We were out with friends at a restaurant, after the symphony, one of those outings of seemingly endless spending that make us sweat (Wasn’t the symphony enough? Must we continue to socialize? I’m sleepy — why is everyone so chatty?), but which is in actuality a normal night out for a couple of a certain age. And as our waiter approached with his beatific “I’m-working-the-big-tip” expression, so did the recurring anxious thought:

Do I ask for a separate check?

Granted, we are frugal types who would fret under such circumstances in any case, but in ours it is mostly because we have daughters in college.

The friends we were out with on this evening do not have children. For some odd, likely Freudian, reason, many of our friends do not have children. So going out is often fraught with tension (mine) in regards to the bill.

On this particular evening, I quipped that restaurants ought to offer not only a kids menu but also an I-Have-Kids-in-College menu. I went on to remark that it could even consist of the same items — chicken tenders, peanut butter and jelly, spaghetti with a chunk of greasy garlic bread — I didn’t care, so long as there was an alcoholic beverage tossed in as part of the deal.

This was met with a laugh (I distinctly recall what actually might have been a real-life chortle from across the table), and there was some further group tweaking of the idea, and then we moved on.

But, obviously, I have not.

The I-Have-Kids-in-College menu would acknowledge that parents are hurting, paying out ludicrously large sums of money for an ever-shortening academic year, underpaid professors, millionaire coaches, and a bloated administration while curtailing their own social lives.

And house maintenance.

And retirement self-funding.

And visits to my cardiologist. (You think I’m kidding? I recently hugged an old friend, and we realized that the hug represented ten stents coming together in an AARP variation of a fist bump.)

Ordering from the I-Have-Kids-in-College menu at your local bistro would mandate a separate check. No more cringingly trying to keep pace with the others as they order another round of designer retro cocktails (the kind of drink you spend $12 on so a big square of ice can rest itself a spell on the tip of your nose) and pricey starters and entrees for the inevitable, distressingly chipper, “Just split it?” when the bill arrives.

Yes, you would get your own bill, and maybe the staff would sing a song. (Something tuneful and amusingly sarcastic about tuition insurance, perhaps?)

Do I come off as bitter? (OK, ok. I do even to myself.)

Tell you what, give me a $5 plate of tacos (if I can produce proof of my girls’ enrollment), and I will get sweet rapido. Toss in a $2 Dos Equis or Negra Modelo, and I’ll become a mainstay of your establishment. I may never leave.

Our girls are lovely people, and we want them to get out of school without incurring major debt. But give me something, here, restaurateur! We don’t get out often. I’m growing turnips in my back yard, for gosh sakes! And I don’t even know what to do with turnips. Don’t make us continue to split a plate (though here in the United States of Heaping Portions that is entirely possible) or meekly order from the starters menu only to hear the inevitable, “And for your entrée?”

Give me something tasty, but just less of it. Cheap. And that drink, please.

So forget the chicken tenders — I want my own big-boy plate with something reasonably adult on it. “I’ll have the Sophomore Shrimp with the small Quadrangle Greens salad, please. And here is our recent tuition payment receipt. Yes, really. I’m surprised I’m wearing a clean, pressed shirt tonight. Considering where our younger daughter determined to go, I’m surprised I have a shirt at all. Now fetch that drink, okay?”

Oh, and about the symphony? I promise you, we were in the cheap seats.

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Kirk Swearingen is a poet and an independent journalist. His work has appeared in Salon and The American Journal of Poetry.

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