Late in Bubelah’s first pregnancy, we stopped in at a bar after a visit to the doctor for a routine checkup. I had a beer and she had a seltzer. It was a mild winter day, mid-afternoon and we were savoring some quiet time together before the main event, due a few weeks later. As we chatted, I was slightly surprised to see a couple walk in with a stroller and a baby who appeared to be about two years old.
As they sat at the bar, with their baby parked behind them, I stewed. I had a lifetime of bachelorhood behind me; the main interaction I had with children before I had my own was glaring at them when they cried on airplanes. My just-recently born niece and nephew were – as far as I can remember – the first and second babies I had held in my life. I hadn’t been around people with children much at all; my life in New York and Moscow before that was centered around singles life. Babies and toddlers were a vague, distant afterthought.
So when the toddler at the bar started fussing, my passive-aggressive fury mounted, and I threw the parents a nice rough glare. They seemed to shrug it off. Being midafternoon, the bar didn’t have any smoke in it, wasn’t crowded and except for a few patrons around the bar and towards the front watching a soccer game on TV, it was quiet. My glare cut like a knife hurled in the parents’ direction – or at least I imagined it did. They probably thought I was squinting at the TV.
I am more sympathetic now, of course, since I have two toddlers of my own. It’s tough to avoid “grown-up” places when you have kids. Just because I have kids doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to visit an adult-oriented establishment from time to time. The obvious answer is to have a babysitter, but it’s tough to leave two small toddlers alone in the evening with a babysitter unless you have a great deal of trust in her (and yes, I’ll be sexist and say “her”). And now that I’m a parent, I’d like to expose my almost-four-year-old son to a nice restaurant once in a while. I’m not sure my daughter appreciates the difference between McDonald’s and the Olive Garden and Morton’s yet, but why not let her enjoy french fries from Morton’s, too?
But. There’s a but.
Kids don’t belong in bars. There are two reasons: first, they aren’t 21. What’s the cutoff? If I bring my 12 year old to a bar, is that OK? Is it fine as long as they don’t drink? If so, can a 16 year old stroll in? 19? Second, I think other patrons have a right to a “no-children-allowed” bar experience, just as they do to a “no-kids-at-R-rated-movies” experience or a “no-kids-playing-in-the-office” experience. I have seen both; I remember going to see the movie Alien Versus Predator at a matinée * and sitting there with my jaw on the ground as stroller after stroller rolled in filled with (understandably) shrieking babies. I’ve seen quite a few single mothers who work in accounting over the years bring their kids in to the office in an emergency (babysitter sick, everyone else at work, etc.). It’s not fair to everyone else to bring kids there.
This may be an Americanism. Europeans don’t worry much about children at bars. Maybe most cultures don’t care. I’ve sat on enough beer garden benches with rugrats playing tag in the aisles while in Germany to know that. Americans may just be more prudish, or more considerate, or less (or more) family oriented. I’m sure the argument can be made that exposing children to the drinking of alcohol isn’t healthy, but you could make the same argument (in my opinion) for exposing them to TV, junk food, pop culture, toxic big cities and even various political philosophies.
I’m not sure when I’d start feeling comfortable bringing my kids to a bar at happy hour. The article I read that prompted this thinking (here) seemed to be centered on the parents’ need for socializing. I view that as selfish. If you want to socialize, get a babysitter. Have lunch while your child is at day care. Take turns as parents staying home while the other goes out. It’s not ideal, of course, but many of the comments were dead on: you are a parent now. If you miss hanging out all afternoon drinking sangria at the local watering hole with friends: tough. If you’d like to pop into the local bar for a beer with the kid in tow on the way home from work when your child is sleepy: too bad.
So if you go to TGI Friday’s with the family in tow, fine. They’ll put you near the kitchen, give you some crayons and a kids’ menu and tolerate the tossing of forks. Should you go to O’Hallorans at 7 pm with your two-year old? Nope. Head home, read Runaway Bunny and suck it up. There’s a happy medium, and I’d rather not be the guy pictured on CNN with an obviously crying baby on my lap and a half-drunk glass of wine in front of me (look at the article).
* I love science fiction. I loved Alien. I really loved Aliens, one of my favorite movies ever. I loved Predator, too – how can you go wrong with two future governors (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura) fighting an eight-foot-tall invisible rastafarian bug-man? I was really excited about Aliens versus Predator before it came out. I did NOT love AvP. Way to stick a fork in both franchises, people who made AvP.
photo by Penningtron