Thursday, November 10, 2005
me and my "rowdy" child... *sigh*
no mama/no kid zone
not too long ago, i walked into the border's cafe with k'zilla in the stroller and the looks i got were so cold that i immediately felt unwelcome and guilty. it's actually a very familiar feeling, we've gotten the same looks boarding the L, waiting to board airplanes, etc...
i was already having a blue day. i needed a place to "be" ouside the home. i needed a warm drink and an unfamiliar set of four walls - just to break up the monotony of our shared day. i needed to remember what it was like to be around people my height.
i made sure that before entering the cafe section, i purchased a few magazines and a jumbo coloring book to support the bookstore and keep us entertained. yes, even i was skeptical but hopeful that k'zilla would use her "inside voice" and behave long enough for the both of us to have a snack and share a little "quiet" time.
to my delight, the little bambina shone like a star. she was very well behaved, used her inside voice, ate her snack and colored away (outside the lines :)). but, i know from ear splitting, gut wrenching, heartbreaking experience that she wouldn't have done so if it weren't for all the other times that she didn't behave properly and we had to teach her how to do so - in real time, in real places, in real life situations.
so, it's stories like the one printed in the NYT that strikes me so hard. i first caught a glimpse of it on chicagoist and again this morning on wgn tv. though many people see this issue as parents vs. non-parents, it's really about the intolerance and immaturity of people who should know better - with or without kids.
again looking back as a mother with a very loud and rowdy child, i remember how often i isolated ourselves from the world for fear of disturbing my fellow human's sensibilities. by virtue of who i am and what i look like, i always tried to blend in with my surroundings. all of a sudden, that anonymity was gone and with it my independence to a certain extent. i was lonelier than i had ever been in my entire life. that was part of the reason why i started blogging, in an effort to keep in "soundless" touch with the world outside.
finally, i got to meet other new moms and felt the courage to attend coffee and brunch dates. sometimes, k'zilla behaved and other times, we would have to leave. but again, k'zilla wouldn't know how to behave if i'd never gotten the chance to teach her.
are there parents out there who don't pay attention to their children? sure there are. but before anyone goes judging them - they should walk a mile in their vomit & snot spattered shoes. i don't know any parent who willingly lets their kid(s) run ape sh*t in a public place - especially if it's a place that they visit daily or weekly.
just because we're parents doesn't mean there aren't those days when you want to leave your child in a park with a "free to good home" sign around his/her neck. but, you don't, you can either stay in your house and cry in a corner or maybe just maybe - go to a cafe/restaurant and calm down, take a breath and maybe catch a break, if not a little perspective.
ultimately, i think the sign at taste of heaven is humiliating - especially to spanking brand new parents.
i was surprised to read that other restaurants/cafes in other neighborhoods already had similar signage posted. and to add insult to injury, was the overwhelming postive response in favor of the restaurants & cafes.can restaurants/cafes post signs? by all means, yes. can they do it with a little more sensitivity? you bet they can. i don't care that the sign at taste of heaven says "...children of ALL ages..." - the sign is posted about 2 ft from the ground with kids handprints on it. if some vapid nimnull is raging on a cell phone, the last thing s/he is going to do is look at a sign posted 2 ft from the ground. that's funny, i haven't seen a sign like that in a restaurant, but it would be totally insensitive and intolerant of me to say anything about it, i suppose....
and does anyone give a sh*t that the owner of the bakery took insulting/lame potshots at the parents that do frequent his establishment. nope. if he insulted homosexuals or a whole race of people, the city would be up in arms, but hey let's sh*t on those parents. they made a "choice". yeah, who's having a toddler tantrum now? why can't the taste of heaven staff be as respectful as they expect others to be, instead of resorting to public humiliation?
after reading the NYT article, i also couldn't believe that women and children first bookstore had actually asked a woman to leave because she wouldn't stop breastfeeding. WTF?! and again, people wondered why parents were boycotting/complaining. HELLO!? the bookstore is f*cking called WOMEN AND CHILDREN FIRST.
