Did you hear the one about the restaurant owner who yelled at a patron’s baby for crying?
I know I set that up as a joke, but there is no punchline. That happened. That’s a thing. Someone yelled at a baby for crying.
If you don’t know the story, here’s the recap (Mom Tara Carson wrote her own account for yesterday’s Washington Post.): Couple with small child are vacationing in Maine, stop in to a place called Marcy’s Diner, wait a half hour for a table, wait 40 minutes for pancakes, baby fusses, owner freaks out and yells at baby. AT the baby. Not about the baby, or at the parents, both of which would also cast her as an uppity, unsympathetic mean-o.
Darla Neugebauer, owner of Marcy’s Diner in Portland, Maine, yelled at a baby for being a baby.
There are a lot of implications to this story. There’s the fact that it’s hard to take your kid out to eat. There’s the fact that it’s hard to keep patrons in your restaurant if a baby is crying. There’s the fact that the mother complained about her dining experience (if you can call it that) on Facebook and Neugebauer left an obscene and straight up NASTY comment, called her child a monster and “it,” and admitted to having thrown to-go boxes at the couple and demanded that they leave (in the rain, without finishing their meal, after they waited over an hour. How is this appropriate customer service or restaurant-owner behavior, in any reality?). And there’s the fact that her supporters are flying the “Be a good parent and control your kid” flag (bc kids of good parents never cry. Ok.) and in subsequent interviews, Neugebauer accuses the couple of not paying attention to their child: “I don’t even know if they knew it [the child] was there.”
So hang on. You’ll parent-shame this couple, accuse them of neglecting their child (crying is far from hard evidence of neglect, but sure, ok… Have you ever known a small human? Ever?), but express zero shame or remorse on your part for yelling at a baby for being a baby?
Further: the noise the baby was making offended you, so you responded with…more noise? More offensive, disruptive, disturbing noise? Because you also have no vocabulary to convey your emotions and desires?
Full disclosure on my part here: I used to and sort of still am someone who doesn’t like loud kids in restaurants. Or on planes. Or in stores. I like my own kid just fine, but my public interactions with other people’s kids who I don’t know range from indifference to mild annoyance. I can remember being in a Target once, years ago, and hearing a baby lose his ever-loving little face over something, and quipping to a friend, “We don’t need anything over that way, do we?” then making a beeline for the opposite side of the store. I can remember being outwardly annoyed at being seated next to a tired-looking woman with an infant on a long plane trip once.
I have a kid now. He’s sticky a lot, and he will try to touch you, no matter your preferences for being touched by sticky stranger-children. Karma says, here, feel this parental shame. Own it. Now feel bad about that day in Target! Feel bad about that plane trip! You could’ve held that infant for that mom who had probably needed to pee for a month and a half, it wouldn’t have killed you! FEEL IT! FEEL IT IN YOUR BLADDER!
Touché, universe, touché. But I have never, would never, and will never, yell at a baby. Good freaking god, the lines we have to draw, and why.
Anyway, tweet at Neugebauer on Twitter; it might make you feel better. (Or don’t. I mean, she has karma, too. She might be coming back as a pack of rat babies living in someone’s crappy New England diner kitchen. You don’t know.)
And a plea: If you can’t or won’t help the parents around you as they struggle to control their strong-willed, unselfconscious, sticky megaphone children, at least be willing to give them that knowing, sympathetic nod.
You have no idea what that nod means to me when I get it. When Jax grabs a huge tomato at the farmer’s market and MLB-throws it and the vendor laughs and the woman behind me in line gives me that nod, I could cry with the grace of their acceptance.
It’s like someone warm and un-sticky and grandmotherly has put her hand on my head and blessed me and said, “You are forgiven…
…now go get that child, he’s trying to feed that guide dog his gummy bears. You’re welcome, dear.”
I wonder if I get that feeling because I’ve never yelled at a baby for being a baby.