Thursday, July 23, 2015

Just Eat Your Pancakes

If you are a parent and spend any time on the Internet, you have certainly come across the drama that ensued when a small child in a diner in Portland, ME was being loud and the owner lashed out and yelled directly at the child. There is of course a lot of back and forth going on. But, there are a few things we know for certain, as the diner owner hasn’t disputed them, or said so directly:
  1. The owner yelled directly at the child…who was not even 2. 
  2. The owner referred to the child on her Facebook page as “it” and a “beast.”

I think based on those facts alone we can agree that the owner of the diner has some, well, let’s be nice and just say “issues.”

The Washington Post has since published a response from the Mom of the child (you can read it here).  She paints a picture of a normal 21 month old, who was getting antsy as she had to wait a long time for an easy breakfast (three pancakes). She explains that it was raining, and that is why they didn’t take the child out of the restaurant, and instead decided to try to eat as quickly as they could and then leave. Honestly, I don’t really care what happened. What I care about are the reactions that people have had to this mother. In the comments section the parents are being made out to be monsters who should be “sterilized” and the diner owner is a hero.  One commenter said taking a child who is tired and hungry out in public is “child abuse.” Another said the mom is a “self-centered jerk.” I’m sure worse things have been said, but I only scanned the first page of comments (and there were at least 300 more pages to go).

I would love to meet all these perfect parents who feel that they can be so easily judgmental of a parent they have never before met. If so many parents have such perfect children, then the future is certainly bright! But a parent of perfect children, I’m certainly not one of them.

I have three boys ages 5, 2, and 9 months. And until recently I would say they were fairly well behaved almost all the time. Even in restaurants. But, we recently moved. And the creatures who have invaded my children’s’ bodies and taken over have given me the biggest dose of humility I have ever been given.

See, we didn’t just move. That makes it sound simple. No, we sold the only home my three children have ever known. Before selling we somehow managed to keep the house in pristine condition 24 hours a day for three weeks (yes, I know we were lucky it was only three weeks) while it was listed for sale. During this time the boys certainly weren’t able to play and make messes as easily in our house, as we had to be able to clean up and leave on a moment’s notice. The level to which they picked up on all of this was evident when my mom was babysitting and my two year-old said, “I dusting so we can sell house.” (No, I never made them dust. But, he was pretend-playing and had CLEARLY picked up on a lot.)

We purchased a new home to be built. But that home won’t be ready until the end of October. We moved out of our house and into my (very generous and gracious) parents’ house on July 2nd. On July 4th we headed to the beach for a week-long vacation with my entire extended family (parents, brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces, and nephew) that had been planned long before we ever decided to sell our home. So, in 2 days time my boys were living in three different homes. I don’t think they had any clue where “home” was.

Clearly, they’ve been through a lot of change in a short amount of time, and it has been hard. Really, really hard. I’m a Social Worker. I’ve tried to prepare them, and help them understand, and cope as well as possible. But, when a little kids’ world turns upside down, well, they act out. Out of fairness to my children I’m not going to air their dirty laundry and tell any of their acting out stories. But, there are definitely some people in Bethany Beach, DE who probably think my kids are brats (for the record, they’re not) and I’m pretty certain my parents think I’m the worst Mom in the world given the way my kids have been behaving over the last few weeks. (Sorry, Mom and Dad! I swear they’re not normally like this…Really! They aren’t!)

All of this is to say that yes, I may be a little sensitive to the plight of a mom with an acting out toddler right now. But I hope that even before parenting these children who are so not my children that I would have been more understanding and non-judgmental to the mom of the 21-month old in the diner in Portland.

The whole time I read about this Diner Debacle I kept thinking of the quote that says something like, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about,” (which has been attributed to anyone from Ian Maclaren to Plato).  I’m not saying that my move is a battle, or that the parents in the diner were fighting a battle (the mom doesn’t mention one in her Washington Post response, but it’s certainly her prerogative to keep it private if she was). But, that diner owner didn’t know that! The harsh commenters don’t know that.  When did we as human beings stop giving each other the benefit of the doubt?  Especially, as fellow parents, who have been in the trenches with tiny dictators, we should know that parenting is HARD…so hard. Even when not fighting any particularly difficult battle, sometimes, parenting is a battle in and of itself. We should want to support our fellow parents and help them out, not break them down and berate them for responding in a less than ideal way to a typical toddler.  

And to people who don’t have children, please, just keep your mouth shut. Parenting is truly one of those things that unless you’ve done it, you have no place judging those who have. And even those who have done it, have no right to judge, because, remember: hidden battles.

 As I mentioned, I’m a Social Worker. I’ve spent my career working with really, really sick kids. I always think about these kids when I see children having a hard time out in public. Even when a child is really sick, they still want to be normal. Their families still want to do normal things, like, eat out at restaurants. You never know if the tantruming child at the table next to you is the sister of a child who is hospitalized and possibly dying. You never know if the little boy whining and crying in the booth across the restaurant just spent the past 60 days in a hospital for chemo or radiation or surgery, and upon discharge asked to go to his favorite restaurant. His parents probably knew it was a bad idea. But what parent isn’t going to grant that simple wish to their brave child?

So, let’s stop judging. Let’s start helping. Be that parent who brings a toy you have in your diaper bag over to the tantruming child to try to distract them. Be the parent who catches the eye of the frustrated parent and mouths, “Been there. Done that,” and smiles. Be the stranger, who doesn’t have children, who makes a paper airplane and sails it over to the child with a note that says, “smile.” (Yeah, that sounds cheesy, but I bet the kid would stop crying!). Be a helper. Or, at the very least, don’t be a hater. Don’t spew anger and judgment. Remember when you’ve been at your worst and how you’ve made mistakes, and acted in ways that you regret? Then imagine you’re 2 and don’t have a fully developed brain, and can’t process emotions effectively. And remember that when parents are stressed out and embarrassed they sometimes make poor decisions and can’t think straight and decide to just try to scarf their food down as quickly as possible instead of immediately removing their kid from the restaurant. If eating in a diner—come on, this was NOT Le Diplomat (if you live in DC and haven’t been….GO!) This was a casual diner. The kid could not have been disturbing that many people—just take a deep breath, relax and enjoy your pancakes. 

The Cam Fam has been Published on:

Scary Mommy