What You Say About Children In Public

A few weeks ago Joshua, Dylan, and I ran an errand that involved a significant bit of driving. Sometimes this goes smoothly with Dylan, sometimes it brilliantly lines up with a nap, and then on the other hand, sometimes he gets really upset at being in the carseat for so long. This trip involved the latter. We were headed back from our errand, but it was clear that he wasn’t going to fall asleep and wasn’t going to make it home without a lot of crying. We needed to stop for awhile. Joshua and I were hungry, so it made sense to stop somewhere and eat. We were in a small town mostly unknown to us, so we didn’t really know where to look for food. We found a small restaurant and stopped.

The restaurant was dimly lit and nicely decorated. Fuck. NOT the kind of place I prefer to eat with a baby.

Every time I read or hear a conversation about children in public, there’s someone on hand to bitch about babies in restaurants. Babies who are spoiling your night out. Spoiling the meal you paid dearly for.

All those conversations and voices slammed into me as I attempted to help Dylan wait for our food to arrive. There – that little sound he made there – is that the “crying baby” people are always bitching about? Oh shit, he’s banging silverware on the table. Is he ruining those people’s meals? What he really needed was to run around. There was no one seated anywhere near us, but when I put him on the floor to let him walk around, I could imagine the protests about “letting her child run loose in the restaurant”.

I took him to the bathroom. I figured we couldn’t bother anyone there. But all he wanted to do was slam doors and lids, and I was sure it could be heard in the dining room. We went outside, instead. Never mind that it was too cold, and we weren’t really dressed for that.

Needless to say, it was a miserable meal for me, and wasn’t that great for Dylan or Joshua, either.

This morning I was at another restaurant with Dylan. A man approached me and told me that he was there from church, which was mostly older people. But he said that a few people with babies had started to come to church recently, and the babies often made noise during the service. He said, “Isn’t that a wonderful noise? Such a blessing.”

Several of the older people who seemed to be eating out here together stopped by the table to say hi to Dylan. I felt very welcome and not at all concerned that we might be messing up someone’s meal.

The next time I’m running imaginary commentary in my mind, maybe I can summon their voices instead of the other ones.

I encourage you to think about ways you welcome parents and their children in public or the ways you push them away. When you say things about children or parents, someone is listening.

Sometimes your future self is the one who’s listening.

When I used to work in a restaurant, oh, 14 years ago or so, I used to bitch about the mess that children left on the floor. I was completely dumbfounded how such an immense amount of food could end up on the floor, and weren’t those people so rude! Fast forward, and now I have a child who leaves a truly amazing amount of food on the floor sometimes. Sometimes I try to clean it up, because the critical voice in my head is mine, but it’s really kind of silly. It’s silly for me to pick up food crumbs by hand, when there’s an employee nearby who has a broom, has to sweep the place anyway, and gets paid for the time either way.

The truth is that children are messy sometimes. And loud sometimes. And they run around sometimes. And they bang on things and drop things. And they and their parents should still be welcome in public spaces.

To attempt to eradicate the noise and the mess and the motion is actually an attempt to eradicate the presence of parents and children from public life.

If that’s what you mean to do, then you’re an asshole, and I’m not really talking to you.

If that’s not what you mean to do, give your words a second thought the next time you’re talking about children in public. Are your words welcoming? Or are your words the ones that send us to hide in the bathroom and push us out in the cold?