On the street where I grew up, we knew better than to misbehave because we had 30 sets of parents–60 pairs of eyes–who were keeping a watch on us. Any parent could correct another child’s behavior, followed up with a telephone call to the child’s parents to explain the circumstances. In loco parentis worked quite well on our street.
That is not always the case, however.
Many years ago, I was having lunch with my parents. There was a table nearby where two families and their children were having lunch. The adults were laughing and enjoying the moment and ignoring the children, who were done with their meals and playing a game of tag in the restaurant. We endured the annoyance for 15 minutes as they ran back and forth around the tables. Finally, when a little boy ran into our table, spilling the water from our glasses, my mother quietly looked up from her meal and looked him in the eye.
“My goodness,” she said quietly. “Aren’t you a little brat?”
She went back to her meal. The child stood frozen for a moment, then ran back to his place at the table.
I assumed he would whine to his parents that the mean lady scolded him, but instead he took his seat and sat quietly.
Fast forward to last year.
I was helping a friend move from Florida to Ohio. She had most of her possessions loaded onto the van, but she needed help driving her dog and two cats, so I volunteered.
We arrived in town late and checked into a motel for the night. There was a restaurant — a burger joint, actually–across the street from the motel, so we walked over without unloading the car. It was winter but the car was warm. The animals would be fine in the car for a few more minutes while we ate.
I opened the restaurant door and we stepped into what looked like a food fight. There were chairs overturned, spilled sodas dripping onto the floor, half-eaten sandwiches strewn across the floor. Children running this way and that, laughing, screaming, throwing ice cubes at each other. One of the boys — a freckled redhead who reminded me of Opie on the old Andy Griffith Show–seemed to be the ringleader.
Four tables were pushed together. At one end was the flotsam and jetsam of these maniacal childrens’ meals. At the other end sat a half-dozen adults engaged in lively banter. Laughing, sharing photos on their cell phones. Having a lovely time. What they were not doing was paying any attention to the children.
We thought about leaving but decided to wait them out. Mercifully, they did leave. When we went to pay the bill, we commiserated with the staff.
“They are here for a wrestling tournament. This is their second night here and we have two more to go,” the young man behind the cash register said. “The manager said we can’t refuse to serve them.”
He had to have been a high school student. I admired his maturity and restraint. As we spoke, the rest of the staff attacked the mess with mops and disinfectant. It seemed like an extraordinary amount of dedication to a minimum-wage job.
We went back to the rooms: she with the cats and I with the dog. Our rooms were on the first floor.
When you travel with animals, they usually reserve the first floor rooms for pets. It makes it easier to get he dog outside to do his business, but it also segregates the animals into one area of the hotel.
Apparently, unchaperoned children fall into that same category.
We were only a few feet down the hallway when we heard the familiar screams and laughter. Children in footed pajamas ran past us in the hallway. I spotted Opie and his friends.
We passed a room where the adult chaperones had congregated. They were half-in/half out of the room. The music was blaring; they were again paying no attention to the children in their charge.
I went into my room and set my things down. The dog was going to need a walk before I could convince him that it was time to go to bed.
As we walked down the hallway towards a door, the children were still running about. I headed toward the exit door and came face-to-face with my old pal Opie, who was frozen in place. He was focused on the dog. He was, I realized, afraid of dogs.
I shortened the leash so that the dog could not possibly jump on the boy. (Not that this sweet dog would ever do anything other than lick someone.)
We walked towards the door and Opie remained frozen. As we walked past him in the hallway I said,” “Don’t worry. The dog only bites children who are very loud or obnoxious.”
Opie let out a gasp.
I took the dog out do to do his business and I cleaned up after him.
When we walked back into the motel, the hallways were clear and quiet and we enjoyed and good night’s sleep.
I have had meals, trans-continental flights, and theater performances ruined by children allowed to run wild while their parents ignored them. I certainly understand the stress of raising children and having to get away from them a bit.
But I must ask: If you don’t want to discipline your children while you go out to eat, wouldn’t it be better to just hire a babysitter?
I, for one, would appreciate it.