It’s Not All Mary Poppins

‘Cute’ doesn’t eliminate ‘Rude’

The Wonderful Husband and I have a date night each week. Thursday evenings we wander over to our local pub, sometimes just for a drink, most often for dinner. The server knows us, we often see people we know, but though we may wave a greeting to a neighbour, we don’t stop to visit. We go there to chat with each other. It’s quiet, it’s friendly, it’s our style.

This week we weren’t able to go on Thursday, so we deferred till Friday.

Well, now. Our quiet neighbourhood pub is a totally different place on a Friday at 6:30, let me tell you! We had to wait in line! Okay, only for maybe 4 minutes, but still: that never happens! And when we were seated, there were no tables in the front of the upper half. This means we had to sit in the back of the upper half. The section where they sit families with children.

My heart sinks, a bit. Are you surprised? You wouldn’t be alone. Lots of people assume I’d enjoy that. “You work with kids! You must love them!”

Well. I do love them, of course. But while it isn’t like many other jobs — it’s one of the few jobs where falling in love with one’s clientele is considered dedication, not a faux pas — it is also a job, like any other. Who brings their work to date night?

But you know, that’s not the key issue. Nope. It’s because they tend to behave so badly. And it is so hard, as a pro, not to be watching the bad behaviour and say oneself, “That? Is so UNNECESSARY!” Every time I see poor behaviour being ineffectively addressed, or, even more often, not addressed at all, I itch to get over there and FIX IT. Which I can’t, of course. So I sit there and twitch.

My expectations are reasonable. I’ve been working with kids for close to thirty years (if you include my own, and why wouldn’t you?). I know what one can reasonably expect of a 2-year-old, a 5-year-old, a 10-year-old.

I wish more of their parents did…

So. Friday night. Date night. Which also appears to be Family Dinner Out night in my neighbourhood. Now, I am not one of these people who says restaurants are for adults only. It depends on the restaurant, of course. Unless your child has absolutely impeccable manners, you don’t take them to a quiet, upscale, expensive restaurant, and spoil other diner’s evening. But a place like this, a casual, friendly, neighbourhood pub? Of course kids can be there.

Rather than refuse them entry, I think it’s important to get kids out and into the wider world. In fact, I take my tots out to lunch at a local restaurant about once a month. I do this for our enjoyment, of course, but also — perhaps even primarily — so they can learn and practice the expectations of dining out. We talk about the rules and regs on our way in. “Sitting still”, “inside voices”, “please and thank you”. All those things are reviewed prior, and practiced during. In a cheerful, upbeat, aren’t-we-so-BIG way.

They love it. And the other diners? Well, first, there aren’t a whole lot of other diners. I have Tiny Tots in Training here, so I choose times when the restaurant won’t be busy. But, the other diners, because they can see us cheerfully practicing, even when we don’t quite hit the mark, even when someone’s volume creeps too loud, or someone tries to slip out of their chair, or forgets a please… because they can see the calm, cheerful (and at least momentarily) effective reminders, because they can see a whole lot of social training going on, they generally cut us the necessary slack. And, we keep it brief. We go in, we order, we charm the server, we eat, we leave.

So, unlike the children at the pub last week, my tots do not leave their chairs to dance in the space between tables. (Any attempt to leave the chair is caught mid-slither!) They do not swing on the backs of other people’s chairs as they pass. They speak — at least, are consistently reminded to speak — in quiet voices.

Two tables down, two families were sharing a large corner table. Their two little girls, about 5, were obviously excited to be together, and excited to be out. They were very cute. They were also appallingly LOUD. They did not speak to each other, they shrieked.

I was annoyed, but not at the children, but their parents. Have you people never heard of INSIDE voices??

One little girl saw someone across the room that she knew. Grabbing the back of the chair of the diner at the next table — not one of their group — she slithers from her chair, and skitters across the room to say hi. A server does a quick two-step to avoid her sudden dart. No adult stops her, no one reminds her that “we don’t touch other people’s chairs”. Nor do they intervene when the other little girl joins her, similarly using the adjacent diner’s chair to steady herself. Nor do the parents at either table anything at all when the girls go back and forth between the two tables several times.

This is not the fault of the children. They appear to be good-natured, happy little people. But they are not being taught the parameters. No adult of the three families now involved took it upon themselves to give an elementary Civilization/Socialization 101 lesson.

But that wasn’t as bad as the family at the other end of the room, who had two adorable little boys, about 5 and 2, I’d say. It seems that the little boys had come to the end of their main course, and had decided upon ice cream for dessert. So dad sends them after the server.

