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Something Child
I was reading the paper in The Rose Cafe, in Venice, when a well-heeled mother, very preggers, early thirties, plopped her two small children down on two tall stools. One child was a boy, about four years old; the other, a sobbing, bellowing toddler. As soon as she left them to stand in the food and coffee line, the toddler started kicking the steel leg of the chair and intermittently yelling and howling. She returned to the table, and said something to him, causing him to cut his volume ever-so-slightly, but not entirely; probably because her version of the firm hand of parental discipline appeared to be more of a limp wrist. The moment she got back in line, the kid redoubled both his decibel level and his chair-kicking campaign.

I had a choice: Sit there until I got a migraine from the kid's piercing howls duking it out with the high notes of the slightly overloud Vivaldi on the café's speakers...or do what I did: Look straight at the toddler, and say, in a firm voice, "You need to be quiet. It makes it not nice for all the other people here if you're making all this noise, so please stop right now." And miracle of miracles, that was all it took to make him to button his tiny little yap and stop kicking the chair: a lone adult voice, from beyond that vast sea of go-right-ahead mommying, telling him, firmly, but not cruelly, that his brat-hood simply would not be tolerated.

My reward for my triumph in drive-by parenting? His mother marched over to my table, shaking with rage, and demanded, "Did you just reprimand my child?!" Mustering an air of Gandhi-like calm (out of a less-than-Gandhi-like urge to bug her senseless), I told her I did. Her jaw dropped -- all the way to the stretchy stomach of her chic LA yoga-mommy maternity wear. She launched into a bit of "how-dare-you-ing, and huffed that "It isn't your job to reprimand my child!" Maintaining my formica veneer of zen, I agreed with her -- no, it isn't my job -- and what a shame that the person whose job it is isn't doing it, thus forcing the task on irritable strangers in cafés. Unwilling or unable to contest this reasoning, she turned on her heel and scooped up her underparented offspring and took them to stand in line with her...far, far away from the odd Satan Girl, who takes issue with having her eardrums exploded by shrieking toddlers when she's attempting to read the newspaper in venues not clearly marked "Nursery School" above the door.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a child-trend -- children as the hot new status item in Los Angeles. Have one, dress one up in Petit Bateau, show it off on Montana Ave! (But enough about your needs.) Kids do need discipline or they're sure to become unmanageable brats in the short-term, and their own worst enemies for the rest of their lives. Maybe just because a woman can afford to have kids, she shouldn't necessarily foist herself on them as a sorry excuse for a parent. Yes, as alluring as it is to join in the mommy-chic, perhaps women who are well-funded but ill-equipped for the actual job of parenting might consider investing in a couple dozen Hermes handbags and a couple dozen matching Lincoln Navigators instead?

....

Epilogue: My friend Hank came over to talk to me a few minutes after my little exchange with the woman. I pointed to the table, just kitty-corner from mine, where the kids had been sitting. He noticed some...water...on the seat. Only, reexamining the picture of the kids in my head...the kids didn't actually have anything to drink on their table, as far as I could remember. I went over and peered at the chair. Eeeeuw! The kid had peed on the seat! (Uh-oh -- maybe it happened when cruel Satan Girl reprimanded him!?) Still, had mommy done her job, cruel Satan Girl would never have said a word, reprimanding or otherwise!

Posted by aalkon at April 16, 2004 7:31 AM

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Comments

I cannot even tell you how much I love this! Currently, I am working as a receptionist at a major ballet company...which also happens to have a ballet school. All of these parents that I have to deal with on a nightly basis are Navigator driving, self absorbed SOCIOPATHS. They let their screaming little spawns run around, JUMP on the leather furniture, SCREAM on the top of their lungs and wreack havoc upon the general atmosphere. I am in the middle of finding a new job and QUITTING. And I have been so inspired by your little blog that I swear to you, on my last day, I am going to stand up on my chair, and tell these un-parenting parents exactly what I think of them. And damn, am I going to enjoy it!

Posted by: Erin at April 16, 2004 11:34 AM

YOU GO, GIRL! Tape it!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 16, 2004 11:50 AM

Amy,

Great item, and sorely needed. I am currently reading a related book I highly recommend, "The Epidemic" by Robert Shaw, M.D.. It's about 'The rot of American culture, absentee and permissive parenting, and the resultant plague of joyless, selfish children. Sounds like you had a first hand experience.

Posted by: Jeff R at April 16, 2004 3:24 PM

It's kind of a crude comparison, but it's the same with pets. If people over-indulge their animals, they develop a nasty temperament and hostile behavior. Children are the same--they require discipline and training to be tolerable.

