Best. Birthday. Ever.


Ever since the chaos of Kate’s birthday No. 5 — nine children, a too-small house, don’t ask — I’ve put in place a new rule of celebrations. Which is: Smaller is better. I don’t ever want to find myself standing in the middle of the street, hissing furiously at a tardy pizza delivery kid again. So the new guidelines are, if all the invited guests can fit into two midsize cars, we’ll take them wherever they want to go.

This year: Ice skating at Campus Martius Park, followed by lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, across the street. And let me just say, it was grand. The weather was glorious, the ice not too crowded, the tunes pumpin’.

Happy birthday, Kate.

Some of you may be new arrivals — the Lisa Belkin show airs Sunday, so to those Googlers, welcome. The one-sentence description of this joint is over there on the left rail, but for further information: I’m a freelance writer, formerly a newspaper columnist, recently relocated the the Detroit area, looking for a new path through the career wilderness. I started this site nearly five years ago as a goad to keep a daily journal, but it’s not all about me. It’s more an end-of-day data dump for someone trying to make sense of it all. As Joan Didion said recently, I don’t know what I think about something until I’ve written it down. Politics: Moderate-lefty. Outlook: Too cynical, but trying to correct that. Sense of the world: It’s a funny place. More than that, you can judge for yourself.


I’m very late coming to this debate, but what the hell, now you can read the story that started it all at a site that doesn’t require registration. This would be Jodi Wilgoren’s notorious tale about brats in upscale Chicago venues, and what exasperated shopkeepers are doing to keep them out:

“Part of parenting skills is teaching kids they behave differently in a restaurant than they do on the playground,” McCauley said. “If you send out positive energy, positive energy returns to you. If you send out energy that says I’m the only one that matters, it’s going to be a pretty chaotic world.” And so simmers another skirmish between the childless and the child-centered, a culture clash increasingly common in restaurants and other public spaces as a new generation of busy, older, well-off parents ferry little ones with them.

My dog has aged out of this fight, and was never much of a problem even when she was a toddler, for which I give zero credit to my parenting skills and all the rest to the twin accidents of luck and gender — girls just seem to pose less of a behavior problem to parents, at least in their toddler years. I like to think I wouldn’t have tolerated ear-splitting shrieks and pound-the-floor tantrums, but I’ll never know. I was exquisitely sensitive to every peep and squeal she made in public places, but as I grow older I notice something else, and it’s a revelation: I barely notice crying children anymore. I have developed the tune-out mechanism that eluded me when I needed it most.

From the descriptions in the story, the kids in question were doing a lot more than peeping and squealing or even crying; lying down in the middle of the coffee line certainly ups the ante for bad behavior, and running around pounding on things is grounds for immediate dismissal from any establishment. We’ve all seen the results of negligent parenting. My own personal favorite was when a baby sitting on a woman’s hip reached over and banged on an adjacent cash register in a supermarket checkout line, requiring the clerk to void the sale, then did it two more times while the mother looked in another direction, oblivious.

My only misgiving about the reaction to the story is this: Couched in all those cries for well-behaved children is a strong cadre that doesn’t want them around, period. The so-called childfree movement is a nasty piece of work, and it’s hard not to see their attitudes behind the demand that children’s voices never be heard in public.

Whether you find them appealing or not, kids are part of the human family, and kids make noise. To advocate keeping them out of public spaces is no different than saying old people should stay home, too, because their quavery voices and slo-mo shuffling bums the young and vigorous out.

I guess I’d advocate a three-strikes policy for normal kid behavior, with hopes that clued-in parents will recognize when their children are being brats and take them elsewhere. (One tip from this parent: You can hardly ever go wrong with children in a family-run Mexican restaurant, at least in my experience. They love kids.)

See? A moderate.

Posted at 10:22 am in Uncategorized |

22 responses to “Best. Birthday. Ever.”

  1. alex said on November 20, 2005 at 4:14 pm

    As a recent former Chicagoan I’m quite familiar with Taste of Heaven�and compared to the restaurants here in Indiana, at least as far as the preadolescent decibel level, I assure you it most certainly is a Taste of Heaven.

    The biggest culture shock for me in moving to Hoosiertucky wasn’t the chest-pounding of right-wingers or the streets rolling up at 6:00. It’s the fact that you have to go to a tavern in order to enjoy a meal with any amount of peace.

