When you have kids, you learn pretty quickly which places are family-friendly and which places will make you want to crawl under the table and die of embarrassment. Once you find those safe spots though, they become a habit, a haven where your toddlers can shriek loudly, spill food, and perhaps even semi-accidentally crayon on the table. Of course, you don't want your kids to act like animals, and you try to teach them to behave, but when they're really young, there's only so much you can do. Still, am I supposed to eat all of our meals at home, order everything online, and ultimately go nuts from the Groundhog Day repetition of being a SAHM? I'd rather not, thanks.
Apparently though, some grouchy folks believe that little ones should not be seen in public until they can cut their own food and pay the bill. Listen, I was childless once, I get it, but I'm not taking them to fancy restaurants or high-end department stores. We're going to family-friendly places, with kids' menus and coloring sheets and tiny little pizzas. We're going to Target. We're going to IHOP. These are places that thrive on the business of people like me. Still, some grumps never got that memo.
Recently, we took our kids to lunch at California Pizza Kitchen, one of the few places where they actually make you and your noise feel welcome. The kids draw and we eat spinach dip, without an ounce of guilt that we're disturbing other customers. Well, it seems that the retired couple at the next table thought they were dining at the country club because they kept turning around — which takes effort — to dramatically huff and roll their eyes. My boys were actually being good, but since they're not all that dexterous with a fork, they had spilled a good portion of their pasta on the ground. Yes, of course, I was going to clean it up, and told the server as much! But I was waiting until they were done making the mess because cleaning up while they're still eating is like toweling off your driveway during a rainstorm. Still, the woman just had to point out, loudly, "Look at that, all that food on the floor like that. It's just terrible."
Then, my kids dared to laugh, laugh out loud, those hooligans, and the woman went, "Ssssssshhhhh." Uh, what? Seriously, lady, you're at a casual family restaurant at 11:30 on a Sunday. This ain't the Four Seasons! I was so angry, I left there shaking, telling my husband all of the things I should have said to her…but obviously didn't. (Of course, I've got the comebacks ready to fire should we ever see her again!)
Then, just a couple of weeks ago, I was shopping at Baby Gap, a store where, presumably, every single customer is buying for a child. (Or large dolls, but more likely, for a child.) Stupidly, I decided not to bring the stroller with me, thinking it was more considerate not to block the aisles with my double-wide. That turned out to be a mistake because my two-year-olds, relishing the freedom, went hog-wild, trying on hats and sunglasses, and pulling out T-shirts from the expertly-folded stacks. It was like a game of whack-a-mole, with me putting back items, just as they grabbed at something else. They were also going into the dressing room, shutting the door, and screaming loudly in the echoing space.
Okay, okay, I know, it was terrible. I was THAT Mom with THOSE kids, and as much as I tried to keep them in line, it was too much. Anyone could see that I was trying to wrangle them, but I was having a lot of trouble. We've all been there. It was a bad day, not a typical one. At the very least, I took some comfort in the fact that it was a kids' store, so they were used to all of this. In between apologizing to the various salespeople, I also assured them that we would absolutely buy something.
As nice as the salespeople were though, I again had to contend with an angry customer. She literally put extra effort into giving me dirty looks every time she walked by us, which was often. In fact, I think she might have been doing laps around the store, just so she could circle back and try her bitchy glare out one more time. I was there buying clothes for my kids, not just hanging out. It's not like I chose Baby Gap over, say, Disneyland. I wasn't thinking, "You know what would be a fun alternative to the playground? Going to Baby Gap and wrecking the place." Why did this woman care so much? Why put so much effort into showing her disapproval?
So, here's what I'm thinking: If my kids don't belong at a cloth-napkin restaurant, then maybe uptight adults don't belong at our kid-friendly establishments. I don't bring my toddlers' silliness and food-dropping into nice places, out of respect for other diners. So maybe, out of respect for families like mine, complaining meanies who can't stand kids should just stay home. I'm careful to choose stores and restaurants that are appropriate for kids, so maybe you, dear stranger, need to choose spots that are appropriate for misanthropes like yourself. Please, don't sully my happy places and comfort zones with your bad mood.