Going to Restaurants With Kids: Let Parents Leave the House!
Well, another of THOSE articles has come out. What, you didn't hear? Francis Lam wrote a piece on Salon asking, "Is it possible to dine out politely with kids?" Just reading the title made my blood pressure rise.
Not that I disagree with any part of the article, because I don't. I do think parents need to exercise some amount of control and maintain discipline when taking their kids anywhere, and I do realize that some parents appear not to do either. (I say "appear," because as a new parent, I have the hardest time passing judgement on other parents when I have no idea what the circumstances of any situation are.) However -- and stop me if I'm being an over-sensitive new parent -- I've started to get the feeling the general public automatically assumes that any kid, child, baby, newborn that enters a restaurant is definitely, absolutely, positively going to go out of their way to ruin the meal of everyone in their hearing, seeing, or smelling range.
Lam's article points the way to ground rules for dining out with the diaper set along but also includes Lam's own interview with Village Voice restaurant critic Robert Sietsema. What I want highlighted, underscored, and written in the sky in flaming all-caps is what Sietsema said about the relative dearth of "obnoxious" children in restaurants:
"I've been taking my daughter out to restaurants her entire life. I believe short of actual screaming babies -- and Upper West Side kids, who are more obnoxious than any other kids -- most kids tend to be pretty well behaved in restaurants. You know, they really take their cues from their parents, and in my experience, there are much more obnoxious adults in restaurants than kids. Children in restaurants don't bother me, because I care about the next generation, and a screaming baby doesn't annoy me nearly as much as hearing an adult bitch at the waitress, or having ostentatious conversations about stock trades or their sex life.
You know, the whole discussion is always centered on the annoying brats, who are a small minority. Kids who need to act out are acting out because they're not getting attention at home, or because the parents aren't thinking about where they're taking their kids appropriately. You don't take your kid to Per Se because you'll be eating a four-hour meal. The kid is not going to sit there all night and admire the intricacies of the bread service."
Brav-FREAKING-O, Sietsema! Of course, he's a parent himself, so maybe that's why he's not as easily annoyed as some people? I don't know. However, as I mused on this and how maybe I've become more tolerant since I became a parent, it made me wonder: just when did our society become so anti-kids that we need constant guides detailing how to deal with them in public? I swear, between fearing that the mere glimpse of my son in a restaurant will get us nasty looks and the intense stress I get by simply THINKING about traveling with him on a plane, I never want to leave my house. And that's not cool because, as most new parents will attest to, leaving the house is one of the hardest things for a new parent to do. It's also one of the most important.
My Twitter stream is dotted with comments from friends and acquaintances who are tweeting from planes, bitching about the existence of a baby on board. At times, the baby in question hasn't yet made a peep but they are already anticipating it, fearing it, bemoaning it. Like plane travel is so wonderful these days that it's tragic if an uncomfortable trip in coach with broken headphones, no food, and limited wireless access is ruined by a crying baby.
You know whose plane trip is really ruined by a crying baby? The parents'. Not only do they have to bear the stomach-dropping stress that the child is doing exactly what they had been fearing for weeks before they even stepped foot on the cramped and smelly plane, but they are pretty well-aware of all the dirty looks and eyerolls burning up and down the aisle and through the covered headrests. Oh, and let's not forget the small detail that the parents are probably freaking out at being unable to figure out why the child is crying in the first place. Fever? Earache? Teeth? Diaper? Hunger? Sleep? The fate of our nation?
The intolerance I see, hear, or read about makes me wonder if our society is more and more anti-kids or just completely without patience or understanding. As one of my friends said to me (and I'm totally paraphrasing as her response has since been lost in the bowels of Twitter), "Yeah, because I'm sure ALL of those who bitch about kids were always perfect travelers themselves."
Seriously. Think about it. Or, at the very least, just do all of us struggling, sweating, stressing parents the favor of putting yourselves in our shoes JUST FOR THE MOMENT and cut us a little slack, because most of us are really trying to do our best to ensure that our child, spouse, friends, and entire restaurant/plane is having the best meal/flight possible. Even if we aren't.
Liz Gumbinner gave us a play-by-play of a recent (and exemplary) experience dining out with her two girls. So mindmeldingly sympathetic was I to her entire experience -- and I have only the one baby right now -- that I am now almost as exhausted as I would have been in her shoes. Also, the couple who complimented her at the end of their meal did much to restore my ruffled faith in humanity.