In case you’ve missed it, America has been hit by Toddlergate.
It started with a couple taking their 21-month-old daughter to breakfast at a diner last Saturday. They were told they had to wait 30 minutes for a table. They waited, first for the table, and then for food. Meanwhile, the toddler began to bawl. The pancakes ordered for the child arrived, but no one fed her and she kept crying. When it had gone on for about half an hour, the diner owner gave the parents to-go boxes and told them to leave. They didn’t, and the kid kept crying. Finally, the owner snapped. She slammed her hands on the counter, shouted, “This needs to stop,” and pointed at the little girl.
The parents flounced off, and the mother wrote a post on the diner’s Facebook page, calling the owner an “absolute lunatic and deranged” and “not suitable to run a business”. She also hoped that karma would bite the owner in the a**. The latter, clearly unrepentant, shot back a rude reply. “I asked you to pack up either your rotten child or take the so-important pancakes to go. But no, you just sit there and let your screaming kid go and piss off my staff and patrons,” she said, and also took issue with the fact that the couple had ordered three full-sized pancakes (“bigger than her head”) for the child and then failed to feed her.
The posts went viral. Newspapers and channels picked up the story, as did social media. The mother took her story to The Washington Post where she said her child was “just antsy” at the long wait and they couldn’t take the baby out of the restaurant as it was raining. She also claimed her baby started crying only after being yelled at, out of fear. In response, the owner said she’d never shouted at any child before but snapped when she saw how the parents “were talking and ignoring” the toddler. “I might have used poor judgment,” she said. “But I wouldn’t say I was sorry, because it stopped.”
What hasn’t stopped since is the relentless discussion of the event across media. A la Moses, it has parted the sea of opinion in two. One side is appalled at the owner’s behaviour; the other, deeply appreciative. Team Parents believes the owner was harsh and heartless and yelling at a child is no way for someone in the service industry to behave. Team Diner believes that children should not be allowed to disrupt restaurants and disturb diners, that too for 40 minutes, and blame the parents for not taking action as soon as the bawling began.
As someone who has brought up two boys, I believe the truth lies somewhere in between. I agree that it’s best to keep kids away from confined public places. Even the best-mannered child can act up in restaurants, planes and—the ghastliest scenario of all—movie halls. When that happens, it’s the parents’ responsibility to attend to the child immediately and ensure that no one else is disturbed. If the child’s crying, you have to console or distract her. If that doesn’t help, take her outside (unless it’s a plane and you don’t have a parachute). If it’s raining, go for a drive. Allowing a child to cry for nearly an hour is unfair both to her and everybody around.
But having said that, no one should discipline, leave alone yell at, a stranger’s child. By doing that, the diner owner crossed a line. A scolding from a parent is easily accepted by a child; disciplining by a stranger can be traumatic. In this case, if she had to yell and point a finger, the diner lady should have aimed for the parents. They sound as if they need it.