DISCLAIMER: I am a parent, the mother of a very rambunctious, albeit delightful, boy who is now, if you're keeping up, off to college. I am a sibling, one of 6 girls and 5 boys. I'm one of the older daughters, meaning lots of childcare. I have many nieces and nephews. My beautiful stepdaughter has a glorious 1-year old. Our house is often filled with the chaos and laughter of children and nothing makes me happier. The point is: I'm not a childless, agoraphobic curmudgeon living alone with the lights off on Halloween who'd rather have a stun fence than a gaggle of lemonade hawking yappers on my front lawn. That ain't me. I love kids.
But I don't love your kid.
You know the one.
That kid who's allowed to chase his brother around the grocery store while screaming bloody murder and knocking over chip racks and those geriatric gals with the walkers.
That kid who's having a prolonged hissy fit in a fine dining establishment, ignored by parents who believe she needs to "work it out herself" rather than intervene for the sake of ambiance, fellow diners and the sanity of the wait staff.
That kid who's drawing magic marker flowers on unsold magazine covers at the local bookstore while her mom blissfully sips chai and mews about "what an artist she is!"
That kid who's learned that caterwauling in public is a sure road to success because Mom and Dad have cow-towed for years, confirming that the screaming wheel gets the grease.
That kid who gleefully dances in bare feet atop the lobby coffee table of a chi-chi country club while her parents assault passersby with those "Isn't she cute?" grins. No, she isn't. Get her off the table and into some shoes.
That kid who's taking acting, karate, French, yoga, and origami classes and never fails to mention how he's a "black belt" despite the fact that he's had two classes. Quit nodding at him, Dad; you're encouraging delusion.
That kid who "just has" to interrupt my deeply personal conversation with his mother to perform his talent show song, compelling said mother to bray "isn't he a little star?" No, he's not and I was crying at the time.
That kid who is the white-hot flaming center of every conversation with parents who extol each talent, skill, accomplishment, latest funny thing, every breath they take as if history is being made. He/she's swell, but how about we refocus on the visiting lecturer we invited to this shindig?
I could go on but you know this kid. You don't love him or her any more than I do. But we're surrounded by these children because we're surrounded by the parents raising them. And it doesn't take much reading between the lines to realize the culprits here aren't the kids, but the parents who've lost perspective. Who can't grasp that their beloveds are less beloved by the world at large. Who've prioritized their delight, fascination, lack of ideas or sense of entitlement above basic decorum, good manners, public empathy and the tolerance of strangers.
But there is another side to this. The parents who are aware, who do make the effort, but who discover that even with the best of intentions things can go awry and that's when the judgmental buzz saw of overly intolerant folk wreaks havoc.
My son was three, entering Tantrum World with a stunning vigor; the setting was a grocery store. I needed three things -- bread, soup, and tomatoes. He needed one -- a cookie. No cookie? Madness. I was desperate to grab my three things and get this living meltdown quickly out the door but before I could, a 30-something man came within inches and literally screamed in my face, "You are a horrible mother! This kid is going to walk all over you and you have no clue. Just tell him to SHUT UP!!"...to which another passing man archly chanted, "Thank you!" This guy continued his harangue loudly enough to gather a crowd until I finally threatened to call security. Awful experience and not one I wanted to repeat. But I did. A few weeks later, at our neighborhood grocery store this time; a similar inciting incident but luckily I was at checkout and escape was swift. But I'd been so shamed by Horrible Shopper Guy that I called the shop owner to apologize. And this is what he said: "You don't ever have to apologize for that boy! I raised five sons and I know how it goes. You did just fine and, trust me, he'll grow out of it." He did and I fell in love with my old local shopkeeper that day.
And, oh yes... kids on planes. We've all experienced the screamers running up and down the aisles for recreation, allowed by parents who've run out of ideas (bad idea, parents). But I've heard people express such disdain of children on planes that they want "no-children" flights similar to no-smoking zones. I get it. But sometimes a parent can do everything right and the situation still goes viral. Here's my son's first plane ride: 13 months old, slept calmly most of the trip, but when the pilot loudly announced our descent, it startled him awake and he screamed from then until landing. I wanted to hold him but the attendant insisted he stay strapped in his seat so all I could do was caress his sweaty little head and feel like a peace murderer. The man behind me repeatedly kicked the back of my seat and made loud comments about "obnoxious kids," but as we deplaned several people glanced my way with empathetic smiles. Clearly they either had kids or at least understood the situation. I was deeply grateful for their empathy. The Kicking Man? May he fall in love with a woman with ten children.
Both sides of this Great Debate have a role to play. Kid Curmudgeons, lighten up. Discern each situation individually (and get ear plugs!). Even the best-behaved child and the most vigilant parent can occasionally hit a snag; your judgment and intolerance don't help. And parents, it's about finding the right balance and that means taking into account not just your family -- including that little darling emptying salt & pepper shakers on the table -- but the people all around you as well. Discipline and artfully placed boundaries go a long way toward lovability. Which is the goal, after all.
Because I still don't love your kid...but I'd like to.
To Lane Aldridge for inspiring the post.
Follow Lorraine Devon Wilke on Twitter: www.twitter.com/LorraineDWilke