Live and Let Scream

by Gigi Ross on January 24, 2013

dining out with kids

You’re either a dog person or a cat person.

Coffee or tea.

National League or American League.

Toilet paper goes over the top or toilet paper comes from the bottom.

Mac or PC.

And in my 9+ years of parenting, I’ve come to learn that there is another important distinction between groups of parents.

There is the Camp of OMG We Must Leave This Restaurant ASAP Because Our Baby Is Screaming Like I Am Poking Her With A Cattle Brand, and there is the Camp of Live and Let Scream.

Or, as I like to call them, The People That Care That Their Child Is Probably Interrupting Some Other Sleep-Deprived Parent’s First Date Night in 6 Months, And The People That Don’t.

Right before Boy Wonder was born, a friend gave me this advice:

You have to make the baby fit into your life. You don’t fit into theirs.

I was buoyed by the idea that  parenting didn’t have to mean a lifetime of sacrifice and giving up some of the things I really love.

I took this advice and we set out to fit Boy Wonder into our life –  of eating out a whole hell of a lot. Eating out with baby was not going to be an issue.

When he was a few weeks old, we marched right in to the Sesame Inn and ordered our favorite Chinese food.

Cue screaming.

What the hell? I thought. He’s got a clean diaper. I just freaking fed him. He burped. What is the DEAL, dude? Don’t you get that I want my Kung Pao Chicken and I want it now? Did you miss the memo that YOU are fitting into OUR lives?

This was not just a little whimper and cry-for-a-few-minutes-then-settle-back-down. This was Defcon 5. Code Blue.

After getting over my initial “you’re inconveniencing me greatly” thoughts, panic settled in. I watched the other restaurant patrons turn around and look at me.

I don’t like being looked at when I’ve just had my hair done, let alone when I’ve probably got leaky boobs and I”m trying to soothe an alien baby whose cries might prompt a call to Child Protective Services at any moment.

Every nerve ending of my body was on high alert. I silently prayed, I rocked him, I shushed, I looked pleadingly at my husband to figure out what the heck we could do so I could START MY KUNG PAO CHICKEN ALREADY. The PLAN was to fit this baby into our life, dammit. But the  Be Kind To Others side of my brain was shouting at me to stop ruining other people’s dinners and leave. My husband’s brain was shouting at him, too. We left.

We quickly discovered that Boy Wonder had colic. And hated his infant seat. And hated the Bjorn.

Basically, he hated all states of being besides eating. And even Eating Bliss lasted all of maybe 7 minutes and 6 seconds.

Going to restaurants was the single most exhausting activity I could think of. To spend $50 to be miserable, to make everyone around us miserable AND to still be hungry when we left takes a special kind of insanity.

So we stopped doing it – for years.

I simply couldn’t deal with the pressure that I might be disturbing other people in the restaurant. I couldn’t bear the thought that there was another couple in the room who desperately needed to have a quiet dinner and my Baby Who I Failed At Fitting Into My Life was ruining it for them.

And so I don’t get – and have never gotten – the Live and Let Scream Camp.

My husband and I were out to dinner on Friday night. It was the first time we’d been out for an evening alone in months. We went to a pretty nice restaurant, got seated and were immediately greeted by a wailing baby 2 tables over.

I watched the mom. The picture of serenity. Unflappable.  Languidly lounging with one arm draped over the back of the banquette and the other holding a glass of wine. She was unfazed that her baby sounded like she was being dangled upside down by her big toenail and used as a human pinata.

Clearly, they were Live and Let Scream-ers.

I wondered to myself who was more wrong: that mom, who claimed her meal as her own and didn’t care whether Pinata Baby disrupted 30 minutes of my date night, or me, who was always too worried about what people thought to even give myself permission to let my kid scream for more than 2 minutes.

Maybe the rightness lies somewhere in the middle.

What camp are you in?


Lizz January 24, 2013 at 7:23 pm

I was definitely in the “try not disrupt these nice strangers who might be armed” camp. Remove from the equation as quickly as possible.

Natalie January 24, 2013 at 7:43 pm

The toilet paper on the roll goes over the top.

And you leave. Hell, we still don’t like taking the kids out because they are so loud!

Chris Carter January 25, 2013 at 7:23 pm

YES!! Over the top Natalie! And YES!!! Get the hell outa there if your baby is screaming or your kids are being rude! LEAVE. LEAVE. LEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAVE!!!!!!! For all the right reasons, take your crying baby who needs some kind of attention and give the others who went out for the night a REST!

Carly January 24, 2013 at 7:54 pm

I always worry what people think way too much. There is no way I could stay and just let my baby cry. I don’t like people looking at me either.

Megan January 24, 2013 at 7:59 pm

Thankfully we only had one incident where we had to leave, but we did. A little crying? Sure, won’t kill anyone but that bitter couple two tables over. But screaming without stop? Too much.

Heather January 24, 2013 at 8:08 pm

Never ever would I disrupt someone else’s dinner!

We gave up and left a couple of times when my first was a baby (that is why they have to go containers!) and then we stopped going out.

