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Underparented Children Of The Day
I'm at a Starbucks in the Hollywood Hills, where I often go to write on the weekend, sitting right by the window. This gives me something to do -- namely, look out the window -- when the muse is playing hooky. Well, lucky me, some blonde English chick is smoking at the table directly outside my window space, accompanied by her two blond brats, uh, boys. Not their fault, of course, that they're brats. Still, the fact remains.

Her underparented urchins are running wild, doing various underparented urchin things, which mostly do not affect me. Suddenly, the younger boy climbs up on a chair directly opposite where I'm sitting inside, and begins wiping his sticky-greasy little paws all over the window -- to a degree where his handiwork, to my surprise and great irritation, is substantially marring my view. As if this isn't disgusting and annoying enough, he actually begins licking the window, then drawing on it with candy. Mom is too busy smoking up a storm and having whatever conversation one has as a parental failure/not-well-aged expat English blonde. As she natters on, utterly oblivious to what is rapidly becoming a grease and fingerprint-on-window neo-Jackson Pollock, my view becomes even further impaired...until I can take it no longer. In the absence, on my immediate horizon, of nomadic barristas with a bottle of Windex in hand, I get up from my computer, go out with a napkin, and attempt to clean off the mess on the window.

"Did my son do that?" the not-well-aged blonde wonders, most blas. "Yes," I respond, scrubbing furiously. Not wanting to start some Big Ugly at a place I'll be writing all day, I restrain myself from launching into the tirade on the tippy-tip of my tongue, and just mutter something about preferring an unobstructed view out the window. "Well," she sighs, as I scrub away at the greasy fingerpainting on the window with great futility, "He'll probably just do it again." I didn't say what immediately came to mind; again, in the spirit of maintaining a non-toxic writing environment; but I will say it here:

"THEN, WHY DON'T YOU CLEAN IT UP, BITCH!?"

(And, looking to the longterm..."HOW ABOUT ADDING PARENTING TO YOUR DAILY TO-DO LIST!?" ...I mean, if that doesn't cut too, too much, into your daily grind to get cut, colored, Pilateased, collagened, and Botoxed, and gossip about Hollywood divorce settlements...and whatever else it is you do when you should be home giving your kids a few lessons in manners and boundaries!)


NOTE TO OTHERS OF HER ILK CONTEMPLATING SEXUAL REPRODUCTION:

Look, I know it's fabulously de rigeur these days to have something to dress in Petit Bateau, but if you really aren't up to actually parenting a child, can't you fulfill your desire to do the "in" thing by getting an Hermes handbag to carry around instead? It's so classic, and ever-so-versatile -- and best of all: it can be guaranteed -- yes, guaranteed -- never to lick or greasily paw a window outside Starbucks where I am attempting to write!

Posted by aalkon at November 30, 2003 12:17 PM

Comments

If a child mushes up a window in my face, I would just make an ugly face, squished up against the window back at him. In other words, did you think of just playing with the child for a moment? Maybe that's just me then. I try not to go negative with children, because playing with them elevates me in my life because I have taken positive action. Then I go back to my life. I don't have children, so feel I don't have to discipline them. When you write, "in the spirit of maintaining a non-toxic writing environment" I think there is something else going on. Perhaps exploring yer own "toxic" feelings by writing about THEM instead of anger at the parent, you might learn why you don't like children or their childish actions or who knows what else. Writing can be therapy, right? Write through the anger, write through the sadness, see what you find. Thanks for the blog, it put me right there in that cafe.

I think you are saying

Posted by: hank at November 30, 2003 1:39 PM

My first thought was actually to make some terrifying gesture at the child, but it wasn't his fault he was ill-behaved. Also, when you do shit to people's kids, or at people's kids, it can get even uglier than if you say something. PS Thanks for the communing with children suggestiong, but If I get any more immature and childlike than I already am, somebody's going to try to diaper me. I don't like anybody who greases up my view. Call me an intolerant bitch...(that's what I call myself -- and with pride, I might add). As a kid, I was convinced I could fly, but the idea that I would grease up a window at a restaurant (we didn't have cafs), kick somebody's chair on a plane, or run around screaming in a public place -- those ideas did not exist in my head in terms of what was possible in the universe. It's called "parenting." Many who pump out children and foist them on the rest of us should try it some time.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 30, 2003 2:21 PM

I don't have kids either, though I like being around kids more than Amy does (according to Amy's own statements). But I don't always want to have to deal with someone else's children and the messes they make. In your own house, let your kids do what they want. But in public, you are supposed to restrain them. If it was her dog making a mess, everyone would be telling her to clean it up, so why not with her child?

