The woman glared. Initially I ignored her and assumed I was reading into her look. It was probably just a casual glance over, I thought, given that it was Mother's Day at 5:30. Surely people pack their patience and their understanding toward other mothers on Mother's Day.
Her glares and irritated looks continued. Turns out, you can take your kids to a nice restaurant during the universally known young-kid time of before 6 p.m. on the nationwide day to celebrate mothers and still be stared at by other patrons, who must believe that if they keep staring, either the oblivious two-year-old will actually care or we will leave faster.
I just glared back.
My two-year-old wasn't crying, she wasn't screaming, she wasn't tossing food; she was just busy moving from one coloring book, to the next, and tossed a few crayons on the floor along the way. True, she wasn't always using her indoor voice but she was doing what two-year-olds do, whether others like it or not. She was seen and heard, which apparently this other patron felt was unacceptable.
In April, European airline Ryanair stunned everyone by issuing a press release announcing a ban on children on the airline beginning in October. It was an April Fool's joke that resonated. Malaysia Airlines has since announced a "baby ban" on some of its flights in the first-class cabin and last summer, a Pittsburgh restaurant unleashed a tsunami of powerful opinions when the restaurant's owner banned children under the age of six. The movement is now dubbed the "Brat Ban." More than 600,000 people "Like" the page "You Need to Discipline Your Kid Before I Punch them in the Face" on Facebook. Over 2,000 people "Like" the Facebook page "Ban Kids from Restaurants." The page's wall is a veritable stream of consciousness from people trashing parents and their children. Typically the comments are laced with reminders that as a child, they were perfect and would have been smacked immediately if they dared step out-of-line in public with their parents.
Revisionist history is a convenient thing when you aren't attempting to eat out or grocery shop with a toddler, apparently. And what sort of backlash would erupt if parents started smacking their kids around when they scream in public?
Recently, a bus driver in Portland kicked a mother and her two-year-old daughter off a public bus because the child was screaming. And a Chicago Tribune op-ed notes that some travel savvy parents bring extra ear plugs for seat mates when they board with their children.
What is going on? Since when are adults, particularly in public settings where things can -- and do -- go wrong, like airplanes, always the pinnacle of perfect behavior. Why stop with a "Brat Ban," perhaps we should deploy a Child-Catcher, like in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?
As a parent, I firmly believe it is my responsibility to plan for the inevitable melt down when venturing onto airplanes, or to the grocery store or a restaurant, with my young kids. I pack endless snacks, books, coloring books, Etch-A-Sketch, you name it, and I've got it. But spend enough time with a toddler and the reality is, sometimes they will lose it. It's not an excuse, its reality. I think even suggesting that parents should travel with ear plugs to pass to the others around them is ridiculous. We should apologize in advance for an upset child before they even do anything, for a seat we've paid for? I don't think so. If someone sees a parent boarding a flight, especially by themselves, with a few kids, the passengers ought to buy that parent a drink. Not the other way around.
The truth is, when a child is screaming and upset in public, there is no one more stressed out than the child's parent. Are there a few bad apples that ruin the batch? Of course, there are some parents who treat the restaurant like a babysitter and let their child run like he is raised by wolves. Just as there are adults who inappropriately lose their tempers on others in public, making everyone else feel uncomfortable.
Only time will tell if the "Brat Ban" movement spreads to D.C. Until then, I'm imploring our local area Whole Foods to adopt the program the Missouri stores offer its customers: allowing parents to shop kid-free, even enjoy a kid-free lunch in the Whole Foods Café, while their kids are entertained with stories, crafts, and healthy snacks, for free. Odds are I'd spend more money if my kids weren't distracting me.
Follow Monica Gallagher Sakala on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@wired_momma