So my family was at a restaurant the other night. We were situated in a booth, strategically arranged as usual so that (a) my two left-handed kids had free reign to swing their eatin’ arms and (b) there was no brother-sister under-the-table leg kicking capability. (Team Gibbons getting situated at dinner often looks like a well-choreographed dance. We’re fun that way.)
Anyway, in the booth behind us was a young couple with their young daughter. Throughout the dinner, she would stand in the booth and climb toward us, talking baby gibberish and, on at least one occasion, offering us a chicken finger. My wife and daughter were in the seat backing directly up to hers, and they did the sensible thing, which was to immediately contact a manager and have the distraction removed from the restaurant.
Ha! A little parenting humor there. Of course, we said hi back to the sweet little girl, and I tried to take a chicken finger, which my wife informed was not, in fact, something I should do. My wife and daughter played peek-a-boo with her and simply enjoyed that this adorable child was being, well, adorable.
Her mom and dad apologized to us several times and seemed almost embarrassed. We assured them it was fine, and I even told them that it reminded me of when our daughter was that age. I motioned to my teen-aged daughter and said, “Hey, I remember when she was that age. She couldn’t talk back to me.”
I didn’t look at my daughter, but I can assure you she rolled her eyes. (Fast fact: Teen-aged girls’ eyes spend 78 percent of their time in the rolled position.)
As the family was preparing to leave, I overheard the mother say, “Next time we go out to dinner, we need to remember not to sit in a booth.” I joined their conversation. “Actually,” I said, “you just need to make sure you sit in a booth next to the right people. She’s great. Happy to sit next to you.”
As they were preparing to get up, an older gentleman in the booth on their other side motioned to the little girl. He handed her a dollar, which led my wife and me to recall an older gentleman doing the same thing to our daughter when she was a youngun. (That day? Feb. 1, 2003. Unfortunately, we remember that because we were at the store walking around stunned as we had just watched news reports of the space shuttle Columbia exploding.)
Anywho, this young family was nestled snug in between two tables who had no problem with an exploring and adventuresome youngster, even though they felt the need to apologize.
Unfortunately, they have probably been in a similar situation in which their booth neighbors were annoyed or even downright rude because – gasp – a child was being a child. Look, I get that there is a level of behavior that is needed for all humans, big and small, in public. Should children be tap dancing on the tables or playing freeze tag throughout the restaurant? Obviously not. But too often, a child simply being a child is met with derisive stares, as if somehow you the parents are horrible parents because a baby laughs at peek-a-boo. If you’re in a family restaurant, and there is a family there, remember this: there is the distinct possibility that the couple next to you is just trying for a night out, hoping, praying, begging that this time – just this ONE time – is the time that a dinner night out works and we can just for once, come on can’t we just once have a simple night out!?!?!?
Yeah, that was us. For years. My kids are 10 and 13 now, and when we go out now, it’s usually a fairly low-key event. No one has to go take a kid and walk him so that he doesn’t cry. No one has to take deep sighs because the kids have decided to build an under-the-table fort, and you, as a parent, have to decide if you let it go for the sake of a peaceful dinner, or break it up lest you get the looks from the disapprovers.
Bottom line, for me, is this: When that girl came into that couple’s life, she became their sole focus, their reason for being. Good for them. But they still need to be able to have a life. And if it bothers you that the sweet little child in the booth behind you is offering you a chicken finger, then I have the perfect solution: Let me know. I’ll take that chicken finger. And my wife will play peek-a-boo.
Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C. A graduate of the University of Alabama, you can e-mail him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.