The unpopular position: Your kid is a public nuisance

A bunch of assholes

A bunch of assholes

I’m 32 years old, which means I’ve reached the age where many of my friends have either had children or admitted they have a cocaine problem. Of the two groups, both keep going to restaurants, but only one conducts its business with anything resembling discretion. This country has a child problem. It’s not the children themselves, who after all will ensure the continued existence of human civilization if we can avoid a nuclear war, and serve as a source of high-protein food if we can’t. It’s the parents. Like the lifelong smoker who thinks his jacket smells fine, they’ve spent so much time with their children that they regard the presence of a shrieking, silverware-drumming homunculus as the default human condition. It’s not. The default human condition is loneliness, as any 32 year-old man who works out of the one-bedroom apartment where he lives with his stereo can tell you. As such a man, I regard the presence of children in restaurants, coffee shops and airplanes not as some sort of force majeure, but as a force vous douchebags, and I believe you should take responsibility for it.

So does Southwest Airlines, albeit only kind of. Last month, they ejected a woman from a plane bound for San Jose because her two year-old son wouldn’t stop screaming. According to the flight crew, young Adam Root was screaming “Go plane, go!” and “I want to see Daddy!” so loudly that other passengers could not hear safety announcements. According to Pamela Root, Adam is a precious gift from heaven, whose tantrum surely would have stopped once the plane took off and it was, coincidentally, impossible to make them leave. Southwest has since apologized to the Roots and presented Pamela with a refund of her ticket, plus a $300 flight voucher, although Pamela still wants to be compensated for the portable crib and diapers she had to purchase during her and Adam’s extra night away from home.

Root’s argument—and Southwest apparently agrees—is that her child’s behavior on the airplane is somehow not her fault. I suppose that’s true, in the same sense that it’s not my fault that my dog tried to have sex with your wedding cake; one is forced to ask who drove him to the reception. Adam Root presumably did not buy his own ticket to San Jose, and for Pamela Root to give birth to him, fill him full of apple juice, bring him on an airplane and then say its not her fault he started screaming is like bringing your boom box to a funeral and saying you couldn’t help it that “Poker Face” came on. Pamela Root is responsible for the places that Adam Root ruins, because Adam Root can’t go anywhere on his own.

At this point in the argument—and I have had it often—most parents will say, “So, what, I should just stay home until my kid turns six?” It’s a rhetorical question, obviously, designed to expose the harshness of my position, which is why it gives me such pleasure to answer yes. You should totally stay home until your kid turns six, or get a babysitter, or confine your outings to Chuck E. Cheese until such time as your company does not include a person who loudly and compulsively announces his intention to poop. Is that unfair to young mothers? It would be, if I had impregnated them myself. But bumper stickers on I-80 notwithstanding, a child is a choice. Strangely, however, it seems to be a choice that, once made, erases all memory of what came before it.

Parents the world over will tell you that having a child re-centers your universe; you suddenly go from thinking of Me all the time to thinking of Us. People who assure me that I can only experience this miracle of selflessness by having a child of my own have obviously never dated a vegan, but that’s not my point.  My point is, now that you’re part of the new center of the universe is that is the Me–Us entity of you and your sticky child, how is it that you suddenly lose free will when the center of the universe gets to the coffee shop? If your identity is so fused with that of your precious mumkins that you can neither leave him at home for an hour nor resist your mutual urge to go get a latte, why are you suddenly two separate entities when he starts licking the display case? People who accept their child as a given no matter what environment they find themselves in should accept governing his behavior as a given, too. He’s a four year-old in Starbucks, not the emperor Caligula.

At this point, you have probably concluded that I am anti-children. It’s a popular misconception. In fact, I think children are great. I used to work with children; I enjoy having nonsensical conversations with children at lame parties, and I’m always happy to see them doing typical kid activities like playing baseball or making shoes. It’s their parents that make me sad. There’s nothing more depressing than watching a young couple dance with their six year-old instead of each other, or seeing them struggle through the doors of the movie theater with their child, a stroller, a stack of Golden Books and a Ziploc bag full of Cheerios on Saturday night. Try to remember, parents, that what you are doing is gross and unnatural. You may remember the time your wife disgorged a wailing animal from her vagina as the most romantic night of your life, and forgotten about the time you went up to the roof with a bottle of red and a bottle of Xanax, but some of us still have lives ahead of us. We still take responsibility for our company or our loneliness, and we would like to enjoy our single latte in peace.

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  1. As a new and naive parent, I think you are missing the point. The victim here isn’t you, the innocent coffee drinker, but rather the neglected and spoiled child. That is to say, if I am doing what’s best for my kid, then I am doing my due diligence re: the general public. I worked in a coffee shop for 3 years and there were several groups of horrible women that would meet to have lunch and ignore their spoiled children for an hour. This would annoy me and everyone else, but it was neglectful parenting towards the child, not towards me.
    If you can’t tolerate an energetic child for 5 minutes while it’s mother orders her coffee, then you can fuck right off. On the other hand, if you are a mother that tries to force your 3 year old to sit quietly while you complain about your luxury lease, then you are a shitty mom first, and an inconsiderate citizen second. Likewise if your child is misbehaving and you ignore it in favor of your lunch or conversation, you are neglecting your obligation to discipline and socially educate your child first, and pissing off your neighbor second.
    When my daughter Lily screams in public, I do my best to communicate to her that it isn’t appropriate and I give her an opportunity to behave. If she doesn’t, I will leave. I won’t grab my coat, lunch and child in one motion and run out the door to appease those around me, but I will do my best to remove her quickly. I am doing this to teach her a lesson about how to act in public first, and to allow you to watch Failblog on your laptop when you’re supposed to be working second. If you are an attentive and competent parent, you can feel free to bring your kids anywhere, because you will be able to determine when things aren’t working out for you, your kid and everyone else.
    I have to take a little exception with this post, because I know the feeling of having a screaming child on a plane and the anxiety that goes along with knowing your are fucking everyone’s day up. Parents don’t need to worry about everybody in the world. Just be smart and make sure you’re doing right by the kid.

