We don’t really do children in this country, do we?
Don’t worry, I do know that I’m generalising horribly but, as a rule, our society tolerates children at best and, more often than not, gently disapproves of them, especially if they are seen or heard out and about. In public.
There are places, of course, that children are tolerated better than others: supermarkets, parks, playgrounds, theme parks, the dreaded McDonalds. We go in search of expensive FUN! rather than finding the enjoyment in daily life. But that’s just it – they have their designated areas but they are not expected to be part of life. If you’d like to try my hypothesis, go to any fancy restaurant with a boisterous – or simply tired – toddler and see how many people can handle their expensive meal interrupted. Here, however, I believe we have a chicken and egg situation.
Personally, I subscribe wholeheartedly to the continental European modus vivendi. Your child would not be kicking off or playing up in the restaurant if it were something he or she had been doing since birth. Generally speaking (again), European children understand the kind of behaviour that is expected of them at any given moment because they are involved in every aspect of life – they are not small people in stasis, waiting to be allowed into the arena of society when they have reached a suitable size. Don’t get me wrong. I have no perception of such children as being better behaved than their British counterparts, they are simply seen as a component part of society, rather than an annoyance. Where is it written that, because we have children we can no longer go to certain places, do certain things? And yet, because our society has evolved in precisely that fashion, we are marginalised until they are deemed acceptably large to be included. It is a form of apartheid, from which we struggle to emerge in our children’s younger years.
By contrast, on the Continent children are an intrinsic part of society. They are not seen as having proportional value depending on their size. Here, we plaster establishments with signs reading “No children after 7.30pm!” Sadly, this speaks of two problems to me. First, that we do not trust children to behave in a way that does not disturb our enjoyment of our evening, but perhaps more depressingly, we do not trust ourselves to behave in a way that is appropriate for children’s company. That, however, is a whole new topic and one that I do not intend to end up bogged down in here. That interpretation aside, though, why can children not be trusted to behave in an appropriate fashion? Precisely because they are banished in the first place. To paraphrase Orwell: children are equal, just not as equal as adults.
My disclaimer at this point is that I do not believe that children should be allowed everywhere and I am not a permissive mother. Nor, incidentally, am I writing this out of some sense of disgruntlement for my own lot. But I am constantly dismayed at the alarming state that our society has ‘evolved’ into.
Yesterday, as all seven of us trawled around the supermarket and my children were ogling enormous Toblerones and demanding totally unsuitable foodstuffs, a kindly old gentleman asked if they were all mine. I am often asked this question, but usually with a look of horror or sympathy. He, like a breath of fresh air, was generously affectionate in his approach. We struggled through the check-out, children set in random motion, clutching some things that had already been paid for, others that were yet to be bought with pocket money, chaotic and happy. I sighed in exasperation (having already had to be reminded of my ‘And this’ exercise) and rolled my eyes at the girl behind the till. She smiled at me in admiration and said:
“I never bring mine.”*Rant over – normal gentle service will now resume* 🙂