When I was pregnant with my 2nd out we ventured out again (pretty much because we were going to starve otherwise) and my toddler was a little better, but hubby and I probably only spent about 10 minutes total sitting together. Luckily we lived in NC where the temperatures are pretty mild and one of use would entertain the toddler out in the “entrance” while the other one ate. It wasn’t perfect, but at least we both got a hot meal.

And I am pretty sure we didn’t offend too many people.

Chelsea @ Someday I'll Learn January 24, 2013 at 8:08 pm

For me, it depends what kind of restaurant we’re at. We bolt away from fancy places if the kids get cranky, because no one should have to pay that much for an earful of shrieking toddler! But if we’re at Panda Express or Subway or some place like that…scream on, kid. People should set their expectations according to their surroundings, I think. Don’t expect a quiet meal at Burger King!

Alison January 24, 2013 at 8:17 pm

I would first try to go outside to calm the baby down.
If that failed, then leave.
Having said that, I do believe that children can adapt to situations, BUT it’s also highly dependent on their personalities. My first boy was a nightmare when we took him out, so much so, we hardly ever did. He’s 3 now, and MUCH better behaved, so we can finally dine out!
The baby, 8 1/2 months old, have proven to be the opposite. He’s happy to be in the Bjorn, he doesn’t mind the high chair for at least 20 minutes, he eats whatever he’s given, and he doesn’t scream.
We’ve finally hit a happy balance, thank goodness. :)

Kim Holinbeck January 24, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Leave leave leave! My first was pretty easy but the moment she fussed we left. Number 2 is special needs and has not been able to go to a restaurant until he was almost 9 without causing a ruckus! So we have learned to work our lives around his! And have done it happily for years!

Katie January 24, 2013 at 8:23 pm

Run away from the restaurant.

Trying to keep a baby together in public caused (causes) me anxiety. Being out should be fun. Therefore I don’t take screamy baby in public.

TP also goes over the roll. Always.

After I have my coffee, not tea.

Erica January 24, 2013 at 8:27 pm

Here’s the deal. It’s expensive to eat out no matter how you slice it. Do I want to be with my kids while they are, you know, being KIDS with the wailing, and antsyness and loudness and throwing everything? That is not fun for me. It’s not fun for me to reign them in every 3 minutes. Why would I want that? Only in the last few months has my daughter been able to hang with restaurants, and my son is getting there, but jeez, who are these people who can enjoy their dinner with their kids acting all crazy?? On the weekends, we feed the kids and enjoy a late dinner in silence :)

Christina Berry January 24, 2013 at 8:58 pm

Of course, my son is now 22, so it’s been a while since I was in this situation. But we were ALWAYS the leaving kind. Thankfully, I can’t recall more than a time or two when it was necessary for us to get the heck out of Dodge because our boy was causing such a disturbance, but it did happen. In this world of “me, me, me”, I always felt like I had no right to disrupt the lives of everyone around me by letting my child scream and cry. If I was out for a relaxing dinner with my husband or with friends, I certainly wouldn’t want someone else’s screaming kid to ruin my evening. People who don’t take control of their kids in a situation like that are, in my opinion, in for a rude awakening when their children are older. If you can’t handle a crying 2 year old, good luck dealing with her when she’s 13.

Stephanie January 24, 2013 at 9:05 pm

Usually a cat person but in four weeks we will find out just how much of a dog person I am :)

Coffee in the morning. Specialty loose leaf tea in the evening.


Definitely over the top!

PC because that is what I can afford :)

If my child won’t stop screaming I would leave. On the rare occasion that I can afford to eat out I am not going to ruin my dinner by having to constantly deal with or correct my child. Also, I feel some guilt over the likelihood that I am ruining someone else’s night out.

Kenzie S January 24, 2013 at 9:15 pm

Dog person, coffee, toilet paper must go over the top, and definitely a person who cares about their baby making a huge scene and interrupting everyone’s dinner. When my son was a baby and we would go out to dinner sometimes he would have a screaming fit and I would take a few minutes to try and soothe him, if it didn’t work we would head out to the car and my wonderful other half would get our food to go.
P.S. Long time no talk!!

Ginger January 24, 2013 at 9:39 pm

When my boy was a baby, it wasn’t really an issue–he wasn’t a crier, and he would happily hang in his car seat/high chair without issue.

However, when he became a toddler? Yeah, we became leavers. We don’t leave right away–we’ll give him a chance to calm himself down–but no. No. It is not fun for me, for my husband, for the other patrons. No thank you.

Now, we WILL stay if he’s being happy loud-which we’ve gotten plenty of dirty looks for too. But honestly? When we go out to dinner with the kid, it’s usually before 7pm, and it’s usually kid friendly (read: loud) places. So I don’t feel bad if he’s being happy loud.

Kerry Ann @Vinobaby's Voice January 25, 2013 at 5:26 am

We didn’t (and still don’t) eat out much, but if my baby/toddler started making a fuss, one of us took outside with him to chill him out. We never had to “leave” as we were always able to calm him down, but the people around us weren’t paying to listen to him fuss.

And yes, I shoot people nasty looks when they let their kid scream over my once-every-six-months date night convo. Especially at 9 pm. Or so help me, at the movies.

