Saturday, December 17, 2011

making a scene

I'll be the first one to say that we adults do not have control over our children. That's often the term that is used, and it gives a misrepresentation to what I believe is a parent's responsibility. Can I control my children? Well, they're human beings who make choices of their own volition, and I cannot physically control their bodies, their vocal cords, their thoughts or actions. So, no, I cannot control my children.

That isn't what the focus should be, in my opinion. What I can do is to make my children aware of the effects of their choices, on their own lives and the experiences of those around them. To put it in the simplest terms, as I do frequently with my own children, and with the preschoolers who are left in my care five days a week, I say this: Your actions have consequences. A consequence is something that happens because of something else, like the choices you make. So, if you make good choices, you're going to experience good consequences. Being kind to your friends means they're going to want to play with you. Using the toys and materials the right way, at home and at school, means they're going to continue to be available for you to play with. If you make hurtful, mean, or rude choices, you're going to have some bad consequences coming your way. If you use toys the wrong way, like throwing them, then you won't be able to use them anymore. If you are rude to your friends, they will walk away from you and you will have no one to play with. If you do not listen to directions, you will lose the chance to be a part of things.

Simple concept, though it's admittedly sometimes difficult to put into action in certain situations. Having gone through one early childhood period with a child who was prone to pushing the limits on a regular basis, I can't tell you the number of times I've had to make an exit from an experience that I was enjoying simply because it wasn't working with my child's behavior.

I really think that as a parent I try to emphasize appropriate behavior, especially in public, with my children. Before we enter the library, I routinely give a simple reminder about "library voices" and the right way to behave. We use phrases like "couches are for sitting" or "running is for outside" when we're at home, because those are behaviors I value-- I'm not a fan of jumping on furniture (especially when 99.9% of ours is cheaply made by the Swedish do-it-yourself peddlers), and we live in a small house so running just isn't going to work without someone getting hurt or something getting broken. When we dine out, we remind the children to sit in their seats and to be aware of others around them, because we believe this is simple restaurant etiquette.

This is all a bit of background for you, so you know where my lovely hubby and I are coming from when I describe the frustrating and frankly embarrassing experience we had last night while dining out with our kids and my in-laws. We went to a local, kind of kitschy-cool restaurant/brewery for dinner. It's informal, there's a "general store" attached filled with toys, gag gifts, and beer, and the atmosphere is fun and low-key. There are always a lot of families dining there, and the atmosphere is one in which diners often know each other or make eye contact and chat informally.

So when we were dining and the booth that was perpendicular to our table contained a child who was acting in a way that we found disruptive to our dining experience, hubby tried to address it calmly and straightforwardly. The little boy was standing up on his seat and leaning a bit into our space, holding a deflating balloon animal that was alternately in his mouth or coming precariously close to bumping into my father-in-law's head. He was talking to himself, as kids are wont to do, but his constant presence in our space was directly in our line of vision and becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. Figuring that his father wasn't going to say anything, hubby tried to solve the problem by going over to the booth and simply asking the woman if she'd have her son please sit down. I don't know what his exact words were, but he stood at her table side for no longer than 10 seconds.

Upon his return, he commented on the "vacant look" in her eyes, and our general impression was that our request would not be heeded. Soon enough, there was the boy again. I tried to make eye contact with him, with the intention of giving him my "teacher look," which can sometimes be effective with no verbal accompaniment, but this child was oblivious to us or anyone else around him.

Now, here's the thing-- kids ARE oblivious. I get that. But the adults who care for children have the job of helping them develop the manners and appropriate behaviors that accompany growing up. If the mom had at that point talked to him about our request and he continued to act the same way, I would have felt at least a bit respected for the attempt. And the thing is, he wasn't behaving outrageously, but we would have been more comfortable in our dining experience if he had stayed in the space of his own booth.

