Christine Park

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Banning Babies

Malaysia Airlines has banned babies from first class. The company's CEO says he's just responding to passengers' complaints. Like one of my childless friends, who recently shelled out a lot of cash (or points) to upgrade to first class for her hard-earned vacation to Puerto Rico. She ranted on Facebook about the toddler who kicked her seat and screamed for the entire 5 hour flight. I say, sometimes you have to walk through the gates of hell to get to your paradise. But she had every right to be mad.

And this is coming from me, a parent of a toddler and a preschooler who dared to fly solo with the kids across the country, from Fresno to Orlando last fall. Before the flight I agonized... drug 'em with Benadryl? Play the "I-spy" game for five hours? Feed them nonstop so their mouths were too busy to scream or cry? Strap their little feet down so they can't kick the seat in front? Luckily, the movie on the iPad was apparently hypnotic enough to keep them entertained and more importantly, silent.

That's why Joel Stein's "Baby on Board" article for Time is so hilarious and... genius. In it, he suggests airlines provide a separate seating section in the back of the plane for small children and their parents, where the seats are covered in plastic, Toy Story runs in a loop on the screen, and juice boxes are given out on demand. He also wonders, quite sensibly, why infants are allowed to ride on their parents' laps while other potentially deadly projectiles like purses must be stowed under the seat in front of you. I'm on board with this proposal. Instead of banning kids from flights, have a "families with small children" section. After all, misery loves company. And the only thing worse than sitting next to an inconsolable child, is to be the parent of that inconsolable child. So no more dirty looks from fellow passengers, because there's no way to distinguish WHOSE kid is crying when we're all lumped together. Safety in numbers.

Unfortunately, this trend of banning babies is catching on. After all, rich people make the rules. Some restaurants are now instituting no-kids policies. Just yesterday, I read about a Pittsburgh eatery that as of July 16th, will no longer allow children to dine there. The owner e-mailed customers, explaining "kids' volume cannot be controlled." Really, kids don't work like a stereo receiver? Last year, a North Carolina restaurant posted a sign reading, "Screaming Children Will Not Be Tolerated." Uh, what about screaming sports fans at the bar? Why is profanity in public okay but not Pampers and prams?

I used to be one of those people eating at a fine dining establishment (any entree costing over $15 qualifies), who would wonder why on earth the people next to me wasted money trying to have a nice meal accompanied by food-throwing toddlers. Then I became a parent, and I realized parents are people too! Sometimes mommy and daddy want someone else to do the cooking and cleaning, and when chicken nuggets don't cut it, we're gonna spring for steak. We've been pretty lucky... our kids aren't public screamers or nudists, and only half of their meals end up on the floor. So Sunday, we grabbed our gift cards and hauled them to Fleming's Steakhouse for a dinner of bone-in ribeye and bribery. The latter consists of dessert, fries, or juice or whatever convinces the kids to eat their over-priced kids meal. The meal did not start off well. My 2-year-old son was in a utensil and plate-dropping mood. Although he seemed disappointed at the muffled noise, after they hit carpet instead of hardwood. My husband quickly whisked him off to the wood-paneled restrooms for some discipline... while I tried to stop my 4-year-old daughter from stuffing her face with bread and spilling her crimson juice on the pristine white tablecloth. But the wait staff didn't blink an eye. They quickly replaced his plate and utensils (placing it out of reach), brought in covered juice cups split evenly between the kids, and comped the $15 kids meal plus dessert when they got the order wrong. Clearly, we weren't the only crazy couple that dined there with kids. In fact, enough people do so they now provide a kids menu. We never felt unwelcome, we never were asked to turn down the volume, we were never asked to pick up the food remnants on the floor (I just do it anyways, out of guilt). So kudos to you, Fleming's. You've earned repeat customers. While I still had to let my steak grow cold while I cut theirs into bite-sized pieces, it was a perfectly enjoyable meal. Or maybe it was the two martinis I downed back to back. It was happy hour, after all. (Parents with families don't like to dine out past 7pm... it interrupts the kids' bedtimes.) The best part... no dishes to do afterwards and leftovers to look forward to.

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