Kerry Ann @Vinobaby's Voice January 25, 2013 at 5:29 am

That would be “took him outside.” Sorry, not enough coffee yet.

Kim@Co-Pilot Mom January 25, 2013 at 6:53 am

I had the same thing happen when our oldest was a baby. It was like he smelled the delicious food and got immediately hungry. I tried to settle him, but if that failed, we left. Nobody within a mile radius is enjoying their dinner when that happens.

Lea Ann @ Mommy's Wish List January 25, 2013 at 7:27 am

My oldest went to fancy restaurants from day one, ate, stayed in his seat, had conversations (even before there were words). Piece of cake. My youngest got to go to a restaurant ONCE, failed that test, and that was it. For five years. Even now at almost age 7, we only take him to places that are already filled with kids, are very loud, and we choose the table outside on the patio next to the field of grass or playground equipment. Thank goodness the oldest now 15 can babysit the youngest and my husband and I can take off and go to restaurants alone. To relax, and actually eat our food while it’s still hot.

Kerry January 25, 2013 at 9:51 am

I suppose it depends on the situation, but I was always one that would try to respect others as well. It wasn’t so much that I cared about what they thought, but I just thought it was appropriate to remove the crying baby – especially at a nice restraunt. I just think that is rude. And I know some people say to “fit the baby into your life,” but I also like to remember that the baby didn’t ask to come into the world. He/she is a little person with needs – and every personality is different – you have to be flexible. My kids have always been pretty scheduled, so we would know when they could be out and about, and when they would likely prefer to comforts of home.

Meg {Phase Three of Life} January 25, 2013 at 2:50 pm

Solidly in your camp. We do actually go out to eat pretty regularly (maybe 2-3 times a month) with Ryan. He’s usually pretty good. When he’s not? One of us takes him outside. If he can’t calm down to Normal Human Being level, we pack up and go home. We always go out to eat with the complete understanding that we might have to leave 10 minutes into it, and the willingness to do so.

Also, and this is SO key… we do not take Ryan anywhere we would consider Date Night Worthy. If it’s Date Night Worthy, he doesn’t belong there. We save those places for Date Night. We take Ryan to places that we know are loud and full of other families who won’t mind listening to him yell for a few minutes while we frantically pack up.

Amy January 26, 2013 at 10:01 am

Thanks for a funny and enjoyable post!!
I’m in the Consider Others and Take Your Screaming Baby Home Please camp. A little fussiness and noise from a baby doesn’t bother me in the least. It has to be an extreme case where the baby is seemingly inconsolable.
My firstborn was a Baby Rock Star in parenting terms, sleeping and eating well while being generally good natured. We went to out to eat all the time and it was a non-issue.
My daughter however … not so much. I spent most of my time standing up near the table, bouncing her so she wouldn’t scream her pretty little head off. My husband would scarf down his meal, then take over so I could scarf down mine. Fun.
I never actually had to leave, but I never actually got to sit and enjoy the meal either. Regardless, restaurants quickly lost their appeal for us, let me tell ya.

Julia January 26, 2013 at 8:32 pm

Cat person, Tea, and TP goes over the top.

And I’m totally the “don’t take the baby to the restaurant type.” After our son was born we didn’t go to restaurants for 2 years. He is now 3, and now we go out to eat all the time! It is now really enjoyable to have family dinners out at restaurants, but I felt the same way, it wasn’t worth it to go when he was so little and we felt stressed during our night out.
Also helpful? Movies streaming on our phones. Toddler is happy, grown ups get to eat. No screaming involved. :)

Tammy January 26, 2013 at 9:31 pm

Definitely toilet paper over the top, iced tea and no screaming please! My husband was so paranoid he wouldn’t dine out with our children until they were five. I fearlessly did though. Later, of course, he took all the credit for our well behaved children! Lighten up! Crying is natural communication for kids. After all, you haven’t really “lived haphazardly” until you’ve tried to quieten a screaming kid with hungry eyes turning to give you the disgusted “why don’t you shut that kid up” look! Right?

Kate F. January 27, 2013 at 5:23 am

I’m in the: camp-NEVER-expect-to-finish-a-meal-AND, BE-ready-to-leave-at-a-moments-notice, BUT-keep-trying-it-again-and-again-and-again-and-again-until-EVENTUALLY-it-works-once. However, once is never a sure indicator that it will work the next time. Personally… we leave the restarunt. I am with you that I don’t want to spoil someone elses peace, but we do keep trying…

Mary @ A Teachable Mom January 27, 2013 at 11:01 am

I was way too self conscious to stay at a restaurant when my kids were screaming. No way could I stand all of that negative attention and what I perceived as dirty looks. I’d love a little more entitlement in my life (I’m told it would look good on me ;-), but I could never switch camps on this one. Once you find that middle ground, please shout it in my direction!

Connie January 27, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Dog person. Toilet paper over the top. Can’t I choose coffee and tea???
I am definitely in the “leave when the baby is crying” camp. It is rude to disturb someone else’s night out. We didn’t and don’t eat out much, so it was never a big problem for us. To me it just seems like common courtesy to leave or at least take the baby to the lobby to settle down.

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