To the Parents of the Screaming Baby In the Restaurant

I recently took E out for sushi at a local restaurant. It was a Wednesday afternoon and we were seated near the bar. As we ordered her favorites and mine, shared some chamomile tea, and chatted like Big Girls, our conversation was occasionally punctuated with loud screams of delight from across the room. In the corner across the restaurant there was a couple with a yearling in a high chair who was clearly delighted about something and felt no need to control her volume as she shared her happiness. We watched them for a little bit, and noticed with each scream more people turned around to give them an angry stare. These people were not mollified in the least by the fact that the parents were, in fact, not pinching the baby in order to make her emit such screams, or even by the fact that they were really trying to shush her the best they could as they scrambled to finish their meal quickly.

After a brief talk with our server (who also had children and specifically also remembered what it was like to have young children) we sent them a secret cookie. She dropped it off at their table and said, “One of your fellow customers remembers what it was like to have a child this age and wanted to say ‘good job being out in the world.'” The angry restaurant patrons nearest them heard and quietly turned back to their own meals, and hopefully found that it didn’t actually prevent them from eating delicious Japanese food for someone else to have a baby in a restaurant. The couple was surprised and said thank you (I think-we were far away and trying hard not to give ourselves away) and then thanked her again on their way out the door five minutes later.

You know what? Parents whose children are behaving perfectly aren’t the ones who *need* to hear that they’re doing well. Don’t get me wrong…I love it when people like my kids. It makes my mama heart swell with pride and contentment. I work very hard with my children to set the culture of our family. We have expectations and try to set examples of kindness, politeness, generosity, honesty, and many other ways of being with each other. It’s an astonishing amount of work, and I don’t mind when people notice that.

You know what else is an astonishing amount of work?

Parenting a toddler who’s throwing a fit because the seam of their sock isn’t hitting their toe just right (not that they can articulate that that’s the problem). When they throw themselves on the ground and start kicking and screaming in the grocery store aisle, there’s some tiny part of me that just wants to do it too as if that would make them stop. In the movie Riding in Cars With Boys, Drew Barrymore has this scene where the baby’s been screaming for hours and she just falls apart. She sobs, “WHY WON’T YOU STOP CRYING?” If you’ve never considered your child with this air of desperation, you’re a better parent than me. Or, at least, this post isn’t about you.

If you have ever felt that way, particularly in public, I just want to say…hang in there and keep doing your best. Parenting littles is no joke and sometimes when it’s the hardest, people judge you the most harshly.

There are ways in which I try to absorb most of the impact of my kids’ public tantrums…I will not go home immediately from the library if my kids are losing it, but I also won’t make the librarians talk to them. I will be the one to deal with my children climbing all over the motorcycle chairs in the kids’ room at the hair salon, but I won’t make a stylist the big bad or insist that she risk her fingers trying to cut my child’s hair as he tries to climb the walls or shriek and run away (having stylishly coiffed children is really not that important to me; especially factoring in considerations of courtesy, safety, and fairness to the people who work in that industry, but that’s just me).

All that aside, those are decisions we didn’t make on the fly. When you’re in the thick of it, it’s nearly impossible to think clearly. It’s hard to come up with a plan that makes everyone happy when someone is screaming in your face, spittle and boogers flying every which way. It’s even harder when you can feel the angry stares from all around; unless you are a very secure person it may be tempting, just for a split second, to want to just run home and stay there. Maybe you should give up restaurants and libraries and really anywhere where people are until the kids are “ready”. When will that be? When they are five? Ten? Surely by college…?

We were one of those brazen couples that took our babies (and later, toddlers) to restaurants with us. And sometimes they even cried there! And we didn’t leave immediately! We learned early that there was a certain percentage of the population which is offended by the audacity shown by those who dare to have children in public. But we have this idea children can best learn how to be in public by, y’know, actually being in public.

So you…yes, you with the twelve month old screaming happy screams into her miso bowl at the sushi place at 5:30 p.m. on a Wednesday…good job. I remember how hard it was to get out with a kid that age, and I think you’re doing just fine. ❤

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