As Edgar’s mother I feel particularly qualified to comment on the “crumb controversy,” as it is being termed, that occurred at a small café in Washington this week. Two women, mothers of very young children, entered a popular café, ordered treats, and were accosted by the owner because she had just cleaned her carpets and didn’t appreciate the crumbs the children were creating. The owner then proceeded to clean up before the mothers, had it been their intention, had a chance and posted a photograph of the mess and a sarcastic comment on the cafe’s Facebook page.
The Facebook page, of course, is alive today with tongue-lashings and finger-pointings, some even lamenting that “this” is the reason for crime and prison overcrowding.
In the nearly nine years since we became parents, we have eaten out many, many times. We don’t take our children to restaurants that don’t offer paper placemats and crayons or to places where you wouldn’t expect to see children. And if takeout is an option (or even eating on the road), we tend to opt for that. No parent enjoys eating out with their children the way they enjoy eating out with other adults. When you take your children out to a public place to eat, as a parent, you are deeply cognizant of the fact that there are other people who are paying plenty of money for a meal and a semblance of peace. Hungry children are often noisy and ornery; and even the most pleasant of children can be messy.
Edgar, from the time he was a baby, has surprised (and occasionally horrified) people with his eating habits. Rigatoni rings, pasta sauce rendered as lotion up his arms, sausage moustaches, cracker crumb confetti in his hair. I’d like to say age has mellowed his proclivities; but, really, he’s just more creative now. This is not a reflection of our poor parenting nor does it point to a certain future in the state penitentiary. We correct him constantly, tell him our expectations when we are in public, and, then, because this sensory stimulation is a very real need for him, offer him opportunities when he can touch his food without fear of reprisal. We’re handling it, I’d like to believe, in a reasonable way that respects the world around him as well as who he is.
That being said, when we go out to eat, he understands the expectations; and if there is a transgression, he also understands that just as he does at home, he needs to participate in the ensuing cleanup. Our philosophy is that we try to leave our space in no worse shape than if fairly neat and respectful adults ate at the same table.
As a teacher and someone who works with the public, I understand the infinite variety the public represents; and I suspect the owner of this café undoubtedly does as well. But just as it would be wrong to photograph and post a student work sample and lament my having to correct it, it was wrong of this café owner to post a picture of what her customers left behind and lament having to clean it.
The children at this café in Washington this week are too young to know they are no longer welcome there, that the crumbs they unwittingly left behind as a one- and a three-year-old were put up for public consumption and ridicule, that the people they love most in the world are being lambasted as poor parents.
And that’s a good thing–because imagine the child who was older, who was aware. That would be a mess worse than anything a child might leave behind.