Silence your baby
A subject near and dear to my heart — kids who misbehave in restaurants — has been in the news lately. And I’m not going to lie, I’ve been as giddy as a schoolgirl, listening as both sides wage war.
Tongues started wagging after the owner of an exclusive Chicago restaurant outed a couple for bringing their 8-month-old baby to his expensive eatery a couple of months back. The baby not only cried, it shrieked during the lengthy meal. The other customers, who were expecting a once-in-a-lifetime dining experience, were not happy.
So how did a baby end up in a ridiculously upscale restaurant in the first place? Apparently patrons of Alinea must make pre-paid reservations. So when this poor couple’s babysitter canceled, they took a long look at their non-refundable tickets and each other, and decided to roll the dice. They brought the baby along.
Well, they gambled and lost, big time. I can just imagine how that conversation went. Surely, one parent knew it was a bad idea, while the other was overly optimistic. The optimist either really wanted that night out, or just couldn’t bear the thought of losing the reservation and forfeiting $470 cash. Yes, $470.
But let’s face it, you can’t just put your baby on vibrate. It’s not an iPhone. It’s not an iPad. There is no mute button. Anyone who ever has been caught between an unhappy baby and a hard place (ie. a room full of unhappy adults) knows it is a feeling like no other. There is only one thing to do: flee. Far and fast. Unless you are on an airplane. Then just pretend you don’t speak English. Or that you are asleep. Or hard of hearing. Or don’t know the baby. (Even if it’s on your lap.)
While I have not been in the “fussy baby meets airplane” scenario, I have seen and pitied plenty of parents who were. I remember watching a mom bounce her cranky babe on her knee, doing everything in her power to attempt to quiet the infant when a sassy flight attendant approached.
“Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask that you please silence your baby,” the air steward said. It still makes me laugh. Silence your baby? As if it’s an option. You know that mom didn’t want her baby to fuss, attracting negative attention from everyone on the flight. She had nowhere to go.
When Lizzie was a newborn, I can’t count all the times we brought her to Moody’s Diner when she was fast asleep. We’d slide into a booth and order our food like two felons on the run. Downing our coffee with jittery hands, we’d talk in hushed tones, our eyes shifting from our wrist watches to the baby and to the kitchen door, waiting for our meals to arrive. Customers nearby who dared to raise a voice in laughter or conversation suffered the wrath of my angry eyebrows.
Roughly half the time we got to wolf down our meals before Elizabeth woke. Her mood determined whether we could stay for dessert. Not because our daughter ruled our life. (OK, who am I kidding, of course she did. Ahem, does.) But I like to tell myself it is because we were considerate of others.
Many times, we had to pack up and head for the door. Tim would take her outside while I paid the check and got to-go boxes. We did not want to ruin things for the people around us, and we could not have enjoyed ourselves anyway if she fussed.
Before we had a child, there were many nights we dressed up and went out to dinner, only to have our evening ruined by other people’s unruly kids. One special New Year’s Eve we sat with our wine glasses raised, about to toast the new year, when a precocious, curly haired boy crawled under our table and hid beneath the tablecloth. His parents, sitting across the room, waved their hands breezily and said, “Oh, he’ll be back,” bringing laughter from their dining companions. But we weren’t laughing.
Another night, we went to a late dinner on a romantic outdoor deck. We had barely looked at our menus when two women arrived with six kids in tow.
“You guys sit right here,” one mom said to the children, pulling out chairs at the table next to ours. “Order whatever you want. We’re going to sit over there so we can talk.”
My mouth dropped open, and my husband, who seldom gets snarky, said, “I’m glad we didn’t want to talk.”
All of the kids proceeded to order spaghetti, so we ate fast and left before the free-for-all started.
I have a theory. I believe having these experiences makes you go one of two ways when you have kids of your own. Either you sit back and selfishly let your own offspring act up in public and say, “Sorry, but this is for all the times I had to sit and listen to other people’s kids misbehave.” Or you simply stand up, pack up, and walk out the door. You don’t want to become everything you used to hate.
Years went by before we felt we could take Elizabeth out to a nice dinner. Now and then we would test our girl, to see if she was ready for prime time. I remember meeting friends at a seafood place. As soon as we hauled Lizzie’s booster-seated chair up to the table, my friend passed me two little coffee creamers.
“Do I look that tired?” I laughed. “I do need coffee.”
“No, these are for her,” she said, pointing at Elizabeth.
I was aghast.
“Oh, I’d never let her drink half and half,” I said. “That’s disgusting!”
She laughed and said her kids loved it, “and besides, it kept them busy.”
No way. Never would I be that desperate to entertain my daughter. Fast-forward six months, and Tim and I were lining them up like shot glasses for Elizabeth. She tossed those creamers back like a pro.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and you can only color so many placemats and build so many houses out of sugar packets and salt and pepper shakers before you have to dig deep.
On the rare occasion that we pony up for a babysitter, shower, put on clean clothes and drive to a decent restaurant, you’d better believe we want to eat in peace. So if you decide to bring your kids out that night, and they behave, then fine. But if they start acting up, please, I’m begging you, just cut your losses and leave. We did our time. Now do yours.
And the beat goes on.