I traveled, sans kids, over the recent holiday weekend. As it happens when one lives for years up state, being around so many people in one place is difficult. The thruway was bumper to bumper and the rest stops were crawling with travelers headed off to a weekend of R&R. However, anyone who travels often, particularly with children, knows that you have to go through a bunch of H&H (hell and horror) on your way to R&R. I noticed such a family at one of our rest stops. They had two children, presumably twins, and presumably about 18 months old. The kids were little cutie patooties. They clutched their parents' hands as they toddled excitedly around the restaurant. They sat and ate, their tiny heads barely looking over the table. Then, they started screaming. I noticed all of these details- except the screaming. A hundred concerts and an equal amount of running miles sporting ear buds has made me a little deaf, and background sounds are often a dull buzz for me. Plus, I think I hear whining, crying, and screeching so much that it's just a normal part of my life's soundtrack.
Someone dining next to me heard these little folks loud and clear. And didn't like it one bit. "That noise is ruining everyone's lunch," said this particular diner, "I have no tolerance for that. Those children need to be taken out of here." I quietly glanced around at the other people around us- some were looking at the scene while others were lost in their own conversations, and like me, didn't even notice. I sorta sunk down in my seat, peering at the family. The parents swiftly stuffed their meals in their mouths, swiped up all items on the table, picked up a kid under arm, and yes, disappeared from the dining area. I could sense the secret thoughts of those around me, "Oh good. We can all go back to eating our rubbery chicken wraps and Snapple's in the peace and quiet that we, childless travelers, deserve." How many eyes were on them, I wondered? Were there more people looking at the family than not? Did it seem like they were all as annoyed as the dissenting diner I'd heard? Is this what happens when I bring my kids out? Is everyone looking at me as nastily as they are this couple?
Back during the age of the pilgrims, and every generation between then and 5 minutes before I had kids, children were seen and not heard. My awful generation of over attentive, over sensitive, crazy consuming, screen addicted parents have brought children out of hiding and in your face- everywhere. Our brats are playing games on their annoyingly loud ipads, running up and down grocery store and airplane aisles, and screeching at a restaurant, church, doctor's office, park, and sometimes, work site, near you. Long gone are the days of birthing a babe, disappearing into a parental black hole, and resurfacing when you hit menopause. We like to play, we like to play with our kids, and thanks to our parents working well into their late 60's (or even 70's), the need for us to move for good jobs, and two working parents, we are often challenged with melding child rearing and office obligations. We are not closeted parents; we are out.
I often feel that I am living my life in front of a huge audience. It doesn't help that I'm super extroverted and take to social media regularly to air my daily laundry. That aside, I feel as though, when I am out in public, doing what needs to be done, eyes are on me. Am I paranoid? Maybe? Am I a narcissist? Possibly. For someone who likes to be the center of attention, I have to say that, when I am with the kids, I often wish we were wall flowers.
Maybe nobody notices us and I'm making it up in my head. Maybe people are looking at us and are not approving. When I bring up this fear to friends and family, they tell me, "Don't care what other people think about you!" Well, congratulations to all of you for being the bold, audacious, amazingly confident people that you are. When I am with Charlotte the Terrible and Caroline, the Lightweight Tantrum Champ of Six Year Olds, I can't help but feel like I'm in high school, awkwardly carrying my tray of meatloaf and carton of chocolate milk past the cool girls' table.
Teenagers are so mean. They bully those who are different and have no tolerance for anything but perfect (even if they are far from it). To err is to die when you are a teen. Then we grow up and we get all accepting, and mature, and better. Right? We help people when they are in need and we don't judge a book by its cover. Right?
I have been that person at the rest stop so many times before. The Tantrumettas almost always seem to act up during a break from a lengthy car drive, in which we allow them 15 minutes to pee and eat and then get back into the car for a zillion more hours. What kid isn't pissed off about doing nothing but sitting in a car seat next to her annoying sibling who keeps looking at her, and listening to her parents argue about in-laws and money? What baby isn't finicky if she has sat in her pee pee dipe for 4 hours and then only gets to nurse with mom in a dirty bathroom for 15 minutes with no sleepy snuggle time after? Hey, I know car trips put me in a fantastic mood! I'm all smiles and sweetness.
I'm sure you think I'm going to end this with a plea for empathy. Please, people! Understand that my life with kids is so very hard and I'm really sorry that I'm ruining your Mickey D's milkshake because my kids are stomping in the seat next to you chanting the theme to My Little Ponies. Yes! Feel bad for me because you get to return to your quiet, clean, perfect temperature car and listen to your favorite radio station or book on CD while I go back to a dirty, stinky, too hot car and listen, simultaneously, to two different episodes of an annoying kids' show that I've already overheard 300 times. Weren't you a parent once, too? If not, weren't you a kid?
Woe is me, blah, blah, too bad, so sad. Enough of that! Yes, my kids are often acting like a-holes and I know that when I'm out in public with you when we'd all be happier if I weren't, but I'm walking by the cool kids table, with my brats in tow, with my held high. If you don't like it, I hear there are a growing number of places that are kid-free. I encourage you to check them out. I know I plan to on my next date night.