Do you catch the inappropriateness of that? If you want something from a server, what is the protocol? Do you get up out of your seat and hunt her down? Well, perhaps, if the service were absolutely, utterly execrable. But under normal circumstances? You flag her down with eye contact, or a raised hand and an ‘excuse me’. And that is what he should be teaching his boys.

Dad, however, does not call the server over to the table. He does not call her over so as to have his little boys ask politely for their ice cream. So they can see how one gets food in a restaurant.

No. He sends them over to where the server is currently interacting with another patron. Me, as it happens. They tug her sleeve. Her sleeve, which is holding a pitcher of water. “Hey! Hey, over here!!” says the adorable 5-year-old, cheerful, lively, loud. And let me underline: these children were seriously cute. Which is why, I think, doting daddy thought their behaviour was cute, instead of what it was: abysmal.

The server looks down into his excited, smiling, face. “I would like ice cream!”

She smiles back. “You would? Well, sure. I will bring some to your table in just a minute.”

The boy beams up at her. “Thank you!” he chortles. I wish that were true. No, he did not. Instead, he looked at his little brother. “Ice cream! Ice cream!”, he bellows. Little brother, being two, thinks this is great. So now the two of them are leaping up and down in the middle of a crowded, busy room, screaming “ICE CREAM!!!” into each other’s faces. From his table at the far end of the room, Dad grins at them. Aren’t they just so cuuute?


Cute, maybe, but far from civilized. And, you know? You can be adorably cute and unutterably rude all at the same time. These two have that nailed.

But is it their fault? Of course not. How can they know, if they’ve never been taught?

I look at the server. “Excuse me. May I have some ice cream, please?” I say. The server knows I’m not asking for ice cream, and grins all over her face, grateful to have someone voice her feelings. Wonderful husband chimes in. “I can? Oh, thank you!” We all grin at each other.

It is entirely possible to take a 2 and a 5-year-old out to a casual restaurant and have them sit in their seat, not shout, and ask for things politely. They won’t manage it all the time, for the whole duration of the meal. That’s normal. They’ll need reminders. Those reminders? That’s called ‘parenting’.

October 22, 2014 - Posted by | manners, outings, parenting, Peeve me, socializing | ,


  1. This post caused me actual physical pain.

    We take the boys (ages 2, 6 & 9) for dinner is restaurants of various levels of ‘nice’ about once a month. We’ve done this since our oldest was an infant. Our kids behave beautifully in restaurants. Servers give them extra treats & praise. Other patrons have stopped by our table more than once to compliment them on their manners. It is a genuine pleasure to take our family out for dinner as a result.

    Like you, when I end up seated near children in restaurants – or anywhere, really – I tense up, because I KNOW that I will see disruptive, annoying, totally unnecessary behavior. Makes me crazy.

    Me, too. In fact, when I walk into a new place and see that response? When I see the server or the other patrons wince at our arrival? It doesn’t offend me. I know exactly why they’re doing that, and exactly what they’re expecting. In fact, kind of perversely, it pleases me. “Ha! I know, I know, but just watch us!” By the end of the meal, or coffee, or whatever, we will almost certainly have received at least one compliment on the children’s behaviour.

    Just so long as they don’t tell me I’m “lucky“… 😛

    Comment by Hannah | October 22, 2014 | Reply

  2. I am a childcare provider in the US. I oft take my large group of kiddos out and about on field trips and yes even out for an occasional meal. I take out 8 -10 children without an assistant and they all know how to behave in a restaurant, how to sit in a seat, converse at an acceptabel level and eat their meals in a mannerly way! I think the biggest problem with many parents and “going out” is they don’t expect their children to behave! The littles give what is expected of them, when we go out we expect well mannered children. Obviously I don’t live in wonderland and to get to this point my children get reminders, examples and opportunities to test out their skills with guidance. I will often get stopped (especially by seniors) and complimented on my well behaved group, and I always make sure the children realize they are being complimented for their behavior – they beam with pride! It makes me sad when parents comment that I’m crazy to go out with so many on my own since they can’t “even get my own to behave in public”….

    You have worked consistently to teach skills to children who have learned them because they enjoy not only the outing, but also the sense of pride their behaviour gives them. Sounds like a good system! Takes consistency, focus and diligence, but entirely do-able. Pity more people don’t do it…

    Comment by Tabytha | October 22, 2014 | Reply

  3. I am always APPALLED at parents who do not teach their children proper manners – both in public and at home! It might actually be the ‘at home’ part that makes me feel the worst. A child who has had respect demonstrated to and around them consistently from birth is not going to be a rampaging (if adorable) monkey in public…both because the parents will intervene as a matter of course, and also because it probably won’t even occur to them to act in a different manner.

