“The thing that impresses me most about America is the way parents obey their children.”
– Edward, Duke of Windsor
Children, to those brave souls who have them, are angelic, rosy-cheeked nymphs who bring joy and happiness to their everyday lives. To those of us who’ve decided NOT to propagate, they appear to be the devil incarnate. Okay, that may be pushing the envelope a bit; depending on the place, situation, tidal projections, and lunar cycle, they CAN be tolerated. Unfortunately, bad manners are inherited more often than not, which means when parents act like Neanderthals, their offspring imitate the same knuckle-dragging conduct.
“The age of your children is a key factor in how quickly you are served in a restaurant. We once had a waiter in Canada who said, ‘Could I get you your check?’ and we answered, “How about the menu first?”
– Erma Bombeck
Sometimes in life, you just want to take adult-type people by the throat, slap them into next week, and ask my sister Jill’s inevitable question: “What the hell’s wrong with you?” This was the case last week when I joined said sister, her boyfriend Jeff, my roomie Cinderella, and my poor unsuspecting father at a local Mexican restaurant. As we were being seated, the couple next to us and their two small children, were already enjoying a delicious meal. After a few minutes, one pony-tailed cherub decided she’d prefer having her teeth drilled than chow down on a shredded beef taco. Obviously, she’d never had the tacos. And so she proceeded to whimper, then cry, then squirm, then make like some sort of squealing piglet, refusing to be held, comforted, or consoled in any way shape or form. To our delight, the father decided it was time to whisk his screaming rugrat outside, before some other irritated guest did it for him. Soon thereafter, the family departed, leaving only overwhelming silence. And, it was good.
“The restaurant is like a theatre: we do two shows a day, and when you are doing Shakespeare you don’t want to throw in something out of Walt Disney.” – Benjamin Britten
Unfortunately, this stillness was invariably short-lived. For in the corner booth next to the now vacated table, was something so terrifying, so horrific, so bone-chillingly frightening, we all held our breaths at its very being. It was gruesome, it was grisly, it was downright ghastly. You can’t run! You can’t hide! You can’t get away from …BADLY BEHAVED CHILDREN!!! It was creepier than “The Blob”, scarier than “The Thing”, louder than “The Birds”, more appalling than “The Fly”, and it howled like “The Wolf Man” at midnight. It was two young boys jumping on seats, screaming like banshees, banging on silverware, bashing into tables, chasing each other in circles, and generally running amok. All the while, their so-called parents chitchatted in a margarita-induced haze, laughing giddily, chastising occasionally, and basically ignoring the laser beam stares of every other paying customer. And just like us, in the devious minds of all the surrounding diners, these same thoughts were rolling around their normally civil minds; can we just slap some duct tape on the mouths of these brats?! Can we possibly pummel these tykes without police retribution?! Can we just tell their parents how truly annoying, obnoxious, and insufferable their hyped-up kids are?!
“In the United States today, there is a pervasive tendency to treat children as adults, and adults as children. The options of children are thus steadily expanded, while those of adults are progressively constricted. The result is unruly children and childish adults.” -Thomas Szasz
And as the tequila kicked in, and the naughty noises grew up and around the eatery like some gigantic pealing bell, and our ears were subjected to the shrill racket-like-a-racetrack, people began to crack. The first to snap was Cinderella, who whipped her head around like some sort of rattlesnake, hissing out, “Could ya PLEASE quiet those children down?!!!” Once again, there was peace and stillness. Unfortunately, it was the sort of tranquility you could cut with a rusty-toothed McCullough. Forks were dropped. Candles blew out. Fans stopped spinning. Sweat beaded on noses. Ears perked in anticipation. And thus began the great “I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I”, Battle of the Blowholes. Men, it would seem, don’t ever really grow up. That same kickass attitude they learned early on in the playground never truly leaves them; if someone stomps on their castle in the sandbox, they’re just asking for a plastic shovel up the ass. And so at that precise moment, in one very public dining room, amidst the hushed gawking of an enraptured audience, two quasi-adult, male-type human beings reverted back to kindergarten.
“You can learn many things from children. How much patience you have, for instance.”
– Franklin P. Jones
This salsa-laden scenario is rated PG for some mildly foul language, and testosterone-induced banter. A berated father and a pissed-off boyfriend match up to exchange verbal barbs, and throw down the gauntlet, while their female compadres can only try to placate their ever-growing rage:
“Hey man, what’s your problem?”
“Honey, get back here!”
“Your little monsters, that’s my problem!”
“Jeff, cut it out!”
“It’s a family restaurant, STUPID!”
“So what? Why don’t you take your spoiled brats to McDonald’s?”
“Jeff, stop it!”
“Looks like YOU haven’t missed too many cheeseburgers pal!”
“Honey, that’s enough!”
“Bring it on JERK, I haven’t been in a good fight for a long time!”
“Jeff, knock it off!”
“Raising kids is part joy and part guerilla warfare.” – Ed Asner
In the end, after the dust had settled, no blood was shed, no blows were felled, no teeth knocked out, and the testy group finally stormed off with babes in arms. And as we gingerly walked between the tables of patrons, expecting to be met with remarks of insult and disgust, we experienced the complete and total opposite. We were given everything but a standing ovation, and the clientele could barely wait to offer congratulations and extend their hands in a show of support. We were brave. We were stars. We were heroes.
“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” – James Baldwin
But I can’t keep wondering, which situation is worse? Youngsters behaving like little tyrants, or adults conducting themselves in, well, precisely the same way? What can we expect from children, who witness the exact same behavior from grown-ups, that they’ve just been admonished for? Don’t argue, don’t fight, turn the other cheek, look the other way, don’t rock the boat, but stand your ground, and act like a man. Talk about mixed messages. The media and movies are often blamed for contributing to the apathetic ways of today’s youth, juvenile men, in particular. But maybe we should take a closer look at what really molds their attitudes. Perhaps we’ll see the responsibility starts with mom and dad, and ends in one famous line of music: “Teach your children well.”
Hey, it’s better than a kick in the teeth.
“Children are contemptuous, haughty, irritable, envious, sneaky, selfish, lazy, flighty, timid, liars and hypocrites, quick to laugh and cry, extreme in expressing joy and sorrow, especially about trifles, they’ll do anything to avoid pain but they enjoy inflicting it: little men already.”
– Jean de La Bruyere, Les Caracteres, 1688