I was alone for the first week of the trip, meaning I didn't have to think about how to get from point A to point B with a toddler or whether or not a restaurant was kid friendly. At home I'm used to factoring in Leo's needs, but after some time on my own, I fell back into old habits of life before Leo (LBL?) and could waltz into any old place without first scoping it out and wondering if everyone in there was going to hate me. When Jeff and Leo arrived, I immediately began to wonder how a toddler would be received in each establishment and this added a layer of stress to everything we did. Would they roll their eyes? Would they act like we're putting them out? Would we feel welcome?
Before I continue, I would like to point out that I am fully aware that there are venues in this life that are simply unsuitable for children. I'm not going to take my child to those places. I also know that most people (myself included) have been in situations where parents do not monitor their children, do not clean up after them in restaurants, etc., so I understand why one might assume that a kid could negatively impact their experience. I have been the mom whose child has a breakdown in the middle of dinner and makes too much noise, so I get it. What I'm referring to is the coldness that can be shown to families BEFORE a child has done anything other than enter the space. The more I think about it, the more I realize that it's weird and rude.
Rewind to our European adventure. There were a few cold stares. I think I spotted a couple of eye rolls. Jeff overheard a woman on the plane ride home make a negative comment that was clearly directed at our family as we were boarding. My expectations about how a kid would be received were sometimes validated. But on the whole, I was pleasantly shocked and humbled at just how gracious people were.
At La Bandierette in Venice, we felt such warmth from the employees, even after we broke a wine glass, spilled red wine on the floor, and brought a child who lined up toys and snacks all over the table so it was difficult for them set down the plates of food. The server spoke no English to us, but from his intonation and a few words I managed to translate, we could tell he was saying something along the lines of, "It's cool, I understand! You have a kid and a lot going on, so don't try to clean up the mess, I've got it under control."
We went to Vila Podvin for lunch in Mosnje, Slovenia because we heard that you could get a high quality lunch for a lower price. I was surprised at just how fancy it was (seriously...one of the fanciest meals I have ever eaten in my life) and when we walked in I was immediately terrified that Leo would be banned from the premises. They did nothing of the sort, welcoming us warmly and asking the chef to prepare some alternative dishes that were geared more toward a two year old's palate.
These instances seemed like such beacons of light to me and I was grateful. How amazingly lucky we were to have people treat us with kindness, despite our toddler! The more I thought about it though, I realized that it seemed backward. Shouldn't we be treating people with kindness FIRST, no matter who is in their family, then maybe we can act annoyed if we start getting hit with goldfish crackers from the kid at the next table? And even then, shouldn't we grit our teeth and be kind anyway because we all know that kids are developing and aren't always going to act like adults, no matter how much we want them to?
I feel like I've always tried to be understanding of families who have rowdy or loud kids, but this trip made me realize that I need to be even better about making them feel welcome. Can you imagine walking into a restaurant and having someone roll their eyes at you and say, "Oh, great, this guy is probably going to be a loud talker...maybe I can get my seat moved away from him"? I don't know if Leo notices the way people respond to children, but I believe that he must have at least some sense of when he is welcomed kindly and when he is treated like a burden. He is a person, after all.
Right after the woman on the plane afforded our son no grace by assuming he would bother her, the captain stepped out from the cockpit, saw Leo and immediately asked if he would like to sit in the captain's chair and look at all the buttons. We always have the choice to welcome kids as fellow humans or present the attitude that their existence is a bother. I'm hoping that the first option will start becoming second nature for more of us.