I've had assignments like this one; I wrote a piece several years ago about family-friendly restaurants in our area and how to make it a more enjoyable dining experience. I don't know if Heather has kids, but I at least wrote from personal experience. And it didn't include "leave the kids at home." (And if I remember correctly, all of the restaurants I featured were "upscale," so that doesn't necessarily mean they aren't child-friendly; just the people dining there will be.)
Even though she made a disclaimer in the beginning that she's not "anti-kid," to most of us she sounds exactly that: someone who has no children, and expects everyone to fit her neat, crumb-free little idea of what the world should be like. People who are thoroughly grossed out by screaming, snot-nosed faces, poopy diapers and Cheerios picked up off the floor ("Five second rule!").
Throughout Heather's list of "do's and don'ts," she basically makes it sound like parents and their young broods should just stay home - be relegated to the virtual safety of their own house, where no one can see, hear or look at your undisciplined, hungry little brats. That way no one but you has to hear their screaming, endure their impatience at slow service or smell unpleasant odors. Big strollers blocking the way are annoying and loud toys are a total nuisance!
I don't know if Heather is aware of this, but sometimes those high chairs at restaurants can be really nasty. As in, my child is stuck to the seat, they're so gross. Not to mention my baby is a big boy - I joke that he wears lead-lined pajamas - and won't sit still very well on my lap. In the high chair, he's sitting up high with us, in perfect line to rip the tablecloth off, play with and drop silverware all over the floor, and spill things. Should I just leave him at home then? (Oh yeah, and at 14 months, he likes to scream. Not because he's upset, but because he likes to hear the sound of his own voice, which is something I think a lot of adults suffer from, coincidentally.)
As far as screaming, misbehaving kids, I've learned not to jump to conclusions too quickly. I think many moms of autistic children and others with difficulties want the world to know that it's just not possible, sometimes, to keep their children quiet. At some point you have to live your life, and if that means going out in public with a child who is likely to blow up at a moment's notice, so be it. A few weeks ago I was out grocery shopping with my two youngest. I had the baby in the cart and had dropped off my daughter at the play area already. We passed a grandmother-ish type pushing a young boy in a shopping cart who, by my best guess, looked too old to be having the fit he was throwing in public, and an older guy stopped me and said something in passing about how the woman should smack the kid. I said to him, "You don't know what's going on with that boy," and left it at that. He just looked at me and tried to laugh it off by saying, "But yours is behaving so well!" I said, "You haven't seen my older two."
And while we're banning strollers from crowded restaurants, shouldn't we just tell people, "Sorry, I know you're in a wheelchair, but it does take up a lot of room!" No, I didn't think so. But what Heather doesn't realize is that this world is really meant for people who can walk under their own power, no strings attached. Meaning, no one in a big, bulky wheelchair or with a double stroller, or kids on each hip. Try fitting into narrow doorways, up and down stairs and between narrow aisles at the malls without dragging a display of men's dress shirts with you. It's not easy.
And God forbid if your baby gets hungry! You are not to breastfeed at the table!
This is the comment that got most people riled up, understandably. Heather suggests checking out the bathroom - because many of these fancy, four-star restaurants we all want to attend on a regular basis have really nice restrooms! I can attest, as someone who often uses those public restrooms for their intended purposes, there are places I wouldn't even want to take a crap in, let alone feed a baby. But if Heather wants to pick up her plate of filet mignon and join one of us in the stall, feel free!
As a parent of three who uses a stroller and still breastfeeds, I have a few commandments for Heather and her crowd:
- Relax. The world does not revolve around you. Put yourself in our shoes for one-half second and perhaps you'll understand that babies only poop the minute you're in an inconvenient place, and kids will be angels until you dine out in public.
- Breastfeeding in public is not a crime in any state. So stop making women feel like criminals for feeding their children. I suggest you look the other way if you suspect someone is nursing their hungry, screaming child in some place other than a bathroom, because your eyeballs might just fall out of your head if you don't.
- Have patience. Don't think that parents actually enjoy hearing their kids screaming, acting up or doing other embarrassing things in public. Parents are entitled to enjoy themselves too, and sometimes that involves having their children with them. Babysitter called off 20 minutes before you were supposed to leave? Yep. You have reservations and are meeting friends? Yep. You're going anyway because you're entitled to enjoy yourself too? Yep. And remember, you were a child too, once upon a time. In an era before DVDs, fancy strollers and other gadgets to keep a kid busy. What did your mother ever do with you?
- Don't assume anything. Especially that the child who is throwing a tantrum in public can control himself, or that his behavior is even really predictable. Sometimes it's a battle for parents to just step out for an hour in public, and they shouldn't be made to feel that they can't include their children in that time.
- If you want quiet adult time, perhaps you should stay home. That way you can make dinner in the privacy of your own kitchen, trying out fancy new recipes together. (How sexy!) Then you can do whatever you want - flash as much cleavage as you want, talk as loudly as you want or say any off color comment you can think of, all without fear of offending others (especially people with little kids). You can behave suggestively with each other and fawn all over each other, all without fear of stares or offending someone who just doesn't have the guts to tell you to knock it off. And you won't have to see anyone nursing their baby in public! Because we all know that's not what boobs are for, right?
I know Heather's suggestions are for "upscale" dining establishments, whatever that means. Maybe Heather also doesn't realize that no one really has time for all that fancy stuff once they have kids. I think a lot of people are missing the word 'upscale' and expecting this kind of militant behavior of parents and their kids in all places, even those touted as 'family friendly.' Her suggestions on breastfeeding almost make it sound like nursing in public is only for those low-class places that most parents go to with their kids, not "four-star restaurants."
In the end, I think Heather, like most people, just needs to get over herself and order take-out already. Then everyone is happy.