Sunday, January 23, 2011

On Your Side

Parents, I want you to know that, by and large, I am on your side. Those dirty looks you get on airplanes? I'm against them. Ditto in the grocery store, on the street and in many restaurants. Kids are people too and they have a place in the world and, like every other human on the planet, they have good days and bad ones. I firmly believe if they don't spend time in a variety of situations they'll never learn to act appropriately in them.

As with most rules there's an exception. Live performance is an exception. Not all live performance, of course. There's a lot of wiggle room if you're, say, at an outdoor performance. The audience area can be amorphous and it's generally a public place so, while I'd expect that all caretakers of small folk will stay on the outskirts of that area I can see how there can be plenty of crossover. For the most part performers who are already competing with street noise, conversation and air traffic are prepared for a counter melody of, "Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!" Also, performances for kids give you free reign because, hello, for kids.

Today I attended a choral concert sung by adults with a program of adult-focused Americana music. It's not that the music was inappropriate for children but it was, arguably, music that takes some work from even adult listeners. Honestly, at this juncture I'm on your side, too, parents. Wanting to expose your kids to all kinds of music, even the more complex stuff, is laudable. There are two caveats, though.

1. Know your kid and his or her limits.

2. Respect the other people in the room, including those performing.

Live performance is a one strike game for itchy kids. Bringing quiet games or books, sitting in the back and to the side, attending nearish to nap time and cuddling are great strategies for extending the time you can enjoy this art with your progeny. However, the first elephant-footed 50 yard dash is your cue to put a door between you and the event. Most places will have a lobby perfectly positioned for this eventuality. The venue in use today in fact had both a lobby and a huge reception hall that was perfectly empty during the performance as well and we, the audience, had been alerted to it by the nice chorale member who clued us in that there would be wine and pot luck after the show.

So, I'm not saying you have to go home, but I am emphasizing that the respectful thing to do is to put a wall and a closed door between you and the art. I hear you explaining that the other parent in your little family was performing today. I know. And I rage a little on that parent's behalf because you've just wildly devalued his or her work. You're saying that it's OK to let a kid (or someone of any age) forcibly wrest attention from that person's work. All of it. Every song. Also, I'm betting that you aren't all married to the flutist whose every note was accompanied by toddler protest chants. I'm going to make a leap that, since you and the performing spouse have a kid together, you love this person. I'm going to make another big leap that respect is an enormous component of love. I hope that other parent whips your ever-loving ass when you get home. And not in a fun way.

Oh yes, I know, I don't have kids. Which is why it's interesting that I've spent countless hours walking the lobbies and anterooms of various buildings with small people while an event is going on a wall or two away from us. There's a stretch of East 3rd Street near the Life Cafe with which I'm also quite familiar, and happily so. I'm all for growing good audience members and I made it my job for a while. I know that part of that is not keeping a kid tied to an event in which they are no longer participating. In service of that lesson I've turned pages silently, I've produced makeshift drawing implements from the depths of my bag and, in one instance, I tapped out the rhythms of an entire classical concert into a 4-year-old's palm. Yeah, I didn't think that one was going to work either but there was some Benjamin Britten in there and it worked out. I don't recommend it, I think it was a fluke, but I think it's testimony to the lengths of creativity involved in staying for the whole concert (or play or dance or film or what have you).

I know it sucks to have to eat in shifts to some extent when you're out. I know it bites not to be able to hear your spouse's entire concert (seriously? you could hear it over the high pitched squealing?). I know and I appreciate that parenting is hard, so hard, super hard. I'm going to assume you knew that going in. And if I know you I'm going to offer to take a shift out in the lobby so at least we'll each get to hear half of the concert while we put another audience member notch in your kid's belt.

But next time? Move along when your precious flower has come to the end of her rope, please, or I'm coming to your house about half an hour after her bed time and singing a selection of rousing Aaron Copland tunes.

*The child pictured is good, well-behaved company in restaurants, bowling alleys and many other venues throughout my world.


  1. Terry8:01 AM

    Perfectly spoken.

  2. Miflohny11:46 AM

    Thanks for the compliment to Little Seal - I hope he lives up to it. (And I always love the surprise of seeing his face.)

    And I wholeheartedly agree with your post. The first paragraph isn't said enough, and the rest is rarely said as well.

  3. Thank you! Everyone here and on Facebook has been so understanding and nice about this post. Which proves, of course, that my friends are the smartest and coolest. On the other hand, what's wrong with the rest of the world? How can they not know?

  4. amen.

    my parents taught me with the wonders of PBS. they figured if i couldn't sit through that, i wouldn't be able to sit through a show. they were right. why can't parents give that a go nowadays? why must they insist on making the event all about them and their pwecious sweetums, THEN throw a fit and yell at the child later? it's not the kid's fault...they're kids.

  5. hearty amen from me, and you know how squirrely my youngest can be! of course you take them out when they start major distractions, why on earth would you sit there and let them mess it up for everyone else?? they are KIDS and can't be expected to stick it out, if they're fascinated and do then by all means, but you should know your kid and their limits well enough to build in some backup plans, like a hasty exit. done it many a time :). how can they not know, indeed.

  6. Yeah, F is squirrelly but even he knows that and has systems in place for it. "It's reading time. I'm supposed to be reading a book about crystals with the lady who came over to steal from my button collection. I can't hack this, it's too weirdly exciting. I need to... I need to .... I will get a crystal! I will weight myself down with an enormous crystal and I can do it." And he does.

  7. well said, my friend.

  8. Yes, yes, yes; a thousand times, YES!