Picture the scene-a fancy café in the heart of the city. Shelves packed full of arty cookbooks and Etsy-esque trinkets and delph line every wall. It is lunchtime and the place is packed. Waiting staff scurry from table to table clutching over sized wooden cheese boards adorned with immaculately arranged salads and hearty sandwiches. A group takes its seats in the middle of the room; three adults and two small children. The children are boisterous and unruly. They refuse to sit in high chairs, or regular chairs, or even their mother’s lap. They flit from customer to customer, greeting them loudly and enquiring about their day. Some of the adults are charmed, some visibly recoil. Undeterred, the children continue on their mission to chat to everyone seated in the cafe at that particular moment in time.
The waitress approaches the party of five and asks would the children like some colouring books. Frantic nods from the adults agree to this kind offer. The books and crayons are dispatched and peace reigns. For all of sixty seconds. Then questions emerge about the chips. Where are they? When are they coming? Time passes on and no chips appear. One of the adults takes the smaller child for a walk about. The other child refuses to disengage from a game of fling the dolly across the room. Some good-natured customers at a nearby table join in with the game much to the delight of the child. One of the adults in the group inquires about the use of an iPad to keep the nippers entertained. The mother explains she is trying to limit screen time for them.
Eventually, after a wait of almost thirty-five minutes, the food arrives. The children wolf down their chips and raisins that the mother has brought for them in record time. One of the adult in the group leaves as her lunchtime is over. That leaves a ratio of one child per adult. These are not good odds. The mother has still half of her food remaining on her plate when the smallest child refuses point-blank to sit in her high chair for any longer. Frazzled, the mother acquiesces to her rather vocal demands and begins to put her coat on and strap her into the buggy. At this point, the older child, who looks to be too old for a high chair, climbs up onto the table, begins to jump up on down on it and knocks over a jar containing a lit candle. The scarlet faced mother plucks the child off the table, administers a swift smack on the bottom and bundles the now bawling child up the stairs and out of the room. Peace is restored to the cafe, and the customers return to enjoying their lunch.
Those unruly and seemingly out of control kids were mine. That shame faced mother me. I’m not in the habit of smacking my kids. I don’t think it’s right to hit children, nor do I don’t think it’s an effective form of punishment but sometimes small children test me in ways that I just can’t handle, especially with forty plus pairs of eyes locked on mine and a cacophony of tut-tuttings and murmured disapproval causing my ears to burn.
But let’s look at this from my children’s point of view. They arrive at a strange new place. There are so many new friends to be made and so many exciting things on the shelves to be played with. How can they possibly be expected to sit still and wait? But wait they do. They are asked to play with colouring books so they do. They ask their mum when the chips are going to arrive. She tells them soon, but ages and ages and ages pass and still no chips. Finally the chips do arrive so they gobble them up and the dessert provided in half the time it takes the adults to finish their meal. And now they are expected to sit still and wait some more????
We take children to places that are really only suitable for adults and expect them to enjoy the experience just as much as we do as grown ups. Expecting small children to act like adults is frankly ludicrous yet we as parents do so every single day and then lament the fact that our children are unruly. Or worse bold.
“You’re so bold,” we tell them. But really they are just attempting to come to terms with their surroundings with a brain that is only beginning to develop into something resembling our own. It seems like an unreal amount of expectation from us but at the same time it’s hard to adjust when you’ve spent so much of your life trying to find out what it is that you love, and finding out where you feel happiest, it’s only natural you want to share these experiences with your kids. To learn that these are things that don’t bestow the same levels of pleasure to your offspring is upsetting and let’s be honest, a bit of a buzz kill.
So what is to be done? Well my knee jerk reaction to today’s incident is I never want to bring my kids to a restaurant again. At least until they’re a good deal older. Perhaps until they are happy enough with an activity that will keep them entertained in a seating position for a long period of time that’s not an iPad. Older children can join in conversations and I’m reliably informed, will be more than happy to while away the time with colouring books. I need to give my kids the time to develop more rather than expecting them to be content in the world of adults right off the bat. It’s a case of expectation versus actuality and it’s one lesson that I seem to be extremely slow to learn as a parent.