Given the reaction hubby had gotten from his initial request, we should have predicted that it wasn't over at that point. I kid you not, it blew up into what could only be described as a shitstorm, if you'll pardon my profanity. A short time after he had gone to the table, suddenly the woman is at our table, angrily demanding to know what the problem was. Hubby tried to explain that her son was in our space, was bumping into his dad with his balloon, and that we would like it if he would sit down. Well, it was if we were requesting the impossible. She went from zero to sixty in a heartbeat, and because of an adrenaline-fueled memory-fuzziness, I can't even tell you the exact flow of the "conversation" that followed. I know that I interrupted (because I have no filter once I get pissed), and I stated that what we were asking was not complicated or inappropriate. Her responses included statements about his age, "He's five!", our general awfulness, "You're being so rude!" "This is a family-friendly place!", and something about her having another child with a disability. (I have absolutely no idea how that was relevant.) My responses were heated, though not shouted. (Perhaps with a general raised-tone induced by incredulousness.) They included, "Yes, I know five year olds. I have one right here next to me. I teach three and four year olds. This isn't the point," and "Clearly we have vastly different behavioral expectations for our children," and "If you choose not to comply with our request, then don't." Hubby's responses were simple: "Stop." "Go sit down." "Leave us alone."

The responses in our heads, not spoken out of respect for our children's grandparents and the children themselves, could be summed up as such: "What the hell is wrong with you? Get (the BLEEP) away from us right now you (BLEEPING) crazy (BLEEP). You are obviously a (BLEEPING) nutjob."

When she would not stop, and it became obvious that half of the main floor of the restaurant's patrons were staring in our general direction, hubby stopped a hostess who was walking by and asked her if she could get this woman to leave us alone. The hostess walked the woman back to her table, and we could see her talking to her and hear the woman still ranting and raving about our unbelievable request. Our waitress came by and asked if everything was okay, and she lamented that it was not a lovely experience to be waiting on that table, either. The hostess came over to us and we briefly explained our perspective on the situation. (Briefly because it was such a frickin' simple story!) She apologized to us, and I apologized to her because 1.) That's just what I do, and 2.) I felt genuinely sorry that we had started such a crazy scene in the restaurant. I wanted to shrink under the table, but I figured that it was over. Surely the woman would finish up, take her son and head out, right?


Nope, the story doesn't end there, folks, for there are still three, count 'em, THREE additional confrontations (all initiated by Crazy Mama) to go!

A few minutes later, Red and I went upstairs to the bathroom, and as we passed the host station, three people were talking about it. I asked them if I could explain what happened, and briefly (see, BRIEFLY again) did so. They apologized, and we went on our merry way. Upstairs, I stopped and jokingly told a friend of mine who works there that were were causing a ruckus downstairs and we had a little giggle which helped to slightly slow my racing heart.

In a bit, hubby took the boys into the general store, and shortly thereafter, I took Red in, too. Unbeknownst to me, the woman brought her son in there a few minutes later. I turned around and was suddenly face to face with her. Ack. "Thanks for ruining my evening. I just wanted to say thanks to you." This was directly in front of the register, and I turned to the two guys working behind it and said, "I need you to go get a manager or the owner and get this woman away from me. This is the second time she's confronting me." The guy laughed nervously, to which I responded,  "I'm actually not joking. Please help me." He asked her to move away, I gathered the kids and went out the back exit, and back around to our table. At that point, I apologized to my in-laws, for the whole feel of the dinner had gone to hell for me, and I was embarrassed. I had the kids get their coats on, and I asked my mother-in-law if she would go back in the store and get the car keys from hubby, because I didn't want to go back in while he was surreptitiously purchasing a few gifts for the kids. And, of course, I just wanted to get the hell out of there. The hostess walked by again, and I told her that the woman would not leave us alone, and that we were just going to leave. I again apologized for the craziness created for them.

So, I go to the front door and then see that the woman is at the host station complaining about how "this is supposed to be a family-friendly place," and yada yada. Unfortunately, I don't have the keys, so I take the kids outside and we sit and eat our mints and chat, hoping that we'll get the keys before Crazy Mama exits, too.

