An open letter to the mom in Cracker Barrel on Sunday:
Dear Mom at the table next to us,
I understand. I've been there. It seems only yesterday that my gangly 13 year old was a cherubic toddler with white-blonde hair and big blue eyes. I'm not trying to call you out or shame you. I'm here to help.
Because here's the thing. Your child? The adorable, mop-topped little boy that was sitting three feet away from my right ear? He was amazingly, unabashedly, incorrigibly and flagrantly out of control.
I get it. He's maybe two years old. Two year olds are like tiny tornadoes of wanton destruction, if left unchecked. I remember. But the key phrase in that sentence is "if left unchecked." It's not impossible. I promise that you can go out to eat with your family and friends, WITH the unruly one, enjoy yourself, and not be responsible for the burst eardrums and shattered patience of the rest of the diners in the restaurant. How do I know this?
Because I did it. I had one child who seemed innately polite and well-mannered in public. He was easy. But the other one? The one who painted his body in oatmeal every morning? He was a tornado waiting to happen. Please, please, please, please let me help you. It's all about planning ahead and heading off triggers.
- You arrived at the restaurant and were seated. You placed said toddler on the end so that only you could deal with his toddlerness. That's a mistake.
- Unruly children should be placed between two attentive adults so that one of you can eat while the other staves off attack. It's a quality defensive technique. Trust me.
- It seemed that you brought along part of a hard toy train to entertain your darling. Kudos for thinking of entertainment - that's awesome. However, a hard plastic and metal object that can be used as a projectile may not be your best bet. I'm fairly sure that workmen's compensation doesn't cover the blow to the head that the server took from said train.
- I found that softer, more malleable toys were less likely to result in legal action.
- I was saddened to watch you hand your precious angel the knife and fork from the rolled up napkin. While your child was perhaps old enough to handle eating utensils, the fact that he took them to be drum sticks was rather unfortunate. I did appreciate the fact that he was trying to belt out a melody along with his percussion accompaniment, but both the pitch and decibel level were so incredibly high that it did preclude any conversation at my own table. I had sort of hoped that when my right ear started bleeding, you might have put a stop to his concert, but unfortunately it only ended when he chucked the utensils into the path of another server.
- No percussion in restaurants. Teach your children to use indoor voices. It's the only option that works. Practice it. Live it. Embrace it. Everyone benefits from it.
- It was around 10 am when all this took place. I don't know whether or not you had fed the child anything before hand, but sometimes acting out is just a result of being hangry. This is easy to deal with.
- I never left my house without a container of Cheerios and a sippy cup of water or juice. Cheerios are like baby crack. They are food, entertainment, learning tools. There's almost nothing a handful of Cheerios can't cure. If your sweet patoo throws them at the wait staff - no harm done! They don't hurt! It's a win-win.
- Speaking of purses - you're the mother of a toddler. You don't get to carry a purse. You carry an industrial-strength bag of monstrous proportion. Inside that bag are all the tools of your trade. The aforementioned Cheerios, a rotation of soft plastic toys, a couple of board books. And for the love of all things holy, paper and crayons. Most restaurants provide them, but you never know when they will be out.
- Here's the thing about paper and crayons. They're quiet. If baby wants to be a drummer - crayons are great drumsticks - quiet! Plus, if he's drumming on the paper, he's creating art at the same time. Another win-win.
- I was thrilled to see that you did a couple of great things:
- You didn't let junior out of his high chair. Brilliant - the entire Cracker Barrel staff and patronage thanks you. I can't begin to tell you how obnoxious it is when parents let their children do laps around the tables to burn off energy. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
- You didn't immediately pull out some form of electronic device to pacify the child. It did come out eventually, and everyone sighed a little at the quiet, but it wasn't your first option, and I completely support you in that. Your child CAN learn to sit a table and be a darling without electronic devices, but you do have to be strong.
- Here's my last bit of wisdom. Restaurant behavior (or any public behavior) must be modeled at home. If you aren't sitting down at a table and expecting all your children, regardless of age, to be learning how to act at the dinner table, no amount of diversion is going to work for your sweetie in public. I promise.
- Have dinner together as a family. Model appropriate behavior. Point out times when your children are doing excellently. Gently correct inappropriate behaviors.
- Even though my kids are 14 and 13, we still do this. Napkin in lap, non-eating hand in lap, sitting up straight, chewing with your mouth closed. Why do we still work on this? Because it is important. When they start dating, their dates will appreciate it. When they go out to eat with a potential employer, they will take note of their manners. When they have children, they'll need to model it.
- It's your job, mom. Please don't forget it. Your job is not to make your wee precious toddler happy all the time. Your job is to teach that child how to grow up and be a functioning human being.
I know you can do this.