    I’ve never gotten jaded to the shrillness of children screaming. Nance, you’re really lucky. In my observation, girls are typically the worst offenders. And I think I’m well within the ballpark if I say fifty percent of the folks in Fort Wayne have no self-awareness whatsoever and their kids take after them like flies to shit.

    A Taste of Heaven is in Andersonville, an area of big single-family houses on tree-lined streets that were less than two hundred grand when I first moved to Chicago and now are all way over the million-plus mark. I know just the sort of bull-market skank who are moving there in droves trying to suburbanize it. If I were a shopkeeper I wouldn’t want their progeny darkening my doorstep either.

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  2. Nance said on November 20, 2005 at 5:08 pm

    I wonder that I don’t get out enough, because I’ve heard enough anecdotal stories of awful children — and not from people who are kid-haters on principle — that I think this trend must have some legs. And when I say I don’t notice crying children, it’s true; I do, however, notice shrieking children. The former is just the noise kids make, while the latter has a note of hysteria, and yes, I wouldn’t want it in my store, either.

    Anyone who has children knows they go through periods when they’re testing their voices. Kate was never a screamer, but she’s always had a big voice (I have NO idea who she gets THAT from), and there was a time when she punctuated every two-minute period with a big, loud OW. We took her to La Margarita, she started OWing, and we ate fast and decamped. I apologized to the people sitting next to us. The woman said, “She’s a BABY. That’s what they do. Don’t apologize.” Made me look at things a little differently.

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  3. brian stouder said on November 20, 2005 at 6:10 pm

    Kiddos will be kiddos, it is true. We tend to take the young folks to places like Flannagans (high ceiling, generally noisy anyway) or other similar franchise places.

    One inviolable rule that we have always enforced is – you cannot leave your chair. We have some friends who quite literally let their children ‘run rampant’ – I find that completely unacceptable.

    Other smaller guidelines that we continually re1nforce include ‘no pointing’, ‘no turning around in your chair and staring’, and ‘no fooling with your silverware before the food comes’; plus ancillary rules such as ‘go easy on the chips’ when we’re at a Mexican place…

    Our young folks aren’t models of perfection, but as the saying goes – ‘they’ve had some raising’

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  4. Dorothy said on November 20, 2005 at 7:37 pm

    Yes Brian – kids need to stay in their chairs! That was a hard and fast rule for us, too, when our kids were little. And I think we must have done a pretty good job of letting them experience different kinds of dining establishments – both kid friendly and maybe not-so friendly. But my kids nearly always behaved themselves in public. In fact I take pride in the fact that not once, but several times, people stopped by our table (or told me in the restroom) “Your children are so well behaved – it’s so nice to see in this day and age when so many are not!”

    Josh once asked his dad why a man complimented him on his manners (he had held the door open for the guy entering the hardware store at the same time as him). Dad said “Because lots of kids don’t have manners, and he wants you to know he appreciates yours.” R e i n f o rcing good behavior ALWAYS works, trust me. (The cyber nanny made me hyphenate that word.)

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  5. deb said on November 20, 2005 at 9:58 pm

    i’ll never forget the first time we took our kids to a half-nice restaurant and didn’t sit in a booth. they were just past toddlerhood, and i was a nervous wreck. we were seated in the middle row of three tight rows of tables in a long, narrow dining room–a table, with chairs they could climb right out of! at least in a booth we could box in them in. but this–yikes. no way to contain them!

    i fretted through the whole meal that they were being too loud and disturbing other diners, particularly the elderly couple right next to us. when we got up to leave, that same couple made eye contact, smiled, and told us what well-behaved little boys we had and how much they’d enjoyed sitting next to such a nice family. i almost cried.

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  6. basset said on November 21, 2005 at 1:36 am

    “three tight rows of tables” reminds me of the time we went to a reasonably nice Mexican restaurant – not family-owned, though – when our son was maybe a few months old. tables were jammed in close together.

    picked the little guy up to burp him and he projectile-vomited all over some poor wretch in back of me. didn’t get a drop on anyone else.

    he’s almost sixteen now and pretty well-behaved, considering.

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  7. claudia said on November 21, 2005 at 8:11 am

    Two kids and a huge intolerance for parents who allow their children to run wild in public. (I don’t hesitate to ask wild children where their mommy or daddy is and then tell them to go back to said mommy or daddy.) My mother always said (here’s where my kids roll their eyes), you use good manners at home so that when you go out in public, you are little ladies and gentlemen. We practiced good manners at our dinner table and I was able to take my two anywhere without worrying.

