This weekend, my extended family went to North Conway.
It was a big group of us out to dinner after a day at Echo Lake – a total of 8 young kids and 8 adults. Admittedly it was a large group, but we were eating at a very casual restaurant right outside of Story Land, and we went out to eat at 5:30.
This was the kind of place with crayons on the table and a well-worn kids menu. This was a restaurant where families with small children are the norm; it was not a steakhouse in Manhattan.
Our kids ranged in age from 5 months to a pre-teen, with most of the kids being pre-school aged and toddlers.
Everyone who has ever taken kids out to dinner knows how hard that can be.
There have been nights where Brian and I have literally called for the check before our appetizers even come out, because we know we are doomed and just need to make an escape before we ruin anyone’s dinner.
We are not those people who have no clue if their kids are being wild and who don’t care if we are bothering other patrons. We care! We try our best.
But this weekend our kids, the whole collective of them, were behaving remarkably well. They were coloring and chatting and not running around like lunatics.
There was some getting up and out of seats to show Papa a nice drawing, or to ask for some dessert, or other assorted expected mini disruptions of this nature.
They are small kids! But they were behaving themselves and we were all enjoying a nice family meal.
Nobody was yelling, nobody was crying, nobody was throwing food or running around.
In short, we were proud of the kids and happy with the night.
An older couple sitting across from us was…..not.
The entire meal they were glaring at us, at our kids, at each other – making it abundantly clear that they did not welcome sitting near us.
At one point my 5 month old baby spit-up over my shoulder, but as she’s an infant this wasn’t exactly a “behavior problem” so much as it was “reflux”. And yet this couple gave me the most disdainful look, as if my baby had done something terrible and we were bad parents.
It was very uncomfortable (as is being puked on by a baby, but it’s a different type of discomfort).
When we got up to leave at the end of the meal – which, again, was at a restaurant that caters to small kids, outside of a theme park for families, at 5:30 PM – the couple clapped and cheered as we walked out.
Yes, they cheered us and our young kids out of the restaurant.
This is what I would like to tell the couple in the restaurant:
Our children are little.
Small children can be hard to manage; they are certainly hard to travel with and yes they can be a handful out to dinner.
But they are little people who are learning about the world; how to engage with it, how to master social situations, how to handle themselves. They need practice at this.
They need adults to work with them and show patience and compassion towards them. And ideally they need not just their own parents to do this, but other adults to do this as well.
This is how we raise kids up. We try to model good behavior as best we can. And we work with them as they develop their own sense of self and sense of others.
I don’t think that parents should let children run wild through public spaces, ruining experiences for others. We need to help them until they have the self-regulation not to act up.
But the only bad behavior I saw the other night came not from a table of pre-schoolers and toddlers, but from grown adults.
I just read a Toni Morrison quote that stuck with me. Toni explained that it’s fascinating to see what happens when a child walks into a room. She asked “Does your face light up?”
We adults give kids messages all the time about what we think of them, and of their value.
Cheering when parents with young kids leave a restaurant – parents who are trying and kids who are doing their best to learn about their world – is that a compassionate message to send?
Does your face light up?
Imagine if we could all remember that when we’re with not just our own kids, but with anybody’s kids.
Imagine what that would relay to the little ones around us.
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I have had the same issue of people staring at us in restaurants with our 4 daughters. No noise no running around. Just a quite meal. My wife alerted me to an older couple glaring at us. Sure enough they were. I got up and went to their table to inquire what the problem could have been. Neither one would answer so I accidentally spilled a drink on them which I quickly apologized. They got up and left. We went back to our quite evening.
Oh my goodness, that makes me SO ANGRY!!!!!!!!!
A. They are near Storyland. HELLO
B. If they hate kids so much, maybe they should eat out after 8 PM.
C. Then my mom’s voice kicks into my head… “maybe they always wanted kids, and couldn’t have them, so it made them bitter. Or maybe their only joy in life is spreading hate, and we should feel sorry for them.”
D. Either way, it is hard to brush it off, but I hope you killed them with kindness. You should have taken your daughter over and offered to let them hold her. Or had one of the kids draw them a picture. Life is too short to respond with the anger I expressed above, even though it’s easy and good. And it sounds like you didn’t, so Bravo. I hope my face lights up every time I see a kid (though I confess it is easier if they are happy).
Exactly!! It’s storyland!!! And a total kids restaurant. So bizzare and madenning!!
I would pay no mind to them or maybe even feel sorry for them. They might be a couple who have tried to get pregnant and failed but deep down inside they wished they were able to conceive. And their failure to conceive and seeing kids around them is a nagging reminder for them.
That’s a good way to frame things Elaine. It’s true, we never know what other people are going through. Might as well assume the best.
Was it at all possible that they were cheering your handling of a large party several of whom were children? Any way it was a positive reaction?
Definitely not! Although that would have been nice 🙂
I would’ve asked them WTF their problem was… I appreciate your story but it’s a pet peeve of mine when people address stuff after the fact. People that nasty need to be put in their place. When I was a kid we had a couple who were just the meanest old couple ever. One day, a child mind you said to them “why are u both so mean?!” This woman didn’t even realize how nasty she was and how people were noticing and from that day on she was as sweet as pie. We cried when she passed away. Sometimes people need to be called out to their face.