i'll never forget stepping off a bus in san francisco years ago and thinking almost immediately how it seemed very un-family friendly to me. it was why among other reasons we decided to move to chicago and now this!?
imho - it's silly of those parents to boycott taste of heaven, toast or john's place. just go and support businesses in the area that do want you. easy peasy. i'm very lucky to have cafe luna near to me which actually has a kids menu and a kids area with kid size tables and toys.
all in all, it's kinda sad coz i used to work in an art gallery in andersonville for years in the 90s and i can remember when it was very residential, unhip and family friendly. years later, when i returned from san francisco, the neighborhood had definitely changed and was inhabited by the young and hip. i was so happy to discover a taste of heaven when it was still on foster. although i never sat in there with my nephews or nieces, we used to buy all of the family special occasion cakes at taste of heaven. i wasn't surprised but somehwat disappointed to see a cake from cafe selmarie at a party my sister hosted this past weekend. don't get me wrong, i love cafe selmarie, but it was just sad to not see a cake from taste of heaven.
anyway, the article follows...
The New York Times
November 9, 2005
At Center of a Clash, Rowdy Children in Coffee Shops
By JODI WILGOREN
CHICAGO, Nov. 8 - Bridget Dehl shushed her 21-month-old son, Gavin, then clapped a hand over his mouth to squelch his tiny screams amid the Sunday brunch bustle. When Gavin kept yelping "yeah, yeah, yeah," Ms. Dehl whisked him from his highchair and out the door.
Right past the sign warning the cafe's customers that "children of all ages have to behave and use their indoor voices when coming to A Taste of Heaven," and right into a nasty spat roiling the stroller set in Chicago's changing Andersonville neighborhood.
The owner of A Taste of Heaven, Dan McCauley, said he posted the sign - at child level, with playful handprints - in the hope of quieting his tin-ceilinged cafe, where toddlers have been known to sprawl between tables and hurl themselves at display cases for sport.
But many neighborhood mothers took umbrage at the implied criticism of how they handle their children. Soon, whispers of a boycott passed among the playgroups in this North Side neighborhood, once an outpost of avant-garde artists and hip gay couples but now a hot real estate market for young professional families shunning the suburbs.
"I love people who don't have children who tell you how to parent," said Alison Miller, 35, a psychologist, corporate coach and mother of two. "I'd love for him to be responsible for three children for the next year and see if he can control the volume of their voices every minute of the day."
Mr. McCauley, 44, said the protesting parents were "former cheerleaders and beauty queens" who "have a very strong sense of entitlement." In an open letter he handed out at the bakery, he warned of an "epidemic" of antisocial behavior.
"Part of parenting skills is teaching kids they behave differently in a restaurant than they do on the playground," Mr. McCauley said in an interview. "If you send out positive energy, positive energy returns to you. If you send out energy that says I'm the only one that matters, it's going to be a pretty chaotic world."
And so simmers another skirmish between the childless and the child-centered, a culture clash increasingly common in restaurants and other public spaces as a new generation of busy, older, well-off parents ferry little ones with them.
An online petition urging child-free sections in North Carolina restaurants drew hundreds of signers, including Janelle Funk, who wrote, "Whenever a hostess asks me 'smoking or non-smoking?' I respond, 'No kids!' "
At Mendo Bistro in Fort Bragg, Calif., the owners declare "Well-behaved children and parents welcome" to try to stop unmonitored youngsters from tap-dancing on the 100-year-old wood floors.
Menus at Zumbro Cafe in Minneapolis say: "We love children, especially when they're tucked into chairs and behaving," which Barbara Daenzer said she read as an invitation to cease her weekly breakfast visits after her son was born.
Even at the Full Moon in Cambridge, Mass., a cafe created for families, with a train table, a dollhouse and a plastic kitchen in a carpeted play area, there are rules about inside voices and a "No lifeguard on duty" sign to remind parents to take responsibility.
