids are at home with dad or a sitter, and I can relax and enjoy the full dining experience.

Another one of those little secrets veteran parents keep to themselves is that kids completely change the dynamics of dining out. While some newborns might snooze peacefully throughout the meal, once a baby reaches the high chair stage quiet dining becomes a thing of the past. By toddlerhood, going out to eat takes on a whole new meaning. You'll be seeking out those restaurants with play equipment.

However, dining out in nicer restaurants doesn't have to be relegated to dream status. You could hire a sitter and go out on a date with your husband. That's likely to lead to one of two things: endless discussions about household issues or a romantic rendezvous, preferably the latter.

Or you could go out with your girlfriends, which offers you something different.

Ditching the guys and the kids
When you go out with the girls you can completely cut loose and just have a good time--no demands, no expectations. Choosing to dine out affords you the opportunity to talk to other adults about adult topics. Invariably the subject will make its way back to your kids and husbands, but if you're vigilant, it won't happen too often. There's nothing wrong with talking about your family. Just save it for playgroup days.

When you're hanging out with your friends, don't waste your few hours of freedom talking about your favorite brand of diapers or how your three-year-old refuses to eat anything but peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches. Instead, you should be discussing who's the sexier middle-aged actor -- Harrison Ford or Mel Gibson -- and similar matters of importance.

Another benefit of dining out with the girls is the chance to try food you've never had before. I've been to a Thai and to a Cajun restaurant for the first time with friends. It was exciting to try something new without worrying about the kids turning their noses up at it.

This is also a good time to enjoy those favorites of which your kids aren't too fond. In my case, that would be Chinese food, but for you it might mean Mexican, Italian (not pizza), or seafood. Now you just have to make the plan.

Working out the logistics
First, pick a day that works for most of your circle of friends. A lot of times a weeknight works best because weekends are family time. However, your group might prefer weekends, especially if the husbands have non-traditional or erratic work schedules.

Next, set a time that's convenient for everyone. This will depend on whether you will be meeting in a central location to carpool or if everyone will simply meet at the restaurant.

I recommend deciding on the restaurant in advance. If you have a group of five or more, you'll need to make reservations. Even if you choose a place that doesn't accept reservations, it's better to decide from the comfort of your home, rather than going round and round with, "It doesn't matter to me," at the Park and Ride.

Perhaps each one of your friends could take a turn selecting the restaurant. When it's your turn, you can suggest a choice between two restaurants. Take a quick phone, or email, poll, letting everyone know the majority rules. Then follow up with the selected restaurant and the date, time and place to meet.

Keep in mind if you're the organizer that your friends will need a few reminders. When it's someone else's turn, you'll be grateful for a reminder email or phone call.

Don't let the organizational aspects scare you off. It's time well spent. Now go out there and have a great time.

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