The Illuminated Crowd

January 29, 2008

Here’s something that I feel strongly about: the right of parents to take their children pretty much anywhere in the public sphere that they see fit. I also feel strongly that this is a right that carries with it considerable responsibility – as do most rights – but there it is: I believe that if a parent needs or wants to take their children to the theater, to nice hotels, to restaurants that don’t use vinyl tablecloths or distribute crayons with their menus, that’s their right. Any perceived right by other members of the public to move about in public without exposure to children is just that: perceived. There can be no such right in a liberal human society, because children are members of such societies. They are not pets – a comparison that I once saw in a letter to the editor of a newspaper – they are people. Little ones, and ones that sometimes wear diapers and are prone to outbursts, but still. Those descriptions fit many members of our society who we don’t leash up outside of cafes and put in the baggage hold of airplanes.

So there. If I want to dine four-star with my two-year old, I will.

I said that I believe that this right comes with responsibility. It does. My right – and my child’s right – to eat at a public establishment of my choice is limited by responsibility to ensure that my child does not wreak havoc in that public space (just as it is my responsibilty, with myself, to not become drunk and disorderly in public spaces. And yes, toddlers can sometimes behave like very small, drunk and disorderly vagrants. We know this.) So I’m not claiming some right to be able to eat at Balthazar during the 8pm rush with a shrieking pre-schooler. I am claiming that I should be able to do so under reasonable circumstances, i.e. if and when I have some reasonable expectation of my child’s decent behaviour and am willing to adapt and/or retreat if things begin to go badly.

I’ve been lucky, in that I’ve rarely confronted what a close friend once called ‘child-haters’ in public; you know, the people who give you the stink-eye when you push your stroller into a cafe or buckle your child into the airplane seat next to theirs (though I once endured the latter for the duration of a 45 minute flight, my heart breaking as Wonderbaby endeavoured gamefully to catch the eye of the evil bitch sitting – stiff and miserable and plainly hostile – next to us, refusing to return Wonderbaby’s smiles.) And I didn’t really encounter any hostility during our recent trip to Montreal – a city that is, in parts, decidedly child-unfriendly, notwithstanding its candy-distributing elderly and shops full of cute sock-monkey hats. Not really.

I did encounter fear, though. And it was almost as discomfiting. Maybe it was more discomfiting, because I didn’t know how to respond. It was more discomfiting.

It was at breakfast, at the continental breakfast served, gratis, to hotel guests in the Hotel le Germain’s fine dining establishment. Wonderbaby and I were such guests, and we were determined to avail ourselves of the pain du chocolate and crepes and espresso drinks on offer. I knew, given the style of the hotel – this a hotel so hip that I mistook the bellhops, trendily scruffy and clad in black and leather, for members of my husband’s TV production crew – that we would encounter a dirty look or two from disgruntled patrons expecting to have their peaceful breakfast ruined by a manic toddler. But I didn’t care. Wonderbaby and I had every right to our breakfast, and were determined to have it. And I had every expectation of Wonderbaby’s good behaviour: she loves restaurants, and cafes, and is usually so pleased to be ‘having coffee like Mommy’ that she can be expected to sit, working, very seriously, a tiny espresso cup full of milk and a cookie or croissant, for extraordinary lengths of time.

But my confidence in her good behaviour did not change the fact that what the hostess saw, when we walked in the restaurant, was a three-foot tall potential menace, clutching a soft, odd-shaped lovey.