I'm one of four kids, and people would dread seeing our family come into restaurants. But afterwards, they'd go up to my parents and compliment them because we were so well behaved.

My mom's theory was that she wanted her children to be the kind of people that others would enjoy being around. And my friend has taken that one step further--she wants her kids to be the kind of people that SHE enjoys being around! That's what parenting is--the hard work of making children into tolerable people.

Posted by: Peggy C at November 30, 2003 5:25 PM

Peggy said it. And so much more calmly than I ever could or would have. By the way, I don't despise all children -- just the ones inflicted on me. I actually stay with a friend in New York who has three children -- children whom I adore -- because they were raised to be civilized, and because I consider them very smart, interesting, entertaining short people.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 30, 2003 5:36 PM

Actually, I just realized that Peggy is me, but sane and reasonable. Peggy, where do you live? It can't be Los Angeles.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 30, 2003 5:58 PM

I'm proud to say that my sister is raising 2 very tolerable, pleasant, and intellegent children. It's not easy. Sometimes she has to be a total Bitch-Mother from Hell. But it pays off. I adore my niece and nephew. Amy has actually met my niece -- and she adores Amy as much as I do (hi! can you feel the love? -- it comes from DISCIPLINE.)

Posted by: Lena at November 30, 2003 9:21 PM

I can only aspire to be like you, Amy--you are the goddess, after all! I live in Orange County--I'm not cool enough for LA.

I like Amy's take on it--kids are fine if they aren't inflicted on you. Fortunately, my siblings have all followed my mom's example, so I have a whole bunch of funny and enjoyable nieces and nephews. Being an aunt is the perfect relationship--all of the fun of being a grandparent without having to raise any kids of your own!

Posted by: Peggy C at November 30, 2003 9:39 PM

Whenever someone asks me if I like kids, my reply is, "As long as their someone else's..."

This isn't to say I hate children. I actually love them. It's just that parenting is a 7/24 job, and I'm not up to that. I love my nieces and nephews just fine. And at the end of the day, when I'm done with them, I can SEND THEM HOME! I'm not responsible for their care and feeding and discipline never wanders outside the boundaries of what is acceptable in my home. Thankfully, although no kid is perfect, they are decent and respectful, well-behaved but not to the point of being oppressed.

Posted by: Patrick at December 1, 2003 1:10 AM

Of course, there's always the option to cut right to the "send them home" part; even before they arrive!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 1, 2003 1:13 AM

OK, the reality is that we can do one of 3 things- a)nothing, b)address the situation with the parent, or c) address the situation with the offending child. The easy, PC solution is either a or b. With c- "Young man/lady, I expect you to come over here right now and wipe this window clean" said with suitable authority & ferocity may admittedly cause embarrasment and a confrontation with the offending parent. But that's why it may actually work, at least if reinforced by others. Also, its amazing how pliable a kids behavior is when faced some good shock treatment from an unintimidated adult. Having said that, its easier said than done.

Posted by: Lloyd at December 2, 2003 1:36 PM

Oh, I have zero problem telling the child to de-bratify. In this case, it would have been to no avail. You'll have to trust me on that. Also, it was only because I needed to avoid unleashing a storm of toxicity that I didn't get up on my hind legs and say exactly what I said on my blog, to the mother. Ask anybody who knows me, my inner bitch is an outer bitch, on an as-needed basis. No coaxing needed.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 2, 2003 2:48 PM

Amy and I have jointly told children to quiet down when we're trying to work in public places. Children need to learn at a young age that cafes are for brilliant writers, not under-parented brats.

Posted by: Lena at December 2, 2003 6:05 PM