We give one another the nod, clearing our throats as we make our exit, and try to find a place outside to enjoy our coffee and snacks.
I can commiserate with the play-date haters. Once upon a time I was one too. As a singleton and loyal coffee shop patron, I spent many a day trying to work quietly in public places in the early afternoon. Strollers annoyed me. The children seemed loud and obnoxious, and their parents seemed selfish and oblivious to my single-freelance-writer-in-a-coffee-shop needs. My glasses fogged as I huffed and sighed passive-aggressively until the mommy parties finally left.
As a young woman who appreciates date nights at fancy restaurants without crying toddlers, I can still commiserate with the eye-rollers. I recently attended a wedding where a young child talked through the entire ceremony. The parents didn’t stop him, let alone take him out of the room. Apparently, he was entitled to do what he wanted and the rest of us were out of luck. So we sat quietly and listened to a child’s high-pitched squeals instead of the couple’s vows. I was just as appalled as the childless guests.
And yet, as I make my way through L.A. with my friends and our children, I’ve begun to believe we parents have become guilty until proven innocent. Strangers assume we’re like those wedding parents – putting our needs before others or unable to say “no” to our kids. In fact, we – and, I would say, most parents – are responsible and sensitive to our surroundings.
I usually notice snide comments about “strollers taking up the sidewalk” on weekdays. Where I live, during the week most local parents hand their children over to nannies, who confine them to “child-friendly zones,” like parks, classes, zoos and backyards. On weekends, all ages parade down local streets. Kids munch bagels. Babies breastfeed at sidewalk cafes. But only weekends are for families; weekdays are reserved for professionals doing professional things. And that leaves stay-at-home parents feeling in the way five days a week.
“Where are we supposed to go?” my friend recently asked.
“I think they expect us to huddle in Mommy & Me class and talk about poop all day,” another friend replied.
Sure, we have designated hours to see movies and sit with our kids in the library, but where do we go when the Monday Mommy Matinee ends and the library closes its doors? In a singles city like Los Angeles, where professionals rule and babies-in-public drool, is it ever okay for a group of stay-at-home parents and their spawn, no matter how well-behaved, to take coffee “for here”?
I spend a lot of time in the northern San Diego suburbs, where my parents live and I grew up. There, it seems, children are welcome everywhere, anytime – weekdays included. Even in pricey sushi restaurants, no one bats an eyelash at a toddler building tabletop towers with sugar packets. There are no dirty looks or shushing. No whispering or glaring or seething accusations of “Your stroller’s in my way.” Men in suits seem perfectly comfortable taking lunch next to a table with women and their babies.
Does this make me want to leave the city for the suburbs? No. But it does make me question whether in a city like L.A. it’s possible to live up to the vow I made when I was pregnant:Parents have every right to maintain facets of their pre-baby lives. that becoming a parent wouldn’t mean becoming someone else. Before I became a mother, I swore that once I had my baby, I would still meet my friends for lunch or coffee. I would still go boutique shopping and bookstore browsing. I would refuse to give up everything I’ve always enjoyed. “We can have it all!” I insisted.
But I didn’t anticipate the glares. So, I’m left wondering: has it become a requirement of city dwellers to hire a babysitter for every outing? Do we acquiesce and join Gymboree, where it’s safe?
After a lot of consideration, I’m going with no. Clearly, we must take under consideration the feelings of those around us. But apologizing for another mother’s poor behavior shouldn’t be our responsibility. It’s hard enough for a new mother to function in the adult world without suddenly finding herself on the outskirts of her own past. Significantly worse than feeling isolated at home is feeling consistently isolated in public, trying to break free from the monotony of private loneliness only to be unwanted in the places she once felt comfortable. Parents have every right to maintain and nurture facets of their pre-baby lives.
Besides, how is my son ever going to learn to behave respectably in public unless I expose him to life outside the local park? For both our sakes, I’m committed to spending time on both sides of the playground fence.