"You run the risk when you start monitoring behavior," said the Full Moon's owner, Sarah Wheaton. "You can say no cellphones to people, but you can't say your father speaks too loudly, he has to keep his voice down. And you can't really say your toddler is too loud when she's eating."
Here in Chicago, parents have denounced Toast, a popular Lincoln Park breakfast spot, as unwelcoming since a note about using inside voices appeared on the menu six months ago. The owner of John's Place, which resembles a kindergarten class at recess in early evening, established a separate "family friendly" room a year ago, only to face parental threats of lawsuits.
Many of the Andersonville mothers who are boycotting Mr. McCauley's bakery also skip story time at Women and Children First, a feminist bookstore, because of the rules: children can be kicked out for standing, talking or sipping drinks. When a retail clerk at the bookstore asked a woman to stop breast-feeding last spring, "the neighborhood set him straight real fast," said Mary Ann Smith, the area's alderwoman.
After a dozen years at one site, Mr. McCauley moved A Taste of Heaven six blocks away in May 2004, to a busy corner on Clark Street. But there, he said, teachers and writers seeking afternoon refuge were drowned out not just by children running amok but also by oblivious cellphone chatterers.
Children were climbing the cafe's poles. A couple were blithely reading the newspaper while their daughter lay on the floor blocking the line for coffee. When the family whose children were running across the room to throw themselves against the display cases left after his admonishment, Mr. McCauley recalled, the restaurant erupted in applause.
So he put up the sign. Then things really got ugly.
"The looks I would get when I went in there made me so nervous that I would try to buy the food as fast as I could and get out," said Laura Brauer, 40, who has stopped visiting A Taste of Heaven with her two children. "I think that the mothers who allow their kids to run around and scream, that's wrong, but kids scream and there is nothing you can do about it. What are we supposed to do, not enjoy ourselves at a cafe?"
Ms. Miller said that one day when her son, then 4 months old, was fussing, a staff member rolled her eyes and announced for all to hear, "We've got a screamer!"
Kim Cavitt recalled having coffee and a cookie one afternoon with her boisterous 2-year-old when "someone came over and said you just need to keep her quiet or you need to leave."
"We left, and we haven't been back since," Ms. Cavitt said. "You go to a coffee shop or a bakery for a rest, to relax, and that you would have to worry the whole time about your child doing something that children do - really what they're saying is they don't welcome children, they want the child to behave like an adult."
Why suffer such scorn, the mothers said, when clerks at the Swedish Bakery, a neighborhood institution, offer children - calm or crying - free cookies? Why confront such criticism when the recently opened Sweet Occasions, a five-minute walk down Clark Street, designed the restroom aisle to accommodate double strollers and offers a child-size ice cream cone for $1.50? (At A Taste of Heaven, the smallest is $3.75.)
"It's his business; he has the right to put whatever sign he wants on the door," Ms. Miller said. "And people have the right to respond to that sign however they want."
Mr. McCauley said he had received kudos from several restaurant owners in the area, though none had followed his lead. He has certainly lost customers because of the sign, but some parents say the offense is outweighed by their addiction to the scones, and others embrace the effort at etiquette.
"The litmus test for me is if they have highchairs or not," said Ms. Dehl, the woman who scooped her screaming son from his seat during brunch, as she waited out his restlessness on a sidewalk bench. "The fact that they had one highchair, and the fact that he's the only child in the restaurant is an indication that it's an adult place, and if he's going to do his toddler thing, we should take him out and let him run around."
Mr. McCauley said he would rather go out of business than back down. He likens this one small step toward good manners to his personal effort to decrease pollution by hiring only people who live close enough to walk to work.
"I can't change the situation in Iraq, I can't change the situation in New Orleans," he said. "But I can change this little corner of the world."
Gretchen Ruethling contributed reporting for this article.