I have found that if there’s one group in society you must be careful never to enrage, it’s parents. Not all parents, I must stress, just a select few that all too often seem to be the majority. Particularly if they’ve got their little bundles of joy with them at the time, heaven help you.
Two stories caught my eye recently that illustrate this point. The first comes from Toronto, Canada, where a couple were asked to leave a restaurant because their baby’s stroller was basically deemed an unwelcome insurance risk. Which it is. Those with skateboards and rollerblades can also be turned away due to wheels causing mishaps. It’s regrettable, but that’s the price we all must pay for encouraging a compensation culture. Children also realise that ‘where there’s blame, there’s a claim’ – £800,000 in compensation was paid out after children were involved in accidents at schools across Wales over the last five years, for everything from running into goalposts to slipping on ice. And who teaches them that? Exactly. Parents. It’s no wonder kids can’t have conker fights or climb trees any more.
As someone who resents having to carefully tip-toe around children who are in my way, not the other way around, in public places, for fear of invoking the wrath of blinkered parents, I say: good! Keep them at home or go somewhere designed for children where those without would never dare venture and surely then everyone can be happy, not least the child.
This slap across the face was fairly tame, though, compared to the ‘heartless’ Berlin coffee shop that banned strollers outright and, to make the point clear, erected a great big concrete post to make it impossible for them to enter. The coffee shop’s owners say they are happy to remove it for wheelchair users, however, which are arguably just as much a fire hazard in certain situations, to be fair. But let’s be honest, wheelchair users generally don’t throw ear-piercing tantrums and put you off your food by blowing theirs out of their nose while the proud parents expect you to find the nauseating spectacle adorable and glare at you with disgust in their eyes if you don’t. (These are the parents I’m getting at. Stick with me.)
The same Berlin restaurant, by the way, refuses to serve sugar, does not play music and provides a designated area for people to use laptops, if they must, away from the main area. Not that there’s WiFi available.
Is any of this such a bad thing? I mean, if you really think about it? I think that’s all fair enough. Like the quiet carriage on a train, you don’t have to sit there if you want to behave like a foghorn.
I happen to like peace and quiet. In these hectic, noisy times, tranquility is something to behold. It’s not easy to relax in a café, perhaps to read a book or reply to an e-mail, with someone else’s choice of music blasting away and the incessant tap-tap-tapping of keys interrupted only by the beeps of electronic devices we once used to be able to leave home without back when it was possible to make it to the end of any given day without having a nervous breakdown because your battery is running dangerously low, less still the shrill stab to the ear that is a screeching child. If customers don’t like the rules, they can always go somewhere else, preferably somewhere better suited to catering for increasingly large buggies that routinely bump into other people’s tables, spilling expensive drinks over expensive sandwiches, creating obstacles for those who have to navigate gingerly around their workspace because parents have redesigned the layout for their convenience with not a care for anybody else. Their coffee shop, their rules. If you’ve ever had a small, sticky hand reach for you when you’re in your best suit and trying to get some work done, your space invaded by a combination of metal and plastic and tiny legs kicking out rhythmically, you’ll understand. For many of us, baby-free zones are a good thing. Make that a very, very good thing.
So, for standing up to mothers who congregate in cafés, hogging all the free space and allowing their babies to create a constant din, tortuous in its frequency and repetition (because often they don’t even notice the noise their child makes because they’re too busy complaining about how tired they are) and just generally getting in your way, slowing you down and giving you a headache, the owners of this place are my newest heroes. Well done, Berlin. On behalf of the childless and child-free of this world, I thank you. You are right up there with old-school librarians everywhere whose hissing at the slightest noise brings a halt to inconsiderate disturbances and earns appreciative nods from fellow sticklers. Keepers of the peace indeed. How we need more of them.
Anyway, back to Toronto and a local human rights lawyer, unsurprisingly, quite possibly a parent with an agenda, jumped in (carefully – probably – so as not to wake the baby, unless of course the baby was already awake and in need of entertaining, in which case it was quite likely one of those exaggerated jumps with flailing arms and a raspberry blown on landing to prompt giggles) with a load of waffle about how denying someone service because they have a stroller could potentially be discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Or something.
Ugh. I’m not sure if ‘human rights lawyer’ repulses as much as ‘parent who thinks the world revolves around their baby’, but it’s a close call.
Is a stroller a human right? I don’t think so. Expensive must-have fashion accessory for competitive, somewhat lazy parents who could just carry their children, no doubt. Something that makes life easier, few would argue and fewer still would deny anyone this clever contraption. A bit like those electronic devices I was complaining about earlier, really.
Anyway, the parents are threatening legal action.
The next story is worse. Much, much worse. I’m going to put the gist of it in its own little one-line paragraph – in bold italics – for maximum dramatic effect. I might even underline. If you’re eating, please stop right now. Here it comes, you have been warned (but I won’t underline)…
Breastfeeding in a public place.
