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Wednesday, 25 May 2016

#14 On Children in Cafés

Things were very different back then

As a waitress I thought children were the pits. It was as if they conducted their entire restaurant visit through a megaphone, which not only blasted out sound but also cold, squashed chips and splodges of purée. If we staff were lucky, we'd be treated to one or two pint-sized escapees nipping around our ankles as we tried to carry hot coffee across the floor, performing a high-level riverdance in which we were speedily to deliver said coffee, unspilled, and avoid said child.

But it was the parents who were really to blame, of course, and deserve our scorn. They'd show up en masse at the door, a horde of huge, creaking prams between them, smiling hopefully while darting their eyes about to see which area to commandeer completely .  

We'd tut amongst ourselves, 'Where the **** is that pram gonna fit?'
'Is it necessary for table four to move all the chairs like that? It's not a sodding crèche.'
‘Changing facilities? We’re not McDonald’s, love.’

I must make something clear at this point: my life was very different then, in my teens and early twenties, to that of Current Me. Now to be fair I did actually enjoy my work and give a crap about it, but the focus amongst us staff was still no doubt on chatting, flirting, lightly mocking the boss / clientele and getting to the end of a shift on ten espressos while nursing a dark hangover.

So this was all back in the day, the same day when I used to curse people who brought babies on planes. Now, as karma would have it, I am often That Parent. My two-year-old son is not that quiet in cafes. He does not eat that tidily and he gets ants in his pants within two minutes of sitting down. Our pram takes up more space than I would like.  And incidentally, yes, our toddler has screamed a plane down despite all our efforts to pacify him. My how times have changed.

Having my own babies has been like looking in a mirror at my former self, and every time I’ve been met with service that tuts or rolls eyes - however subtly - at accommodating my children, I think this. But even more than karma, I see mismanagement and a missed opportunity because, most cafes, mums are your daytime demographic*. Toys and allocated space for the kids, most awesome as they are :) :), may not be possible in all venues but basically, make us feel welcome and we will come. And spend.

Or so we say.

Because there's another side to this issue. Yes, these days  I understand much better what mumming involves and karma has bitten my ass many times. But I do think a lot of mums who have been waitresses understand what that involves too, whereas some maybe don’t or, if they once did, they have forgotten. Take the Mess Makers, for instance. I read recently on a baby website one mum’s comment: 'AIBU (am I being unreasonable) not to have tidied up after my kids in a cafe?' the mess in question being chips and pots of baby food being left all over everywhere.

Yes, YABU. This post brought back so many memories which still stick uneasily with me of parents as bad customers: leaving mounds of goo and baby wipe without any attempt to clean up; leaving everywhere bits of food bought and not bought at that establishment. Yes, yes, of course you sometimes have to bring food for your nipper - I’ve done it many times - but for any of the above, at least do that awkward British thing where you try to tidy it up, in the hope that the staff will come along and insist it’s fine.  They generally do do this, and if they don’t, then maybe it’s a further case of mismanagement and all its trappings.

‘But I’m a paying customer, I’m entitled to make mess’, many might cry. Well, yes they might but the torrent of negative YABU responses to the post above, in their bandying about of words such as ‘rude’, and indeed ‘entitled’ would, thankfully, suggest otherwise.

OK, at least these people do pay and maybe there are worse out there. In fact I have seen them and those are The Occupiers. Of space and facilities, that is, as these individuals are not known to, you know, buy anything the venue is actually selling. I have seen, (sigh), entire groups of people where between roughly nine of them, babes crawling around, the works, about two coffees are purchased.  And this phenomenon seems to happen come rain or shine, by the way; cheek and stinginess are not just foul-weather friends. And these venues exist to make a living, winter or summer.

I know I’m not alone in my rant here. Inevitably, it’s a view shared by the venue proprietors and managers I know. But these and parents are not mutual exclusives. Many of these owners also have kids and, like many of us, can see both sides.

What's more, you don’t even need experience in this industry to ‘get’ what I’m saying; let’s not forget that the ‘AIBU’ post - and its shocked responses - were all found on the wall of a parenting website. Assuming that this is not somewhere non-parents prefer to come in their downtime, this speaks for itself.

So how to conclude this? Establishments, you want our money; we want your coffee. Let’s make this work with some nice manners on both sides.

Venues: be nice to these people
Parents: don’t be cheaple. Or cheekle. (OK, enough now).

The end.

*Mums - and therefore females -  happen to be the main demographic in my case, but I’m sure this extends to any parents

Seen the book? Take a look!
Twitter:  @ericajbarlow
Instagram: @ericajane_20   #lookingatyoubabydotcom

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Friday, 13 May 2016

#13 On The Lies We Need To Tell Children

Unbelievably, this does not exist

'Oh that's a shame, darling. See I'd love to buy you an ice cream, but when the van plays his tunes, it means there are no more left.'

