When my first child was born, I lived in New York City. My husband and I were accustomed to eating breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner and dessert in restaurants far more often than our own kitchen.
We got a rude awakening the first time we tried to take our adorable infant to my favorite Italian restaurant. Think red-checked tablecloths, candles, and olive oil imported from Tivoli. I was on first-name terms with both the ricotta ala rigatoni and the maître’d.
Paolo took me and the baby bassinet deep into the back of the restaurant. I’d never noticed this dark, ugly, ill-lit room with white plastic patio furniture. There were white paper placemats and crayons on every table.
Thanks to my beloved baby, I’d been relegated to the children’s room. My reaction embarrassed me even in my post-partum euphoria. The children’s dining room was apposite for other parents and their loud, bratty kids. But me and my sweet little bundle? No way. My child was perfect and so was I. How dare they? I never went back.
McDain’s Restaurant in Monroeville, Pa., just outside of Pittsburgh, made national headlines recently for a different solution: banning kids under six entirely. Owner Mike Vuick opened the restaurant nine years ago. Loud and ill-behaved young children have become an increasing disruption, he says. But it’s not the kids who’ve gotten worse. The real culprit? Parents like me, who think our kids could be nothing less than utterly adorable even when they are throwing spaghetti across the room.
“Parents have gradually diminished their cooperation,” Vuick explained, adding that the new policy is strictly in response to customer complaints. He has gotten hundreds of emails in support of the policy.
I can be objective about this issue – as long as we are not pointing the finger at my family. Businesses who frown on children as clients are being completely reasonable. They are not prohibiting children, per se. They have every right to ban people who scream, throw ice cubes, and knock over tables – no matter what their age.
Ditto for airlines. Flight attendents have the legal right to restrain or eject passengers who hurl insults, refuse to fasten their seatbelts or obey crew commands because of alcohol or drug use, right? Why should the bar be lower for children?
Apparently Malaysia Airlines agrees, because they recently barred children from first class, period. I’ve never flown first class in my life, but whenever I walk through those spacious aisles on my way back to coach, it does irk me to see young kids swimming in those plush seats. (Truth be told, everyone in first class irks me.) So I understand Malaysia Airlines banning babies from traveling first class on Airbus A380 jets, as well as Boeing 747-400 jets. If I ever were to spend thousands on a first class ticket, presumably I would be springing for space, peace, and quiet. Not a two-year-old in a stinky diaper next to me.
Now we were all kids once. Young children cannot be expected to behave according to Emily Post in restaurants, airplanes, funeral homes, libraries, and other enclosed, shhhh spaces. Which brings us back to Mike Vuick’s point: it’s not the kids’ fault. Why do parents bring their children to these places and expect A) the kids to behave or B) paying adults to condone unacceptable behavior in strangers’ kids that we’d never tolerate in other adults?
This issues bifurcates me completely, as I clumsily but honestly tried to explain recently on Michel Martin’s NPR show exploring this vexing corner of politically-correct parenting.
When my kids are out of sight, I see the rational adult and business point of view. No kids allowed! But when it’s my kids who are misbehaving (and trust me, even at 14, 12 and 9 they still do) I take it incredibly, irrationally personally. When someone shoots me a nasty look or seats me at the table next to the kitchen door, my primal reaction? Don’t criticize me or my kids! Anyone who tried to kick my family out of any establishment would be visited with a loud, banshee mama bear scene.
So as long as there are parents like me on airplanes and in restaurants and other fine establishments, I guess the no-kids policy is the only logical way to prevent us from ruining the world for everyone.