She was unflaggingly polite, I’ll give her that. But the fear coming off of her was palpable. Was this creature going to hurl croissant everywhere? Would it emit loud noises and pour milk on the floor? Did she, the hostess, have time to put away all the china before the creature moved into the room? I half-expected her to ask whether we wouldn’t prefer to eat in our room. And the truth of it was, I was so thrown by the look of panic on her face, felt so badly for her obvious terror, that had she indeed asked us that question, I very probably would have retreated. I recovered quickly enough, though, and took charge of getting ourselves seated and escorting Wonderbaby to the spread of food to select something more substantive and healthy than the pats of butter that she had expressed interest in having for breakfast, with a side of milk and sugar cubes. And as I did, I got angry. and frustrated, because the hostess’s fear had made me feel ashamed in way that no child-hater’s hostility ever could. I could feel her wide, worried eyes on our backs as we toted our latte and milk and croissant – Wonderbaby carrying the spoons – back to our table, and felt self-conscious in a way that I almost never, ever do with Wonderbaby. I could feel the weight of her expectation that some disaster was imminent; I could feel it outweighing my expectation that the worst that could happen was a little spilled milk, and was keenly and shamefully aware that her definition of disaster might very well include spilled milk.

I wanted to feel angry, but I was having trouble faulting her. She was, after all, remaining polite and helpful and as superficially welcoming as she could be under the circumstances. I can’t demand that someone be happy and comfortable in the presence of a toddler, any more than I could demand that others be happy and comfortable in the presence of any person who is different – less attractive, less able, less youthful – from themselves. I might wish it were so – I do wish it were so, in that optimistic, eutopian corner of my heart – but I can’t make anyone feel differently than they do. All that I can expect is that is they behave tolerantly. And on that front, she was impeccable. It was just, you know, the fear in her eyes.

How can one get angry about the look in someone’s eyes?

That experience stayed with me for the rest of the trip – even after a few more breakfasts in the dining room with charming waitstaff who cooed over Wonderbaby and who held not the slightest trace of fear in their eyes when she insisted upon carrying her own plate of croissant to the table. It stayed with me as we explored the city, causing me to hesitate in the doorways of art galleries and to avoid entering the swankier boutiques. And I hated that. I hated that I had absorbed some of that young woman’s fear, some of the belief that children can be fearsome (they can, of course. But only their parents truly understand the parameters of this fear, and know that whatever fear they can inspire should have very little bearing on the carrying forward of our lives and life in general, including life in nice shops and restaurants.) I hated that I was feeling – if only a very little bit – ashamed of my insistence upon bringing my toddler everywhere with me.

Wonderbaby can be a handful – she can be an army of handfuls – but she is, to put it politically incorrectly, a good girl. Not all children are this, I understand, but I choose to believe that most are. And I choose to believe that most parents are skilled at managing their children, and prudent enough to make wise decisions about how and when to escort them in the public spaces that – here’s the political philosopher in me – they need to participate in if they are to grow up with the social skills that underline good citizenship. They can’t learn how to behave in public – how to be meaningfully and positively social – if they are confined to daycares and playcentres and the company of other children exclusively. They need to spend time in the public sphere – in as many corners of it as possible – if they are to learn how to flourish there.

And, I suppose, they need to learn how to cope with the fears and intolerances of others. Wonderbaby seems to be doing better on this count than I am.

(Apropos of absolutely nothing that I’ve said here, except for, maybe issues concerning justice and mealtimes: have you seen what we’re up to over at the League of Maternal Justice this week? It’s meaty. Check it out.)

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    Maman January 30, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    Hang in there HBM. You are doing the right thing by taking Wonderbaby out in public. I too took mes filles out to fancy restaurants and once even flew first class to Europe with them (The only good thing that came from Fun Daddy always being out of town). You will continue to get those looks. MonAnge is 13 now and still I get the look.

    The important thing to do, I believe, is to encourage those parents who now how take their child out. Whenever I see a well behaved toddler out and about, I ALWAYS compliment the mother or father. I think it is a relief to them and it shows the people around them that well behaved children belong near grownups.

    I keep hoping that everyone will tell those parents when they are doing a good job… since the job is hard enough and there is precious little praise involved.

