A French lady frequents one of my writing cafés. I don’t like her. In fact, I hate her.
Knowing almost nothing about her, her face has in a very short time become associated in my mind with all sorts of vile and distasteful things. Hatred. Disgust. Contempt. The stuff of nightmares. I really don’t like her. I really do hate her.
Kids below the age of reason have neverreally been my thing. Lots of upkeep, lots of noise, lots of unpredictability — with very little in return. Yes, yes, biological desires, long-term investments with payoffs only in the future, intensely rewarding, and the greatest challenge of your life. I have heard all those reasons before.
And I dislike them for a very simple reason: noise pollution — the greatest and grandest externality we never talk about. Toddlers make a lot of noise. They invade the privacy of everyone around them and materially and negatively affect their wellbeing.
Toddlers spend the majority of their waking hours making noise — crying, exploring, howling, practicing speech and learning how their muscles operate. That’s what they do; blaming them for damage caused by those actions is a bit like blaming the wind, yelling at the sun, or howling at the moon. Kids are really not at fault for what they do.
But the parents. Now, that’s a very different story. They have agency; they have reason; they have the capacity of proper judgement. They are — usually — civilised and respectful human beings, who would never approach other people and yell loudly in their faces. Enter kids…and parents’ respect for others goes out the window. Egocentricity maximised. It’s absurd.
Because that’s what you do when you bring a toddler into civilised society: you subject everyone else to invasive noises in a wholly unacceptable way. There seems to be this cosmic need for parents to bring their toddlers into public places — stores, airplanes, cafés, parks, shopping malls. Parade them around like they’re some magnificent achievement worthy of everyone’s attention and praise. Smooch them, loudly and publicly, like they’re some kind of glorified lollipop.
They’re literally the least unique thing about humans — every single one of us was once that. Still, the rest of us are expected to treat them with wonder. Like they’re the greatest thing on the planet. Well, they’re not.
While I can’t fathom why anyone would have a child, I understand that some people like it. Fair enough, to each his own; we like what we like. What I don’t grasp is why we let them out in public, these little monsters.
It’s none of my business if you have kids, but it’s most definitely my business when you all but shove them in my face — screaming and crying bundles of flesh, with runny noses and underdeveloped brains. Big oversized tongues and eyes, fat ugly cheeks. Contrary to common opinion, there is nothing cute about that. Nothing.
Two common objections here that make no sense to me: “But he is so quiet! Look at him!” and “it’s only natural.”
A lot of things are natural — taking your clothes off or defecating — but we don’t do those things at the tables in your average cafés, do we? As for the silence… yes, he’s quiet — for now. It won’t stay that way for very long. And a lot of unacceptable things would pass that criterion: guns or armed explosives being the most extreme examples (“but they haven’t hurt anyone” — ye, not yet).
Sometimes it’s like the world is punishing me — like when a couple enters my reading café not with one but two of these monsters. They carefully detach the carriers from their high-tech prams and lift their toddlers inside; the parents apparently want coffee. The mother lifts up one of the monstrosities and heads over to the counter to order; why she felt to urge to bring her offspring to the cashier is wholly unclear (perhaps there’s a toddler discount?), parading it around as it observes the world from her shoulder. I can see the discomfort from across the room. The crying is not far off now, a literal bomb just waiting to explode.
The mother orders the coffee and returns to the seat — naturally, the closest tables to where I’m sitting — where the father is already playing with the other. Why, oh, why? When you carried them inside, they were sleeping — what was so wrong with keeping them in that comparatively innocent state?
Then it starts. The loud, scrill, piercing noise of crying babies. Everyone else in the peaceful and quiet café looks up, interrupted from our more present tasks by the primordially coded response to crying toddlers. The pain in my ears, the hatred growing in my belly. Make. It. Stop.
The parents do their thing, seemingly unaware of the infraction of human decency that their babies have caused. Not my little cuties, no? They’re harmless… and just a little hungry! They play with them. Turn their piercing cries into loud screams of delight. Really not helping.
The coffee arrives, and in shorter time than seems humanly possible, the mother and father both empty their mugs, and prepare their kids for the carriers again. Naturally, they don’t like it — more screaming.
Conflicted emotions rush through my body. At first, I’m relieved. Thank God, they’re leaving!
But, hang on. They stopped their blissful walk in the sun for coffee. They woke their loud creatures, brought them inside, and even briefly paraded them around as if anybody cared. They subjected everyone else, peacefully working on their own thing, to loud, invasive baby cries — so that you could down your coffees in two seconds…? Could you seriously not have done that, leaving the toddlers outside?! There is such a thing as coffee to-go, after all — and there were two of you!
But the French lady is the worst. Hands down.
Her endlessly crying baby is more than a toy, more than a gimmick. It’s probably her proudest achievement, and she carries it all around the café for seemingly no reason. Playing with him to maximise the noise, I imagine, the laughter and the cries invading the entire place. I often wonder why she doesn’t bring a megaphone to amplify the noise even further — or at least a recorder to eternalise the shrill whistle the little baby makes.
And she will not stop smooching the top of his head. Not when she’s walking around with him. Not when she’s eating. Not when he’s just sitting there, being a baby. Every two seconds, amidst the cries, the shrieks, the feeding, and the playing, another smooch. Smack. Smack.
What, dear parent, do you really have to kiss your child like it’s a bloody lollipop? Do you really have to walk around your little thing like it’s Simba, held up for the world to admire? If you wanted a teddy bear or a soother, why didn’t you get that? If you wanted something to play with and cuddle with, how about a dog?!
But more importantly, French lady, why — oh why — must you bring your noisy, invasive, ugly progeny into a café where other people are quietly minding their own business?!
If you bring a toddler into the world, the least you can do is keep it away from the rest of us. Have some decency, for crying out loud.