Little did I know that in the interim, she had also gone up to my husband in the store and kept spewing her anger. I don't know what she said in there, but I can assume that it was more of the same. Unfortunately, she comes outside with her little boy and stops right in front of us, once again thanking me for ruining her dinner and entire night. I stood as still and stone-faced as I could while she talked for half a minute, and then I stated as firmly and low-voiced as I could, "You need to walk away from me right now. You are showing your son the absolute worst way to respond to another person's simple request. Walk away." She responded that I was, in fact, showing my children the worst example, because I simply wouldn't listen to her. And then, she again stated, "I have a child with a disability." I don't know why she continued to bring up her other child who wasn't in her company, but I responded in kind, "So do I. It doesn't give me license to act insane. Walk away from me right now, or I'm going to call the police." At that point, one of the restaurant staff members who I had spoken with earlier walked out of the restaurant, and I said with a pleading voice tinged with disbelief, "She won't leave us alone. Can you please make her leave the premises?" He put his arm out, told her to leave and walked out into the parking lot where he stood until she got to her car. I took the kids out onto the sidewalk and around the parking lot in the opposite direction to get to our van right then when JAM came out with the keys. I didn't see which car she got in, but I had a tiny bit of nervousness that she was going to wait for us to drive out and follow us. Crazy, I know.

I was shaking, not out of fear, for I didn't really think she was going to physically do anything, but out of sheer anger that I couldn't respond in the visceral, fight-or-flight way that my body was aching to do. I've never been in any physical altercation (discounting the time in elementary school when I weakly hit a boy who was calling my significantly developmentally delayed sister a "retard"), but there was a part of me that longed to ball up my fist and make that woman shut her mouth. Awful, really terrible, I know. Clearly, that's not something that I'd ever do. (Oh, that's right, I did shove and scratch some guy years ago when he was trying to attack hubby... I believe I even cut him a bit with my usually-bitten fingernails... but that was completely in physical defense!) I just wished I could make her see how ridiculous she was being by making such a freaking insane mountain out of what I perceived to be a completely appropriate molehill of a request. 

One thing that sticks in my mind from the barrage of statements she threw at us and the staff is her claim that we were being intolerant. I have an issue with that word and concept in the first place, because I feel that it's often used interchangeably with the concept of respect. Should we have been expected to tolerate her child acting in the manner that he was? Well, that was an option, and we did to a certain point. And after hubby asked her to have him sit down and he popped back up, we didn't pursue it again. At that point, the decision was to tolerate it, because it was clear she wasn't on the same page as us. But really, why would we be expected to tolerate behavior that was affecting our dining experience?

Were we being disrespectful to her by requesting that her child sit down? My opinion is strong on this one- absolutely not. Any disrespect here was flowing in the opposite direction. And quite honestly, at the very beginning, I told her that she was well within her rights to disregard our request. Game over. If you think that your son is acting appropriately for this environment, then so be it. Done.

Thanks for ruining my entire evening.

Dammit, that's the one that got me the most. I have an almost pathological issue with not wanting others to dislike me. Well, to be honest, it's gotten better over the years, especially as I've had to deal with one particular ongoing bit of discord in which I know someone out there hates me with a passion, even though I'll never understand why. I'm closer to coming to terms with the fact that you can't please everyone. But, when I know that I've done nothing wrong/inappropriate/hurtful and someone still thinks I'm a douchebag, then I'm affected. And this affected me. I couldn't believe that she had the perspective that she did in the first place, and even more, I was in shock at how far she took it.

To top it all off, by the second encounter, there started to be something vaguely familiar about the woman-- her appearance, her voice, and her slight lisp-- and I have an odd feeling that we somehow have some common circle of acquaintances or local experiences. Fabulous.

So that's the long and long of our unbelievable and embarrassing dining experience last night. If you're a local pal and you hear the story from the other side, I'd love to know how it's told.


Still slightly shocked,