    Her Bad Mother January 30, 2008 at 6:04 pm

    ByJane – I’m not asking the world to respond to my child ‘as if life hadn’t happened.’ I’m asking for civility (which the hostess provided, albeit reluctantly, and the lady-on-the-plane did not), and maybe something a notch above grudging tolerance. Children certainly do not have the same freedoms as adults, but they should be understood to have the same basic rights, including that of not being discriminated against because of social prejudice. (Ditto, of course, for persons with children.)

    AS I said in a comment above, we would recoil at a person who treated a person of a different color or ability with disdain of the sort that woman on the plane treated my child (tho’ I didn’t describe the experience in detail). Why is it socially acceptable to be rude to children? As Jozet pointed out, treating individuals on the basis of our experiences of their social group usually has some nasty names attached – if I refuse to sit next to a person of color on a plane because I was once mugged by a person of color, is my prejudice acceptable because of my life experience. Or is it still just prejudice?

    You’re absolutely that right that some parents are irresponsible, and that such parenting can contribute to child-unpleasantness in public – but I don’t think that the existence of such parents and kids should make it okay for me and mine to be shunned in certain quarters.

    At any rate, I hope that I was clear that I felt that I could not fault or be angry with that hostess, who was just having an emotional experience that she did try to contain (I said that I felt badly for her). But I can still be disappointed, and stung by it.

    Sandra January 30, 2008 at 7:14 pm

    Ooooh I can SO picture this happening at Le Germain. I used to go there often (on someone else’s tab for work) and I never ever not once saw a child. Of course that was before I was a mama myself. As lovely as it is, clearly they need to loosen up.

    I couldn’t agree with you more that kids have a right to be in public and my guy has been in many a places that one would never dream of taking a kid. And I’ve experienced those glares and I have smiled back as he behaved quietly – sometimes more quietly that boisterous adults!

    Anonymous January 30, 2008 at 8:55 pm

    As the mother of a 2 year old boy, who can not take him out to eat at a nice restaurant because he won’t sit still for more than 15-20 minutes I am in shock over how many parents posted that their children behave very well in public. I know that my child is esspecially active (I have friends with children the same age and my son is by far the one with the most energy) but I am left wondering how it is possible that so many parents have their children so well behaved…and what am I doing wrong? But then I also think that perhaps my idea of well-behaved is different than some of the other posters.

    And to be honest, I’m not really sure if I believe a child has to learn before their 2nd, 3rd or even 4th birthday how to behave like an adult in all social situations. I actually think its kind of unrealistic. And to the mom who had all her child behaving well in public by the time they were 18 months, I think you should write a book!

    BOSSY January 30, 2008 at 9:08 pm

    Bossy always took her young children to nice everythings. But she also knew that, like a volcano, things could *blow* at any minute and it would be Bossy who needed to cut her losses. Because most people don’t pay to be smeared in hot lava.

    Her Bad Mother January 30, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    Anon – I don’t think that they need to learn how to behave like adults when they’re toddlers – but I do think that regular exposure to the public sphere gets them on the right track. Wonderbaby is by no means some kind of perfect, latte-sipping angel – but she’s pretty predictable, and she loves the experience of ‘going out’, and I roll with that. If she maxes out on good behaviour after 20 mintues, then we leave – that simple. But I think it’s important to try – or at least to feel that one has the option to try – to begin with.

    And Bossy’s right – this whole argument hinges on parents taking the responsibility of knowing how to deal with their kids – and be willing to cut their losses when the volcano blows. Which it invariably does, sometimes.

    gurukarm January 30, 2008 at 9:57 pm

    The part of your story that hung me up was the stiff bitch on the plane who couldn’t unbend and respond to your most amazing child – having never met her in person, I have lots of fantasies of how incredibly sweet, endearing, and loving she must be, just from the enjoyment I get out of the pictures you share with us. I’m completely in love with her on the basis of those alone! So, someone blessed to sit in her presence and not swooning? Phahhh! More fool she!

