The adventure inadvertently includes the rest of the restaurant-goers, as it were. Some are sympathetic, smiling, and happy to be alive; others scowl, revealing that persistent pre-snarl and I left imagining the lecture they’ll deliver on “well-behaved children” and public spaces.
Milla tangles with me at the Mellow Mushroom.
Perhaps the conversation is familiar to you- or on your list of interactions to avoid. Let’s imagine it goes something like this:
DISGRUNTLED EATER: (Rolling his eyes in your direction) Ma’am, your child (he spits the word out with distaste) is singing too loud…
WORRIED MOM: Oh, sir, I’m sorry. (turning to Milla) Milla, you have to sing in a whisper- we are at a restaurant.
MILLA: Okay Mommy. But we outside- you tell me I can sing outside.
WORRIED MOM: (Casts glance at disgruntled eater, who is following the conversation carefully) Yes, but not here Milla. This is a pizza patio where people come to eat.
DISGRUNTLED EATER: It is, after all, a PUBLIC place so bratty kids can’t do whatever they want.
WORRIED MOM: (Getting annoyed with his tone) That’s right- it is public place where all kinds of people come to eat, drink, talk, and hang out. There is no sign that says, “Autistic children are banned.”
DISGRUNTLED EATER: Is she (pointing to Milla) autistic? Because that would explain her behavior.
WORRIED MOM: No, sir, she is not on the autism spectrum. She is 2 years old, which also explains her behavior. There is no sign which bans two-year-olds. Would you like for us to move to another table further away from you?
DISGRUNTLED EATER: Yes, I would. But it just so happens that I am sitting in the middle so any table will be the same distance from me.
WORRIED MOM: Well, sir, maybe the patio isn’t the right place for you. Maybe you should go inside. There, you won’t be bothered by the traffic honks, the sounds of rap blaring from car speakers, or the usual pedestrian noises. You may, however, find yourself inconvenienced by the loud television sportcasts and newscasts.
DISGRUNTED MAN: I am a paying customer and I did not pay to hear that baby (pronounced with distaste) sing some baby song while I eat.
WORRIED MOM: I see. You’re not the kind of man who appreciates a serenade. If I had known, I would have brought a set of ear plugs for you so you can drown out the sound of life around you as you eat your pizza. Do you have a favorite song that Milla could sing for you?
DISGRUNTLED MAN: That’s it- I’m moving inside. You people are crazy.
Milla dangles on the iron railing.
Well, that conversation did not happen on this day- the day mom and I went to talk about writing and my most recent handwritten adventures into Hannah Arendt’s head.
I am grateful to have a mom who respects what I value in life- a mom who has learned that the unruliness of my hair and the tears in my jeans are a topic I prefer to avoid in conversation, a mom who enterains my interest in ideas and enjoys chasing them to different conclusions.
“What it means to be human is to bring up your children in safety, educate them, keep them healthy, teach them how to care for themselves and others, allow them to develop in their own way among adults who are sane and responsibile, who know the value of the world and not its economic potential. It means art, it means time, it means all the invisibles never counted by the GDP and the census figures. It means knowing that life has an inside as well as an outside. And I think it means love.”
Jeanette Winterson, novelist, poet, and author