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  8. 4dbirds said on November 21, 2005 at 10:42 am

    I too have a tolerance for children in public places, afterall I’m a mother of 4. What I have a beef with are the oversized strollers and the parents pushing them who seem to think everyone needs to get out of their way because well, they’re pushing a stroller damn it.

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  9. Nance said on November 21, 2005 at 10:53 am

    When did strollers become SUVs? I hate those goddamn things. Especially at crowded events, they seem really rude — they take up so much more space than they should.

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  10. Peter said on November 21, 2005 at 10:55 am

    I can understand where a lot of people are coming from on this issue. I have a ten year old with psy. issues and even though I watch him 24/7 there were still some memorable moments.

    That being said, here’s something both sides should remember:

    If you have a kid, there is a place where you can let them go nuts while you relax. It’s called Chuck E Cheese.

    If you don’t want to be near a kid, there is a place that will welcome you with open arms. It’s called a tavern.

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  11. brian stouder said on November 21, 2005 at 11:27 am

    Peter makes a good point; and indeed Nance ran a link to the heartfelt blog of a mom of a child with an attention deficit disorder not so long ago, and it was definitely an elightening thing to read.

    Regarding strollers, as parents of a now-17 month old girl, I can honestly say that her ‘big’ stroller struck me as SURPRISINGLY big when we first got it! It has drink holders(!!) – plus lots of stowage space.

    We used that thing for open-air jaunts such as our trip to the Toledo Zoo (always a more- marvelous place than the time before) or walkabouts at the park while her older brother and sister played on the playground, etc.

    And then we have an umbrella stroller that we specifically acquired for the mall/school events/supermarket. The thing is the definition of utilitarian…my only beef is that it is a smidge TOO small, causing the adult who pushes it to have to stoop; which suits older sister and brother just fine, because then THEY can magnanimously offer to push the thing, and mom or I am almost certain to say “Yes!! please!”

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  12. Dorothy said on November 21, 2005 at 11:42 am

    Be careful at Chuck E. Cheese. I attended a party there about 13 years ago with both my kids (who were 9 and 7 at the time). I was talking with some other moms at the party table and the kids attending the party were playing in the game rooms. Josh came running to me to say “some nice man” gave him some tokens and wanted to watch him play. I immediately went to see who this “nice man” was and was creeped out by this seedy looking character who was hovering much too closely to the doorway of the party room. I called for Management immediately and he high-tailed it out of there. We really do need to have eyes everywhere all the time.

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  13. Virginia Smith said on November 21, 2005 at 11:53 am

    “My dog has aged out of this fight”.


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  14. mary said on November 21, 2005 at 12:01 pm

    Mexican restaurants and Chinese (family owned) are usually friendly. The ex works for a posh hotel company, and when older son Tom was 2 1/2 we managed to get a freebie weekend at a very nice hotel in Montecito. We didn’t want to take Tom to the posh restaurant in the hotel, so on the recommendation of one of the housekeeping people, we went to a local Chinese restaurant. The hostess seated us, and Tom, who was a pretty quiet kid, was sitting in his chair playing with some stuff I used to keep in my bag for him. The table next to us asked to be moved away from us because of Tom. I was a bit insulted, since he wasn’t doing anything even moderately annoying. The hostess moved them, but made a point of telling us that those folks were intolerant old farts and they should realize children were part of life. Hooray.

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  15. Nance said on November 21, 2005 at 12:42 pm

    Charles Cheese could quadruple their business if they improved their food by even 50 percent. It’s simply atrocious. Why? What’s so hard about pizza?

    And yes, it’s always a safe bet for certain occasions. My only point would be that at some point kids have to learn to behave outside the confines of Kiddie Vegas. I’m aware that every kid is on a different path through life, and you can’t expect the same behavior out of each one. I reserve my harshest judgment for the parents: If a kid is misbehaving badly and the parent is dealing, everyone gets a pass because misbehavior happens. If the incident continues past a reasonable time or escalates to an uncomfortable volume, I want to see the kid be taken outside for a cooldown. But when I see kids making other people’s lives miserable while mom or dad blithely reads a magazine, then I stop being sympathetic.

