the ole stink-eye

When one lives with a Baby Genius, one is always learning, especially now that said Baby Genius is getting older and more vocal and developing a personality. Take today, for example. I have been doing this crazy scoring marathon for the state university where eight hours a day, I am sequestered to the office reading essay after essay after essay. It is mind-numbing. Some of these days I do this for eight hours straight, but some days I have a split shift, where I work four hours in the morning and four hours in the evening, freeing up time to be with my family in between. Today was one of those days, so J and I decided we would go out for lunch after the lunch hour to this great little pizza place near our home.

The thing is, we’re both a bit fried from this week already. She has BG all day long except for nursing times, and my mind is on bad student writing. Therefore, it wasn’t until we had nearly arrived at the restaurant that we realized we had forgotten any food for Baby Genius. No problem, J reassured, as we got into the restaurant. We’d order up some avocado to keep Baby Genius occupied while we ate.

So we entered the restaurant, got BG a high chair, and proceeded to settle in. And then the yelling began. Baby Genius had discovered how lovely his voice sounds in a restaurant echoing through the room at its highest decibels. He got louder and louder. He was having a blast. Meanwhile, J and I were looking at each other and at BG wondering who this kid–yes, kid–was. Where was that quiet little baby who just looked around the restaurant from his car seat?

Our waitress, a visibly pregnant woman, took our order as we played BG’s favorite restaurant game: Throw a Toy on the Filthy Floor (usually followed by Try to Suck on the Disgusting High Chair). We had forgotten to bring any toys (strike two against us), but in his diaper bag, we found a grand total of two toys: a set of plastic keys and this fabric rattle thing that he loves. We took a ring off of the keys to make it seem as though there were really three toys. He would throw them on the floor (ew), and I would pick them up, clean them off, and hand them back. In the meantime, he would yell at the top of his lungs and grin, but we were rolling with it because it was nice to be out of the house as a family. An old man came by and ogled the baby. He couldn’t believe how cute he was. He was smitten, and we were appropriately proud. Things were going okay except for the shouting. To ease any tension that may have been arising about this, I finally picked BG up out of his high chair to see if this would quell the yelling for a bit, and it did.

Then our food began to come. J prepped some avocado while I got the baby situated in his (giant) high chair again. We both breathed a little easier knowing that soon our blood sugar would rise again as we nibbled on some spinach salad and appetizers, all the while feeding BG some tasty avocado. But Baby Genius has decided he’s no longer a fan of avocado. He is a fan of manipulating spoons covered in avocado and of slouching in his way-too-big high chair, and, as we learned today, he’s a big fan of yelling in restaurants, but actually eating avocado? Not so much.

J and I, despite our best efforts to roll with it all, were both starting to tense up. We could feel eyes on us from every direction. Suddenly we were those people with that baby. There were no children in this place–only couples, most of whom were likely touring wine country (oh, how I hate living in this tourist town), so even though this was typically  a very casual, family-friendly pizza place, at this moment, it was not.

Soon our pizza came, and this threw us over the edge. There were too many plates on the table. There was a hot pizza in BG’s reach. He was yelling even louder. The dirty looks from the tables-for-two were getting angrier. I picked the baby up out of his chair and held him against me while he blew raspberries against my chest and shouted into my cleavage. J asked the waitress, who smiled sympathetically at us, for some take-out boxes. We quickly packed up our stuff, paid our tab, left the waitress a nice, big tip, and headed out to eat at home. As we stood up to leave, I saw it: the ole stink-eye emanating from at least four sets of eyes. I could feel the collective sigh of relief as we walked out the door. Because we were both already so fried, and because we were flustered, I don’t know how much of that was perception and how much of it was real. I only know that it felt bad.

J and I debriefed in the car, as we tend to do. We both admitted that for the first time ever, we had felt embarrassed of our son. We just wanted him to stop shouting and let us have lunch without calling attention to us. Admitting this made us both feel terrible. We love our boy and how boisterous he’s becoming. He is curious, and when he finds something that amuses him, he does it over and over. This is one of my favorite traits of his; it’s something we celebrate and encourage, so long as it’s not harmful. The more I processed this, the more ashamed I was that we let any of this get to us at all.

But the truth of it all really came down to this: we used to occasionally be annoyed with loud children in eating establishments. We would try to be understanding, but because the child was never our own, it would be jarring to hear a child yelling or crying or otherwise carrying on like, say, a child. We vowed at some point before we had Baby Genius that if our child started getting loud or throwing a tantrum that we would get our food to go and then leave, which wasn’t such a bad plan. It’s just that we had never had to implement it, and once we were in that moment, it was a bummer. Who knows–maybe there was a little karma at play.

I never wanted to turn into a person who felt like she needed to apologize for her baby’s babyish behavior, but I also don’t want to be oblivious to other people’s public experiences. This is a hard line to walk, and I imagine I’ll eventually toughen up and ignore the stink-eye and the disapproving grumbles.

But until that toughening up transpires, we’ve decided that dining al fresco is the way to go. At least that way, the shouting won’t echo.

So tell me, those of you with older babies and toddlers, how do you handle dining out, if you do it at all? And those of you who don’t yet have kids, how would you handle it? We’re definitely interested in others’ thoughts/experiences here!

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9 Comments

Filed under Baby Genius, parenting

9 responses to “the ole stink-eye

  1. Cindyhoo2

    Outdoor dining, that’s a great plan! It sounds as though BG was keeping himself happily entertained 😉 too bad there weren’t more children there at the time you went in. From what I have already begun to understand, it sounds as though most of the world is poised to judge your (and our) parenting decisions anyway. It seems that you are striking a happy medium between the other diners and your own needs. I’ll bet he was utterly precious though!

