By Katie Broyles
My eight-month-old daughter doesn’t know how to talk yet, so instead she babbles and squeaks and occasionally squeals. It’s her way of making conversation. This is just normal baby stuff that I don’t give a second thought to at home. But if I go out to a restaurant, the baby version of talking suddenly becomes a source of a potential problem. It can be awkward to be sitting at dinner and see my daughter squish up her face and yell “Aaaaaaaaaach,” knowing the next table over has no idea that this is totally normal and no cause for concern. I should say, I’m not talking about letting a baby cry in a restaurant while people are trying to eat. I don’t approve of it. I don’t do it. If my baby starts to cry, I take her outside. But what if she’s perfectly happy but expressing that emotion with high-pitched squealing? That’s when it gets a little more complicated.
I find myself eating perched on the edge of my seat hoping she will not make a crazy noise she looks like she is about to make. But are babies not allowed to make dinner conversation? It depends on the venue. But just because I have a baby, I don’t think I should be completely banned from society, expected to sit at home for the next few years. I don’t want to disturb anyone’s meal, but I think babies should at least get the same allowance for potentially annoying conversation and noises that we allot to adults. I don’t know how many times I’ve been forced to overhear a grown person’s loud, irritating conversation at a restaurant. Once I had to spend my entire romantic dinner listening to a woman be interviewed by a potential sugar daddy. Can a baby squeaking really be worse than that?
My latest strategy is to only go to very loud restaurants. I have found that the more jarring the ambient noise, the greater the chance that I can have a relaxing, enjoyable meal. I’m not going to bring a baby to fancy restaurant that’s library-quiet anyway. Now that I’m eating with a mischievous, elf-like creature, I try to confine my dining adventures to places where the adults also feel free to cut up a little bit. The baby noise just becomes another noise that everyone has to tune out. A loud, echoing dining room is great for this. And If I can, I try to sit outside. The tweets of the birds, the rumble of cars on the road, and the, “ba-ba-ba-eeeee” all blend together into a pleasant hum.
My other trick is to go to dinner as early as possible. The tables are usually filled with a combination of senior citizens and other people with babies, which is fantastic. This unplanned, daily congregation of babies at the early bird special is partly out of necessity, because babies go to bed early. But there are also perks. The thing to do is to not worry that you are eating earlier than your grandmother, and instead focus on the perks. For example, the earlier you arrive at a restaurant, the less likely that you will have to wait for a table. The chef won’t have sold out of the night’s special. You get to take advantage of happy hour drink and appetizer specials, so your bill is cheaper. And with multiple babies around, as there are bound to be, it is harder for the other diners to know who to give the stink eye to if one of the babies acts up. There is strength in numbers. And I’ve found that those senior citizens who will be dining with you in the restaurant are actually very understanding about babies. [And no, I don’t think they are tolerant of the noise because their hearing is going. Although if the baby squealing gets really loud, that wouldn’t necessarily be such a bad thing.]