    ByJane January 31, 2008 at 1:22 am

    I dunno, HBM, but it seems to me that your argument is flawed. For one, you’re equating racial and/or religious prejudice with (and let’s put it at its worst) not liking kids. There’s no way that that comes off as logically sound–or, as I believe the great logicians would say, you’re comparing apples and oranges. Secondly, I cannot see what wrong was done you, or Wonder Baby, even in the case of the woman on the plane. What you seem to want is a world in which you are free to express your needs joyfully, but others aren’t, unless they agree with you.

    Amy K January 31, 2008 at 4:25 am

    Prejudging children before you’ve even seen their behavior is silly. However, I’ve had so many nice meals, late-night movies, etc. become frustrating experiences due to screaming babies and toddlers not being taken outside by their parents (and it’s the parents’ fault for not doing something about it, not the kids’) that I’ve probably had a similar grumpy expression a few times. And I love kids. I agree that they have a right to be able to go places, but when they’re preventing the other patrons from having a conversation or hearing a movie for prolongued periods of time, they shouldn’t be there. Same goes for anyone creating a disturbance.

    Anonymous January 31, 2008 at 8:32 am

    Well said, byjane. By HBM’s own admission, the hostess did nothing wrong but give off a “vibe.”

    The thing that bugs childless people about moms is that moms expect everyone to go GA GA over their children. And if we don’t, we’re bitches.

    Her Bad Mother January 31, 2008 at 10:36 am

    ByJane – I’m not sure where the flaw in logic is. What is the substantive difference between not liking disabled people or not liking black people or not liking the elderly (ageism is a recognized prejudice) and not liking children – and expressing that dislike or expecting it to be reflected in are accepted as social norms? What is it about children that makes them undeserving of basic civility, simply on the basis of their childhood?

    Citizens in liberal societies are free to like or dislike whomever they want (freedom of thought) but are restricted in that freedom inasmuch as they are expected to not act upon it publicly (freedom of expression is tolerated to the extent that it does not cause harm. That doesn’t necessarily include hurt feelings, but society generally frowns on public expressions of disdain for different groups). I thought that I made it clear that I believed that the hostess did nothing wrong – her feelings were transparent, but she endeavoured to overcome them. That I was affected by her feelings was my own issue (and, I think, a legitimate one). The woman on the plane was openly hostile. There’s no law against that, of course, but, again, we generally take it to be socially unacceptable for hostility toward certain social groups to be expressed or shown in public. On what basis should children be exempt from this social norm?

    I don’t, as you and Anon-at-7:32 seem to think, expect people to love my child. I don’t. I just expect civility. You don’t have smile her, or at me – just don’t give either of us dirty looks, simply because we are mother and child. Why should that ever be okay – towards anyone?

    Jozet at Halushki January 31, 2008 at 12:30 pm


    If we’re going to accept a child’s personhood as a fact (no matter what John Locke thinks) in spite of their limited capabilities and capacities, then I don’t see how we don’t agree that it’s not bad form to openly “not like” any person based upon one characteristic of their equal personhood.

    And yes, you were very clear with assessment of the hostess, the problems inherent in your subjective assessment, and the separation of your own feelings in the matter, all while moving along to discussing all this in a more general way. Very clear.

    I have plenty of empathy for the waitress. And guess what? I might even feel compassion for the bitchy airplane lady. If she were being openly hostile, it still doesn’t make what she did right, no matter her experience. You put her up as an example to further the conversation. If you had listed her name and address and My Space page, I might have slapped hands. ;-)

    And because, after reading you for several years and coming to the conclusion that you’re not an oversensitive knee-jerker and that you are, instead, consistently even-handed, fair-minded, and able to see all sides of an issue, I’m going to grant that you are most likely a pretty solid judge of what’s what when it comes to people being openly hostile and not just constipated; IOW, I’m giving you this one that the lady was being bitchy.

    And furthermore! As far as this discussion goes, *even if she were just constipated*, we’re going to assume that there *are* people out there who are openly hostile to children in matters of basic civility. In fact, I know there to be and by their own admission. So, let’s grill that herring and take the discussion from there and move forward.

