Toddler having a tantrum at a restaurant

An Open Letter From The Parents Of A Toddler To Everyone Else In The Restaurant

by Amanda Metcalf

Dear Fellow Restaurant Patrons,

We are here and we brought our kids. I know. No, stop crying. Yes, I'm talking to you, not my children. Look, I think this can work out and we can all get out of this dining experience with our sanities intact and our bellies properly filled, but I think we need to discuss a few things first.

As our vivacious brood enters the restaurant, my two boys deeply engrossed in their pretend sword fight, just know that your whispers and eye rolls do not go unnoticed. When the hostess seats us a few tables away from you, and the toddler squeals with excitement and delight, your dramatic sigh is so loud it's almost tangible. When my preschooler preoccupies the waitress we share, with his entree indecisiveness and a slew of knock knock jokes he's been practicing, I see you shake your head in absolute disgust. 

Somewhere along the line, everyone seems to have lost their patience and compassion for parents with young children. On a daily basis, I deal with people who are annoyed at our very existence, but never is it so pronounced as when my family goes out to a restaurant (which is pretty frequently because I'm no Barefoot Contessa and otherwise we'd all starve).

Maybe you think, "Well, they had kids, and kids are loud and disruptive, which is something they likely knew before they decided to have kids, so isn't the decision to have kids an implicit acceptance of the limitations that come with toting around loud, living disruptions, like maybe not going to places like restaurants where other people are trying to eat their entrees in peace?" Perhaps you think that when we procreated, we forfeited our right to eating out, at least for a handful of years.

I humbly — and with great respect for your desire to eat a meal without hearing a child repeatedly shout the Paw Patrol theme song, a desire I share — disagree. I think it's really, totally OK for me and my kids to be in a restaurant with you. I would go further to argue, even, that by opting to eat in a restaurant tonight, you implicitly consented to allow an uncurated assortment of humans — and whatever level and variety of noise those humans might create — to share your dining space with you. You didn't know what kind of company you might be walking into, but you did kinda sign up for the uncertainty. So yes, I knew my kids might be loud and annoying sometimes, and you knew they might be in this restaurant tonight. So let's just all try to get through this together.

Let me help you understand why we, the parents of a toddler in a restaurant, might seem a little more... impatient: For most people, having their food delayed by a backup happening in the kitchen would be a slight annoyance, but nothing catastrophic. For us, the extra twenty minutes has turned our happy, docile toddler into a raging, hangry hellbeast of a mini-human. As you sip your house wine and look on in horror, my husband and I take shifts bouncing him, walking him around, and doing our best to distract and quiet him. Our efforts must terminally disappoint you, because ultimately you make a big, loud show of moving to another table away, far away from the noise. 

Though I know I could lessen the angry onslaught, if I simply nursed the toddler, I know that too would probably offend your delicate sensibilities. So instead, in a last ditch effort, we offer our toddler an iPhone to watch educational videos. Now, dripping in sweat from the extensive placating measures we have taken, we hear your "hushed" commentary about how parents these days are so lazy, and how if we had any decency we would have just stayed home.

Despite your invaluable input, I personally don't believe that having children should result in years of house arrest. We clearly bring our children out to restaurants, not just for the heroic sense of accomplishment that comes with successfully pulling off a family outing, but also for teachable moments. If our children are never allowed to experience a restaurant, how will they ever learn appropriate restaurant etiquette? It's a process. And I can assure you that my husband and I didn't come out with the maniacal intent to ruin your meal. We really are doing everything in our power to remedy the situation.

And if you want our ill-mannered kids to turn into well-mannered adults, you're going to need to learn to tolerate us bringing them here, the "classroom" where that learning can happen. It's not like we can sit home and tell them tales of magical places called ~restaurants~ and try to describe the decorum with which they will be expected to conduct themselves once they reach adulthood and are finally granted entrance to such hallowed establishments. Nope. We pretty much have to just haul them out there, and correct their every godforsaken move, over and over, for years, until they finally get it.

As soon as the food arrives, my boys are back to their normal selves. Happily munching away, they are none the wiser to all the uproar they have caused. My husband and I breathe a collective sigh of relief and hurriedly devour our own meals before the kids are done and ready to go.

Maybe you've never had kids, or it's been a long time since you did, but I beg of you, have a little compassion and understanding when you see a family with small children struggling at a restaurant. Try and put yourselves in their shoes. And, if you find it completely impossible to muster any empathy, perhaps you should just stay home.

Best wishes for smooth digestion,

Parents of the Hangry Toddler

Images: Mike Liu/Flickr; Giphy(4)