My daughter has an attachment disorder. When she is anything but entirely comfortable she talks constantly, animatedly and without ceasing. My son has aspergers syndrome. He talks at high volume in an unmodulated voice.
In other words, my children are sometimes rather LOUD.
Consequently, we don’t spend a whole heck of a lot of time in restaurants. But the other day we had a family date with another mother and her aspergian son and her peppy daughter and, sure enough, the table next to us complained.
See, we had thought we could have a peaceful night out with the kids.
We had walked into the restaurant and immediately seen a large, multigenerational family in the big center table. They’d smiled big, friendly, relieved smiles to see us. They knew we, with our four potentially rowdy elementary school aged kids, would balance they and their two little guys right out.
But we all knew we’d all be trying to keep our children as well-behaved as possible for the comfort of other diners…
Our sons were excited to see each other. They began putting on raucous, clearly innocent and dorky (vs. aggressive or obnoxious - and why do I feel the need to point this out?) plays with their chopsticks. This friendship has been a beacon of hope for both boys, who struggle socially in their own schools.
Our gals were excited to see each other, chatty, berating their big brothers for being “annoying.”
Maybe four minutes after we sat down, a server approached our table. She was super sweet: “We don’t mind your kids at all but another table is very upset…” They informed us we were welcome to eat in the other part of the restaurant. The closed part? That is usually unused?
We knew it wasn’t her fault and agreed right away, trying to leave as little mess behind as possible, taking our glasses etc. with us, faces burning.
Someone from the other family asked what was going on. Looking straight at the offending table, I informed the nice family in a clear, LOUD voice that someone had complained about our children, despite the fact that they were being relatively well-behaved. I explained that we had to move to another room.
There’s a ferocity to motherhood that once made polite, feminist me hiss the B word at a woman who sniped about my letting my young child play under the table at a restaurant (at the time he'd been diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder and I knew he was overwhelmed by restaurant stimuli). ...A protectiveness that had me retorting “What are you whistling at? You better not be whistling at my baby!” at pregnancy catcallers.
As well as that loving ferocity and protectiveness, there is a sadness when someone judges your child on his or her appearance or on other inevitable aspects of their being. Doesn’t acceptance start in the little things? Allowing children to make a little noise? Reach for their Skittles? Be included even if they are a different color or neurology or different ^$%@%^% ANYTHING?
Don’t ALL children learn through having opportunities to broaden their experiences? By moving outside of their homes and their neighborhoods to restaurants, different streets, neighborhoods, cultures??? Don’t they deserve as many chances to grow as we are able to offer them?
Children who are held to basic standards of kindness yet allowed to make mistakes in the niceties without dreadful repercussions may grow up to be accepting, no?
Post the Zimmerman verdict, I listen to my friends with sons of color talking and writing about how they instruct their sons: “Don’t act suspicious,” “Stay quiet,” “Keep your hands visible, “Don’t make yourself a target”…
A week ago I might’ve ventured to hope that we were moving away from the necessity for such admonitions.
How far are we willing to go to keep our kids quiet? How far to keep them safe????
Acting “erratic” (G) and dining out while brown (Z) are definitely things I see in my kids’ futures. I want them to feel welcome in the world nonetheless! I thought taking them to a restaurant would be a good thing, but our good thing almost got eighty-sixed along with us.
Do you think, stern people of the next table, that we have not tried to have our children fit your behavioral standards? Do you not think we are doing our best and maybe occasionally deserve the right to go out and eat dumplings?
See those first few sentences of this post where I define my kids as their conditions? You, next-table chumps, have just gone one worse than defining my children by their conditions. You haven’t even given them a chance.
Sure, sometimes a noise complaint is just a noise complaint. But I think we owe it to ALL OUR CHILDREN to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Children raised like that will likely do the same for others.
Anyway, the restaurant had another room and we went there – and the other family actually got up and came over to hang out with us out of solidarity. (Thank you, warmhearted, inclusive, attractive, multigenerational family!)
So things ended up ducky.
Still, the next time you are in a restaurant (or someplace), won’t you smile at someone who is maybe a tiny bit out of their comfort zone? Maybe even ask to watch the chopstick drama?
Full Spectrum Mama