    Monica January 31, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    To Anon at 7:55,

    I took my children to restaurants from the time I was able to get around after their birth. But, here’s the key. The place and duration changes as they do. When they were tiny, as long as I hit the naps right I could enjoy a leisurely meal. When they were a little older and were facinated by people watching and colouring, we switched to family friendly restaurants and quick meals. During the Terrible Twos & Threes, we usually limited ourselves to coffee shops for quick breaks. Once they were back to controlling themselves for longer periods of time we went back to nicer restaurants.

    Even with all of that adjusting, I’ve walked out of many MANY establishments with my rapidly coagulating dinner in a to-go bag.

    It’s not something that you can ever guarantee, but to get the charming children who engage the serving staff in conversation about their order you’ve got to suffer through the earlier stages.

    There will always be people who have had horrible experiences that cause them to prejudge you, all you can do is calmly ignore them and prove them wrong. It takes a dozen good experiences to counteract one bad one however, so it will take a long time, and a lot of dedication to win this one.

    rachel January 31, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    Children are a category of people, one that is unique in that it has been inhabited by every living person. Particularly unique is that every living person has imperfect memories of the subject position.

    The bottom line is this: disliking children and feeling as though they need to have reduced visibility/presence in public or commercial spaces is 1) antifeminist, for any number of structural reasons but because pragmatically it disproportionately assigns women/mothers responsibility for your discomfort, and 2) prejudicial. No person has a right to child free spaces or experience, just as they have no right to blakck free, woman free, gay free whatever. I can’t really see how there is much room ideological nuance. Which partly makes me a bitch because I am saying I don’t give a shit abotu your discomfort, and it partly makes me a hypocritical bitch because on a personal level I *do* give a shit.

    Occidental Girl January 31, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    Great topic! I agree with you on both points, the right to go to public places and establishments with children but that it comes with a certain degree of discretion and responsibility.

    I use discretion with my daughter, and do not hesitate to try new experiences with her, whether it’s a new restaurant or a movie. From the time she was little, she was interested in what was going on around her, and I didn’t see any reason to exclude her from activities that her parents enjoyed. Isn’t that how you raise children? Teaching and nurturing and all that?

    I wanted to expand her notion of what the world contained from the park playground (which is great, just that there’s more).

    So, well said. I enjoyed the discussion!

    Damselfly January 31, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    I wouldn’t know what it’s like to go to a four-star restaurant even without a child. :) But if I did get the chance to go, you can bet Fly would go with me. He’s part of the family and a human being — as you said, not a pet.

    pk January 31, 2008 at 5:35 pm

    Wow! A very heated topic indeed. I have taken my boys to fairly nice restaurants since they were maybe 3 or so. (They’re 8 and 11 now.) I wanted them to learn how to behave in such restaurants, but I always made sure they weren’t too hungry, tired, or cranky on the days we went. I don’t recall getting any looks from anyone because I think I was too busy making sure they behaved. However, I do remember being in an extremely expensive restaurant in Bermuda where the waiter though my 7 year old son was underdressed (though he was old enough to be wearing a tie…it was about 95 degrees and the restaurant was outside). Anyhoo, I ignored the waiter, even after said son spilled an entire glass of water on himself. Hell, at least he was cooler than we were at that point. At their ages now, they are fine in nice, upscale (read: expensive) restaurants, mostly because they’ve developed a taste for fine food, which hurts our wallet more than it does any of the wait staff.

    That said, after having gone through the toddler/preschool years with my kids, I’m just not interested in reliving it when I go out. So we will try to sit as far away as the little ones as possible. I won’t give any parent the hairy eyeball, but neither will I necessarily interact with any child nearby, unless they were absolutely charming (like WB). Also, I agree with whoever wrote about people with children wanting childless people to be all adoring of their children. I have a friend who has been trying to adopt and also IVF and it pains her terribly to see families with beautiful young children. That may be her problem, but I try to be considerate in general knowing all she’s gone/going through. Kind of like the not judging someone till you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.

