You know how sometimes you read/see/hear something that reminds you of something ELSE that you meant to bring up but you forgot to?
One of the things Swistle would like to maintain forever is “a general policy of not making things harder for the mothers by acting affronted when children exist in public.”
That made me think of my grad school graduation.
(You: Uhhh… what?
Me: Hold your horses, I’ll connect the dots.)
My graduate program was teeny. Five people, I think. (Man, you’d think grad school would have made a bigger impression. I can remember all the people in my program – from the year before and my year and the year after. But I can’t for the life of me remember who was in which year.)
So the graduation ceremony was equally teeny. Five people (I’m going with five) and their families, some of the other students in the program, a few professors, and maybe a few friends or so.
And the ceremony was all about the five of us who were graduating. I mean, obviously.
We had a nice luncheon with a buffet and tables set all prettily and our professors (both of them) and our program director each said something nice and we each got up and read a poem. And then there were a few awards.
There was a program for the ceremony, but it was very loose. And it became clear in the first 10 minutes that the ceremony was not adhering to any particular order, certainly not the order laid out in the program.
One of the guys in my program – let’s call him Chris, which is not his name – was married and had three kids – two toddler boys and a baby girl. Chris’s wife and parents and the three kids were all there.
The boys were hyped up on the cupcakes our program office manager made for the occasion and they were kind of… giddy. But I would still say they were being GOOD, you know? They weren’t screaming or fighting or anything. They were just playing around with some trucks or something and with each other and talking at what I suspect is Normal Toddler Volume.
But my grandmother – a dear, kind woman who flew halfway across the country to see my graduation – was a little… vexed by the kids.
My grandmother is no longer with us, unfortunately, but I remember fondly that she was always very tolerant and kind to small children. However, she was a firm believer in Children Are Seen and Not Heard and also If Children Are Heard They Should Be Whisked from the Room with Great Haste. (I have no trouble with this philosophy. I was raised by people who share this view and I turned out okay.)
(In case you missed it, this is the Dots Connecting I promised earlier on. My elderly grandmother was – sort of, in her typical kindly, un-accusing way – acting as though these children being allowed out in public was an affront to her delicate sensibilities. Which is one of those Traits of the Elderly that Swistle – and I! – hopes to avoid in old age.)
(Okay, perhaps this is a LOOSE connection. But nonetheless, the connection exists in my head.)
Now, Chris’s wife wanted to be there to see her husband get an award. (And he DID get an award!) She was probably very proud of him and possibly (although I am projecting here) relieved that he was done with graduate school and could begin the work of making a living as a poet. (Ha! Poet joke!) (Allow me to explain the poet joke: I don’t know a single poet who makes a living as a poet.) (They MUST exist. But even the poets I know who are Renowned and have attained Critical Acclaim and are Otherwise Awesome, well, they earn a living as professors. I suppose I could be WRONG, of course. I don’t have access to their bank statements or anything. Maybe they are raking in the millions from their writing alone.)
To clamber back to my original topic: Chris’s wife had a right to be there, to support her husband and to see him get an award he’d been working toward for two years of graduate school and perhaps many years beyond that. And their kids, likewise, had a right to be there, since the ceremony was open to families (reasonable extrapolation: not closed to small children). And while I fully support parents who remove screaming children from church/movies/other public events, it seems to me that there’s a Big Difference between a child who’s lost his everloving head and a child who is merely Being a Child and rolling a Tonka Big Wheels merrily over his brother’s face as his brother laughs with glee.
But my dear grandmother felt like the kids were distracting from the ceremony. Which was, well, it was true. I mean, you had to strain a little bit to hear over the kids’ chatter.
She looked at me with her kind blue eyes and an expression of bewilderment and whispered, “Why doesn’t that mom take those children outside?”
I don’t think she was WRONG to ask such a question. True, the children were being rambunctious and perhaps someone (the children’s mom or their one of their grandparents, who were also inattendance) should take them out of the room during the ceremony.
(Of course, one might also suggest that perhaps the kids shouldn’t have attended the ceremony at all, and should have remained at home with a babysitter. But what if Chris’s family didn’t have a babysitter in the budget? And what if Chris really wanted his kids there? And what if the ceremony was only an hour, tops, and it seemed unreasonable and silly to hire a sitter for such a short time? And what if they planned on taking the kids out of the room for the entire time EXCEPT for when Chris got his award, but that plan was thwarted by the poorly organized ceremony program?)
