It could be pregnancy hormones adding to my already sensitive nature, but I’m becoming increasingly annoyed by people’s idea of “children should be seen and not heard.” This is not an isolated phenomenon of the fine art museum and it’s crotchety old curator, but a very frequent occurrence in many places.
Last summer, the kids and I took a two week trip to visit our cousins in Arizona. We visited a few caves during our time there. On one cave tour, it was my six children, my cousin and his son, myself, and a woman and her teenage son. My naturally inquisitive ten year old son was fascinated by the cave and had many questions for the guide. These were not your dumb “do dragons live here?” type, but real questions. Like “how old is this cave?” “When did people first discover it?” “How did they see since there were no lights?” etc. But the guide was annoyed and told him to stop with the questions until the end of the tour. My son was not interrupting; he usually asked after the guide was done talking about one room or as we walked to the next. I thought maybe it was a cave man thing, but then…
We took a tour with my dad of the LBJ ranch and mansion in Johnson City, Texas. This time it was my little three year old who said “YAY!” and clapped his hands. The guide asked if I could please ask my tiny child to refrain from happiness (okay maybe not his exact words). I apologized and said I didn’t bring my muzzle (those WERE my exact words).
The ten year old asked questions, and while the guides usually answered, sometimes they ignored him or said “sorry, have to keep moving.”
Again, if either were being obnoxious or disruptive, I would have taken them out. I do have some common sense when it comes to what’s appropriate and what’s not. But I appreciate the fact that my kids want to know more. And I also appreciate the fact we paid to be in the tour and ask questions of interest. Why discourage kids from their natural curiosity? Disclaimer: unless they are being obnoxious.
This week, both my elementary kids had school plays. Both were during the day, so I brought my little three for my son’s, whose play was first. My daughter came to sit with me. At one point, the three year old let out a noise. Every kid in that school, and I do mean everyone, turned and stared. My daughter was embarrassed and said, “I don’t think they want you here. They’re all staring at you!” I felt bad. No one else had little ones there and now my daughter was feeling the heat of all those stares, too.
The worst, however, is in the church, a place where all should feel welcome and wanted, especially children. In the Orthodox Church, children actively participate in the services from the time of infancy. It is customary for babies to be brought in and baptized at 40 days old. There are not special services for the littles so the grown ups can pray in peace and quiet. There are usually cry rooms within the church for very noisy kids or nursing moms.
My kids have grown up attending the long services of the Orthodox Church. And while they are familiar with the length of the services and the quiet that is expected of them, they do need to be taken out at times. I have four, soon to be five, age 7 and under. An hour and a half of baby and toddler juggling, in and out, back and forth, swaying and bouncing, is very tiring, especially since my husband rarely attends with us. I think I leave, more often than not, thinking WHY DO I BOTHER?! I’m exhausted when I get home on Sundays, and frequently upset.
And I see the struggle of other mothers and the frustration and exhaustion on their faces. And I admire them for being there.
But there are those who seem more annoyed with our presence than anything else. They feel the need to continuously look back with disapproving looks, sigh loudly, move to another side of the church, or simply come up and say something. There’s nothing worse when, in the midst of struggling with a child or three in order to wrangle them together and shuffle out AGAIN, than the man, woman or person from behind the altar approaching. I know what they’re going to say. And as I nod that I understand and will remove the offenders (sometimes I do so more humbly than others), I’m usually close to tears.
I get it. Kids are distracting. They are noisy and sometimes downright irritating. And there are times when they need to be physically removed from a situation for the benefit of themselves and everyone else. Be it church, the grocery store, library, wherever. I have two on the spectrum where the simple “please be quiet” didn’t/doesn’t register, and a one year old who could care less.
But we are there. Trying. Struggling. We want to teach our kids and take them places and have them learn how to behave. We want them to learn to properly participate. We can’t stay shut up inside or on the playground until they grow out of the obnoxious years.
I guess my point is, instead of being annoyed by the mommy and her toddler, wishing they’d just leave, try being sympathetic that she is most likely aware of her child’s noise and movement, and probably overwhelmed at that moment. She may just need a smile thrown her way instead of a scowl. And for all those who do smile or offer a hand, your thoughtful gesture means more than you can imagine. It’s soothing and healing to a tired mama!
In the meantime, I try to remind myself “this too shall pass.”