My answer to Do you agree that children should be banned from public places like restaurants so as not to disturb a…
Answer by Enna Morgan:
Yes! I agree….no! Um, I don’t know! Okay, hear me out. I’ll tell you a story that would explain my ambivalence.
Guess who is coming to dinner!?
My daughter was almost 6 months old. Sweet child. Would melt a penny with her dimpled smile and impish pools of ebony eyes. Let’s call her Lolena. I was a proud parent and wanted to introduce her to social life so that she can begin early to navigate the seas of sociality. She was quite the charmer and I wanted to make good of that. And what better companions to be her guide on the first step of this journey than her mother and Godmother – two very patient, caring, loving adults. I had decided; we should go out to brunch.
I concluded that Denny’s was the perfect place for this debut – large tables, high chairs, loads of napkins – I was thinking ahead. I planned it well.
I wore an electric blue dress, a beautiful piece, snappy and comfortable while maintaining its austerity. The kind of dress you wear on a first date. It was our first date – baby and me; baby’s day out. My hair was nicely done up in a coif on top of my head, and I had removed all jewellery. I had learned not to have anything dangling around your face when interacting with children. I was prepared!
We arrived in grand style….well, Lolena did. She arrived in her baby chariot – her pram – and we were well received…..well, as well as a Denny’s maitre d’ can muster. I requested a window seat (okay, it was a view of the street, but a view nonetheless) and Baby Lolena was placed in a high chair with all the necessary restraints that a curious, exploratory infant should have.
Now keep in mind that these people have been in the business for a long time and are versed in matters relating to toddler dining, so I felt reassured.
The menus arrived, the utensils were arranged, and the water arrived. Coffee was ordered, and everything was running according to plan. We were off to a good start. I ordered oatmeal for Lolena – something quick – with bananas and maple syrup. That came very quickly, and I thought that it would keep her occupied for a moment while I peruse the menu.
Before I could help to peel it, Lolena dove in immediately for the banana. Clutching it with tiny, chubby fingers, she squeezed it out of its skin. The bananas she stifled did not stand a chance, she squished and squeezed it like a junkie working a stress ball, and with the similar awkward and uncoordinated movement, she slapped it into her mouth, well, more like all over her face. I pretended not to see, thinking that it would be best to wait until she was done, then I would do one cleaning. So, I buried my head into the menu, waiting for her porridge to cool to an edible temperature so I could feed her. I decided upon an omelet, and started searching for the waitress to take the order.
I must admit that the service was a bit slow and I was thinking exactly that when Lolena leaned over and snatched up the spoon sitting next to the bowl of porridge. Like an orator on a podium, she hammered on the table three good clanks, then raised the spoon overhead and brandished threateningly it like a tomahawk, loudly pontificating with clear convictions, in an unidentifiable language of her own. And she meant business.
I quickly grabbed the spoon from her hands, wrenched it free, and set it back down, half-distracted as I was still trying to get the waitress’s attention. Still thinking ahead, I thought it best at that moment to remove the glasses of water that were within Lolena’s reach. But with lightening quickness, she launched forward, snatched up the spoon, dunked it into the bowl of porridge, and in sharp, staccato motion, sent it airborne, and flicking this way and that, into random space.
Her other hand was busying itself making banana paste, as she open-handedly pounded the bananas into the table, all the while giving a vociferous and profound oration in a language that only she understood. Now let me stop at this point to say that my friend, her Godmother, had elected to sit on the other side of the round table, a safe distance from Lolena. The reason had eluded me in the moment, but I caught it retrospectively.
I reacted to Lolena’s tirade by doing was most new mothers would do. Red-facedly, I focused on trying to quell the child, but what I really should have done was to just push the high back away from the table. These are things you learn after the experience, but in the moment, you are too busy trying to rescue yourself from the embarrassment you are feeling as you shrink under public scrutiny.
I grabbed some napkins and feverishly worked on cleaning the globs of porridge that had landed on the table and near-by chairs, while concurrently removing the spoon from her hands, removing the bananas, and trying to clean her hands, as she was now taken with conditioning her hair with this banana/ oatmeal concoction. Healthy though it may sound, it was not the best sight, and I did not need Paul Mitchell or the Tresemme experts to tell me that that would not work well later as a detangling in her nice, wispy, curly hair.
I forgot to mention that we were seated in a prime location, well within view of the entire restaurant. And at this point, Lolena was making the most of her two minutes on the soap-box; she had commanded (and I mean commanded) the attention of the entire floor.
I was meanwhile working feverishly like Kali, summoning hands from no-where to attend to this task at hand, and I was particularly pleased with myself for my quick and efficient response to what I felt could have turned out some disastrous results. But little did I know that there would be a price to pay for that errant, prideful thought, which served me only as a costly distraction.