  2. A.

    I actually laughed out loud as you described him blowing raspberries into your chest and shouting into your cleavage – though I imagine you didn’t feel like laughing at that point!

    I have to admit that as hard as we tried before baby, we occasionally got annoyed at THAT family. THAT baby screaming in our restaurant. How the tables have turned! Like you, we try to walk a fine line between letting Owen be loud and normal, and figuring out when everyone around us has just reached their limit.

    Either way, I like that you tried to make it work. I bet the next time, it will, and you can eat your pizza at the restaurant!

  3. GP has ruined plenty of meal – we typically don’t go unless we know it’s totally family friendly or will be somewhat empty at the time we are going.

    i do find myself giving people the stink eye when their child is screaming out of frustration, and they are either 1. cursing at the child (frequent on NYC trains) or 2. restaining the child, thus making him/her scream more or 3. not responding. i can tell the difference between happy noise and frustrated screams. i’m a-okay with happy noise.

    before i got pregnant, i hated when people would bring screaming or loud talking babies/children to movies that weren’t age appropriate. at 9pm, i should not hear your screaming 2 year old at an R rated movie. you should have gotten a sitter.

    i still believe this even with child, especially with movie prices being close to $15 per person. i hardly take GP to a movie (unless it’s a children’s film). i respect the fact that most people (including myself) don’t want to hear a crying baby at the movies. even in a children’s film, if she’s getting out of hand, i take her to the lobby.

  4. We’ve got a 3 year old and a 5 month old (who has recently found her voice. while adorable, its also quite LOUD) so eating out does get tricky. Fortunately we’ve only had one of those stink-eye experiences, though I also found it to be surprisingly unnerving and there is no doubt that my tension escalated the situation. Dining outdoors works great for our kids; not only are sounds better dissipated, but there’s also much more to catch thier attention and keep them occupied. We also do little things to make it smoother like looking up the menu ahead of time, asking for the check to come with the meal, and plan our dining out times on what’s easiest for the kids (really sucessful times are when the baby takes a little nap in the ergo while the rest of us eat). The bottom line is that you do the best you can but there will still be disapproving stares – and for that, I’m working on growing a thicker skin as we speak…

  5. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. What we do is not put Miles in the high chair until the food has arrived. This usually means bouncing him on our knee while looking over the menu, letting him crawl around on the booth, walking him around the restaurant, etc. If we forget to bring toys, a spoon happens to be a great toy. Or a straw 🙂 He’s usually really good when the food arrives, but we make sure to give him a lot of variety, and he demands to have what we’re eating usually, so pieces of that must be included (one of us will try to order something that he can eat as well, although he’s pretty much eating everything these days). Then the race is on for us to eat our meals before Miles gets restless. Luckily, we tend to get at least 20 minutes before his breaking point. Then one of us will deal with him as we did before the food arrived while the other one finishes eating, and vice versa.

    Personally, I hated the period of screeching. But after a couple months, he stopped doing it and moved on to babbling so it’s a lot more within the range of typical restaurant noise. But there will always be times when I feel it’s best to just leave to avoid a meltdown. Timing is a big part of that (his afternoon nap must be obeyed, so brunch and early dinners are better).

  6. So well thought out and written. I’m glad you’ve brought it up.

    I think you did the very best you could do in the situation and I’m sure I would have had the same embarrassed response. And then felt guilty for being embarrassed.

    My worry is that we eat out a lot. MB works in one of the uppity venues downtown and part of her job is networking with other foodie restaurants and wineries around. I love doing this with her and we’ve spent many 4 hour dinners out. I eat great food. She “works.” How we could possibly manage even one event like that with a baby?

    Babies are babies and the only time a parent should get the stink eye is if they’re doing something improper with her child. This is of course subjective, but I think along the lines giggleblue pointed out, i.e. cursing, restraining.

    Thank goodness it’s spring and what is sure to be a good 5 months of great weather. Dining outside is a great option. But even inside, no matter the occasion, I think we need to tuck our social expectations for families away at times and embrace happy baby shrieks. I’m sure going to try.

    xo

  7. Sounds like you guys handled it very well indeed! My only advice, having done this with many nanny kiddos for a dozen years is… eat out more often! Have expectations and keep working toward them. Don’t avoid it, don’t let go of the dream you have of spending a lovely, well behaved meal with BG out and about in the world… and then just stay flexible with what you’re doing to get there!

  8. judecorp

    We have always gone to restaurants with Punk. We make sure that they are family restaurants and then we are “all business” once we are there.

    When she was younger, if she started getting antsy, one of us would take her outside or to another part of the restaurant (fish tank, dessert case, etc.) as a distraction. And we have/had a bag of toys that ONLY went to restaurants (we kept it in the car) so that it was novel.

    Once she got to be about 15 months or so, we collected all of those free address labels that charities send – we collected from the whole family – and we brought them to restaurants with a notebook because they are STICKERS. And she would stick them all over the notebook until the food came.

    I have never allowed standing on the seat, turning to other tables, getting down on the floor, or anything else. It’s always just been not an option, and thankfully, she is not terribly testy when she knows I mean business.

    When she was in the screechy stage, we kept to places that had music, TVs, or lots of kids. 🙂

  9. We have a word for that at our house: unrestaurantable.

    It happened around your son’s age and also around Trucker’s age right now: 21 months.

    We just get a lot of take-out at the unrestaurantable ages. It just isn’t worth the effort. Then, after a month or so, we test the waters again at a pizza place our somewhere loud and busy. I guess we’re less energetic than some of your other readers. But know this — it does pass. And fairly quickly.

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