It’s early Saturday night and one of my customers is throwing a fit. The problem probably started when he threw food at the woman sitting next to him.
The situation’s out of control. Plates and utensils litter the floor. The lady’s covered with food. She yells impotently at her attacker. Everyone watches helplessly as the customer throws himself to ground, curls up into a little ball, and unleashes a soul shredding scream.
The only reason I haven’t called 911? The customer is three years old.
I feel a tap on my shoulder. Standing next to me is a bald guy wearing wire rimmed glasses. He looks pissed.
“Can you move my table?” he demands. “That kid’s out of control. I’m not enjoying my meal.”
It’s Saturday night and the seating plan’s tight. I can’t be moving people around. That’s a recipe for disaster. I’m about to tell the guy “no” when the little tyke emits a toxic screech that shaves a month off the lives of everyone in the room.
“I’ll move you right away sir.”
The bus girls move the man’s table to the other side of the restaurant. I go over to Louis. The child’s screaming in his section. To make matters worse – the boy’s little brother is starting to cook off.
“Oh my God,” I groan, “Now they’re in stereo.”
“Can you believe these parents?” Louis asks.
“This has been going on almost fifteen minutes.”
“My name’s not Ronald,” Louis huffs. “There ain’t no Happy Meals here.”
I look over at the table. The three years old’s smacking the floor with his fist. His mother’s cradling his brother in her arms, trying to shush him. The father’s angrily munching on a rack of lamb. I notice there’s an expensive bottle of wine on the table. No effort’s being made to control the kid experiencing demonic possession.
“Poor guys,” I say. “They were having a nice dinner until their children exploded.”
“What did they expect?” Louis says, “Kids hate restaurants.”
“I’m gonna start dressing you up like a clown,” I say, half seriously. “Seat all the toddlers in your section.”
“I’d be a scary clown,” Louis growls, “The scary demented dangerous clown.”
“Ok. Bad idea.”
The hostess comes up to me. “We have a problem,” she says.
“Let me guess,” I say, “No one wants to sit in Louis’s section while that kid’s here.”
As if on cue, both kids kick the volume up a notch.
“If I pulled this crap when I was a kid,” I say, “My Dad would’ve made me sit in the car with the windows rolled up.”
“But it’s hot outside!” the hostess says.
“Where these kids are from? They’d probably be used to it.”
“They’re the devil’s children!” I yelp, “Spawn from the fires of hell!”
The hostess stares at me in disbelief. She’s not used to my brand of humor.
“You’re a mean man,” the hostess says, walking away.
“Well, what are you going to do?” Louis asks.
“Did you ever see that commercial?” I say absently, “The one of the father dragging a screaming little brat through the supermarket?”
“At the end of the commercial they show a package of condoms and say, ’That’s why.’”
Louis starts cracking up, “We should film these kids.”
“We could sell the footage and make a mint,” I reply.
Don’t get me wrong everybody – I love children. I know children cry. That’s what they’re designed to do. I’m actually good with kids – in a “hand them back to their parents when they act up” sort of way. Ask all my friends.
And I don’t subscribe to the prissy “leave your kids at home” school of restaurateurship. Children are part of life and should be included in the celebrations of life. There are people who, for what ever reason, don’t like to share the same air as children. They think most public spaces should be a kid free zone. That’s nuts. We were all children once. Someone had to put up with us while we crapped in our pants. So, even if you don’t have kids, you should have some tolerance for those of other people.
I’m not talking about the kiddie policies of Uber restaurants like Per Se. If I’m shelling out $500 a person I don’t want kids in dirty diapers sitting next to me either! There are obviously places where children should not be taken.
Let’s be real. Parents have to follow some simple rules when taking children to an eatery nicer than McDonald’s. Kid haters need to loosen up a little. Half the problems with children in restaurants would be avoided if the child bound and childless put themselves in each other’s shoes. Compassion and consideration both go a long way.
But if your child turns into Satan’s howling minion you have to take them outside! There’s no excuse for letting children froth at the mouth twenty minutes. It doesn’t make the child look bad – it makes the parent look bad. Drag them outside and perform whatever exorcism your religion or pediatrician say works best. We’ll keep your food warm.
“Oh God,” Louis says, breaking my reverie, “Look what he’s doing now.”
I look over. The oldest child is kicking his mother in the shins.
“I’ll bet that kid’s got three sixes burnt into the back of his head.”
Finally the father’s had enough. He signals for the check. Mom starts strapping her offspring into the double wide stroller that’s been blocking the men’s room. Louis gives the man the bill, runs it, and brings it back to the table.
Mother and father wheel the children outside. A palpable sense of relief washes over the restaurant. I overhear a female customer say, “My kids were never like that.”
I smile to myself. Her kids probably drove her nuts. Time can be a powerful amnesiac.
“So what was the tip?” I ask Louis.
I watch the busgirls as they sweep drool sodden cheerios off the floor. The table looks like Shea Stadium after a doubleheader.
“At least they didn’t leave behind a dirty diaper,” I say.
I head back towards the front. The parents are still outside. They’re having a low grade argument – probably about how they handled their little darlings.
As I watch through the window I notice the mother has a tired pretty face. The father’s brow seems lined with anxiety. For the first time I realize these parents are at least ten years younger than me. I chide myself and remember I’m just responsible for taking care of a joint custody dog. Parenthood is tough.
I look at the stroller. The little boys are sitting side by side – fast asleep. The youngest child rests his head on big brother’s shoulder. They look so peaceful. Without the red faces, tears, and snot they’re actually cute little boys.
The parents look at their charges, shake their heads, smile at each other, and walk away. They’re probably thinking the same thing I’m thinking.
Now they decide to look like angels.