    Anyway, I’m just glad to be over the toddler/preschool/needs a nap years and am glad I can enjoy taking my boys out to eat and see the pleasure on their faces as they dive into that nice big piece of steak…

    Christina January 31, 2008 at 10:01 pm

    I’ve had more than my share of those looks from people. Of course, Cordy looks like she’s older than 3, and is on the autism spectrum, so we have the added prejudice of people looking at her and expecting her to behave better for her age.

    We occasionally go out to eat, but only at family-friendly restaurants. Nicer restaurants are something I could never attempt at this point, because I actually fear being asked to leave if Cordy starts to act weird.

    We’ve had far too many experiences where people have looked down on us, or worse – quietly complained about us, but not so quietly that I couldn’t hear. I had no idea a child jabbering quietly to herself as she slowly turns in a circle in the waiting area of a restaurant could annoy people so much.

    Lara January 31, 2008 at 10:06 pm

    oh man, this is quite pertinent to the book i’m working on, actually. too many people consider children a completely different species, which is just ridiculous. if a child is behaving appropriately for a given place of business, there is no reason that he or she should have to endure hostility for his/her very presence. that is ageism, pure and simple. is i got dirty looks every time i went into starbucks, i would be seriously offended, because what did i do wrong? if there was a rough-and-rowdy crowd of single, twenty-something brunettes that pestered the baristas last week, that really doesn’t excuse their open disdain for me, a single, twenty-something brunette.

    unfortunately, this lack of comprehension (kids are people, too!) extends to many areas of life, including many daily struggles in parenting. but i’ll be talking about that a lot more in my book… ;)

    Animal January 31, 2008 at 10:21 pm

    Wow! I feel like a Johnny-come-lately to the commentary, but I guess that never stopped me from putting my 2¢ in. I think a lot of it comes down to different societal norms and acceptances. Despite our “melting pot” mindset, the U.S. was still basically founded by immigrant Puritans who felt that children should be “seen and not heard”…attitudes I find reinforced through dozens of generations. Even in quasi-fiction, like the L.I. Wilder books, such seeming good parents as the Ingalls indicate that there is a “time and place” for children. Look across a cross-section of other societies around the globe and you’ll see an acceptance of the natural order of things: children are a treasure (really, the ONLY treasure, as they alone are the future) and they act the way they do…just as adults do. (Sometimes even as “logically” as adults do…nudge nudge, wink wink.)

    Upshot: I couldn’t agree with you more, HBM. Well-intentioned parents should be able to take their little folks anywhere that they can expect to given a return expectation of reasonably good behaviour. Children are a part of life, n’est-ce pas? Any hostility – whether outward in the form of shouted slurs, or INWARD in the form of looks of terror – needs to…well, it just needs to go away. Just like any kind of prejudice.

    Mardougrrl February 1, 2008 at 1:00 am

    What a wonderful post, HBM. Madam also likes to eat and go out for the most part, and she’s pretty well behaved but she knows we WILL leave anyplace (the library, bookstore, park, restaurant) if she starts to lose it. It usually hurts me more than it hurts her (I love all of those places) but it’s the only way she’ll learn that going there is a privilege, not a right.

    That being said, there are definitely lots of places I don’t take her (yet) because I don’t think she could behave herself. Although after reading this post, I am thinking maybe I should give it a shot. After all, we could always leave. :)

    Mom101 February 1, 2008 at 11:10 pm

    I’ve written about it before, but if I’m in a nice restaurant I’ll be just as pissed if a couple is making out at their table, or a drunk secretary is shouting over her table. Bad behavior is bad behavior, regardless of who is exhibiting it. Until that behavior is displayed, all diners deserve the benefit of the doubt, regardless of age or ability to wipe one’s own ass.

