Childhood Family

Behold the siren song

So I was sitting at a restaurant recently with my family when I heard the blare of a siren.

Naturally, I did what any person would do and began looking around wildly for my chance to rubberneck. Ambulance? Fire truck? Police and a live performance of “Cops!”? Oh the possibilities!

Alas, I saw no emergency response. And I noticed that the sirens were not getting closer or farther away. They were just there, steady, loud and annoying.

And then I glanced at the table behind us. There, sitting at the end of a table was a small child, maybe five, with a phone in his hand, playing some racing game. In the game, he was either a police officer or being chased by one, and the the blaring siren was coming from the phone.

My first thought was, “That is quite the impressive speaker on that phone.” My second thought was not just a thought, but something expressed to my wife across the table. “Seriously?”

The siren kept going. On and on and on. Other diners began looking at the child. The only two people NOT looking at the child were his parents, who continued chatting with one another, clearly so used to the blaring sound of the babysitter siren that they could just carry on since their kid was plenty occupied. Never mind that his occupation led the rest of the restaurant to be peppered constantly with the screaming siren.

Again I turned to my wife. “You have got to be kidding me.”

My son, with all the tact and subtlety that an 11-year-old brings, loudly announced, “That’s just like that kid with the train video game…” He stopped talking immediately, as my wife did that under-the-table Vulcan silencer pinch that mothers have done for generations. Pretty sure the knowledge on how to administer it is imparted to new mothers at the time of their first childbirth.

My son was referring to a previous restaurant visit when a family had an unruly child and opted for the solution of providing a video game that played super loud train noises. Over and over. And over.

Look, I get it. Sometimes you have to find a distraction for your kids at dinner. Sometimes you have to get up and walk a kid around, or threaten to sell a beloved pet or something. And sometimes, you let them fire up a video game because you’d like to have two stinking minutes to finish up a conversation that doesn’t involve hypotheticals about different kinds of animals fighting or the unfairness of not letting 14-year-olds drive.

And I know plenty of you will be saying, “When I was a kid, we didn’t have smart phones and stuff and we were fine at dinner.” OK, as the youngest for four kids, let me tell you two truths your parents know are fact: (1) You were not always fine at dinner and (2) If some time traveler appeared in your childhood with an electronic distraction device for each child at the table, there were most definitely some times when your parents would have said, “Oh for the love of Valium and whiskey, thank you, time traveler.”

But here’s one more truth — your parents probably would have turned the volume down.

After about five minutes of constant sirens, the family left, the siren trailing out the door with them. When they left, I turned to my kids. “Kids, listen. If you ever do that in the middle of a restaurant, I will stand up, take your phone, and I will throw it against a wall. I will then stand on a chair, raise my arms in victory, and announce to my fellow patrons, ‘Parenting!’ And then I will sit back and wait for the rush of people begging to pay my check.”

The kids got their usual Dad’s-lost-his-mind wildeye crazy look. They looked at their mother. She just smiled and nodded.

I am hopeful that the family had an epiphany as they were leaving, and will never again let their child pollute the environment like that. I’m hopeful. But I’m not very optimistic.

Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C., and now lives in Charleston. A graduate of the University of Alabama, you can e-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.


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