OK, there were five. The fifth, in tiny font and parentheses, was:
“... (unless spoken to)...”
By the time my generation was born and journeyed through our schooling years, the rules had relaxed a bit. Kids could talk, but only if they were saying something stupid or funny enough to keep adults entertained, and even then, it better not last longer than a standard YouTube commercial.
Once upon a time, interrupting a chatty kid wasn’t rude. In fact, it was an accepted part of life, because that generation of parents was raised with the aforementioned 4 ½ rules; they considered themselves wildly benevolent to even allow kids to talk at all, ever.
At some point between then and now, we decided kids had rights or something. We decided that whatever the hell comes out of kids’ mouths merits the same value and consideration as that of any other adult at the dinner party. I don’t know when that was. Maybe it was around the same time meth came into vogue, which would make sense.
In the mid-90s, my wife and I had just moved to Chattanooga, and we were church hunting. We visited an Episcopal church in town, because we were good friends with a huge number of Episcopalians -- or Anglicans, or whatever they liberal ones are calling themselves these days. The service was a bit too “by the book” for us, but that’s not what chased us away. It was the kids. The middle aisle of that church might as well have been the daycare room. Kids ages 2 - 8 were running up and down the aisles during the service. Not, like, during the “children’s moment,” mind you, but just as general practice. We looked around, wondering where the parents were, and none of the other parishioners seemed bothered. They were just smiling and facing the front. We couldn’t concentrate on the sermon -- or homily, or whatever Episcopanglicans call it -- for the kids, or for the unfazed adults apparently numbed to it.
What we didn’t know is that this church was merely ahead of the cultural curve.
In the past 20 years or so, the Emboldened Child Syndrome has exploded. And what I mean by Emboldened Child Syndrome is “Crappy Parents.” Their kids run up to your booth at a restaurant and say something clever or nonsensical and, if you are lucky, spill your beer by flying a Lego airplane over it. And the parents sit, giddy and unapologetic at their table, and wave at you and wink because they want you to share in the joy of their child’s adorable precociousness.
Because we’re generally nice and decent people, we keep our mouths shut. But we quietly promise one another never to be those parents, never to expect other adults to babysit our children for free, or to tolerate what we find cutesy and adorable unless they signed up for it by entering our house or some other locale where children can be expected, like Chuck E Cheese.
And most of us, I truly believe, have held to these vows. Most of us don’t expect everyone else to adore our sweet angels unconditionally and under all circumstances.
The Chattanooga paper recently tried to suggest that there might be some “controversy” surrounding whether parents should be allowed to bring small screamy children to expensive restaurants.
It is not a controversy. It is simply selfish. Period.
Anyone should be allowed to bring any kid anywhere, with one simple provision: when your child’s volume disturbs or might remotely disturb others and cannot be managed, remove said child from the premises. Take the child outside, or to the bathroom, or to the top of a mountain, anywhere so long as it’s away from everyone who is entitled not to have to give a flip about you or your child.
Here’s the flip-side rule for those who have no children in the restaurant: have a heart. A grain of sympathy for parents -- even incompetent or selfish ones -- isn’t asking too much. Most of us do this. But even parents have breaking points; it's perfectly reasonable for a stranger's patience to be sliced much thinner.
The Golden Rule is, I fear, misunderstood. If you think The Golden Rule is about you… then for the sake of everyone else’s dining enjoyment, please just stay at home.