Dear Lady at the Coffee Shop

August 24, 2010 at 10:46 am 7 comments

Dear Lady at the Coffee Shop,

I noticed that the sounds my daughter was making bothered you. Your vociferous grumblings, along the lines of: …screaming and crying children… bah! … were heard from the booth in which we sat, and were not much appreciated.

When I set my boiling anger aside I can find empathy for you. Perhaps you were tired after a long walk into town. Perhaps you were hot and looking for a nice place to rest, read your paper, and sip your iced coffee in peace. Perhaps you never had children and the mere sight of them causes your heart to stir in uncomfortable ways. Perhaps you fought with your lover in the early morn and could not handle any further outbursts of emotion. Perhaps you always grumble when hearing the cries of a child, a habit you learned early on and cannot drop.

Any version of my wild imaginings allow me to love you a little bit and hate you a little less.

But I’d also like to give you some information: parents do not want their children to scream or cry. Their pain and suffering is something we seek to prevent with all the might and skills that we possess. We especially do not want them to scream or cry in the cafe and disturb old ladies drinking their coffee and reading the paper. Many parents will avoid public outings altogether so as to preserve the relative peace of the non-reproducing public. Other parents will yank their children roughly by the arm, dragging them to a discreet location where they can spank them for expressing themselves in such a way, where the parent can unleash a stream of their own insecurity and shame for having bothered a person such as yourself.

I am not one of these parents although I too, in my own way, seek to please others, to make them smile at my child and feel happy to see us, not inspire them to grumble irritatingly at the sound of her discontent. But while I long for your approval, I will not sacrifice my girl in order to receive it. I believe she is a human being with equal rights to downtown coffee shops. When she cries in dismay I choose to hold her, finding that response far less disturbing than escalating the situation and noise with violence and threats. In fact, the screaming and crying you mentioned while flipping through the news lasted less than ten seconds and was followed by an hour of quiet contentment.

Perhaps this information might also prove helpful: a bagel arriving with cream cheese instead of butter is upsetting to a three-year old. So might the position of a water glass, or a beloved squeaky shoe falling from the booth and into the depths that lie beneath the table. There are hundreds of small, seemingly unimportant instances that can cause torrential grief in a small human. Their world is littered with emotional land mines, but thankfully, in my opinion, children are not yet shackled by social constraint. My girl didn’t see you behind us in the booth, and in any case wouldn’t know that unleashing the secrets of her heart would be disturbing, to you or anyone else. Where you, or I, suffer from withholding our pain, she does not. Her heart is clear and unfettered.

When I heard you, over the whimpers of my cradled girl, I wanted to spring up and shout in your face. Imagining carrying out this reaction, so out of character for me, entertained me long enough for my heart to still, for my focus to resettle on my girl’s tangly locks. You don’t know. You simply do not know. Your heart is tucked so far within, so far from the surface that you think it is my child’s cries that disturb you, not something that you brought along, something old, and faded and permanently imbedded. You do not know, or do not remember what heartache feels like when you release it immediately, what it sounds like as it echoes off the walls of a cafe.

I am no longer mad.



Entry filed under: favorites, parenting principles. Tags: , , .

Out Like A Light, ha ha Powers of Desperation

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. alyssa  |  August 24, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    wow, i experienced my own version of this today. i kept trying to find empathy for my daughter myself and the woman glaring as we noisily made our way through the grocery store. i was embarasseded, wanting to attack those judging eyes, and generally miserable. and then, as we stood in line and i looked down at my precious i was horrified to realize that i was embarrassed by her. and why? for the reasons you listed above. all that emotional baggage that continues to resurface. it was with welcome eyes that i saw the very subject that weighed me down this morning, addressed on this here blog.

  • 2. isa  |  August 24, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    love this post! thanks Natalie!

  • 3. Hilaree  |  August 24, 2010 at 7:34 pm


    You just put a big, big smile on my face. That was some serious mama power right there.

    Not to mention excellent writing.

    Very nice. Thank you for this today!!

  • 4. Amy McGregor  |  August 24, 2010 at 8:26 pm

    You are a bigger than I would have been, Natalie. There have been many an awkward confrontation that has started out with a overtly expressed frustration at mine or someone else’s children and has ended in my inability to prevent my anger from bubbling over the top. It gets easier as I mature to hold back and focus more on making sure that the child understands that that persons rudeness was not in any way a reflection of a problem with the child, but rather a problem with a lack of understanding.

    P.S. I wonder how this person tends to react when her food/ beverage orders get messed up- at least Echo will figure out someday that this is something that can be solved with little effort. She will learn this because she has secure relationships with people that spare no effort to give the information that she needs… on second thought, perhaps this woman was not given enough empathy in her life to function without feeling like the world is against her. How sad. I’ll try hard to remember this next time I run into this scenario. Thanks for being you 🙂


  • 5. carrie  |  August 24, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    so i just got home from going out for dinner with our 3 children and husband.
    My 15 month old not yet verbal baby made a couple of loud screams.
    My boys laughed and i was thinking to take her out of the restaurant when a woman rushed over to me and told me to quiet my baby.
    I wish I could say I had grace
    I wish i had breathed
    i did not
    It became ugly—me saying she ‘s a baby and this couple along with another table telling me off.
    My eldest son began to cry and ultimately we left.
    It was not pretty.
    I know they must have hard insides but wow i had zero grace.
    I feel just terrible now feeling that i wished i could of been so calm and modelled that to my children.
    I was not crazy or anything but i was not graceful.
    How crazy to read this post
    Any words of kindness would be appreciated
    Much love cARRie

    • 6. nataliechristensen  |  August 24, 2010 at 9:05 pm

      oh carrie,
      that’s so hard. i am not sure i would have held up against a direct attack like that either. i think it’s sad that there seems to be less and less tolerance for a baby’s cries in the world. be gentle with yourself, there are many moments to model for your children, including this one, where you empathize with yourself for a difficult night. much love to you. xo natalie

  • 7. Melissa  |  August 25, 2010 at 8:54 am

    What a beautiful post – thank you. In times of trial, I often call on the “other mamas.” I summon up the energies of those mamas of times past and present, the mamas that I know were patient and wise. The mamas that soothe my heart and can offer me empathy because they have been there too. Thank you for contributing your words to the ever-growing collective wisdom of the “other mamas.”


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