Joseph Kelly considers the difficulties of dining out with your own, and other people's, children.
We are especially well serviced for coffee in my neighbourhood. Every weekend the footpath on our main drag becomes a slalom course of chairs, tables, waiting staff and patrons. Even the most direct walk to collect the milk forces me to waltz through half a dozen table settings, each babbling with conversation and the unmistakable odour of bacon.
Personally I have never been tempted to join the throng and pull up a chair myself, simply because if I were to do so I'd have to bring Maisie and Frances with me. It's not that I have a problem going out with my kids, it's just that I have yet to go to a cafe that passes their "3 second rule". Their 3 second rule requires that Maisie and Frances are fed within 3 seconds of sitting at a table or they will scream, eat the packets of sugar, spill the salt and pepper, throw any cutlery on the floor, run between the tables and eventually just stand and stare at a couple trying to enjoy the fact their kids are at home being baby-sat. And once the genie is out of the 3 second bottle there's no putting it back in.
As a result I tend to avoid cafes. Even before I had children I wasn't much of a coffee shop sort of person. Occasionally, the morning after the night before, I'd wander down to the local cafe with Susie and have bacon and eggs and anything else that would help me through the day. But generally being spotted with a coffee on the high street has never been high on my social agenda. But this, it seems, places me in the minority - especially among parents.
Each weekend my morning walk to hunt and gather milk has become more and more dangerous. The high street has subtly evolved so that the only creatures more ubiquitous than the latte sipping cyclists in lycra or the Prada shaded macchiato set are the breakfasting parents with their designer prams. And this might be unique to my neighbourhood but I'm pretty sure the kids are dressed up for the occasion, so that amid what at first appears to be a scene of random chaos you can subtly detect a ritualised display of 'trophyism' - groomed parents with groomed kids inside groomed prams. And - this is what I can't explain - the kids are well behaved.
While dad leisurely soaks up the sport section and mum idly flicks through the weekend supplements, the kids calmly play. With each table I pass I feel as though I've accidentally walked into a shoot for the family edition of the Ralph Lauren summer catalogue. Where are the tantrums? Where is the toddler trying to get a fist into dad's coffee cup? Where is the embarrassed mum trying not to notice her toddler has just hidden a slobbered rice cracker in the sugar bowl? Is it possible that there are toddlers who regard white clothes as something other than a blank canvass?
All of this has led me to wonder if there is a new form of socialisation going on that I'm not a part of. Is there a parenting guide book to teach the under 5s how to be good cafe patrons? Are we, as parents, now encouraged to raise our kids not just as free thinking liberals but also as well mannered gentry of the latte elite? Is it possible to raise your kids to be both?
Does the thought of your kids in a cafe send you into a panic? Or are they the perfect patrons? What's the secret to getting past the Three Second Rule?
Comment on Diary Dad's blog here.
Is a new form of socialisation going on that I’m not a part of?