Posted by: Peggy C at April 16, 2004 4:03 PM

As Lena knows, when my dog Lucy acts up, I'm quick to show her who's boss -- by giving her a good whack with a rolled up postage stamp.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 16, 2004 5:40 PM

Amy -- Don't you also squeeze her into some kind of vinyl ziplock bag ? Lena

Posted by: Lena at April 16, 2004 5:48 PM

Lena! I'm not cruel! Just heartless!

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 16, 2004 6:55 PM

More people really need to speak up, when its appropriate. It's an eye-opener for the child and the parent, and I think it helps a child comprehend that there's a world around him besides the family.

Posted by: A.Ho at April 16, 2004 9:24 PM

Sure, when *you* do it, you're a hero. When *I* try to calm a kid down with some candy that's out in my van, I'm a "collar."

Posted by: Jim Treacher at April 17, 2004 9:27 AM

You go, Satan Girl.

Posted by: M at April 17, 2004 3:10 PM

Amy, I need to witness one of these incidents. It's too bad that more people don't speak out.

Posted by: Tiffany at April 17, 2004 6:54 PM

Not to worry, urine IS sterile....

But seriously, ew. This behavior makes me want to carry tranquilizer darts and a blowgun with me wherever I go.

Posted by: keito at April 18, 2004 7:52 PM

Amy, honey... Thank you for speaking up for so many of us.

Parenting isn't an easy thing, but if you don't have the time or the patience to do it properly you should leave it to the ones who do. It isn't fair to the people around you, but most of all it isn't fair to the child.

Three cheers for the Goddess!!! ;-)

Posted by: Apple at April 19, 2004 1:31 AM

Amy is, of course, correct. What does not surprise me is mom's hostility toward someone asking Junior to pipe down; clearly, she doesn't do it, so it must be suspect, foreign, perhaps even illegal. As I think I have written here before, one of the many joys of motherhood is telling someone no and having him/her have to obey. Believe me, kids wants the grown-ups to be in charge. Look what happens when they are not.

Posted by: nancy at April 19, 2004 12:16 PM

As a longtime (well OK one year) patron of the Rose Cafe by my house, please accept my many thanks for your initiative. If these lousy parents won't take the time and trouble to raise precious little Zutroy and Twyla properly, someone has to do it. Somtimes it takes a "village" to knock some sense into these little gems.

Posted by: Greg Dewar at April 19, 2004 12:48 PM

Oh Amy, I'll never forget this. You've giving me all the courage I need to go and speak up with my heavy accent next time a little monster takes a public place for his playpen. I've never seen as many self-centered, undisciplined, spoiled children as in America, to tell the truth. Then the parents blame ADD or whatever new "disease". Luckily, it's also possible to meet smart and cool kids and amazing teenagers - like Cecile Dubois!

Posted by: Emmanuelle at April 19, 2004 1:41 PM

When I was five, I had to go stay with a Frenchwoman -- the mother of a classmate of mine -- for a couple of weeks when my own mother was sick. All the kindergartners were scared of this French mom because she was so strict. The first day there, I said, "I can't go play with those kids, because I'm shy." She said firmly, "No shyness allowed in this house!" So I stopped being shy for the duration of my stay, had a great time, and when my mother came to pick me up she said I was so fantastically well-behaved and unbratty she almost didn't recognize me.

Posted by: Cathy Seipp at April 19, 2004 2:16 PM

Amy, on Cathy Seipp's blog, I just saw her posting of your adventure in child-rearing, once removed. So I paid a visit to your site. I kiss my cathode ray tube in eternal gratitude for your matchless vigilance, protecting us from the hordes of chair-kicking minors. Now if only we could do something about their ill-mannered parents. I can't believe you had the nerve to do this in the Neverland enclave that is Venice. But they don't call you a Goddess for nothing.

Posted by: Paul the Winegeek at April 20, 2004 10:19 PM

What's the appropriate reprimand for a professional writer using "kitty-corner" instead of "catercorner"? :)

Posted by: Ted at April 21, 2004 5:21 AM

Ted, you might be coming from "overlawyered.com," but it appears you're also "under-dictionairied." Page 778 of my aging Webster's has "kitty-cornered." That said, I frequently make up words or use the most colloquial one in my writing because my goal isn't to be stone-cold correct, but to be fun and interesting to read. The way I see it: Once you get the "proper English" thing down (knowing when to use "whether" instead of "if," for example), you're free to break the rules (and bend the dictionary) in lots of fun ways.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 21, 2004 10:11 AM

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