    Now that I think about it more drunk secretaries have ruined my dinners than kids. Unless I’m counting my own.

    Veronica Mitchell February 2, 2008 at 12:27 am

    You have posted on this topic before, and I remember feeling more kinship with your experience when I had only a toddler and a small baby. Now my oldest is four, and I am pregnant with my fourth baby, and I don’t think I can relate as much.

    I don’t mean I disagree, exactly. It’s just that the life I live has slipped farther away from yours, and I can’t imagine taking my kids into the sorts of spaces you do. I would never take three or four kids to a restaurant or swanky hotel or an airplane. I could not possibly afford it.

    So while I understand your hurt and bewilderment and offense at how your daughter is treated and I sympathize, I’m not sure your experience is that common. I meet the occasional jerk (with my kids or without), but the church-library-park-supermarket proles are pretty kid-welcoming.

    limboland la la February 2, 2008 at 8:27 am

    that look of fear… i’ve given it too. in fact, i’ve been given it more and more often recently. It’s nothing prejudicial though, simply I’m newly pregnant. And everytime I see a child/toddlers in particular, i can’t help but think, “Holy SH%^T” what have I gotten myself into.

    No one likes to be judged by their appearance…and i suppose children become part of the parents appearance as they walk in the door. On the other hand, most people who give those looks have probably yet to experience parenting. it’s difficult to expect empathy from someone who is at such a different point in life.

    (Although i’ve yet to experience from a mother’s point of view)…my lack of empathetic advice would be to let it go.

    Her Bad Mother February 2, 2008 at 10:27 am

    Veronica – DUDE. If I had three or more kids – even once I’ve got two – I might never leave the house, regardless of whether or not I could afford it. We’ll see how it goes with two. I might have to resign myself to dining at McDonalds.

    Limboland la la – I understand about the lack of empathy, but as I’ve said a few times, I’m not looking for overt kindness, just respect. Most people can’t empathize with the disabled, either, but society still frowns on us giving them dirty looks.

    But, yeah – always gotta let it go.

    Minnesota Matron February 2, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    Mom101 said it best: bad behavior is bad behavior. People go to pleasant space for just that — pleasantries. If a child is able to make that grade, they should be welcome. My nine year old was recently in a play at the Guthrie, which is one of the best (serious!) theaters in the country. Boy, did my four year old want to see his sister in a show. But he didn’t get to go because he would’ve been disruptive during the long, adult and kinda dark show.

    But we took a couple of nine-year olds who sat enthralled to watch their best friend on stage with Famous People!

    It’s all about the right fit – right kid, right pleasant space. But the parent who figures it out should be able to swing it and feel welcome.

    Jenifer February 3, 2008 at 9:49 pm

    Is it too late to say I loved this post?

    Tracy February 7, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    I am just catching up on my blog reading today and am fascinated by this topic. I feel that I should post an entry of my own instead of wasting so much comment space, so let me just outline a few points:

    You make the assumption that most parents are responsible enough to manage their children should they begin to misbehave. Based on my experience in retail, as a waitress, and as an elementary school aid, this is not true. In fact, I find responsible parents who work hard to instill good manners in their children to be quite rare…rare enough that when I see those parents who do, I make it a point to compliment them, to let them know my profound appreciation for their hard work. It is unfortunate that many people are driven to “child-hating” by the mass of people who let their children behave badly, but there it is.

    You also assume that our societal freedoms mean that anybody is allowed anywhere at anytime, including children. I believe this also to be untrue. If somebody gets sloppy drunk in a nice restaurant, they will be asked to leave. Is the hostess also allowed to ask the parents of an obnoxious toddler to leave? No. Many places children are welcome (such as public playgrounds) are off limits to single adults. If you don’t have a child, you don’t belong here. The assumption is that somebody in such a place without a child can only be up to no good. And yet these same people should be forced to deal with misbehaving toddlers in adult-oriented environments? That hardly seems fair.

