With disgust and horror pasted on their faces, I intently eavesdropped on the conversation between a couple sitting next to us in Lebanese Taverna earlier this spring. These two were aghast over a family sitting behind them who had a baby, I guessed around 10-11 months old. The baby was perfectly well-behaved from my perspective. Beyond being super cute, he wasn’t making a sound and was eating his delicious meal. The trouble is the way babies eat their meals is up for judgment among those who have never had the pleasure of feeding a baby. Obviously this kid was both eating his rice and tossing his rice onto the floor, as any self-respecting baby does. These two near-perfect diners exchanged such comments as “If parents are going to let their kids eat like that, then they shouldn’t be allowed to bring their children to restaurants.” And “Why doesn’t that mother do something about that kid?”
I couldn’t help but wonder if the flame had gone out in their relationship if the only thing they could talk about was the table manners of this unsuspecting baby. Then again, I was out without children and with my husband and was readily spending my time eaves-dropping on their conversation and shooting them nasty looks, so who was I to judge the state of their relationship? I was better-suited to keep my judgment directed towards their near-perfect existence enabling them to so harshly criticize this poor family. It was everything I had not to lean over and say “I know this will shock you, but you behaved THE SAME WAY when you were a baby.”
The other thing was, this kid was only tossing rice on the floor. When my youngest was that age, she was self-enrolled in the baby food-hurling Olympics and perfected the art of chucking pieces of meat into her dinner companion’s eyes, faces, noses, really anything at her level. We were like clay pigeons in skeet shooting practice for her and she squealed with delight over successfully pegging us with her food. Even I realize that is unacceptable table manners when out in public but there was absolutely nothing I could do about it until she outgrew that delightful phase. But merely tossing rice on the ground? Doesn’t that just come with baby-eating territory? The staff at Lebanese Taverna seemed to barely notice the state of the ground when that family left and cleverly moved another family to that same table – opening the door for this couple to begin judging yet another mother.
And why is it always the mom’s fault?
I must admit, their harsh and ongoing judgment of the families left me incredibly irritated but also wondering – how often have I been judged by others at a restaurant based on how my kids are acting? I work pretty hard at bringing a bag full of supplies to keep the girls entertained throughout the meal, offer rewards for good table manners prior to entering the restaurant (I mock the experts who tell parents not to bribe – have those people ever had kids?) and rarely fully taste my meal or finish a conversation – so it’s not like I’m lounging over a 4-course meal noting the hints of wood and fruit in my glass of wine while my children are terrorizing other tables.
The experience in the spring helped soften my surprise when news broke last week that a restaurant outside Pittsburgh banned children under the age of 6. Even more notable, an online poll on MSNBC accompanying this news indicates that only 3% of survey respondents feel it is patently unfair to ban children from restaurants. Whaaa? 44% of respondents said children should be banned right now and if you are a statistics geek, this is a statistically significant survey because that 44% represents over 42,000 people. Apparently a generous 53% were at least nice enough to respond that it depends on the place.
So are parents of young children, here defined as those 6 and under, universally hated in restaurants beyond inexpensive chains?
To me it’s really about common sense and attentive parenting. Would I bring my children to Citronelle? Of course not – why would I spend an enormous amount of money on a restaurant only to waste it on my kids not eating the food and me not enjoying the experience. Is it respectful to other patrons to bring young children to high-end restaurants? And does it even make sense? Isn’t that the parent’s call?
I do firmly believe that all parents are responsible for keeping the children quiet and as well-behaved as possible when eating out – but to go so far as to ban them strikes me as unfair and unkind. The trouble is – we’ve all seen other parents out with unruly children running around, shouting, fighting and generally bored while the parents just ignore them – so are those people dragging the rest of us down?
And what about planes? Last summer a survey came out that revealed the majority of respondents believe there should be a family-only section on planes. On some level, I have to wonder if that might offer some relief to the parent whose baby is screaming and there’s nothing that they can do about it – at least they are among company – but again – who’s to say that young children are any worse behaved than obnoxious adults? I’ve seen plenty of them on planes in my time.
One friend suggested we could just start taking this whole concept of banning similar groups to one area a little further. Her thought was – how about we ban all the skinny bitches at the pool to the same section?
Actually, I think if we need to resort to these kinds of boundaries, I’m in favor of how this old guy in North Carolina handles unruly kids – and I can’t say I fully disagree with him – he has a zero tolerance policy for screaming kids. And how does he communicate said policy? With a sign on the front door of his restaurant. OK then – perfect. As a parent, I know the rules. If my kid starts screaming, I leave the restaurant with said child, otherwise have fun and enjoy the meal. I can dig it.
What do you think?