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You Were a Child Once, Too

The topic of DC restaurants banning kids came up at a meeting last week.  Josh and I personally don’t patron restaurants that ban kids any more than we would patron a restaurant that banned Jews.  (Well, technically, if they banned Jews, we wouldn’t be allowed to patron the restaurant.  But you get the point.)  Ban a behaviour — such as screaming and crying — fine.  Ban a group of people — no.

But I’m also of the ideology that the moment I leave my home, I am no longer an individual in my individual space, but I’m now an individual who is operating as part of a greater community.  There are plenty of benefits of being part of a community but there are also drawbacks.  Leaving my home means that I don’t get everything my way.  I don’t get everyone to stop talking on their mobile on the train.  I don’t get people to stop wearing perfume.  I don’t get people to walk faster on the sidewalk.

When I can’t handle the fact that other people are going to impede on my world with their sounds and smells and space-grabbing measures, I get carryout.  But when I can handle the fact that I can’t shape the world around me to my personal liking, I end up having interesting experiences when my own existence bumps up against the people around me.

highchair

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I think the reason we discriminate against kids is because we have no chance of ever becoming a kid again.  Whereas we don’t discriminate against the elderly (even though, as a society, we treat them like crap) because we know that we will one day become the elderly.

Esquire recently had a piece on Mr. Rogers, a series of connected stories about the man.  He was asked to write a chapter in a book for ophthalmologists about how to interact with kids in their office.  His chapter started with this sentence: “You were a child once, too.”

I think if we all start from that space, remembering that we were once children, it would not only help us to not be frustrated with them but would also give us the door to reach them.

I’m going to guess that you interact with kids on a somewhat daily basis.  Either you are a parent or an aunt or a teacher or a member of a community who encounters kids when you exit your house.

Spend one week saying to yourself before every interaction, “I was a child once, too.”  When you come from that mindset, you realize that just as you never purposefully tried to annoy the people around you when you were a child, the kids you’re interacting with are not trying to negatively impact you.  Their crying is not personal to you.  While it may be affecting you, it’s not about you at all.

Your child or your niece or your student or the kid in the grocery store may be annoying you.  But this isn’t their intention and if they were guided toward a different way to act and if they had the ability to choose that different way to act as their default state, they would act in a different way.

The only way that can happen — that crying, screaming kids turn into functioning members of society — is to keep them around and teach them a better way to act.  They won’t learn it by being kept out of spaces.  They’ll learn it by the adults around them silently saying to themselves, “I was a child once, too.”

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People think that because I’m a parent, I must enjoy being around babies.  I don’t.  I like the babies who belong somewhat to me — nieces or nephews or cousins or close friends’ children — but all the others are just tangible reminders of what my body can’t produce.  My family is not the size I want it to be, and while I accept that and am at peace with it, I don’t want to be around babies and think about it.

So I understand all the arguments about wanting a baby-free space.  But I still can’t get behind discriminating against kids any more than I can get behind discriminating against a person for their sex, race, or sexuality.

Image: Lars Plougmann via Flickr via Creative Commons license

10 comments

1 Working mom of 2 { 04.11.17 at 10:22 am }

The only place where I think baby/kid free is justified is the fertility clinic. Seriously. Some people are literally getting devastating news, and I think that trumps the inconvenience of those who already have kids finding a babysitter.

2 Monica { 04.11.17 at 1:51 pm }

Super timely post as I am taking my 15 mo foster son on a plane ride later this week and am bringing out all the tricks so he is entertained so I don’t bother others. They were all children once too. This will be mantra.

3 a { 04.11.17 at 4:01 pm }

I have a kid in the team that I coach who is supremely annoying – he’s a little monster who runs around trying to get a rise out of everyone and generally being annoying. To me. Based on something I overheard, I get the impression that his parents have split recently. At our last meeting he was so supremely horrible that I considered telling his parents, and I know he knew that he was being rotten, given the speed at which he took off once his parent showed up to pick him up. He was less obstructive this week, but still not very responsive to what I was telling him. My daughter could not figure out why I wasn’t ratting him out for his behavior to his father. I told her that all kids are annoying and that I think he’s probably having a hard time lately. On top of that, we only have a few more meetings before I never have to deal with this kid again, so what would be the point? Sooner or later, he’ll test the wrong boundary. But as long as he’s merely being annoying and not hazardous, I’ll let things go. Because kids are kids.

4 Jenny { 04.11.17 at 4:02 pm }

I love this. Thank you.

