On a recent episode of Supernanny, Nanny Jo attempted to help a family of five do something they never did. Eat out. They settled down at their table and the two older children were doing fine. When the mother attempted to put the one-year-old into his highchair, he started to cry. His mother immediately pulled him out and sat him in her lap, prompting Nanny Jo to say, "No no no, don't you see what you're doing? You're teaching him that all he has to do to get you to hold him is cry." Nanny Jo made the mother put the baby back into his chair and insisted that he sit there as he screamed.
He cried for twenty minutes.
I was horrified.
Granted, this is a television show, the meal was taking place at a sidewalk cafe, and presumably the other patrons, if there were any, had been removed so the show could film. The show might be "reality" but it's not really real. However, I sincerely hope that no parent watching the show would go on to take Nanny Jo's advice and submit their fellow diners to twenty minutes of screaming child.
I have been following a thread on a restaurant blog for some time, because the topic is children in restaurants. I was dismayed to read that most of the (childless) commenters feel that while some kids are very well behaved in public, the majority are not. They don't blame the kids. Rather, they blame the permissive parents who fail to notice inappropriate behavior and who fail to correct it.
Maybe my perspective is different or maybe my definition of "inappropriate" behavior is different. Maybe the kids in my neighborhood are better behaved than average. Maybe my tolerance is higher for noise. Or maybe I'm a little more sympathetic than others when it comes to dealing with a child who doesn't want to sit still and be quiet. But my experience has been quite the opposite, that most kids behave very well and that the parents do a great job.
There will always be parents who are find everything their kids do to be charming and who will let their offspring run wild around restaurants and fling Sweet and Low packets across the place because "kids will be kids." And I think it's already been established that there is a small but vocal minority of people that honestly think children should be kept in bubbles until they are able to emerge as well-adjusted, well-mannered contributing members of society.
Unfortunately, those two groups make everyone else look bad.
On Sunday, it rained for part of the day and I had a nasty headache and John hurt his back working in the yard and I didn't feel like cooking. So went out to Nacho Mama's to eat. We chose to eat there because the food is cheap and the portions generous. It tends to be on the loud side, which is great for drowning out child noise, and we went early so it wouldn't be crowded. There is plenty of food on the menu that both kids will eat and there are tons of Natty Boh and Baltimore-related memorabilia for the kids to look at.
We were seated right away and the waitress took our order immediately. Johnny sat next to John and looked at all the sauces available and ate the chips and salsa. Maureen sat in my lap and also ate some chips, and when she got bored with those, I gave her a straw to chew on. When she started to get a little wiggly, I took her outside for a few minutes. When our food came, we all ate and some girls at the bar made googly eyes at Maureen. As we finished our meal, Maureen started to get wiggly again, so we flagged down our waitress and ordered a slice of Berger Cookie cheesecake and asked for the bill. I ate a couple of bites, then collected up the kids and took them to the van while my husband stayed behind to box up our leftovers and pay the bill. As I collected my purse and jacket, a guy at the bar spotted Maureen bouncing to the music in my arms and came over to say hi to her. Both kids were really good, neither of them wandered unattended around the restaurant, and the small amount of noise that Maureen made was covered by the music. When the people sitting in the booth behind us left, one woman said, "Oh, you guys have KIDS here with you! They didn't even make a peep. You sure have quiet children."
Conversely, there was some guy sitting at the bar who kept burping. Loudly. It sounded like he was getting ready to vomit in his pint glass. It was revolting.
Here's another scenario for you. Last summer, almost a year ago, I took the kids out for ice cream. Maureen was in the Baby Bjorn, asleep on my chest and Johnny was quietly drinking a milkshake, when his chair abruptly and without warning collapsed, sending him crashing to the floor. His milkshake popped open and spilled, he hit his head on the floor and bit his tongue, causing bloody drool to drip down his chin. As you might imagine, he cried.
Most everyone else in the shop was great. A woman nearby came bounding over with a pile of napkins, and the store's employee came over, asking, "Is he okay/do you need anything/please don't sue us." By then, Maureen had woken up and in response to Johnny's distress, was also crying. It took a few minutes to get him calmed down and cleaned up before I could take him to the bathroom to wash his sticky hands and bloody face, and apparently that was a few minutes too many for a young girl sitting in the corner with her laptop. After much huffing and sighing and eye rolling, she slammed her laptop shut, stuffed it in her bag and stomped out, glaring at me in the process. I shrugged my shoulders and said, "Sorry." What I was actually thinking was, "Sorry you're such a heartless bitch." Whatever her problem was, I really didn't care. I was more concerned with my child, who had fallen on the floor and injured himself through no fault of his own. By the way, he was fine and the store employee gave him another milkshake, which dried up the tears pronto.
The thing is, if you venture out in public, you may have to deal with the public. I've been in restaurants before where the people at the next table cursed loudly or talked on cell phones loudly or displayed appalling table manners. I pretty regularly have to pick up after other people's dogs when the owner decides to leave that pile of poop on the sidewalk and walk away. I get tired of walking through clouds of cigarette smoke on my way to my car, and people who blast their music at two in the morning make me angry. But I understand that that's what I might have to deal with when I venture outside of my house. And it's not fair to lump all dog owners or all smokers or all childless restaurant patrons or all music lovers into the same group because some choose to be ignorant asses. Just as it's not fair to start rolling your eyes and huffing when someone approaches with kids in tow, because some parents let their kids run wild. I get that some people don't have kids and don't want kids and may not even like kids. I'm not always crazy about other people's kids myself. And I like to eat in peace as much as the next person. But if you're one of those people who refer to all parents as "breeders" and all children as "crotch droppings," you won't get any sympathy from me. The least you could do if give us a chance before casting your judgement.
So here is my question:
What constitutes "bad" behavior at a restaurant or other public venue and at what point does a child having a meltdown stop being normal and become seriously not okay? (Hint: Not twenty minutes into it.)