This will be short and sour.
The BBC News Magazine web site has posted an article on the vexed question of toddlers in restaurants. While admitting (as who cannot) that they are a menace, the article goes on to offer an excuse or two for parents who insist on bringing the little beasts along, one of these being the desire to ‘get them used to restaurants’.
Well, I‘ve heard some sorry excuses for self-indulgent doting in my time, but that one takes, if you'll pardon the expression, the cake. Get them used to restaurants? Why, in heaven’s name? So that they can beggar their parents with expensive dining-out bills in early adolescence? Out-gourmet the Guide Michelin before they’re out of secondary school? Or just learn to draw increasingly bitter comparisons between Mum’s cooking and the canard aux herbes Sri lankaise they were served at the Lemon last night?
Do these fond parents really imagine they’re somehow socializing their kids by inflicting them on cringing strangers? What idiots. Toddlers cannot be socialized. They are monsters of id. They aren’t even properly human yet – to all intents and purposes, they’re still little animals, and half-formed ones at that. Besides, research has shown that parents don’t socialize kids; peer groups do. All Mummy and Daddy’s patient training in manners and decorum, all the coaxing and encouragement, all the gatings and punishments, even the beatings used by some parents as teaching aids, count for very little; it’s peer pressure and, a little later, a desire to impress the opposite sex that turns juvenile delinquents (that is, all kids) into socially viable individuals. And even the small contribution parents make in this area cannot begin until a child actually has some consciousness of others’ rights and feelings – a sensibility that does not develop, except possibly with respect to close blood relations, until the kid is well past the upchucking-in-public stage of life. And yes, I know some people never get past it, but that simply means they’re still toddlers in spite of the breasts and facial hair. This is true even if the breasts and facial hair are both on the same person.
Anyway, we all know this twaddle about getting children used to restaurants is just a lame excuse. People bring their toddlers to restaurants for one of two reasons: (1) they are so besotted by the issue of their loins that they cannot bear to be away from them for ten seconds or (2) they have run out of volunteers – even paid ones – for the job of babysitter. In the first of these cases we are clearly dealing with some sort of compulsive pseudonarcissistic disorder, requiring – oh, I don’t know, electroshock therapy and institutionalization, with the kids being taken into care, preferably at some remote, Spartan orphanage. In the second, you and I will be dining next to the quelled and demoralized parents of one or more pint-sized psychopaths, and we might not leave the restaurant alive.
There is absolutely no excuse for bringing children under the age of, say, five, to restaurants. Restaurants are adult places. Adult things are done in them – business, mutual social grooming, status competition and, above all, sex. Restaurants are vital, indeed sacred, to the central ritual of human mating – the gifts of food with which males of our species and its forebears have courted females for at least five million years. No-one, not even the broodiest biological-clock-obsessed thirtysomething woman, wants to be reminded of the consequences of courting and mating while engaged in the actual activity. The presence of children at such occasions is a turn-off comparable with a skip-load of offal being overturned next to one’s table. Indeed, the effect (and the smell) are often identical.
To encourage the restaurateurs of the world to come to their senses and impose a blanket ban on customers under the age of five, I propose that sane adults – which is to say, those unencumbered with children – take certain steps. These will include refusing to sit near family parties with small children, or better still, insisting that they be seated somewhere the sight, sound and smell of the little brutes will not offend other diners’ sensibilities. A quiet back-alley location, behind the restaurant among the garbage cans, would probably be best; as a second option, the manager’s office will do nicely. One might also refuse to pay one’s addition on the grounds that one’s health and appetite have been impaired by the stress of having to eat in public among small children, and furthermore forward any medical or psychiatric bills incurred over the following days to the restaurant management; but best of all, I think, will be to form a lobby group and organize restaurant boycotts. I shall shortly commence a canvass of friends, relatives, correspondents and Facebook hangers-on with this end in view.
As for the offending parents, they will just have to be sent to Coventry, won’t they? There or Siberia.