Monday, June 14, 2010

Smack the Monkey

“Boo!” Mary and I are at a local restaurant, and a little boy in the booth behind us is creeping up over the seat repeatedly. Our lack of participation in his game hasn’t deterred him. Obviously he’s under the mistaken impressions that 1.) Yes, we would love to play, and 2.) We’re hard of hearing. So he does it again. Louder. “BOO!” His mom and dad are right there, but neither of them has said a word to him. He’s climbing in the booth, under the table, and on his parents. The rare moments that he is still are spent leaning over the booth, elbows resting on the back of the seat as if he’s captivated by our conversation.

His younger sister, an adorable little girl with blues eyes and blond hair, done up in a top-of-the-head pigtail like Pebbles from the Flintstones, is sitting in a high chair at the end of the table spreading barbecue sauce on her face as if preparing for a voodoo ritual. Mom and Dad are carrying on a conversation as if the kids aren’t even there. “BOOOO!!” My eyes meet Mary’s, and we share a look that says, “Really?”

I love kids. Truly, I do. I believe that kids are a blessing. However, parents have a responsibility to their kids to teach their kids how not to be hellions. Don’t get me wrong; I know kids will be kids and have boundless energy, and that’s fantastic. But there’s a time and a place for it, and this is neither. This is apparently an ideology that this mom and dad have yet to embrace. As they’re eating, three ladies come in, one with an infant. They know Mom and Dad, so the ladies stand at the table and chat while the boy climbs all over his dad as if he were a jungle gym. And Dad is completely unphased. I’ve seen animal handlers exhibit this same conversational casualness as the creature they’re holding darts back and forth. The difference? Dad is not Jack Hanna, and the boy is not a capuchin monkey (at least in theory).

This is not a behavior you just have to accept because it’s natural. Smacking a capuchin monkey on the ass is likely to result only in your being bitten (plus, it’s just plain wrong—on a lot of levels), but I suspect the same action might just get this young man’s attention and curb his freewheeling attitude. It certainly worked for me when I was a kid. Usually all it took was a look or a word from my father, but in the event those were unsuccessful, a firm hand always did the trick.

As the adults chat, Mom takes Pebbles, who is now covered in barbecue sauce, out of her high chair and sets her on the ground. She looks at Mom, giggles, and totters off toward other tables. Mom doesn’t notice until a waiter almost dumps a tray of food trying not to step on the child. Mom is apparently shocked that this three year old would not stand still at the exact place she set her down. After retrieving her, the conversation continues. Monkey Boy is now climbing on the high chair. He’s standing on top of it—not just in the seat; he’s standing on top of the rails. None of the adults says a word. I’m waiting for him to lose it and hit the ground like Wile E. Coyote, but he manages to avoid a fall.

In the mean time, Pebbles has managed to unfurl about 60 feet of paper towels from a roll that sits on the table, covering each one with little barbecue fingerprints. Dad notices, but simply rolls the towels back onto the roll, fingerprints and all. He passes her to Mom because Monkey Boy is climbing on him again. Mom sets her down on the ground, where she promptly stumbles off to find adventure. She makes it all the way to another table this time before Mom notices. This happens several times, and Mom is just as surprised the third and fourth time that a three year old would wander off. After about 20 minutes, the ladies finally leave and mom and Dad pack up to leave.

As Dad is paying the bill and Mom is scrubbing Pebbles’s face, Monkey Boy spots an elderly man with a cane and a straw brimmed Panama hat waiting for a takeout order.
“What’s that stick for?” he asks him.
“This?” the old man says, lifting his cane. “This helps me walk.”
“Why do you need help walking?”
“Because I’m old.”
Monkey Boy nods, then eyes the hat curiously. “Are you a cowboy?”

The old man laughs. “No, I’m not a cowboy.”
“Oh. OK, bye.”

Neither of the parents even so much as acknowledges the old man. He’s just another object that provides entertainment so they don’t have to. Mom and Dad strap the kids into car seats in the back of a huge SUV, climb in, and drive away.

The moral of the story? If you’re going to have children, be a parent. Otherwise, please do the rest of us a favor and just get a capuchin monkey.