My friend Carol and I got coffee after lunch one day recently. Since there weren’t any seats inside the coffee house, we braved the withering triple-digit heat to go outside and talk. We settled onto a bench that was flanked by two other benches at right angles and another bench that faced us.
If anybody had asked whether we minded company at the other benches, we would have said no. After all, we didn’t own the space. It was public.
We didn’t get the chance to answer, though, since the couple who sat next to us plopped down without saying anything. The man, who was roughly in his thirties, was fussing with a camera. The woman, about the same age, deposited their kid, who was four or five, on the bench opposite Carol and me and parked the stroller nearby. Then she proceeded to stare into space.
Fine. Welcome. It’s a free country. We’re big liberals.
The man continued to mess with his camera and the woman looked ga-ga, maybe from the heat, maybe from catatonia. The kid, stretched out on the bench, started to scream.
Half a minute into his continued wails, we raised our eyebrows at the woman. She broke the surface of her fugue state and shrugged. “He’s tired,” she explained over the screams. “It’s naptime.”
Naptime — oh, yes. That would be the exact ime when you’d want to take a screeching, unruly child home so he could sleep in air-conditioned comfort. You might be worried that his crying was bothering people nearby. Well, you might be, but these people weren’t. Mr. Cartier-Bresson continued fumbling with his camera, evidently wanting to capture an indelible image of the kid in mid-tantrum. The woman appeared to be in a coma again. I wasn’t too sure about them, to tell the truth. I’d heard of attachment parenting, but maybe this was the latest rage — detachment parenting. It takes a village, you know.
“Excuse me,” Carol said over the blood-curdling screeches. “We can’t talk with your son screaming like this.”
The woman looked at us like we were common criminals and child-haters of the lowest common denominator. “Children cry,” she said placidly. “That’s the way they are.” She looked pleased with herself for educating a couple of old bags about one of the unchanging laws of nature.
“It’s rude to interrupt people like this,” Carol insisted. Being more of a social coward, I nodded supportively.
So, finally, the woman carted her hysterical kid over to another bench, farther away, where he continued to wail. The father, smart man, took his family photos from a distance.
So, Carol and I sat there and talked for another few minutes. By that time, my mind was filled up with numbers. Not with temperature or heat index or decibel level numbers — but with dollars. Sometimes I do that when I’m around screaming children in movie theaters or restaurants or public places. I try to add up all the money my husband and I spent on babysitters over the years instead of taking our kids to places they were too young and unruly to go to. It would have mortified us if they had disturbed other people. So, we spent a small fortune, instead.
Hey, it’s called parental responsibility. Some new parents ought to think about trying it sometimes.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)
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Oh dear Lord, yes. The parents actually smile at the kid while they’re shrieking. I am positively manic about avoiding small children in nice restaurants and will pointedly ask to be moved if seated next to a screamer. What ever happened to taking them outside? Oh, that’s right, you were outside. This is a topic on which I will go absolutely nut-bag crazy. Noooo manners + sense of entitlement.
Hate to sound judgmental, but I find it disturbing. My kids were so much better behaved — and so much cuter.
I too know a couple who practices detachment parenting. They say they don’t want to be “helicopter parents” (I’m sure I qualify but my kids did turn out well, I claim unbiasly) The result is, so far, an incredibly disruptive child who seems to continuely test his non-existent limits. Very hard to watch.
You mean there’s such thing as detachment parenting? I thought I was just making it up.
This is my hot button. There are a few times where parents are in a really bad situation and there’s nowhere else to take the kid (like on an airplane). But for the most part, if you’re kid is out of control, remove him from the public. Of course the people who need this lesson will never read your blog. Unfortunate.
I meant “your kid” of course, not “you’re kid.”
Never mind the screaming kid, your story made me laugh out loud. So in the long run, it was worth it.
But I do agree, screaming kids should be removed by parents. Their noise is especially hard on the ears of the elderly.
HALLELUJAH! I walk into a restaurant and if I see children, I confidently ask the host/ess to sit me away from them…all of them…just like our public spaces have gone smoke free, there should be “childless sections”
its actually called – I kid you not – “free range parenting.” Google it.
I love the expression “free range parenting.” It does suggest the amount of intelligence and order you’d find in a barnyard. But actually mother hens use a little more discipline. By the way, the contrast in Europe is stark, we realized during our recent trip to Portugal. Every time my husband and I were seated next to a family with children in a restaurant, we braced ourselves. But the kids knew how to comport themselves in a public place, even toddlers. No screaming allowed. Not even loud talking. Adults actually seemed to be able to talk to each other over the dinner table.
Free range parenting? That’s a new one on me! That would be hilarious…if it wasn’t so…discouraging! So, are we to assume then that the offspring are … pieces of meat? What a hip-sounding phrase for lack of respect for others on the part of the parents.
I can think of all kinds of mistakes my husband and I made as parents (being consistent for years at a time? How on earth do you do that?). But I am proud that our kids are courteous and have good manners, which I credit to my constant nagging.
I agree and I’m sick and tired of screaming kids as well, and it’s got worse lately. The last few times I was at Sam’s Club, there were screaming children EVERWHERE. I’m seriously starting to consider not going there anymore because it drives me absolutely insane.
I don’t understand why some can’t get a babysitter and/or stay home with their kid so they won’t bother other people. Better yet, I don’t understand why some people can’t just USE A CONDOM!!! It makes it better for everyone else!
I do not find it disturbing that children cry. It is what they do. The thing that bothers me is that they are crying. What I mean is that I would like to understand why they choose to cry. It is their attempt to train their parents? Are they in pain? Are they just accustomed to screaming and crying (yes I think it can just be a habit that is created over time.) I would prefer that they didn’t cry, but for some, they could just be running around, laughing and playing and people would still be offended. God loves them they way they are.