    Before I moved to my new non-childcare job, I had a brief stint with a family where the girls were the same age as those adorable boys you saw. I dreaded our afternoon bus ride, because the girls had not been taught how to navigate the bus politely – they did not respond well at all to the my requirement they sit, not play on the escalator, not shove other passengers. The worst thing about this was that they had been riding the bus, accompanied by a caregiver, every school day for three years! And in that whole time they hadn’t been taught the basic etiquette? What a nightmare for their parents!

    Wow. Seems the last caregiver wasn’t doing the job at all. (I am assuming here that this bus ride home would have been managed pretty much exclusively by the caregiver, not the parents.) If my assumption’s correct, it would be more a nightmare for you, travelling with them, trying to re-train them (always harder than doing it in the first place), and to add to that, the potential embarrassment of having the annoyed riders around you assume this was your lack of training and control! Eesh.

    Comment by BeckaJo | October 22, 2014 | Reply

  4. The worst behaviour I ever came across in children was at the Madras Cricket Cub in Chennai. I can only think that the parents thought that being members of an expensive club entitled them to let their children be total pains in the arse at 9 pm.

    Hee. “total pains in the arse at 9 pm” made me laugh out loud. With similar provocation, I have been known to mutter to myself, “Why are those children NOT IN BED, dammit?”

    I’ve sometimes been out with families where the parents hadn’t taken into account the wait for a meal. I take it upon myself to entertain the children, because I can. It doesn’t make the occasion great for me, but at the end the kids have learnt large quantities of The Walrus And The Carpenter (particularly ‘the time has come, the Walrus said…) and how to fold their napkins into slippers and waterlilies. They never bother the other diners.

    Signed, grumpy old bat who rather loves children. In their place.

    Yes, when I take the tots out, we go armed with crayons and paper, a book or two, and/or small, quiet toys. Then there are the silly games I play when my fingers walk across tables and small tummies, or the fairy tales told without a book. I don’t know how to do napkin origami, however. I need a lesson!

    I love your signature. I think I shall adopt it myself. Yes, indeed.

    Comment by Z | October 22, 2014 | Reply

  5. Eugh I had the same issue just last night on an international flight. Yes I’m a nanny and yes I’m good week kids, and so can tolerate a lot, but I can’t tolerate parents who are unwilling to control their unruly kids!

    Oooo. Trapped in a tube with terrors!! Nighmare scenario.

    I once had a client whose daughter, though well-behaved for me, was an absolute terror at home, and apparently her two older brothers were just as bad. After a trip France, mom came to me to vent about how the other passengers on their planes had no idea what to reasonably expect from children!!! They were all so harsh and she was sick of being judged all the time!!!

    My sympathies were entirely with the other passengers, trapped on a trans-Atlantic flight for hours with these hellions (who were, at the time, 4, 7, and 11, well old enough to know how to behave)! I could only imagine the atrocities they had been up to … and her subsequent description proved me right. Jumping, screaming, fighting amongst themselves (fighting with actual physical blows, no less), climbing on other passengers, repeated ringing of the bell for the attendants… Nor did any comments I might make shake her conviction that to expect them to not be disruptive was reasonable.

    Comment by Nanny Shecando | October 23, 2014 | Reply

  6. I was going to say that the problem is usually that the parents don’t realise they are meant to be raising adults, but then realised that a lot of adults are equally as rude. Which is just a bit depressing really.

    Hee. You probably didn’t intend it, but your comment has given me a fit of the giggles. I must be tired…

    Comment by May | October 23, 2014 | Reply

  7. Being involved in an industry sort of takes the casual encounters with it to a whole new level. I used to love watching dog training shows, going to animal shows etc. Now I can’t, because shows like the Dog Whisperer fill me with rage because I see ALL THE MISTAKES BEING MADE AND ALL THE WRONG THINGS BEING SAID. I can’t watch a cute animal show without thinking “Pfft. I could do that.” And when I got to the park and hear dog owners parroting incorrect crap and doing everything wrong, I can’t say anything without being an interfering berk. It sucks. I feel you.

    “I can’t say anything without being an interfering berk.” That. Exactly.

    Comment by IfByYes | October 24, 2014 | Reply

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