That’s right. I’m sorry, I don’t care how natural it is or how amazing, I don’t want to see it. Masturbating is natural, but thankfully people don’t start doing that as soon as you’ve sat down opposite them on the bus.
But it gets even worse.
If you’re wondering what kind of public place, wonder no more. It was a swimming pool. That’s right, a swimming pool. In Manchester, England. The militant mother was in the pool, breastfeeding away proudly (as she should be, because it’s a wonderful thing to do and I’m never going to get into an argument about its merits), with her husband and older child who have seen it all before. But she was in a swimming people. With other people, complete strangers, who don’t know her or expect to see her with baby at her breast. Paying customers, old and young alike. Trying to swim and stuff. Which is what swimming pools are for.
Outraged to be told by a lifeguard and then a manager that, as well as indecent exposure, breastfeeding in a swimming pool is unhygienic and akin to urinating (a bit harsh), the humiliated and distressed mother (but not so much that she couldn’t immediately tell the press all about it), with that familiar air of importance that new mothers so often have, has kicked up such a fuss that the local council is now obliged to investigate the incident, vowing to take immediate action on any member of staff found to have behaved inappropriately towards Mrs ‘I should be allowed to breastfeed wherever I want’. In the latest in a long line of damage-limitation exercises, the council cleverly, yet annoyingly, brought out a sympathetic breastfeeding mother to speak on its behalf (I don’t think she was breastfeeding at the time, but you never know), who spewed out the boring political correctness that we have all come to expect: mothers should be free to breastfeed wherever they choose… so there. Ha!
But why shouldn’t she try to be discrete? Could she not have fed her baby in the changing room or poolside café (not the toilets, as was suggested, that wasn’t very nice) and spared the other pool users the awkwardness of this tedious maternal exhibitionism? Would she have liked her children to witness another mother breastfeeding, or to accidentally and unknowingly ingest that mother’s bodily fluids as they innocently paddled by? She wouldn’t have been allowed to feed her baby bottled milk, after all, and what if the baby had dribbled or vomited in the pool? They do that quite a lot, so I’ve heard, babies.
Spare me the attention-seeking martyrdom, please. Too many people crave publicity these days and if it leads to indulgent media debate or some form of compensation, so much the better. How I hate all that.
Yes, the UK’s Equality Act 2010 states that it is unlawful for a woman breastfeeding in public to be treated unfavourably (and thankfully covers more important issues of discrimination based on a person’s race or disability), yet surely there’s a time and a place for it. To many, breastfeeding in a swimming pool isn’t the place at any time of day.
A poll on the local newspaper’s website, the Manchester Evening News, shows that the majority of readers feel it was right that she be told to stop breastfeeding, so clearly I’m not alone. Likewise, a poll in the Toronto Sun unanimously voted that banning strollers from restaurants does not count as discrimination and should be up to the restaurant owner.
But that will not do.
The parents are threatening legal action.
I thought having children was meant to lower one’s self-absorption level. Obviously not in this case.
Not satisfied with the extra-wide parking bays, the specially-adapted supermarket trolleys, the provision of high chairs wherever food is served, the free public transport, and all the other things that exist purely for the parent’s convenience; ignoring the summer holiday clubs provided free of charge along with the other taxpayer-funded freebies some parents might be entitled to (for example, Healthy Start vouchers in the UK that can be exchanged for free vitamins, milk, fruit and vegetables); and forgetting the generous parental leave and fact that mothers and fathers always get priority when it comes to Christmas holidays, which their co-workers resent, parents still demand even more.
Did the little ones want to be fed in a swimming pool or parked up tableside in a pokey restaurant? Probably not. Probably no more than they’ll want to learn how to tap dance or play the trumpet a few years down the line. That’s self-entitled and selfish parenting in my book when a calmer, quieter, more relaxed environment might be better for all parties, not least the child (but mostly selfish people like me).
I’m saying nothing about babies on planes. Nothing. Ever.
It looks to me as though taking small children out in their prams and buggies, with all the necessary baggage, is a total pain. So stay at home wherever possible. It’s 2013 and you can get groceries delivered now. Why leave behind a trail of destruction in shops or sticky mess in restaurants for others to clean up before babies know how to behave?
While I obviously acknowledge and salute the considerable sacrifice of sleep, privacy and beer money, I just wish certain parents – you know who they are, we’ve all seen them – would stop rubbing the rest of our noses in it with their smug parental elitism and moral superiority. You had a child. Well done. That was the easy bit. Now please teach him or her some manners, and when to be quiet, so that you don’t make visiting any public place insufferable for those of us who just want to be able to get in and out quickly without the need for painkillers or wet wipes. Or in the case of those in the swimming pool with you as you breastfeed, a bucket to throw up into. I hate to break it to you, but it’s not all about you and your little darling.
With apologies to responsible, considerate and sometimes embarrassed parents of mostly well-behaved, funny, charming children.