. . . FREE! AS THE PARENT of a youngster, I welcomed those words. I believed that I had an inalienable right not to need to pay for the tot’s entry anywhere. Not because I thought the world needed to experience the thrill of the company of my kid, but because convenient babysitters were scarce.
Thanks to the variety of my activities, this meant that I’d be hauling her to restaurants, concerts, galleries, rehearsal rooms, and business meetings, none of which is a favorite destination of a three-year-old.
And because I find the social presence of small children has the potential to be fantastically annoying, I was always terrified that my own offspring would erupt in some embarrassingly distracting manner.
Which she did. She had the small child’s center-of-the-universe need to have the bright lights of adult attention turned her way at all waking moments, and the frustrated brat’s ability to vigorously protest the lack of such attention.
When my wife was with us, we could tag-team the attention-giving. You can’t punish a dervish. The “time out” is a cruelty devised by selfish grown-ups. Yelling at yelling provokes more yelling. You can no more still such a potent energy source than you can put out the sun.
Some of the early incidents took us by surprise. Stupidly, amazingly, we dragged the three-year-old to see “The Fantasticks” as it was closing its original Manhattan run. We reasoned (with whatever reason is given to the parents of a youngster) that she’d spent enough time backstage of the shows in which I’d acted that she’d be a precociously well-behaved audience member.
But just as “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” was getting underway, she leaped from her seat and ambled toward the stage, which was on a level with the floor. I caught her moments before she would have joined the busy cast, and whisked her into the lobby, where we hung out with a bemused Mortimer, waiting to make his entrance.
The supervisory progression went like this: Both of us stay home with her. One of us goes out and the other keeps her at home. Both of us bring her to a child-centric place or event. Both of us bring her to a not-child-centric event, but one of us is on deck to whisk her elsewhere. We bring her to a not-child-centric event, but she’s old enough to be able to bargain into non-distracting behavior. Finally: she’s old enough to want to be at the event in question, which happened sooner than we expected.
But one of the problems we encountered along the way, and the reason my blood now chills when I see the “Children under 12 are free” indication, is the horrific behavior of other people’s children. When my own kid was young, she took cues from these monsters. Now, even though she’s far more tolerant than I am, she shares in the suffering as running and screaming punctuates whatever public event we’re trying to enjoy.
Being the mature, tolerant misanthrope that I am, I try not to hold it against the children. It’s the parents I deeply despise. The immature parents, the boutique parents – whatever it is that creates such a thoroughgoing obliviousness.
Do you not, I wish to scream, see how miserably your little wretch is behaving? But of course they don’t. The immature parents, no doubt repeating the crappy parenting visited upon them, combat what’s perceived as misbehavior with the mirrored misbehavior of hollering at the kid and threatening punishment. But the tyke isn’t misbehaving, at least at first. It’s a sincere expression of feeling using what limited tools are available – but soon enough, the parental cues reinforce the demonstrative carryings-on and the two generations cycle similar destructive nonsense.
The boutique parents are too self-absorbed to regard their offspring as anything more than another extension of their precious, gilded egos. They reason that they should have children in much the same way as they should have an Audi and a Viking stove. And they expect that their progeny pops out the chute with the reasoning capacity of an adult already instilled. “You know why we don’t run in the halls, Jeremy,” I hear such people saying to a one-year-old.
But I’m not here to lecture. My only purpose is to complain, bitterly and with smug contempt. If I thought I could get away with it, I’d level a superior finger at the parents I’m condemning and warn them that these neglected children of theirs will angrily abandon them once adolescence sets in. You know who you are, I’d thunder. But, as the kid-clogged events I continue to attend remind me, they don’t.