Or it could have been titled “The Kindness of Strangers”.
Let me set the scene. It is 6.30pm, Friday at the local leagues club bistro. 3 mothers take their children (7 in all) out to dinner. 3 six year olds; 2 four year olds; 1 three year old and a 22 month old toddler.
So during the thick of it, serving up dinner to the hungry children, the toddler decides to have a tantrum. Toddlers have good timing don’t they? The toddler’s mother tries in vain to calm him down but assert some authority at the same time. You see the toddler wanted to feed himself…spaghetti…..in a public restaurant…need I say more?
When up from behind the plants a man stands up and demands that the mother keeps the toddler quiet. You see he didn’t come here to listen to her child wail. The mother defends herself as best she can when up pops the man’s wife echoing her husband’s demands.
The mother almost bursts into tears but to her credit she keeps her composure and her conviction that this is public space and she has just as much right to be there with her children.
This mother happens to be a friend of mine and I was there with my children having dinner.
I couldn’t believe it what I was seeing. I was dumbfounded.
“Take him to the nappy room” demanded the wife.
“What do I do with my other children?” challenged my friend.
“I’ve got a baby here and I manage to keep my baby quiet”, said the husband
“And your baby has never cried in public?” questioned my friend
I thought about stepping in and defending my friend but she defended herself beautifully under the onslaught she was receiving.
And then it occurred to me, why does she have to defend her position? Because she had children with her?
Let me reiterate, we were at a leagues club bistro, 6.30 on a Friday night – otherwise known as happy hour for families. If you are after a nice quiet meal, this isn’t the time or place to come. Consider your surroundings.
The man and his wife didn’t consider that yelling was hardly going to calm the toddler down. They were too selfish. They had no consideration for the other children whom they managed to frighten. They were too selfish. They didn’t consider that the rest of the patrons didn’t want to hear them scream at a mother across a bistro room. They were too selfish. They didn’t consider that I didn’t want to go out to dinner and have someone yell at my friend – that almost ruined my night. They were too selfish. They didn’t consider that yelling at an already stressed out mother might upset her. They were too selfish.
I didn’t step in because I didn’t want to children to be anymore frightened than they already were, and I didn’t want to undermine my friend’s authority.
What baffled me was that she was trying to placate her toddler. She wasn’t ignoring him and carrying on a conversation with me as if nothing was going on. She was doing her best to calm him down.
Finally the man and his wife sat down and wouldn’t you know it, the toddler calmed down less than a minute after this exchange.
It saddens me to know that his man and his wife are themselves parents and they had no empathy for my friend, a fellow parent. And there were people who couldn’t be seen but were clapping. Cowards.
One of the children finally spoke and said, “That man spoke very rudely to us”. Even the six year old got it. Is it too much to ask that if you feel the need to speak to someone, stand up, go over to the table and speak in a calm voice. Really, is that so difficult?
Just then, an elderly lady came over to our table and gave my friend her support. “Don’t listen to them. Wait until their baby becomes a toddler”.
Another elderly lady also came over to our table. “Just wanted you know that of course you and your children are welcome here any time. We used to bring our grandchildren here all the time. How else are they going to learn how to behave in public if they are never given the chance?”
And the best part of all was when an elderly gentleman came over with a bowl of ice cream to help calm the toddler down. Now that’s doing something useful and trying to help the situation.
My friend didn’t want to come to dinner and have her toddler scream and carry on. I’m sure this isn’t what she calls a fun night out. Her intention on Friday was not to inconvenience other patrons in the bistro. But sometimes things are beyond our control – even momentarily.
What I witnessed here in five minutes was the result of where society once was and sadly where it is heading.
Should we never take our children out until they are 18 for fear that they might raise their voice and inconvenience a stranger? Should families put the needs of stranger’s ahead of their own? What kind of message are we sending our children when all they see around them is disdain for their very existence? That last question may seem a little extreme, but consider it from their point of view.
This post first featured on my other Mum’s Word blog “Why Are People So Unkind?”