Wanted: A Little Peace & Quiet

By Jeffrey Page

What is it with these entitled parents who allow their children to create a racket in a restaurant or run up and down the aisle of an airliner while screaming at the top of their lungs? You know what I mean; I know this has happened to you because it has happened to everyone.

Look, before I write another word, let me declare without reservation that I like children. I like their exuberance, their spunk, their sense of adventure and their imagination. They’re terrific. It’s with some of their parents I have an issue.

On an uncomfortably cold and windy afternoon my friend and I ducked into a place Ridgewood, N.J. for lunch and a break from the weather. The place was noisy, but it was the noise of lunchtime conversation, maybe slightly on the loud side. No big deal.

But as a hostess showed us to a table I heard a screech. There was something animalistic about it. I heard it again and got a look at the kid it was coming from. It was a little boy who then quit screeching and just started crying. Then he made guttural sounds as though he were in distress, like being eaten by a wolf.

The boy, about 4 or 5, was seated in a booth at the window with three other children who seemed two or three years older. In all, they were three boys, one girl, no adults.

A minute later they were all screaming at one another. The boy who had been screeching and then crying now switched to screaming at no one in particular. He ignored his lunch. So did the others.

It was a madhouse and I wondered where the parents were. Then I saw a dad-looking man walk over, lean down, and say something to the young screamer. And the boy responded.

“NO! NO! NO!” he explained. Then, ignoring the presence of a grown-up, the other three started taunting the young one with shouts and imitations of a crying child. Their noise was nothing less than an infliction on everyone else in the restaurant, courtesy of the father, who was useless.

And what did he do, this dad? He walked away, leaving the four children alone at what turned out to be their table. Dad, on the other hand, was seated two booths away with some friends, probably the parents of the other children.

I wonder if Dad thought the display at the kids’ table was – what? – cute? Endearing? Precious? Or maybe just too much for him to be bothered. I thought that his decision in favor of inaction was an act of supreme indifference directed at everyone else in the place, the secret message being: You don’t like it? That’s too damned bad.

When we mentioned the asylum quality of the atmosphere and bizarre seating arrangement to the hostess, she informed us that the children and their fathers were new to her, that she had never seen them before.

Maybe, maybe not.

In any case, it seems a given that when children behave badly – or when adults behave badly for that matter – it makes good business sense for the manager of a restaurant to walk over and lay down the law. Control your children now or be gone. Maybe in a neighborhood place, the boss is afraid of a boycott by angry moms and dads who think their children are the smartest and most charming in the whole wide world.

But doing nothing is a dangerous policy. Sure, the people with noisy kids will be back, but patrons who wish for lunch in peace will be alienated and look for other places.  

Our time at lunch reminded me of a flight I took to Los Angeles to see my mother and brother. Seated behind me was a couple with a little boy aged about 4. He was unhappy sitting in his father’s lap and made this known in a voice of extraordinary shrillness. He kept yanking on the back of my seat. Once, no problem. Twice, well he’s just a kid. When it happened a third time, I stood and asked the dad to control his son.

He apologized. And a minute later, the boy was running up and down the aisle and whooping it up. Thus, anyone wishing to sleep, read, watch a movie or carry on a discussion with a seat mate could not. While the boy ran around, his father read a newspaper in peace. The mother, with ear buds, was engrossed in something and never looked up. Lucky him, lucky her.

Finally, a flight attendant asked Dad to control the boy. Which he did, though the crying and whining never stopped.

I know responsible parents who buy a separate seat for their young daughter and travel with plenty of games and toys. The extra seat is an expense, but childless passengers have a right to travel as comfortably as possible. A kid, as cute as he or she is, running in the aisle and making raucous noises makes a flight that much more stressful.

There’s not much you can do about irresponsible parents on a flight in progress. But in a neighborhood restaurant, the manager most certainly can do something about out-of-control kids. Inform the parents: Take charge or be gone.

You’ve had similar experiences, right?

4 Responses to “Wanted: A Little Peace & Quiet”

  1. Chris Says:

    I feel your pain. What angers me most are parents who just tune it out with no regard for others. How selfish and yet enlightening as to the origins of these children’s behavior. Always wonder what will it “look like” for this family 10 years down the line.

  2. Jeanne Versweyveld Says:

    Yes, Jeffrey, I have. I remember being taught in elementary school that it was strictly forbidden to run in the halls. And as child it is soooo tempting to run in the halls! But you could fall and get hurt and so you refrained. I work in a building that houses a home school scenario where the little people RUN to the bathroom….not for urgent reasons, but just to hear themselves RUN! Recently at a restaurant, again, children running. Not just to get to the table but the leave the table, run out again and then run back in. I, too, love all the little people…..but when an adult is present, they should act like the adult!! Makes me wonder what their homes are like!

  3. Russ Layne Says:

    Hey, Jeff,

    Yep…totally commiserate. I, too, have two of my own. I love kids but as toddlers and sometimes older, if I were dining out w/ them and they decided to get rambunctious or just plain ornery, I’d whisk them away from diners…into the lobby or into the men’s room and play some fun facial games in front of a mirror just to chill them out….or, sometimes my wife and I became a tag team absconding to someplace else in the restaurant w/ the kid away from diners. My wife was also good at carrying a bag full of games, books, and art supplies to keep them occupied.

  4. Carol Montana Says:

    Indeed I have, Jeff. One such incident was in a Pizza Hut in Liberty with a screaming child. But another restaurant horror story was in a Chinese restaurant where the two proprietors were yelling, screaming at each other. I tried to make my displeasure known with my stern look of disapproval. When that didn’t work, I asked them to quiet down. Whether or not they understood me was irrelevant, as they continued to scream for close to an hour. Need I say that I’ve never been in there again?

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