First, I want to share a belated Happy Mother’s Day to all of the caring, nurturing, frazzled, praying-for-a-light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel moms out there.
I am the mother of our blended family of four children, and I can tell you that there is, in fact, that light on the other side of the hardcore parenting we all must do to raise responsible, productive, (hopefully) happy adults. And that is what we do; we raise adults, not children, and we must always keep that concept at the forefront of our parenting. Otherwise, we really do raise children; we raise 20-, 30-, 40-year old children, and who wants to live on a planet with them?
Perhaps I need a reality check here, and I welcome any that readers care to offer, but I want to share an experience that my husband and I had this weekend. The experience is directly related to parenting, so this is a great place to get it out in the open.
We went to dinner at Chili’s at the Mall of Georgia on Saturday evening. I purposefully share the restaurant name and location, in the hopes that at least one of the adults involved happens to read this column. My husband and I covet our date time; it is precious to us, and we sometimes move heaven and earth just to make time for each other. Dinner at Chili’s on Saturday was one of those dates.
Apparently, some area middle school had an 8th Grade dance on Saturday, and part of that grown-up ritual was, of course, for boys and girls to go to dinner before the dance. A group of about 30 8th Graders descended upon Chili’s on Saturday, and they were escorted by a group of 8 adults, parents I must assume. When I say that these 8th Graders were escorted by adults, I mean that the adults drove the kids to the restaurant, took a table near them, and proceeded to pretend that the young people were not there at all.
During the time that my husband and I attempted to talk and have dinner, we tried to do so above the noise and unbridled rudeness of 30-plus dressed-up, hormonally whacked out kids (not judging – all kids that age have hormones that make them crazy, even on a good day).
These children were allowed to shout, throw food, climb each other, run around the restaurant and drive two waitresses out of their hardworking minds, all while the 8 “chaperones” ignored them and talked among themselves, completely unaware (or unconcerned) that the kids were terrorizing patrons and wait staff alike. It was appalling, and as irritated as I was at the situation, I was more embarrassed for the entire group.
An occasion such as an 8th Grade dance is an amazing teaching tool for parents, or it should be. Isn’t the whole point of putting children that age in a simulated “grown-up” experience to give them the opportunity to learn how to behave in such a situation? Of course a dance should be fun and exciting, but what a great way to teach your child how to behave properly in a simulated adult situation. From such concepts as behaving like a lady or a gentleman, to the way to tip properly, to the way to behave in a restaurant with or without chaperones, a school dance is the ideal way to teach all of these important behaviors to our children. Instead, these kids behaved like a mob of 6-year-olds that had been raised like wolves in the forest, then brought to Chili’s for their first meal to be eaten in public.
The restaurant manager was at a loss as to what to do. The two women who started serving the kids refused to do so about an hour into the experience. Several guests asked to be moved to the other side of the restaurant, in the lounge area, just to get away from the worst of the noise and fallout of flying food. One server actually cried, telling us that she had been at the restaurant since 10:30 that morning and was exhausted. She simply couldn’t deal with the kids’ horrid behavior.
Once the kids’ meals had been divided into 16 separate checks (the group was there for 2 ½ hours, according to our server) the unsupervised kids literally mobbed the register, loudly urging the servers to hurry up and process their payments. I don’t even have to share how the tipping panned out. Some couples didn’t tip at all; others left change. One couple tipped the minimum “proper” amount.
All the while, the moms and dads who brought the kids to the restaurant ate, drank and chatted each other up, while the restaurant around them looked like a video game war zone. I feel pretty sure they’ll have to re-paint and replace a few chairs.
I tried to relate that story with a bit of humor, but I think it’s too fresh in my memory for me to see the funny side of it. I truly was both mortified and embarrassed for the entire group. I couldn’t help wondering, as I watched these future adults, how many other restaurants in the area were being terrorized in the same manner, while parents, through selfishness or laziness or both, ignored the scene.
Now I’m not a prude, and I’m not one of those annoying moms who tells others what prefect little angels our kids were at that age. We’ve raised four; we are battle-weary and painfully wise, with the scars to prove it. I’ve been called to the school for some pretty bizarre reasons, including the time that our youngest daughter stood up and recited the Pledge of Allegiance in 9th grade Spanish class. When I asked her why on earth she’d do something like that, I got the famous, “I don’t know” answer. My son’s 2nd grade teacher called me one afternoon to ask about his assertion that I allowed him to watch naked girls on TV. With his ear in my hand, he told me that he was talking about the show Baywatch, which he watched with his friend Steven after dinner at Steven’s house one night. Steven wore cowboy boots and gym shorts to school, and my son idolized him for that and oh so many more reasons. No, I threw my rose-colored glasses away when they started school.
I’ll tell you one thing though, since we’re talking in-the-trenches parenting, an ear is a great handle and attention-getter, and I have led many a child out of a store, restaurant, or yes, even a school by that handle. My son, who towers above me now (but I can still reach his ear), swears to this day that his right ear is longer than his left because of my parenting.
Of course kids are going to push the limits, but as parents, we have to draw that line, to show them what is and is not acceptable. Sure, we are to do so with love, patience and (in our case) a healthy dose of humor but still, it’s our job to teach and guide our children. It is not our job to be their buddy; they have a school full of those. I’m here to tell you that there will come a time when you can and should be your adult child’s friend, but you have some serious work to do before getting to that point. For the sake of the rest of us, please do it.
I shudder to think what the Chili’s terrorists will do in the same situation 5, 10, even 20 years from now. If we as parents don’t teach our kids things like respect and consideration, I suppose we are hoping that the world will teach them. Worse, I suppose we are teaching them by example that those things don’t matter. Rest assured, even lazy parenting teaches. And lazy parents make it very difficult for those of us who do take our responsibility seriously, to do our jobs as moms and dads.
The next time that you choose to dine in Chili’s at the Mall of Georgia, be extra kind to both the manager and the servers. Speak in calm, soothing tones and please, tip generously. I hope Corporate pays for a few therapy sessions for them all; they are going to need it. And if you go into any Gwinnett restaurant on a Saturday night during school dance season, take helmets, goggles and earphones. Trust me on that one.
Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. Her fourth book, BLOOD IN THE SOIL, was published April 2016. It is the true tale of a crime that took place in Gwinnett County nearly 40 years ago. Her other three books are MAGNOLIAS, SWEET TEA & EXHAUST; RED LIPSTICK & CLEAN UNDERWEAR; and SOUTHERN FRIED WHITE TRASH. Carole often appears on network television talk and news shows, as well as on many national radio shows about true crime. Her books can be found in bookstores, on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, and at www.caroletownsend.com. When she’s not writing, Carole travels throughout the southeast, talking to groups about women, children and the family.