A chubby arm shot past me, out of some place that I did not know the child had arms, she reached out and snatched the bowl of oatmeal, and in one swift action, lifted it overhead and began swirling it round and round in a cowboy, lasso-like fashion. She yelled a shrill Aiyeeeee! Aiyeeeee! Aiyeeeee! Similar to the war cry of the Indians as you see in the Western movies, when they come racing down the war-path, intent on a scalping.
Porridge jumped merrily out of the bowl and went flying around the room, like someone had popped the piñata at Davy Crockett’s birthday party. I reached for the bowl, Lolena grabbed the spoon; I grabbed her hand, and in the act, smeared porridge all over her arm; I reached for the napkins, two porridge filled arms flailed wildly, threatening hell and damnation, smearing porridge all over the table, down the highchair, and on everything in their path. I looked around the room; people were picking porridge off their clothes. I could feel the heat in my face as I turned in all directions.
Laughter, surprise, shock, disgust, annoyance, confusion, the room was an orgy of emotions. I looked back at our table; an upturned glass of water had emptied its contents all across the table. Lolena’s legs were working faster than Flo Jo’s on her best day, and in the heat of the excitement, she had caught them in the table cloth, thus upturning the water I had not as yet touched. On the table, without any effort or intention, we had created a banana porridge milkshake. Not a bad breakfast beverage, but it might have been better in a glass than spread across the tablecloth.
It was only in this moment of utter despair that the thought came to me to remove the child and to stop trying to placate or restrain her. I moved closer to grab the highchair and felt a squishy substance under my feet; without looking down I knew that I was now covered in porridge from head to toe – literally – as I could feel its weight in my hair also.
With this cherubic hell-raiser now a safe distance from the table, I began focusing on cleaning the mess…..but, where do I begin? At this time of heightened anxiety and frazzled nerve my very good friend, Lolena’s Godmother, I might remind you, delivered to me the Pontius Pilot lavabo act, as she leisurely sipped on the iced tea she had been nursing through the entire brou-ha-ha. With an air of quiet content, she regarded me over spectacled lens and chirped, “I’m so glad she’s yours.’’
Lolena responded with mirthful laughter and an clumsy attempt at clapping her hands together. Content with her work, she surveyed the room from her exalted position. She laughed contentedly, almost mockingly, as she pointed at the table and flashed me a toothless smile through dimpled cheeks and sparkling black eyes, still chanting Aiyeee! Aiyeee! Aiyeee!
The waitress by now had come to my assistance, and was helping to clean the mess. I looked at my beautiful blue dress, which was now decorated with ramdon splotches of porridge and smeared banana, which had become darkened from oxidisation, thus resembling more a consommé. I looked at the menu floating in the water and realised that I had not yet ordered. But I was no longer hungry. My single, over-riding thought was to remove the child from the agora.
My feeble move towards helping were brushed aside by the waitress, as she moved purposefully to clean the mess. I sheepishly thanked her, and left her a handsome tip, despite not being served any food. She was kind enough to smile and reassure me that it was okay, even though her eyes said, ”Just take your brat and get the hell out!” And I don’t blame her one bit.
I hoisted Lolena out, tucked her safely under one arm, being careful to pin her arms as I did so, and I picked up all her scattered paraphernalia (in her wild thrashing, she had kicked off her booties, and with one back-handed action had banished her sippy cup to the far corner of the room), as I made my way out. Handbag hanging precariously on one finger, I gingerly made for the closest exit, not really caring that we both looked like we had been dipped in the porridge vat.
Amidst much genuflection and apologies, and trying to keep my pride from dragging on the floor, I smiled apologetically to everyone in my path, really hoping that they would be kind enough to avoid eye contact. Some returned the look with sympathetic smiles, others voiced their disapproval soundlessly, and a few of them did the ostrich thing.
My friend followed a healthy distance behind, being careful to preserve her reputation by disassociation. I do understand though, Denny’s is quite the place where one would want to maintain one’s noblesse status!
We got in the car and drove home, and by the time I arrived home, the little angel was sound asleep like nothing had happened. There was no way I could have convinced her Dad that she had pulled that stunt. As I watched her angelic face in a peaceful slumber, I wondered for a moment if I had just imagined this or if it had indeed happened. But as time went by, Lolena never ceased to serve me up a healthy dose of reality to remind me that, yep, there was no mistaken, it was real! But that’s all Lolena!
So you see, I can see the arguments for both sides of this question. I support the side for teaching the children social skills by introducing them to the world, but then I have so much empathy for and gratitude towards those who bear the cost of these lessons, besides the parents.
I have a great deal of sympathy for those nice people who simple want to sit and enjoy a quiet, uneventful meal, as they can never guess just who would be coming to dinner.
Lolena at 3 1/2 years….now who could ban that face from a public place?