By Gregory Keer
I've spent a lifetime practicing and teaching tolerance. But I can't deny myself this one shred of prejudice. I hate people who don't like to be around children.
It all began with my first child, nine years ago. As I proudly strolled with Benjamin, I reveled in the smiles he elicited from onlookers. On the occasions when someone would not crack a grin, I'd think, "How cuteness-challenged do you have to be to ignore my little angel?"
Unfortunately, I've learned that too many grown-ups don't get it. While I know my brood of three sons can create chaos, I'm disturbed by people who can't be melted by my kids' sweetness and laughter. It galls me when adults who attend matinees of animated films "shush" my boys for asking innocent questions like, "Is that lion nice?" I want to fire back at these people, "Aren't you the ones in the wrong place?"
One recent Sunday night, my family sat down at an Indian eatery for a 5 p.m. dinner. The food took ages to arrive and while we waited, our kids got antsy.
"I'm staaarving! … I want to color! … Can I lie down on your lap," our children pouted. We pacified them with moderate success, but the party of middle-aged adults behind us was unconvinced that we were doing enough to make their dining experience genteel.
We overheard one of the women say, "It's rude for them to bring their children here. It's bothering everyone."
This put us on edge because we try to be good citizens in a society that feels children should not act their age unless they are on a playground or in a rodent-themed pizza-arcade.
Then, little Ari (not yet 2 at the time) chose to whine at a decibel that, to us, was quite normal. He didn't like his high chair, nor did he much care for his chicken vindaloo.
At this point, another woman in the grumpy group said, "Where's the waiter? We need to move."
The foursome did transfer booths, but they continued griping to the service staff so noticeably that we felt compelled to hurry our children through their meal.
On our way out, I vented to these sour people, "What did you expect us to do?"
Curling her lip, one woman said, "You should have taken your child out of the restaurant."
Steaming, I fired back, "This is a community that includes families. And this is the family dinner hour. If you'd wanted a nice quiet time, you could have waited until 8 p.m."
Unimpressed by my argument, the other woman said, "We obviously disagree."
Unable to respond, I was saved by another father, who was just sitting down with his already crying toddler. He said, with a conspiratorial smile, "Don't worry, we'll take care of them."
Unfortunately, I don't always have brothers-in-arms to back me up. Last summer, we went to a live version of The Sound of Music at an open-air theater. While the show played, Jacob (then 4) occasionally sang quietly along. But with the first note he warbled, a woman in front of us whipped her head around and glared at him. We tried to ignore her, especially since other adults throughout the amphitheater were also singing, yet this woman continued a barrage of "shushes" every time Jacob hummed or whispered a bar of music.
We repeatedly asked Jacob to "sing in his head," changed seats with him, and held our hand over his mouth when he hit a high note. Still, this grouch spent much of the time shooting murderous looks. So we started singing along, too - and watched smoke rise from that woman's head.
Grown-ups deserve outings free from kids' noise in such environments as expensive restaurants and evening classical concerts. But in most other settings, brittle adults should not restrict young ones who wriggle and giggle in their love of just being kids. The world is too full of silence about the happy aspects of life and too loud with anxiety and whining. I'm likely preaching to the converted here, but I hope to rally parents to let their children be seen and heard, especially in places where people, whether they realize it or not, really need them.