A QUICK search on Google and you'll find hundreds of different stories of restaurants worldwide who have banned, are planning to ban, punish, torture or eat children who dare to enter their establishments so there was nothing surprising to the story that Nick Munier of Dublin city centre eatery, Pichet, is contemplating excluding children after 6pm.
As the parent of two, I say good.
If I am lucky enough to have gotten a babysitter and am smacking my lips at a menu after 6pm in the evening then I should bloody well hope that I won't turn around to be greeted by the cold, staring eyes of a toddler, silently coveting my breadstick.
6pm is the hour of the evening when tiddlers are coming out of 'Hell-Time' the period of exceptional bad humour just as you are at your busiest; and are heading for 'Hysteria Hour' when they gather every last piece of energy and cause maximum destruction ensuring that once they eventually fall asleep, you come downstairs and wonder if, in fact, you were burgled.
I am fortunate in that mine are quite good at restaurants. And I want to make it clear that there is no smugness in that statement. “They're very good” is generally followed with “FOR NOW!”. The next time might be when something explodes. However, it's good for them to see how it all works and with practice, it's getting better.
The best places are large, have a healthy hubbub to absorb noise/embarrassing questions and odours and ideally have crayons and colouring pages – only at lunchtime, though. I try to keep my offspring firmly in their seats with a series of distractions - I'm not a masochist who wants them doused in hot soup or to trip a service person or bring on the wrath of another child who has, say, left a toy unattended, incurring the 'finders keepers' by-law. And if they eat a crayon and somehow entertain other diners, then that's a bonus but not a regular service I provide.
All parents all think their children are amazing, that no other child is as clever or talented or funny as theirs. It's true. Where you see a filthy urchin in stained clothing with revolting nose trails, we parents see absolute and utter perfection. That's human nature. However, Irish nature beats human nature. And Irish parents might be proud but they're never going to show it - that's wrong, isn't it? And so, we downplay our children's achievements;
“Wasn't he great in the play? Doing that whole three-minute speech by himself?”
“I suppose, but did you see the state of his nose? I didn't know where to look!”.
“Ah look at her doing her letters – imagine being able to spell 'dystopian' at three!”
“That's all well and good but do you think she'll get on the potty? I don't know what I'll do with her!”
And so on.
Parents from other countries aren't like this, it seems. Their children are always well behaved – what have they got that we haven't? Sunshine for starters. I remember an evening, pre-children, on a Tuscan holiday, enjoying a meal in Lucca's main square and once 6pm arrived, so did the children. The adults sat and chatted while kids of all age and size played amicably together under a statue of Empress Josephine in the late evening sunshine. Parents and grandparents relaxed, the kids ran out of steam and one by one they were popped into strollers and carted off home – completely stress free. That's late evening sunshine for you.
There's also an impression out there that parents are always frazzled, disorganised and stressed. Well, if you're child-free, or if they have grown up and gone away and you have blanked it all out, bear this in mind. The next time that you see someone with a spot of posset or some other child-related matter on their shoulder don't just think 'Urgh, that person's got sick on them”. Bear in mind that they have probably cleaned up a considerably larger area of the substance, plus the child from whence it came along with comforting them. And then broaden the picture – they've probably been at work, come home, tried to cook a meal during hell/hysteria hour, batted off requests for treats, TV and possibly weaponry; negotiated the consumption of something half healthy; organised for the following day, read a story, administered kisses, cleaned up after the burglary/dirty protest and maybe managed to catch Eastenders before turning to and starting the housework.
Parents aren't disorganised - they are finely tuned machines with exceptional negotiation skills. They're still stressed though. And exhausted. Which makes me wonder why on earth there's a need to ban them from bringing their kids to restaurants after 6pm. Does anyone actually manage to stay up that late?
The Dead Summer by Helen Moorhouse is published by Poolbeg