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It’s A Public Space!

A couple of months ago my son celebrated his 12th birthday by inviting a few of his school friends to have Dominoes Pizza and Cold Stone Ice Cream at one of their outlets here in Nairobi. Unlike India, where we have designated party areas in almost all the American fast food places like Pizza Hut and McDonald’s, there is no such provision in Nairobi or at least not in any of the places that we frequent. The particular outlet that we went to has a narrow strip of vacant area in the ice cream parlour.

The boys, feeling particularly rambunctious after a heavy meal of carb laden pizza next door, followed by an ice cream cake induced sugar high, began kicking around the numerous balloons that were lying around. But since they were playing right at the end of the seating area, the balloons kept drifting towards the many other people enjoying a Saturday morning treat of ice cream. Nobody minded, not a single person complained and they kept hitting the balloons back towards the boys. The boys were hollering loudly, shooting goals as if they were on their school football field and generally creating a royal ruckus.

I did not even try to stop them because this was definitely not a fine dining restaurant that people had paid a fortune to visit and lots of kids and families were around. No business meetings were going on and there was no romantic rendezvous that I could see. In essence they weren’t disturbing anybody and so I just let them be.

Contrast this with the scenario in a movie theatre that my daughter and I went to a couple of weeks ago and one that is all too common back home in India too. A number of people had toted their babies to this place, ranging in age from newborn to toddler to preschooler. The soundtrack of the movie was interspersed with squalling infants, crying babies, wailing toddlers and howling preschoolers, with parents desperately trying to shush them, while simultaneously trying to watch the movie. Besides the obvious reasons of Dolby Surround Sound being torture for those tiny tympanums and the even more evident risk of picking up who knows what infection from such a public place, it is time parents realized that some places aren’t really suitable for such a tiny age group simply by virtue of being too public.

This is not to say that new parents should confine themselves to the four walls of their house. Not at all! There are a great many places out there which do cater to parents of little kids who are at an age where they just won’t sit still and where a pram parked next to a high chair at a table does not ruin the décor but rather adds to it! When our children were at that tender age, we looked for and found places that came with spacious play areas. This way, one of us could enjoy a quiet meal while the other chased the kids around the play area and then we reversed our roles. We did not disturb anybody and nobody disturbed us because we were all in the same child laden boat…Restaurants with outdoor dining and play areas work best because this way the children do not feel cooped up and you can actually enjoy your meal because the noise does not become overwhelming at any point.

Another way out is to have one parent babysit while the other goes out for a couple of hours to watch that movie he or she has been desperately waiting to watch since Bollywood/Hollywood announced the project which could have been even before the baby was born! You can do the same with a restaurant that got a rave review, the mall that has been touted as an architectural marvel and the play that you may never get a chance to see again. You can rope in friends or relatives to go with you or just go alone if you choose but please just leave baby out of these public places!

The airplane is one such public place too. But this is where you must develop a thick skin if your baby howls while landing and takeoff or at any time in between. Ignore those nasty looks people give you and focus on soothing your baby. Trust me, either they never travelled with a baby or they have forgotten all about it or they want to pretend it never happened to them and want to portray to you that you must be especially incompetent, judging by your baby’s wails. Just be blind to these silent insinuations and shrug as if to say we’d rather not be here either. After all, we aren’t the parents who deliberately take kids to public places which aren’t meant for them in the first place, are we?

Meet Anupama – An archaeologist by qualification, an educational entrepreneur by profession, a linguist by inclination, a writer by vocation! I am a mother of an eleven year old son and a seventeen year old daughter. Currently based in Kenya due to my husband’s job, I manage my Academy in my home town Pune from across the ocean and continue teaching on Skype. To know about my life in Nairobi, memories from India and anything and everything that touches a chord with me, do read my blog: