I’m no W.C. Fields

It’s time to put my neck on the block again and this time I have a hunch that I’m going to upset a few people. So before I go any further I’d like to state quite categorically that I’m not a child-hater.

I like to think though, that I’m a realist and I certainly subscribe to the view that children are just that: children. They’re not small adults.

This was brought home to me recently (again) when I went to a Sunday morning jazz concert. It was the first time for an old favourite at a new venue, so quite possibly there would be a new crowd and a new vibe: nothing at all wrong with that.

At the old venue the concert was held in a darkened hall with doors closed, enabling total immersion in the music and allowing it to do exactly as advertised: kick back and soothe away the troubles of the week.

The new venue is quite different; light, airy with open doorways to the central hall. A few tables on the balcony overlooking the concert stage allowed those not seated in the rows below to spread out with a coffee and the newspapers if they wished, keeping an attentive ear on the music and just kick back.

That is, until the toddlers started screaming.

Call me a kill-joy, but I don’t believe that any place where adults are sitting still for 2 hours or so (with a short interval) is the place where small children can be expected to keep quiet, or still. A couple of toddler-sized plastic chairs were at the back of the hall; those of us who have had children could have accurately predicted that these would be picked up and dropped, or scraped across the floor (repeatedly) not in naughtiness, but in the toddler spirit of exploration and learning about their world.

With open doorways to the outside it would have been simple for parents to scoop up their offspring and step outside for a while when the screaming/chair scraping/dropping reached a certain level, but sadly that didn’t seem to be the case.

I do have sympathy for parents who aren’t of an era when a ready-made band of babysitters in the form of Mum, Gran and probably Great Aunt Mabel too were on hand nearby to allow the grown-ups some time off for such pursuits.

Quite possibly the only option for many parents is to take the kids along or miss the event. I’m all for introducing children to culture – but shouldn’t consideration come first?

I always felt that just one of the fascinating and fulfilling aspects of parenthood is helping your child to discover the world, bringing it to him or her and facilitating their explorations of something new – but it has to be age appropriate.

I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve witnessed recalcitrant toddlers and very small children being hauled around London art galleries and exhorted to find a particular animal in a painting, or asked for their opinion on a work of art. Their boredom and disinterest is palpable (though apparently not to their parents) and unsurprisingly the little ones become even more vocal and upset when finally dumped unceremoniously back into the stroller where their only view is the legs of the taller visitors.

Yet I’ve also seen many examples of only-slightly-older children in the same galleries who are clearly interested, engaged and enjoying themselves – because the activity has been tailored by their parents to suit both their age and level of understanding. It’s a real delight to see and who cares if they chirp loudly in their enthusiasm? I don’t.

As I said, I’m certainly no supporter of W.C. Fields: “Children should neither be seen nor heard”; however a little consideration from their parents would go an awfully long way.

This feature appeared in The Sussex Newspaper on October 7th

Photo courtesy of Lynda Giddens
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