I used to hate being out at a bar and looking up from my pint to find a cutie staring me down, eyes wide and glassy, face slicked with drool. An underage, diapered one I mean.
“Isn’t any place safe from breeders?” I’d kvetch.
Then I’d roll my eyes at the tot’s parents, annoyed at how they clung to their pre-spawn freedom, the footloose days they had traded in for naptimes and conventionality. On top of my personal prejudices, I didn’t think the noise – the music at many bars leaves me with temporary tinnitus – was good for developing eardrums. I mean, come on parents: Safety first.
Of course, since becoming a father my baby's become my most constant companion at the neighborhood bars.
My change of heart came gradually. In those early days, my son was more like a lifelike doll than an actual human, sleeping whenever he wasn’t eating. Stir crazy after a couple of weeks on newborn house arrest, my wife and I toted the dozing cherub along for a cocktail in the backyard of Weather Up, the speakeasy on Vanderbilt Avenue. When he awoke my wife nursed him, drink in hand. He didn’t make a peep or otherwise disturb our fellow imbibers, and we thought, “Well, as long as he’s not bothering anyone …”
Fast forward three months and we’re those people, the ones I used to abhor, begging our son to stop wailing as we changed his diaper on a table in the backroom of Park Slope’s The Gate. Some months after that, we watched in pride as he toddled around Mission Dolores making friends with the patrons’ doggies. “Let’s get another round,” we told our drinking companions.
Sure, once he picked a cigarette butt off the deck of Underhill Avenue’s , whose barkeep was less than enthusiastic about having the smoker’s den used as a romper room. But for the most part, our son enjoyed the occasional Sunday afternoon beer as much as we did.
My wife and I selected watering holes with outdoor space and a generally favorable attitude toward babies, and we tried finding seats away from the crowd. Not that it mattered much. Our son has always been one cute little squirt (in my humble opinion), so none of our fellow drinkers seemed to mind having him around. And believe me, I was on the lookout for patrons shooting us the stink eye, as I myself would have done not too many months before.
But these visits all took place in the summertime, back when he was a less mobile, more docile creature. But last week, to beat the winter doldrums, we took the twenty-month-old tot out for a quick one at Washington Commons. We figured we could hide in the backroom away from the bar proper, and invited friends to meet us with their 2-year-old daughter in the hopes that the kids would keep themselves company.
Oh, the best laid plans of harried parents.
As we ponied up to the taps with my son, he asked, “Na-na?” his word for food. When we told him there were no treats he began waving goodbye, a sure sign he wanted to go. And my beer hadn’t even been poured!
My wife tried to distract him. On most days he’s mister organization, stacking, knocking down, and restacking empty yogurt containers in an unending project. On this particular evening he couldn't care less about those or any of the toys we had brought with us.
Perhaps the décor, done in adult tones of brown and black, dulled his enthusiasm. Or perhaps he sensed we were keeping him sequestered from the patrons who, when my friend’s little girl bolted around the bar in excitement, rolled their eyes in annoyance. (How dare the curmudgeons!) Or maybe our timing was just off. It was the end of the day, too near that time of baby’s bath and bed. Not really when you want to take a toddler out to an unfamiliar, dark place that reeks of stale fermentation.
Still, we tried. Crayons emerged. Toy cars got passed around. Snacks were shared. The kids hugged one another again and again, but what they really wanted to do was run wild and play.
We gulped down our IPA and made a hasty exit.
As I deposited our glasses at the bar, I asked the bartender, Rachel, if she had any etiquette tips for drinking with toddlers. “Be considerate,” she said. “Come early and leave at the first sign of crying.”
“That’s funny,” a man said next to me. “Because when I came in I heard a baby crying, but now I don’t see it.”
I shot a quick glance to the door, beyond which my friend, wailing daughter slung over one shoulder, waved his arms in a semaphore anyone would recognize: let’s get the hell out of here, STAT!
For a moment, the old me reemerged and I breathed a sigh of relief, glad this guy at the bar hadn’t connected me to the overtired kids. But then I considered that, on the contrary, I should be proud. The fact that he didn’t see any crying babies proved we’d done a good job, drinking with two toddlers and not disturbing the overall vibe.
Still, until the weather warms and outdoor spaces reopen, those who have yet to experience the bountiful joys of parenthood can tip back their pints without worry. I think we’ll be doing our drinking either at home, or baby free.