Growing up I was taught that children should be seen, but not heard. The only place appropriate for shrill giggles was outside. I have three siblings and we did run wild around the neighborhood. We could get loud, very loud. The rules were strictly enforced so when we passed the threshold of the back door our voices lowered and our giggles hushed. Unfortunately, the golden rule of not being heard was enforced more than I liked. The freedom to express opinions, talk politics, religion, or sex were all off the table.
I am a parent now, but unlike me, my children have been raised to be seen, heard, and expressing their opinions is encouraged. Our religious beliefs are openly discussed, we grumble about the state of politics, and we get loud together. My kids are now young adults so going out for a sit-down dinner is getting more rare. When we do get an evening out we put our cell phones away and enjoy each other’s company.
The other night, we had one of those rare evenings that brought not just my family, but also my brother, his wife, and my elderly mother to the dinner table. Unfortunately, we were seated next to one of “those families”. I assumed that they were a husband, a wife, and a female friend, along with four kids under four feet tall.
Having four pint sized kids is a wonderful mix of riotous behavior. I love watching a pack of kids run and squeal. Their joy is so contagious and I can’t help but smile. That is, I love it when they are zealous at home or outside. At some restaurants, like Chuck E. Cheese, it is expected that kids are running everywhere. Screaming laughter should fill those types of restaurants, but at a casual steakhouse where the atmosphere is quiet and patrons want great conversation, kids should be seated and hushed just like everyone else.
“That family” next to us was the epitome of what should never happen at a peaceful, sit-down restaurant. The mom and her female friend were fully engrossed in their cell phones. I can only assume they were texting one another because they couldn’t hear each other with their children running circles around their table screaming. Their male companion (I’m guessing Dad) sat in stupor like an overwrought father who has spent the past four years under child-induced distress.
When the kids actually did sit down they turned on their own cell phones and watched cartoons with the volume set to maximum. In the mean time, we patiently sat and tried to have fun. We did attempt “the looks” in hopes the moms would catch a hint that the kids were bothering us, but in the end that failed. My mother, who is 87, turned to the mom sitting at her back and said, “You need to control your children. They are being very disruptive and rude.” The mom was quite put off about the whole affair. She immediately packed up her kids and tersely informed my mother, “Your opinion was so helpful,” then stormed from the restaurant.
We were happy to enjoy a quiet meal, but it left a negative taste in the air that took awhile to clear. Once the staleness settled, I noticed another table near us. There were four adults and five kids (three under four feet tall). The children were coloring and talking quietly among themselves, and the adults were having a lively discussion. I scanned the rest of the room and everyone, young and old, laughed and talked with one another. It reminded me that most families are not out of control, and that “those families” are in the minority. The vast majority of children will grow up to be great parents and their children will too.
Put the cell phones and iPads away. Enjoy dinner out with the kids. Let them be seen and heard in all the appropriate places. This is a fun world to be human in and even more so when you have dinner out with children.