There are only two kinds of people in this world: people who are obsessed with whether other people's children are making noise and the parents of children who want to tell the first group to perform an anatomically impossible act.
Kids are loud. They are loud at home, at school, in public libraries and doctors' offices and supermarkets and churches, in parks and on sidewalks, in cars and airplanes, and anywhere else you can imagine. Never mind moments of genuine distress, which for toddlers can range from getting an owee to suddenly remembering that cupcakes exist and they are not, at present, eating them. Kids make noise about absolutely everything: cookies, toys, pictures, the alphabet, numbers, names, the grass, sticks, light, sun, bugs, Cheerios, books, Pooh Bear, prayers, milk (I could keep this up all day). Just this morning one of my daughters ran into my office screaming, "I'M DANGEROUS, I MAKE FIRE FROM MY HANDS!" Is this really a revelation of which one can reasonably expect anyone, least of all, a very young person, to unburden herself in a hushed voice? My two girls, aged 1 and a half and almost 3 respectively, even scream at one another about nothing at all as a game, each trying to match the other's tone. Tiger moms take note: I suspect this is probably good musical training.
I wonder what goes through the mind of the average shusher, amateur or professional, when it occurs to him or her to remind me, usually with a passive-aggressive groan or sigh, that one or more of my children are not at the moment availing themselves of this choice opportunity to practice their NPR voices. Do they really think that parents, who spend 14 hours a day listening to those screams, enjoy whining and screaming and tantrum-throwing? Do they think that when we finally get them down the first thing we choose to do is put on a recording of our eldest shouting: "GIVE IT BACK BUBBLE NO BUBBLE NO BUBBLE NO BUBBLE NO BBBUBBLE!" This blissful silence is the hard-won victory for which we battle seven days a week, 365 days a year.
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One thing that puts parents at a disadvantage is the unfortunate reality of traitors in our midst. Most shushers have grown accustomed to mindless acquiescence from parents. Pathetic appeasers, I say. Their base treachery has led, among other things, to the nearly universal expectation nowadays that it is my duty as a parent to pacify my children with mobile devices or tablets, which I refuse to allow them to touch until they are adults, whenever they go anywhere outside our home.
How did things ever get this way? One reason, I think, is simply that people are going longer and longer without having any children and are used to living mostly around other adults whose circumstances are the same. It is perfectly normal now to be married and over the age of 40 and childless. In wealthy urban areas children are increasingly regarded as a luxury good that only well-established responsible people know how to take care of. I suspect, too, that our world-historically moronic dog culture has contributed to the problem. "I keep Buddy quiet at the dog park!" is an actual argument I have heard evinced by someone at a supermarket in Northern Virginia who thought my daughter should be slightly less enthusiastic about doughnuts.
Here is some far-out science: My kid is not your stupid pet. You might put it in a stroller and dress it and have birthday parties for it and refer to yourself as "Mommy" or "Daddy," but that makes you a delusional loser, not the winner of this debate about what any decent society should expect of the most vulnerable members of the human race.
For my part I find all sorts of things and behaviors annoying: soccer fandom, teetotalers, people who pretend to profit from management books and other airport nonfiction, above all dogs and their slavishly addled owners. But faced with these things I don't ask these tedious individuals to cut it out, even though they are, in most cases, mature adults who should know better and are perfectly capable of restraining themselves in public. If only in the grim spirit of quid pro quo it seems reasonable for the rest of the world to return the favor to my oldest when she has just witnessed the destruction of her pretend dam on the sidewalk in front of our house.
Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men is almost certainly the best film made in my lifetime, a masterpiece of cinematography, production design, and acting. I sometimes ask myself whether for many Americans this dystopian thriller about the consequences of worldwide infertility is not more like a vision of paradise. In the film the wealthy enjoy lives of privilege insulated from the deprivations visited upon the global poor; technology has made their leisure time ample and provided them with unimaginably immersive forms of entertainment; telecommuting is common; the "arts" are patronized by the state; and, best of all, endless consequence-free sex has replaced, seemingly forever, the ancient cycle of lovemaking, childbirth, and parenting. The youngest person in the world is 18 years old.
"Very odd, what happens in a world without children's voices," says one character in the film. She is right. It is so odd that a world in which such a thing happened would not be the world at all. Children have the rest of their lives to contribute to GDP while conversing at socially acceptable volumes or silently via one or more electronic devices. In the meantime, they're going to use their beautiful little voices to make noise, some of it charming, a lot of it extremely irritating.
Get over it.
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