Hold the knuckle from that sandwich, please!

by Jessica on September 22, 2010

My friend Samantha at the Mother Company just posted an insightful article about some intense incidents she witnessed recently at Westside restaurants. When eating out with her four-year-old son, Sam watched as tempers flared and almost turned into physical altercations — twice in one week! — over the issue of unruly kids in public. As I posted in the comments, I’m astounded at people’s reactions. I completely agree with her about parents’ responsibility when such interruptions happen:

Don’t get me wrong – I also believe that if your kid is making a whole bunch of noise in a restaurant or other place meant for quiet, it is the parent’s responsibility to remedy the situation, or leave. But sometimes life isn’t that neat and tidy.  Sometimes you have to get out of the house with your 6-month old! Sometimes you have to treat your older son to a night out, and that’s the most important thing.  Sometimes your best laid plans for a lovely family night out devolves into a family disaster area.

And how much WORSE does it feel when it’s YOUR KID causing all the commotion? (I’ve had that sinking feeling before, but never to this degree!) Sam steps back and tries to get a wider perspective on WTF is going on here. Why do some (presumably) otherwise reasonable adults think it’s OK to yell at a someone else’s child, or aggressively reprimand a parent who is dealing with a difficult kid in public? Why are people guileless about assuming and saying they know BETTER, no matter how inappropriate or insensitive the context?

In trying to be perfect parents — or at least good enough parents, at least that’s my mantra — it’s all too easy to critique others’ parenting. Or assume the other party is entitled parents who can’t control their kids. Regardless, Sam’s point rings true: Rabid judgment of parenting styles has reached epidemic proportions. This runs deep in both the non-parent community and the community with children. Lord knows I’m guilty of that offense. And I’m also saddened by the mean, petty, intractable flame wars that often result over these issues. 

I haven’t seen this kind of emotional explosion happen since 1979, when I midjudged the physics of a ketchup packet. The contents squirted up into a perfect arc, landing right on the shirt of the guy at the next table at a fried chicken joint on Bevelry Blvd. The dude insulted me and threatened to kick my father’s ass in the parking lot. My dad tried to diffuse the situation and offered him money to clean his jersey shirt, while my face burned with shame. I’d like to think we’ve evolved a little further than that. Apparently not. As  Sam pointedly asks, Where’s the empathy? Where’s the village?

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

SinoSoul September 22, 2010 at 11:32 am

Apparently “The Village” isn’t on the Westside? Never seen the kind of histrionics mentioned in, say, Ktown, where they bring kids to drink soju. I always wondered this though: if your 6 months old decides to start auditioning for a death-metal band in the middle of dinner, would it be better to simply start voicing your apologies? Instead of searing in self shame — everyone sees you, you see everyone — how about taking the initiative & putting it out there with: “I’m sorry my kid’s screaming like Carrie, we hope she’ll study opera. ha. ha. ha.”?


Kelley September 23, 2010 at 1:22 pm

I do apologize, but it’s usually after another guest has made eye contact with me…and that usually is accompanied by a dirty look.


thefoodinista September 26, 2010 at 8:06 pm

To Tony’s point about apologizing before a dirty look arrives, I was on a plane recently, and a couple with a baby who couldn’t have been more than a few months old sat down in front of us. They handed out earplugs to everyone around them and were very friendly and said they hoped we wouldn’t have to use them but apologized in advance for any noise. It completely diffused the situation in advance of any screaming. Wish I’d thought of that when our 4-month-old let loose on a plane and I was so stressed out I broke out in hives.

And then there are the parents who let their kids kick the crikey out of the seat in front of them without trying to stop the behavior or apologize to the poor individual in said seat. I do feel that along with the ugly epidemic of judging parenting styles, there exists the flip side of the epidemic of parental entitlement.

PS…I feel your ketchup pain. For years I couldn’t eat mustard after a similar traumatizing incident in a hot dog joint on the east coast circa 1975!


Kelley September 23, 2010 at 1:21 pm

I loved this post. Thank you so much for putting my thoughts into words.


Jessica September 24, 2010 at 9:52 am

Ah yes, the disarming humor approach. Wonder how that would play out, too. Blessed are those who have the presence of mind to find a witty comeback.


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