WHITNEY: Keeping kids quiet in public

No one ever wants to be the parent of the kid shouting in the restaurant or running through the grocery store.

When your kid starts acting up — or not even acting up, just acting young — you start to tense up. Your eyes dart around the room, searching for another pair of eyes that are certainly rolling at your child’s antics. Your ears prick up, listening for someone muttering under their breath. You fear what other people are thinking, imagining it’s something like, “Lady, get a handle on your offspring.”

And you fear that response because you’ve probably responded the same way a time or two.

Kids in restaurants aren’t necessarily more annoying than the table of frat dudes who’ve been overserved, but we’ve created social space and acceptance (however reluctant it may be) for the frat boys. Children aren’t always viewed with even reluctant acceptance, let alone an open embrace that allows them to be little in public.

After all, you’re more likely to be complimented on how “well behaved” your child was in the checkout line than how funny it was when she attempted “quieter screeching” (something Olivia seems to think is possible).

So what do you do? Well, maybe you throw them the tablet or let them get out their Nintendo 3DS. Or if they’re younger, you give them a bottle or a snack. Maybe a favorite toy. Let them tune out. Keep them quiet.

Above all, keep them quiet.

I’m guilty of this. I’m with other grown ups now, and/or I’m expected to have you under control, daughter, so please. Take my phone. Go play with the dinosaurs. Look, a dog! Just … shh.

I’ve seen kids riding in carts through Meijer with a Happy Meal and an iPad, bribed up to their ears just so their parents can make it to the milk case without incident.

And what would “an incident” be anyway? Worst case scenario, an epic meltdown, which no doubt ruins the day for the kid’s parents and in itself justifies the iPad and McNuggets.

I can’t help feeling, however, that it’s actually a buffer for the people who they’ll pass on their shopping trip, people who would sneer or mutter or whatever if the kid steps out of line.

I can’t defend someone who takes their unruly kids to a refined affair at the opera or drags their baby along to a fancy brunch place. I mean, I’ve done that — perhaps you remember the bone marrow incident of 2013 —and I can see now that it’s an indefensible decision.

But we’ve got to embrace kids and all their quirks a little bit more, especially in public.

Next time you see a kid acting up in public (or even just being a fidgety, excited little kid), give them a little wave or make a goofy face. Give their parents a nod, a wink, a half-hearted smile. Some small gesture to let them know you understand how it goes, even if you don’t necessarily approve of the way it’s going.

Engage parents and their kid in public spaces. Build a little bit of community. The sound of one kid laughing in the produce aisle is a lot more pleasant than a dozen kids plugged in and idling in mute.