  2. Ha!: “He’s a four year-old in Starbucks, not the emperor Caligula.”

    I think the world would be a much better place and TV news personalities would be much more entertaining if, rather than resulting to the “This [situation] is exactly like Nazi Germany,” they went with a Caligula analogy instead.

  3. Having children in a modern Western society that is devouring the planet and fucking over the third-world in order to maintain its ‘standard of life’ is a fundamentally selfish and irresponsible act. If you’re going to pop the little shits out, your primary responsibility is not to “do right” by this extra mouth you’ve created, but to justify your actions by striving to annoy the rest of the miserable adults on this miserable planet as little as possible.

    My point is, as reasonable and intelligent as Tim M’s above comment is, it still subscribes to the modern mythology of children as magical creatures with an inherent value above and beyond anything and anyone else in existence. It assumes that raising children is a fundamentally “good act. It’s not. They are selfish little human beings who grow up to be selfish big human beings. Parents owe it to the world to show that they are creating one of these creatures to do as little harm as possible, even possibly to do good–the world does not owe it to these parents to reward them for bringing a cherub into existence.

    I’m being polemical on purpose. “The children” is such a mythologized entity in American culture, perhaps THE mythologized entity, that any alternative perspective is (sometimes) welcome. The militant-environmentalist one was just handy at the moment.

    I am, of course, single.

  4. Mike, you certainly make a good point re: overpopulation and the myriad problems that would undeniably be solved if there were fewer people, but I think Tim’s right. What’s ugly about a kid screaming on an airplane is not the first ten seconds of screaming, or the kid itself during the next ten minutes. It’s the parental indulgence—the same attitude that seems magically to regard Starbucks, say, as a safe and supervised environment where children can be left to roam free. That’s not annoying because a little sticky person has come over to my table and touched my hand, but because I’m watching a situation that’s almost certainly going to lead to a bad adult. Seeing a child spoiled is more distracting than anything a child itself can do.

    I think in the post I focused more on children and parents themselves, because they’re easier to make jokes about, and not the thing that really bothers me, which is the attitude that a parent can ever be not responsible for the behavior of his or her child. A child can be trained. My memory of childhood is blurry, but I don’t recall ever throwing a tantrum that disrupted a restaurant, much less got me kic ked off a plane. I guess my complaint is against parents who don’t supervise/discipline their children in pubic places because it’s easier to abdicate responsibility and hide behind Mike’s aptly-phrased mythologized entity of childhood. It’s not the tantrum that gets to me, but the tantrum uncorrected. A well-raised kid really is an awesome thing.

    Mostly, I needed a humor piece for Crave.

  5. I owe Tim a beer for being a good parent. Tim gets a pass.

    The opposite of Tim is what I usually deal with, and why I love this post.

    I work in a steakhouse, that is cocktail driven, plays music blasting so loud you can’t hear yourself chew, and the logo is a chick’s ass.

    I’m not kidding:

    People will bring their kids in on a Saturday night at 11 PM for dinner.

    I wish more people were parents like Tim or my brother.

  6. I recall those happy golden years when I used to threaten to break your tiny arms and legs or, in homage to Beowulf and Grendel, to tear off your arm and beat you with it. Verbal abuse aside, it always made you laugh. Silently.

  7. There is a serious problem with overpopulation and shitty parenting in our country and the world. But accusing all parents of narcissism simply because they fulfilled the prime directive of their DNA is both delusional and counter-productive. It may not be completely fair, but if your desired result is parents taking responsibility for their brood, you may not want to refer to their kids as nothing more than mouths connected to assholes. As repulsive as it may be, I love my daughter and think she’s an angel.

    My responsibility is most cerainly to my daughter and not to you. The good news is that part of that responsibilty is teaching her to be a good citizen and if I do that then her impact on you will be minimal.

    If we thought the best we could do with our daughter is minimize the drain that she would be on society then I don’t think we would have decided to have children. Obviously, I subscribe the mythology that my child is a net positive. Some parents will fuck up, and their kids will be bastards, but that’s up to the parents. I ask that you don’t lump me in with them.

  8. My kudos also to Tim M for being a good parent and I’m not really as angry as that response suggests. My post was a purposeful overstatement, playing “asshole’s advocate” if you will, for the sake of raising the possibility of an alternative view. Probably counter-productive, as you say, but that’s part of the fun of blogs sometimes. Although I concede I probably could have reigned it in a bit.

  9. This discussion thread is too civilized. We need some racial purity talk up in here.

    btw – no offense taken, Mike. It is amazing though, now that I have a child, how strong my urge to defend her and my parenting style is. It is no longer suprising how contentious discussions of parenting can get.

    I hope everyone realizes that having a kid myself, I hate shitty parents even more than I ever did. Kind of like how being from Iowa makes me hate these asshats more than most.

  10. Did I mention that, despite having an alphabet full of degrees and an enormous ego, my biggest goal in life was to raise a couple kids well within the context of a long marriage? Mission accomplished. I adored them at every stage, including the present one. I also adored their friends, whom I found to be exceptionally smart and well-mannered and a pleasure to have around. This comment will be remarkable to regular readers for its lack of cynicism and smartass-ism.

    I still see babies–including one who’s been mentioned here–and want to get me one. That’s why God made menopause.

  11. Just let me say how grateful I am that you’ve created a special place on the net where a photo of a bunch of adorable children can have the caption “A bunch of assholes”.

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