OPINION: Once upon a seaside town, a woman and her friends were in a café. Her four month old baby began to cry and cried for approximately two minutes and as his mum was preparing to breastfeed him, the café owner asked her to go outside as the baby's crying was upsetting customers. The mama didn't want to go outside to be in the heat and amongst the smokers. So she and her friends at the table decided to leave, and the mother was upset and talked to the local newspaper about her experience.
While I don't go to cafes very often anymore, in general I think the vast majority of cafes in this country are pretty baby- and kid-friendly. (We went into one with my mum once, Wanda flicked off her nappy with her foot and it landed on another table, then the girls ran around a table and knocked some cups and saucers off breaking them. I grabbed them and left one under each arm. No one in the café batted an eye. Or maybe I was so out of it on sleep deprivation that this never really happened.) The cafes which are not kid friendly, mums soon learn to identify by that "release the hounds" look the staff gives you when you enter with babies.
So the café was extreme in its actions. I for one will never go there. Like my rejecting of my invisible suitors; so too will I cross this off the list of cafes I rarely go to anyway.
But what upset me when reading about this mum's experience was some of the vociferous support in the media and by people who comment in the media, for the café in turfing the mum and bub outside. For me the comments along the line of children should be banned, she knew better, what was she thinking kind of rhetoric represent a harshness within us as a culture...some tight-hearted, socially-awkward attitude towards babies.
I mean what's the big deal? Babies cry, children yell, kids make a mess sometimes. I thought we were all in this together?
And it sounds a little spoilt doesn't it? If you're sitting in a café it means you can afford to eat or drink there, AND it means you are probably not working. Or if you are having a stakeholder meeting there well it's not exactly meeting in the rendering area at the Whakatu freezing works. Why not relax and be thankful rather than hating on a four month old?
Who were these complainers? Ooh, maybe it was those people who didn't like me dancing at The Commitments gig at The Michael Fowler Centre in 1992? "Oh sit down, we can't see!"
Or were they annoyed because the baby wasn't drunk when he was making noise? "That New Zealander's sober and celebrating?! Bum him out now!"
Or quite simply, had no one told that child to harden up already? By Edmund Hilary! I'll call Plunketline!
Complaining about mums and babies in this way sends a clear message to mums. It says some of the public is watching, they're judging and we're only perceived to be doing a good job if our children are quiet.
It makes parenting in public a walk on a razor's edge. I bet many of you reading this remember being told off or glared at about their baby child or their parenting in a public place. I do, it was horrid. I can laugh about it now, but when you're sleep deprived it sucks. And if you haven't experienced it directly, I imagine you've been very conscious at times of keeping your bubba quiet/worrying the kids were going to lose it. I've had as many conversations about what mums have had said to them/how women have felt out and about when the kids have started to have a meltdown as I have had about labour pains. This is quite frankly ridiculous. 'She made a lot of noise teething', said no one ever, in an obituary.
What about the darling mums who have ventured out with a child who screams regularly because his colic hasn't been diagnosed and the doctor has said, at the eighth visit, "just give him some Gaviscol and he'll be fine", and the mum hasn't slept since forever? She's feeling guilty on a lot of levels already and we meet her with judging eyes?
Override those small minded people who have forgotten that once they were wee warriors too - not always crying on cue, or knowing how to say please straight out of the womb.
Give mums respect and kindness and some space to BE a mum. She's doing an important job. A precious job. Honor her.
I do wonder if this element of nasty comes from a warped pioneering spirit where people did have to be quite tough...but we're not digging kauri gum now people. Let's be a little less about correcting and managing babies, and more about delighting in them.
And if you really don't like the noise, (I know! Like an air force jet landing isn't it? Like the boom of a landmine blowing your foot off? Loud as the sounds of the silence after you've just been told you have cancer right?) Why don't YOU leave the café?
Because sometimes, whacky as it sounds, ae mums have to take our children out with us. As a single parent before ECE kicked in, the girls were going everywhere with me to get things done. Except on dates.
Crying and colicky, quiet and smiling - let's regard our future generations as the miracles that they are rather than things that must be endured, ignored or tolerated.
Because a community isn't about freezing people out into their little boxes. It's meant to be tribal, where we learn from one another, and if some of our tribe meet in cafes then let us be with our people in a café.
Colgate has a lovely ad on TV at the moment where the narrator says "There's nothing more precious than a child's smile...." Come on Aotearoa. Let's expand that to be true for a child's voice, a child's essence, a child's very being, and become a kinder nation in the process.
(A little bit dedicated to the woman who glared and snorted at the girls when they were talking loudly at the supermarket checkout once. "Dudes!" I said, "Let's go! That lady's going to unleash heeeeeeell!")
And absolutely dedicated to you and your little ones: You're doing a wonderful job.
- © Fairfax NZ News