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.