I really struggle to be a less judgmental person, specifically a less judgmental parent. I don't know your story. You might not have read the same guides I did, you might not have the same resources, and — here's the kicker, the part I have a really hard time swallowing — my deeply cherished ideas, mores and beliefs could be wrong. Wow, it actually pains me to type that! But, unfortunately, it's true. As much as I love to be right, and as strong as my natural inclination is to make sure everyone else knows how right I am, especially when it comes to The Boy, I am not always right.
Except. Ah, there's always an except! Except this: If you let your children scream in a restaurant, you are bad.
Now, before you get all up in arms about my declaration, I did not say you are a bad parent. Children scream sometimes. It's what they do. But if you let your children scream in a restaurant for more than five seconds without doing everything in your power to a) silence or b) remove the offending child, then you become the offender. You may not be a bad parent, but you are definitely a bad diner, and depending on how long and how loud your child screams while I am eating, you may just straight up be a bad person. Because you are the grown-up, and it is your job to act as a barrier between your children and the rest of the world. Especially when the rest of the world is paying for a nice meal.
Now that The Boy is in school, my husband and I occasionally make a date to have lunch out. Somewhere quiet, where we can have adult conversation and enjoy our food in peace. Until you show up with your loud-ass kids. Last time, our food arrived at the same time as a harried mother dragging a complaining toddler with one hand and pushing a stroller with the other. I reserve a measure of sympathy for moms out in public alone with kids, especially moms with more than one small child to herd. But my sympathy wears awfully thin the moment that it becomes apparent that you are not extending any reciprocal sympathy toward your fellow adult humans.
From the second this crew was seated, conversation at our table became impossible. The toddler whined, the baby screamed and the mother crossly ignored both of them, staring at her menu with a look of distracted indifference that said she'd gotten used to tuning out the din. Well, she didn't totally ignore them. Every once in a while, she crouched down and put her nose an inch from the baby's face and hissed "SHH!" Because, you know, babies respond to that.
Once, when The Boy was 2, we took him to our favorite Indian buffet for lunch. Over the course of the hour, he fussed a couple of times. Because, hey, he was 2. The first time, I called in my magical purse full of toys. The second time, we realized within seconds that it would be more involved, so Tad picked him up and carried him outside. Swiftly. They came back all smiles, and we were able to finish eating, but if he hadn't calmed down, that would have been the end of our lunch. It happens, and we know going into a restaurant that it's a possibility. Because news flash: When you're a parent, the world does not owe you lunch in a restaurant. Not on your birthday, Mother's Day or your anniversary. You do not have the right to inflict your kid's bad behavior on other paying customers on any day of the year.
As we were leaving, another patron stopped us. "I have to tell you," she admitted, "I cringed when he started crying. But you dealt with it so fast, I didn't really have time to be upset!" She meant it as a compliment, but I took it as a sad commentary on our society that if someone sees a 2-year-old, they automatically expect him to behave like an entitled brat and worse, they expect his parents to let him.
Do I want a medal? A pat on the back for good parenting? Not at all, people. I'm not in it for the glory. What I want is for you to return the favor. The next time you're out having dinner and your kid starts wailing in his chicken fingers, do something. And do it fast. You're making the rest of us look bad, and you're ruining my meal.