Yesterday evening, we decided to go out for a spur-of-the-moment pub dinner. The sun was shining, we’d been at the farm all afternoon, and I didn’t much feel like cooking. It turned out to be a bad decision in many ways (poor service, cold, undercooked food, forgotten drinks and a near-death choking experience from The Baby just about covers it). But although it wasn’t exactly the relaxed, stress-free family meal I’d hoped it would be, it could have been worse.
I could have been the mother sitting at the table opposite, who spent her entire meal wrangling with a tiny newborn and a boy of about two who didn’t stop tantrumming for the whole time we were there. The poor woman looked like she was about to start sobbing into her roast beef.
And it was all our fault.
It wasn’t intentional. All I did was park The Baby in a highchair and give her a plastic Roary the Racing Car – one of The Boy’s cast-offs that she’s taken a shine to – out of my changing bag. But as she started to brrm-brrm it around her tray, I noticed the little lad opposite going positively green with envy, before dissolving into hysterical tears about ‘the red car,’ which got louder and more frantic by the minute.
His parents tried distracting him with his dinner (which he threw on the floor). They reasoned with him (unsuccessfully). The dad took him out for a walk, and he returned looking calmer – until he clocked the car again, and dissolved once more. And all the while I cringed at the fuss we’d caused with that little plastic Roary. It was probably their first meal out as a family of four, and we’d inadvertently ruined it.
I didn’t know what to do, you see. Within five minutes, The Baby had lost interest in Roary, and had moved onto more interesting pursuits.
It would have been quite easy to just let the little boy play with Roary while The Baby was otherwise occupied emptying my bag. But wading into another family’s parenting crisis is a dangerous game – even if your intentions are good.
For all I knew, the little guy routinely kicked off about wanting other children’s toys. Perhaps his parents were well used to his ‘want it NOW’ tantrums, and what looked toe-curlingly embarrassing to me was actually quite normal for them. Perhaps this was the first time, but they wanted to teach him a lesson, wanted him to know that when Mummy and Daddy say no, they mean it. In either case, I knew that if I handed the car over, I’d be undermining all their hard work. I’d probably also come across as a smug, patronising ubermummy whose children would never *dream* of behaving like that in public (despite the fact that The Baby was now being walked around the beer garden by DH to stop her grizzling).
On the other hand, if I *didn’t* give him the car, what sort of message would that send out? My daughter wasn’t playing with it; why not let their son have it for 10 minutes? How mean would I look if I left it sitting there on the table in all its unplayed-with glory? Especially when the poor kid was no doubt coming to terms with his life being turned upside down by the arrival of his new baby brother…
I sat there and ummed and ahhed about what to do. Should I sidle over to the mum and offer the car in a whisper, leaving her to say no if she wanted? Should I pretend I didn’t know what the tantrum was about? Or even that I hadn’t noticed it (as if)?
In the end, I settled for sneaking Roary back into my bag while the boy wasn’t looking, working on the old ‘out of sight, out of mind’ theory. It didn’t work. Even as they left the pub, parents looking thoroughly downtrodden, he was still sobbing. Their afternoon was ruined, and all for the sake of a plastic car.
One day, I’m sure, I will get my comeuppance. The Baby is a firebrand, and it’s only a matter of time before she throws a public hissy fit over someone else’s toy. How I’ll react remains to be seen, but I think, on balance, I’d rather deal with it myself than have another parent intervene, no matter how well-meaning they might be.
And as for Roary? Well, that’s the last time we take him out for dinner…