My grandmother beseeched me to say something to Chris’s wife, since I knew her. Or to Chris, since I knew him as well.
But I didn’t. I just… didn’t want to.
I felt like it would be met with guilt and upset and maybe even irritation and resentment. Plus, it wasn’t bothering ME that much – once I got used to the kids’ chattering, it was easy to sort of tune it out. So I just smiled understandingly at my grandmother and squeezed her hand tightly and, after the ceremony, listened to her gentle suggestion that, should I get married and have children someday, perhaps I would strongly consider hiring a babysitter for my kids? Or handing them off to a parent during such an event? Or having kids who are perfectly well-behaved at all times?
This happened years ago, Internet. I haven’t seen – or really even thought of – Chris since then. But I still wonder what the appropriate response was.
I kind of think my response was the appropriate one. But then again, I am a wholly non-confrontational person. So any response where I don’t have to confront people is the one I favor.
Plus, I try to remember that I don’t always know the whole situation.
I mean, maybe Chris’s wife asked Chris’s parents to stay home with the kids… and the parents got offended that THEY would have to miss the ceremony. And maybe Chris’s in-laws were never nice to Chris’s wife and never really approved of her marrying their son, so there was a lot of bad blood between them. So maybe Chris’s wife decided to drag the kids along and keep them in the ceremony the whole time on PRINCIPLE.
Or maybe Chris’s wife had a babysitter all set up and the in-laws scoffed at how RIDICULOUS it would be to pay for a sitter, or made a fuss about how the kids HAD to see their father graduate. So – in the interest of keeping the in-law waters smooth – Chris’s wife gritted her teeth and brought the kids along even though she was super embarrassed that they were being so noisy.
Or maybe Chris’s wife figured that she and Chris knew all the other graduates and that they would welcome the kids and overlook their boisterous chatter.
Or maybe they HAD hired a babysitter, but the sitter got sick/had a job interview/didn’t show or was otherwise unable to sit for the kids at the last minute, so Chris and his wife were forced to bring them even though they didn’t plan to.
Or maybe Chris’s wife was, like many people seem to be, truly oblivious to how her kids were behaving and how their behavior might impact others.
Or maybe she just figured that her little angels should be able to do whatever their little hearts’ desired.
In those last two cases, I would be mad. Because being an oblivious or overly permissive parent to the extent that it affects other people… well, I’m not a big fan of those things.
But in the other cases… You can really start to empathize with poor Chris’s wife, over-tired from being up with the baby and glad that all those years of reading poem drafts have come to something and stressed out from dealing with the in-laws and their demands and stuck in this room with some long-winded speakers, listening to five poems when she doesn’t really LIKE poetry and all she wants is to snap a photo of Chris getting his award and go home.
I just don’t think there’s a reason for me to make a fuss when I don’t know the full story and when all that’s happening is that I have to listen a little more carefully to what’s being said.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t get where my grandmother was coming from. I really believe that, had it been her, she would have a) left the kiddos at home, even if it meant staying home herself or b) sat at the very back of the room to limit the reach of their little voices or c) whisked them out the instant they made a peep, even if they did so in the middle of her husband’s acceptance. I really believe that. I think my own mother would have done the same.
However, that doesn’t change the fact that what I really want to know is:
What would YOU have done, if you were sitting there with Chris’s toddlers whooping it up behind you?
And what would you have WANTED the reaction to be, if you were Chris’s wife?
And, as long as we’re asking questions, what would YOU have done, in Chris’s wife’s case? Would you have brought your kids? Left them with a babysitter? Shoved them into the grandmother’s arms and said, “Here, YOU take them out of the room while I watch MY HUSBAND get his award?” Shrugged your shoulders and allowed your kids to be kids?
Would your answers change based on the situation? (I mean, a kid-friendly Christmas play is different from a graduation ceremony is different from a dinner at a nice restaurant and so on.)
If you recommend a friendly smile and a whispered, “Can you take the kids outside until they quiet down?” I can’t promise that’s what I’ll do in future, but I would like to know.