So goes the urban myth I heard about someone's mum and ice cream vans. In fact, I once quoted this story to a friend right after she'd told me, yanking on a stiff, scratchy jumper, that her mum claimed not to use fabric conditioner as it 'wrecked the fibres'.

Parents and their tall tales, eh, often used to save cash, time or effort somehow. Actually, now I have become a parent I have learned of various other motives for such small-child-deception.

For instance, we have the idea of protecting children from a harsh truth. A moral motive, you might say. To this day I can remember getting all excited, at three years old, about seeing our cat one morning, curled up in the gutter by our driveway with his mouth fixed open in a yawn. In my preschool wisdom I just assumed him to be having a nice rest, kerbside, so I pointed to him and shouted to my dad.

Dad's response took me aback somewhat. 'Where? Oh... No, no, that's not Tim. Nope, definitely not.'
And with that he sped me away to nursery.

I'd know that cat anywhere, I brooded silently. But everything became clearer that evening when I came out into the garden to see Dad gravely pat-pat-patting a fresh mound of earth with the back of a shovel.

Poor Timmy-boy. But Dad had been right, of course; my day thereafter might have been a bit off-kilter if I’d gone in knowing exactly what I'd seen: Tim laying there post-expiry of his membership to the Nine Lives Club.

So we see, shielding children from the truth can be a noble thing, sparing their delicate and innocent souls a nasty hardship. Let's be honest, though, we're more inclined to lie to them when they're just being little bastards. Take following basic commands. So often am I carrying Daughter or lots of shopping upstairs to our apartment and Son is simply refusing to follow suit. Despite my attempts to woo/ threaten him up there, he happily arses about in the stairwell, inconveniencing me and any passer-by.

So? 'Big spider on the landing' it is. And we live in Australia so we’re talking big-fuck-off-sweaty ones. When they’re real, of course.

I lurch upstairs with my heavy load, craning my neck up to the landing, ‘Ooh, better come quick, he’s moving, he’s running away. Quick!’

It’s just as well, of course, that spiders - even big, sweaty ones - are shy creatures. This allows my hoax some plausibility, evident in Son’s disappointment when he finally arrives and sees no arachnid anywhere.

‘Gone’, I tut. I also gently sigh. I might even ruffle his hair to hammer home the fake solidarity, before toeing him through the front door.

And it's not just spiders that disappear in our web of untruths; in our house inanimate objects- namely ones that I don't want sticky mitts on- vanish when 'sleeping':

'iPad sleeping'
'Daddy's phone sleeping'
Hell, we even have 'Peppa Pig sleeping', which calls for an existential belief, if you will, that cartoon characters hit the sack when not being watched. Son seems OK with this, so that's great. I thank Toy Story for weaving this idea into his tiny mind.

Another favourite fib is the 'follow your idol' fallacy. This time I use anyone Son looks up to and claim that they exhibit whatever behaviour I desire from him. Usually this is associated with trying to put something on him; clothes or the like.

'Don't want to wear these? Oh but X wears these all the time! In fact yours are better ones.'
'Y always has his straps done up properly'

And don't think this is just confined to his junior peers:

'I know you don't want to put your nappy on for bed. I know you normally wear big boy pants all day...' (inner monologue: oh shit, I'm running out of ideas)

A visiting Uncle P pops his head round the door. 'Hey, I wear a nappy for bed.'

Shock passes over Son's face. 'Huh? Do you, Uncle P?'

'Every night! Love it.'

Compliance ensues.

One day Son will learn about the necessity of evidencing one’s claims, but hopefully at the same time as learning perspective and maybe how wilful toddlers can be. Or let’s hope he may just have forgotten my porky pies altogether. In any case, they work now and I make no apology for them.

But perhaps fibbing to my daughter is a different story with a different motive still. The scene goes like this: she’s thirteen weeks old and I have, as usual, left her on the floor/ bed for long enough that she starts inconsiderately fussing or crying for actual human contact.

So I feel urged to utter, in a silly singsong voice:

‘Mummy’s coming, I just need to finish my shower / the washing / the hoovering.’ (true)
‘Be right with you.’ (untrue)

Deep down, I know that I am fobbing off my non-verbal baby with pointless noises. I do not need compliance from her; I need reassurance for myself. I feel a bit bad.

One thing’s for sure, though: at least she won’t remember these moments. I hope. And when she’s older, I have a plethora of ice-cream-van stories all ready to go.


Seen the book? Take a look!
Twitter:  @ericajbarlow
Instagram: @ericajane_20   #lookingatyoubabydotcom

Facebook: Here's Looking At You, Baby