5 torthúil { 04.11.17 at 6:27 pm }

Very insightful; I appreciate this a lot. I certainly do not support banning children or anyone else from restaurants. Yes we should care about the quality of our public life, but I think banning children (or whatever) is more about trying to disengage from the messy experience of being human than it is about quality of life. Public life improves when people reach out to each other more, not less. And part of making a connection with others is recognizing that yes we are all annoying sometimes but that we have to work together in spite of it. Eating together is one of the most fundamental forms of social behaviour.

6 Natasha { 04.11.17 at 9:13 pm }

Hmmm… I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I agree with you and your ban the behavior not the person argument. On the other hand – I am okay with some places banning kids. Super-duper fancy restaurants with super-duper expensive china are probably not the best place for highly energetic toddlers. Also, I can understand “no kids under 8” at a theater or concert hall (except plays and performances that are specifically for younger kids).

Some people have very strong reaction toward screaming kids (as in, high blood pressure and high anxiety) – and I respect their desire for a quiet, peaceful night out at a “no-kids” restaurant.

That said – I absolutely adore that art museum don’t ban kids. My children are not particularly well behaved, and I can tell they make some people at the museum slightly uncomfortable (including myself, as in “DON’T TOUCH THAT!”) – I love that they can have this experience.

7 Mel H { 04.12.17 at 12:25 pm }

Good reminders. And isn’t “Can You Say…Hero?” lovely and amazing? I used to use it in my writing classes as an example of profile but I’d always be practically sobbing at the end and my students were like, what? I don’t understand? And, who’s Mr. Rogers anyway?
Anyway, it’s one of my favorite pieces. That part where he wins the Daytime Emmy and says, “All of us have special ones who have loved us into being.” Chills and tears. And the ending! Tom Junod did an incredible job with this piece.

8 Deathstar { 04.12.17 at 8:00 pm }

The times I have taken my child on an airplane, he behaved absolutely wonderful, most people didn’t realize he was there. Lucky me. It doesn’t always work out that way for others though. I’ve heard talk about banning children from high end restaurants. Not sure how you codify what is or isn’t a “high end” restaurant. So I suppose it’s more about the behaviour and not their very being. Mind you, I would like to ban a lot of obnoxious people who chew with their mouths open or take pictures of their food or talk so flipping loud to their friends I can barely hear my companions. I’d rather have that.

9 Lori Lavender Luz { 04.12.17 at 8:32 pm }

I think “ban the behavior, not the person” is a nice thought, but I’m wondering it it might be difficult to execute such a plan. I mean, you could put signs up saying, No Tantrums and No Talking Over 60 dB and No Crawling Under Tables, but enforcing the signs could be problematic. I think I would like the choice to go to a grown up place or not, depending on who in my family I plan to dine with. I wouldn’t petition a restaurant to ban children, but if I were looking for a Date Night, I might enjoy going to a restaurant that doesn’t allow kids.

For many reasons, I love the Mr Rogers reminder that I was a kid once.

10 Jamie { 04.13.17 at 2:05 am }

Sometimes there are places that are not appropriate for children. It feels unfair to put a child in a situation that sets them up for failure. A super fancy restaurant has a stricter set of social rules that may be difficult for a child to follow. It can be especially difficult if there is not a children’s menu or if a child is not as adventurous in eating different types of foods. Then you may end up with a hungry, grumpy child who is more prone towards poor behavior. It is not to say that families should not enjoy dining experiences together. However, eating at a dinner table and eating out in public involve learned skills. Children may do better in learning these skills in graduated steps. Or it may be a learning curve for the parents in how to model appropriate behavior in different types of places in public. Unfortunately, it seems that children bans in some restaurants may be a reaction to adults’ poor judgment in what type of dining experience their child can handle or enjoy. It seems like a way to set expectations and boundaries.

Around this time a few years ago, I attended a bachelorette party in Orlando. It is a touristy town and it was spring break season, so there were many families visiting the area. One of the establishments we visited was a bar/restaurant along a stretch of road that is near several of the large theme parks, so there can be a lot of families. During the day, families are welcome to bring their children. But, generally after 9:00 or 10:00 at night, you must be 21 or older to enter and families are generally encouraged to wrap things up and leave with their children. However, on that night with it being spring break season for so many families with their elementary aged children, the establishment was more relaxed on their rules. We arrived later when the establishment has a definitely more adult bar feel and the place was packed…with an equal number of party bar goers and families. It was a very uncomfortable situation and we left after five minutes. We just wanted to dance. But sometimes there are rules for a reason.

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