It's the place that on most weeknights you will find several parents with toddlers and teens. It's quick service in putting food on the plate for a reasonable price takes cooking meal off of parents' plates filled with never-ending "to do" lists. We went to El Mezcal-- a great little place in East Memphis.
While there, our three year old got a piece of chip lodged in his throat and vocalized his frustration about having said chip sticking his throat on the way down. In this case he wasn't throwing a fit as children, and my son, are at times prone to do. He was in pain and was vocalizing it. And then that thing all parents dread happened.
"CAN YOU MOVE ME AWAY FROM THAT RIDICULOUS BABY SCREAMING?! I CAME HERE TO EAT A NICE QUIET MEAL AND DON'T WANT TO PAY TO LISTEN TO THAT!" came the jagged words from the woman sitting to my back in the next booth. The middle-aged woman's words were designed to cut hard and fast and they drew blood.
A few years ago there was a season on the TV show Parenthood which had characters live out nearly this same topic. It felt painful watching actors live through it. It felt deathly being in the realness of it. While she drew first I admit I verbally locked and loaded and released an arsenal of words in retaliation as we went back and forth.
"You realize that's MY child you're talking about! Yes waitress, it'd be a great idea if she moved....or left!" The waitress, who was noticeably pregnant said to us with her eyes was "preach customer" but with her words said to her, "I'll see what I can do" as she was unfortunately caught up in our verbal duel.
She said ugly things. I returned the favor. My wife kept waiting on John Quinones and a cameraman to pop out from behind an artificial plant to interview the customers about joining the fray or sitting in passivity so he could post it on his news drama. He didn't. This really happened and it was more terrible than it sounds. Barf and ugh.
I feel wretched that it happened and still a little in shock. It was the ultimate scratch at parental insecurity.
That said, I want to offer those who don't have children or have forgotten what its like to have children some advice about those of us who have toddlers and take them into public spaces. I also wish a younger me had known some of these things more clearly.
1. If our children are loud we are more aware of it than you. Yep, toddlers are occasionally loud. Sometimes there is no good reason for it and other times there is. Either way, we know. And we will usually do something about it if we can. But let me give perspective on why we may let them, at times, be loud. First, parents of toddlers sometimes starve for adult conversation and will sacrifice having a few decibels in the room to speak to other adults and not break up the conversation. It's not the same as needing water or oxygen. But that need is a close third. We know you may not be used to the loudness this may necessitate and don't expect you to have the same developed immunity to the loudness. However, please try.
Second, kids are kids. Much like a dam full of pent-up water, eventually that water's got to flow! Kids need to release energy and sometimes the public place is when that river flows. We know it's loud. We wished it wasn't at times. We'll try and keep it down. But still.
2. If you really need quiet, we get that. My wife, who is a bastion of patience compared to me, said after our fiasco, "I don't blame her for wanting to move. I just wish she would've quietly done so." We know how precious peace and quiet is. It's in short supply for parents of toddlers. Our low energy levels and bags under our eyes should clue you in to this awareness. If you want to be away from the crazy, we get it.
Just remember, we parents already feel slightly sensitive (at least most of us) for our children being born with no volume control. Making a scene about the fact that we can't at all moments control our childrens' impressive voice projection like you control your flatscreen via remote doesn't help them, you, or us with your plight. Quietly ask to be seated in another section. We might've done the same at other points in life.
Also, if you walk into a restaurant and see a few tables in each section o'er taken by moms, dads, and toddlers, take your business to the pub down the street. We won't be there and we won't judge:)
3. We LOVE awesome people who help. Can you guess what happened as soon as Queen Crazy (as I may in my weaker moments refer to her) left for another section? At the table just beside us sat a sixty-something couple and their thirty-something daughter whose own husband and children came a few short minutes later. The older woman, whom I've already mentally marked as Queen Cool, said, "You guys are doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing. Good job, keep it up. We've all been there." They heard the same child Queen Crazy heard and yet said what every parent doubts but hopes to be true. You can speak those words too. You should speak those words too.
This does not mean you should let all chaos go unpunished if a child gets too riled up. We'd like your help, although not harshness, there as well. The whole "It takes a village" thing, you know.
After all this is said I feel better. I can now entertain the thought that maybe the Queen had a bad day and was off her game. Hopefully this wasn't her normal mode.
Either way, I hope every parent who reads this hears the words of Queen Cool. You guys are doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing. Good job, keep it up. We've all been there!
If you need an adult with whom you can have adult conversation while your six and three year old yell at unnecessary and unstoppable levels go on ahead and call up someone from your village, grab some chips and salsa, and have yourself some adult conversation!