Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Licensed to Parent?

When one of my cousins was of age to obtain her driver's licence at 17, she sagely observed that people are required to do much more in preparation for managing an object than parenting a human being. I have been thinking about that lately, especially after witnessing an incident on Sunday evening.

Our family gathering last Sunday took place in yet another restaurant with a pelotero (a large playroom commonly found in family restaurants in Buenos Aires). I have often wondered if these restaurants get away with serving indifferent food because the customers are only too grateful they have a place to dump their kids.

Upon entering this heaving restaurant, bursting at the seams from a busy Sunday trade, our nieces and nephews promptly took off their shoes and socks to run uninhibited among the seated patrons while we were waiting at the entrance to be seated. After a 30 minute wait, we finally settled at our table; the kids went into the pilotero and that was where they stayed most of the evening except when they came out for a bite of food or a sip of water.

Half an hour short of midnight, our nephew who is 5 came out for a sip of water. He passed by a neighbouring table where a notebook computer was switched on but left unattended; the lady owner of the computer had left it, flipped open, temporarily while she checked on her son inside the playroom. Without any hesitation, the child went up to the computer and started mucking around on the type pad. When the owner returned and witnessed what was happening, she told our nephew off and complained to the waiter serving our section.

Let's not go into whether it was smart to leave one's valuable unattended, even if it was only for a second; and let's not even question why these parents and their kids were still out at that hour of the evening. It was the lady's prerogative.

After being told off by a stranger, our nephew came up to our table and sulked while the father put his protective arms around his son's slender shoulders. Our nephew did something he shouldn't have done but all children make mistakes and misbehave at times so that's not the real problem. What was disturbing, however, was that the adults (including his aunt and uncle who are also parents) huddled around the boy blaming the lady for having her computer there in the first place.

Guillermo and I were stunned by the adults' collective reaction to the incident and the way they had chosen to handle the situation. We would have thought that explaining gently the need to ask for permission before touching someone else's property would figure somewhere or are we just another two of those lesser people, deemed by self-righteous parents, whose opinion on child rearing they love to brush-off with their favourite line "you don't understand because you are not a parent"?

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