Toddler still has much to learn about social decency
We were in a crowded movie theatre the first time our son seriously acted up in public.
My wife and I were feeling a little cooped up that Tuesday evening and had a couple of movie gift passes that needed to be used before they expired.
Grayson, about 11 months old at the time, was sound asleep. After weighing the pros and cons of our situation, we convinced ourselves that he’d probably sleep through the show and wouldn’t be a problem.
We decided to chance it.
We made it to the theatre, got our popcorn and found our seats. Grayson hadn’t even flinched.
Our impromptu family outing was going perfectly and we began to relax.
When the movie started, the baby began to stir.
Five minutes later he was fully alert, crawling over my shoulder and shouting happy gibberish to neighbouring moviegoers.
All efforts to calm him down were futile. He was wide awake, refreshed and in the mood to socialize.
Fearing the wrath of the audience, I looked at Amanda and said, “We have to go — now.”
Since that fateful night, Grayson has created all kinds of awkward, mortifying social scenes — from high-pitched shrieking in quiet restaurants, to barking like a dog at people in line at the grocery store.
As expected, we’ve made countless personal compromises since the baby came along, especially where our social lives are concerned.
Unwilling to completely deprive ourselves of human interaction, we’re gradually figuring out how to take him out in public while keeping the peace.
The first thing we learned about was the value of timing.
Going out for an evening meal, for example, must be carefully scheduled between supper time and bed time.
Too early and he’ll be hungry.
Too late and he’ll be tired.
Location is vital. Pubs are out, as are most fine-dining establishments. We’ve identified most of the nearby places that offer a kids menu.
Efficiency is also key. Long seating delays or slow table service can have devastating consequences.
As all parents know, the trouble with toddlers is the ridiculously short attention span. One cannot carry a bag of toys big enough to keep them entertained through an entire restaurant visit.
From the moment we are seated, we have a window of about 45-55 minutes in which to enjoy the outing before the squirming and squawking reaches a fever pitch.
Once secured in the high-chair, he will immediately focus on the silverware and condiments. Simply removing these items from reach is certain to result in angry shrieking, so Mom and Dad must quickly employ the ‘distract and amuse’ method. Car keys or a favourite toy will buy precious minutes.
It is good strategy to order a plate of French fries ahead of our own meals, as he is generally quiet and well-behaved while stuffing his face.
A cup of chocolate milk will also help pacify, but can cause sugar-related silliness later on.
He makes a huge mess, but that’s OK because my wife now carries a wet face cloth in a Ziploc bag everywhere we go. I usually tip a few bucks to compensate the poor waitress who is left with the ketchup-soaked aftermath.
Once our meals arrive, we eat quickly, sharing tiny bits of our food to appease his curiosity.
Coffee and dessert aren’t an option — unless he happens to fall asleep in the high chair.
When he starts emitting a nasally, escalating whine and throws his head back violently, that’s our cue to exit.
Leaving the house with toddler in tow is not impossible, but it certainly comes with a whole new set of challenges and obstacles.
Occasionally, we’ll get nasty glares from fellow diners or restaurant staff, but more often than not we’re met with understanding smiles and sympathetic comments.
So the next time you get seated next to a noisy, messy baby, cut the parents a little slack.
Toddlers generally have a poor grasp of etiquette and social decorum.
Leo Paré is the Advocate’s online editor. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/LeoPare. Email him at email@example.com