There's been some discussion over on Cecily's blog about one of those sociological issues I find fascinating: public vs private space. Specifically, what are the parameters of polite and appropriate behavior when dining out with your children? And how do those parameters meet the test when conflict arises with other diners?
I'll give you my 2¢, you give me yours.
1. What, when, where?
When we had Tori, we pledged not to let parenthood curb our love for travel. Of course, when infants become toddlers, the issue becomes more challenging. So, when and where is it appropriate to dine out with a toddler? Let's exclude the obvious: establishments that are primarily bars and that do not serve kid-friendly food are out. Late nights (unless we're stranded) are out. Filthy dives are out. That leaves dawn to sunset, at clean places that serve kid-friendly food. Now there are some places that are kid-unfriendly, even tho they seem to have the kind of food kids love (pizza, chicken fingers, etc.). You can tell these places by the fact that they have one or no high chairs or booster seats. Even tho Tori no longer uses either, it's a good way for me to gauge whether a restaurant is ready or willing to handle kids.
2. Sharing the space.
We have some basic rules for Tori when we're out in public: no running away, your butt stays in the chair (if we're dining), use your quiet voice, no throwing things, and don't tilt cups with straws. Basic common-sense stuff. And she's pretty good about following most of the rules most of the time. And yes, Tori gets noticed, 90% of the time with a smile. But there have been a few times, and only on our recent trip south, that strangers have felt the need to either hush Tori directly or to approach Cecily with parenting advice.
One was at a sidewalk café in Asheville, where a woman at the next table said, "All right, enough!" to Tori as we entered the seating area. Tori at the time was just talking. I, luckily didn't hear it, or there would have been hell to pay. As in: "Look lady, just because you resemble a toad, do I ask you to wear a bag over your head so you don't scare my kid?" But surely some of you will ask: Doesn't this woman have the right to eat in peace? No. She doesn't. And I'll tell you why. We are at a SIDEWALK café, i.e., public space. When I'm at a sidewalk café, I fully expect to experience traffic noise, bus fumes, winos, panhandlers, skateboarders, curious dogs, bees, and families with children. In fact, there was a handful of very loud drunks talking just a few feet away. Funny our friend didn't have the stones to get up and tell them to hush, but was brave enough to bully a 3-year-old. If I don't want to experience outdoor things, I should dine indoors. And at this particular place, there were plenty of seats indoors.
3. The kid haters
I know there are "childfree" sites out there...some simply to offer support and a sense of community to those who choose not to have kids, and others to provide a forum for venomous kid-hatred. I read a comment this morning from a reader who approved of smacking other people's children in public. I'll say this as nicely as I can...If you harm my kid, I'll break your arms.
OK, I'm sure I've provoked at least a few opinions. Let's hear 'em.