Friday, February 10, 2012

The Grape Goes to Restaurant Boot Camp, Parisian Style

Regular readers know I don't read parenting books. I don't own them, buy them, borrow them or even peruse them in waiting rooms.

It's not that I don't read. On the contrary, I plow through four to eight books in the typical month (mostly novels, spiked with the occasional work of narrative nonfiction). If I need to look something up (say, how to kill head lice), I can always consult Dr. Google.

I pass on parenting tomes because I don't wish to support a self-help industry that preys on women's insecurities.

And also because I've got a dirty little secret the self-help folks don't want you to know: there's nothing intellectually hard about parenting a (healthy) small child.

Yes, it's a frustrating, tiring, emotional roller coaster, featuring the full spectrum of human emotions, often presented at hyper-speed.

But the Grape and I manage just fine without outside "expert" input. I like to think I possess at least an average level of common sense, and I'm quite certain I'm in the top percentiles when it comes to trusting my instincts.

Apparently this makes me un-American. At least that's what the Wall Street Journal's excerpt from Pamela Druckerman's upcoming Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting led me to believe. Geopolitics aside, I wanted to stand up, applaud and whistle (loudly) when I read Ms. Druckerman's piece (link below). I liked it so much I might even break my rule and buy her book.

She had me at the restaurant scene. I've often wondered why European toddlers sit like little angels in restaurants. Without iPads or other iDevices, even (letting kids watch movies in restaurants is a HUGE pet peeve of mine).

Contrast the Grape.

One night not too long ago, we left our favorite neighborhood eatery in disgrace before the entrees arrived. The Grape, annoyed at the backed up kitchen, was literally standing in his highchair, flinging grated cheese with a spoon in a manner reminiscent of a priest flailing incense. It was, as R. commented, "a bottom 20 per cent experience."

A good friend of mine characterizes dining out with toddlers as follows:

60 per cent of the time, you get through eating out and it's fine but not fun.

20 per cent of the time, the kids are little angels. You get dessert, you order another round of drinks, you beam with pride.

20 per cent of the time, it's a disaster, you over tip and beat a fast retreat after making a lame and utterly disingenuous offer to help the waiter clean up.

The thing is, I'd like to visit mia famiglia Italiana this summer. And I'll be damned if I'll either a) hide in the hotel and eat takeout three meals a day, or b) allow the Grape to shame us in a favorite trattoria.

What would the French do? It's so simple, I'm stunned I never thought of it myself: ban snacking at will. The Grape has never been a big eater, and I confess I've operated under the misguided principle that I should feed him whenever he asks. How could I have missed something so obvious?

No more. Three meals. One snack. That's it. We're going to have a rough first week with our new regime, but my eyes are on the prize.

Sabatini's here we come.

Another big point in the excerpt - one that surprised me - referred to a survey done about five years ago, in which European moms placed far greater importance than their American counterparts on teaching small children to play by themselves. Druckerman goes on about French play dates, where the children play amongst themselves while adults enjoy kid-free conversation over adult beverages.

Sorry, but that sounds exactly like the play dates I arrange for the Grape. Or maybe I've subconsciously selected like-minded friends.

Call me un-American again, but I don't expect to have to spend a "play date" crawling on the floor, inserting myself into the children's games and refereeing tiny disagreements. Why? It's not fun. If you insist on parenting this way, that's your right and I respect it. Just don't expect us to visit often.

The Grape has a much better time with his friends when they're allowed to run off and play in his room, while the adults hang out in the kitchen. We smile when we hear squeals of delight. We might intervene if we hear the bathtub faucet turn on.

We let them be kids.

When there's no one else around, the Grape, age 2 1/2, excels at entertaining himself. Before reading Druckerman's piece, I never paused to think how important that is to me. His imagination works harder without micromanagement.

Besides, doesn't our culture adore independence and individualism? How the heck are kids supposed to develop those qualities if they're never allowed to play without adult intervention?

Here's the link to the WSJ piece:

1 comment:

  1. I agree, without reading the article. And when the parents and the kids were together, the kids were together, and the parents sat together. Sometimes the kids were outside, sometimes in the basement, and we sat either inside at the kitchen table or outside on the patio, depending on what we felt like. Kids also need to learn - as you said - how to resolve their own disputes so that they don't turn into whiners and tattletales. Discussions happen at home (or in the car/van, since we often had 30 minutes of driving). I had boys and sometimes they need a little time to bring things up. Sitting and waiting works. From what I have seen of girls, they are much more talkative.