    For the most part, I do agree with your argument, it just seems to me that you are overly optimistic about the inherent sense of parental responsibility necessary for a society without child prejudices.

    Anonymous February 8, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    Jozet at Halushki:
    If multiple experiences with persona who happen to bear some characteristic in common have the same or similiar characteristics, pre-judging other members of that group is called “learning from experience.”

    Let’s say that your elderly father runs a small business renovating classic houses. Now retired, he has limmited resources to fold into the business, so he “saves money” by hiring a local homeless guy. One night $5000.00 worth of tools disappears and the homeless guy stops showing up for work. So you change the locks on the storage shed and buy more tools. He hires another homeless guy. And another $5000.00 worth of tools disappears, along with the “helper.” After about the fifth time that this happens, if you keep allowing him to hire homeless guys, you are an idiot.

    The same principle, alas, applies to children and the hospitality business. If four out of five toddlers come into your establishment and are shrieking terrors, you’re going to start to fear them.

    I’m I saying restaurants should be child-free zones? Of couse not.

    But meeting people who share a characteristic and discovering that most of them behave the same way isn’t a “problem,” it’s a survival trait.


    Anonymous February 8, 2008 at 2:35 pm

    I think it’s important to remember that many parents do NOT control their children and ignore screaming tantrums in public places.

    In recent months, I had to sit next to a mother who brought a 3-year old to an R-rated movie and who did not leave the room or do anything to quiet the child. That child talked during the whole movie. Yet I had paid money for my ticket AND for a babysitter in order to enjoy a movie without my own baby. How is that fair?

    Likewise, I’ve gone to many restaurants and watched toddlers and children throw loud fits. Their parents sit undisturbed and finish their meals without any concern for how they just ruined everyone else’s meal. When this happens at McDonalds, I’m ok with it. When it happens at an expensive restaurant, it pisses me off.

    I used to fly 100,000 miles a year before I had my baby. While I wasn’t mean like the plane bitch you described, I wasn’t happy when I was seated next to a toddler since I had work to do on that plane ride. One time, toddler finished eating his snack and then decided to wipe his sticky hand on my leg. Another time, I had a toddler spill soda on me while his mother sat and read a book. She didn’t even apologize or offer to pay the dry-cleaning bill. She was more concerned with getting him another soda.

    One question: why wouldn’t you put WonderBaby in the aisle or window seat and take the middle seat yourself? Then the woman wouldn’t have to sit next to a toddler. Isn’t that more polite?

    Now that I have a child, I am careful not to be as rude as those other parents were. That means I only take him to G and PG movies, and I leave the theater if he is loud. And it means I only go to family restaurants and leave if he makes noise.

    In my opinion, that’s just being polite. I think what you view as child-hating is just people’s frustration with all the bad parents out there who act entitled to bring their children to any restaurant/movie/etc and who do not bother to ensure their children behave.

    Wonderbaby sounds wonderful, and I’m sure she behaves. But she also doesn’t sound like the typical child…nor do you sound like the typical parent. If all parents were like you, I doubt there would be as many “child-haters.”

    Her Bad Mother February 8, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    Anons (plural) – I think that I made it clear in my post that everything I said rested upon a firm belief that parents have a clear responsibility to monitor and control their children, and that the privilege of social freedoms can only come when such responsibility is taken seriously. So – I’m not advocating letting toddlers run loose in the streets. Or taking them to R-rated films, holy hell. I’m saying that society should endeavour to be tolerant of parents making these efforts. More tolerance, I believe, would go a long way toward facilitating the rearing of more well-behaved children.

    And about that plane lady? Her bitchiness was excessive, no matter how you slice it. Wonderbaby was 18 months old and had to sit on my lap because the plane was full – I would generally sit between her and another passenger, and/or would always work to make sure that she didn’t disturb them. But again, I feel it’s unfair for people to assume that she WILL disturb them – and to believe that it’s perfectly acceptable to sneer at her because of that assumption.

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