    I used to be a habitue of my local library, which attracted lots of homeschooling families during the day. Most of these families were unremarkable, but there was one that just creeped me out. The five or six children looked to be one long chain of Irish siblings (arriving at an annual clip), the mother was simply overwhelmed trying to wrangle them all and they were unspeakably filthy. Not “casually messy” filthy but “black grime covering every surface of the stroller, food stains on every garment and every head of hair uncombed, seemingly for weeks” filthy. For some reason I found them more disturbing than any misbehaving knot of children.

    When I read about Andrea Yates not long after that, I thought of them. She probably thought she was carrying out God’s will by embracing this endless chain of offspring, but all I could imagine was what their house must have looked like.

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  16. mary said on November 21, 2005 at 12:55 pm

    Off the kiddie behavior topic a little…

    Until recently, we used to celebrate son Tom’s birthdays at the ice rink in Pasadena. Tom’s birthday is June 25, and on that date in 1990, when he was born, it was 116 degrees here. Ice skating seems the perfect way to commemorate that.

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  17. Dorothy said on November 21, 2005 at 1:50 pm

    Holy crap. I can’t even imagine what 116 degrees feels like.

    Oh wait – yes I can. Hot flashes kicked in about 6 weeks ago. That’s a whole new subject, huh?

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  18. colleen said on November 21, 2005 at 3:58 pm

    I agree with Alex…my observations when out in public in the Fort show a lot of people with a complete lack of awareness that there are other people sharing the earth. This attitude crops up in their lack of interest in keeping their children reined in somewhat while in public. But you can’t really blame the kids if their parents don’t know themselves how to be polite. Kids will be kids, but that doesn’t mean acting like EVERY place is McDonald’s Play Place.

    FWIW, I identify as Childfree, but not because I’m mean and evil and don’t think children should ever be let out of their dark attics. Some people who ID themselves as CF really do hate kids. Some of us just prefer it to “childless” and its implication that something is missing from our lives.

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  19. Nance said on November 21, 2005 at 4:11 pm

    “Childfree” is fine as a way of saying, “I’m happy not to have any children.” Unfortunately, it’s also the term preferred by those icky folks who spend hours on the internet posting crazy screeds about how horrible parents and children are, and how Cindy Crawford was MUCH sexier before she had a baby.

    Sometimes they post news stories about children dying in car crashes and say, “Whee! Another one gone!”

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  20. brian stouder said on November 21, 2005 at 4:18 pm

    “Sometimes they post news stories about children dying in car crashes and say, “Whee! Another one gone!”

    Oy! that IS “icky”!

    I think I�d take that as my cue to leave that site and never come back�.although it might be tempting to take a blast at the turnip-brain who would say such a thing.

    The last time I stumbled across a site so self-evidently �Not my kinda place� was when I clicked a google link and landed at a site that was nothing but categorized dirty stories! Some of the CATEGORY names included �non-consent� , �mind control�, and �incest� � which was enough for me eject out of there, clean the cache, and update the anti-virus software! (I think I was googling something ridiculously unrelated like �cucumber squash� or some such)

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  21. Claire said on November 22, 2005 at 12:37 am

    I’m thankful that I live w/in walking distance of a brewery that is loud, relatively smoke-free, and frequented by people with babies and young children. It’s so nice to have a (non-Chucky) place where you can drink good beer, listen to music, watch sports on TV, and pretend that you still have the freedom you had before the dear little child in the high chair next to you was born!

    Of course we arrive early and leave before the real bar crowd appears. Seems everyone is satisfied there.

    Ah, the Andersonville controversy draws me in…but not because I am the parent of a two-year-old. The Andersonville I’m most familiar with predates the one described as,

    “once an outpost of edgy artists and hip gay couples but now a hot real estate market for young professional families shunning the suburbs.”

    My Dad was born there in 1933 after my grandma and grandpa immigrated from Sweden and Norway. Before it was hip, edgy, or hot suburbia, it was a Swedish enclave. I recommend a visit to the Swedish American Museum Center on North Clark if you ever go there!

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  22. Peter said on November 22, 2005 at 1:13 pm

    I hear you Claire. Our family moved from Uptown to Andersonville to Ravenswood.

    I remember Lind Hardware (with the manually operated elevator – the best ride a five year could ask for!), Erikson and Schott’s Deli’s (with the swimming fish in the barrels – I still can’t eat eels!), Svea and Swedish House Restaurants, and of course, all of the bakeries.

    While Taste of Heaven and Ann Sather are very nice, it’s sad to think that what is special now would have been run of the mill back then.

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