Amy stands in the second row on the end. She's wearing blue sweat pants and a pink shirt. Her hair is swept up into the ponytail that looked neater this morning. Her hands have streaks of magic marker on them. Her face is not quite clean.
Still, back there in the second row, she looks perfectly put together as the teacher calls out “a-five-six-seven-eight” to signal the start of the dance combination.
It's parent observation day in the studio. The dozen girls in Amy's musical theater class show off their newfound skills, acting out emotions and belting show tunes at the top of their little lungs. It's too cute.
Unfortunately, I can't really concentrate on Amy and her fellow thespians in training. All I can focus on are the two children behind me whose abominable behavior is multiplied by the fact that they are reflected in the mirror on the opposite wall.
There's just enough space between the last row of chairs and the wall behind us for them to run back and forth from one end of the room to the other. The 5-year-old sister of one of the girls in the class has engaged the interest of someone else's 9-year-old brother, and together they're entertaining each other until their designated time as “tag-alongs” is up.
The problem is, the entertainment is supposed to be out on the dance floor. Instead of sitting quietly with their parents to watch the singers and dancers, these two would-be audience members are jumping, thumping and even whooping as they play an impromptu game of tag.
I turn my head just enough to look over my right shoulder. I send a look to no one in particular that says, “If those are your kids, you might want to settle them down.” Then I turn back to watch Amy and her classmates.
The behavior behind me doesn't stop. Instead, it's turning into a stage-whispered ruckus. Again I turn back. Again I look generally over the group of parents. Again I send a glance that says, “Hey, folks, if those are your kids, you might want to think about a lasso.”
A few more bars of music, and still the rowdy pair behind me continue their antics. With plywood flooring beneath their feet, their running sounds like an army battalion marching through the room. I'm exaggerating only a little here.
I decide a dirty look is in order, but this time, when I turn my head, I realize I can't glare at the parents of these two children because I can't figure out which of the adults in the chairs around me are their parents. All the adults in the room are facing forward, intently watching the girls perform their dance steps.
There's a Stepford quality to this moment. I ask myself, “Is it me?” Perhaps I'm the only person who expects children to sit quietly and watch their siblings during a performance.
Granted, we're not in an auditorium, and the lights are not dimmed for a major debut. Nevertheless, the assumption is that the parents and family members in attendance came to observe the performers on the dance floor, not their misbehaving siblings in the back of the room.
This kind of thing happens more and more. I'm not sure if poor behavior is actually on the rise or if my own children are at long last old enough to behave appropriately mostly and so I'm finally able to notice what's going on around me.
What I'm noticing is a whole bunch of parents doing nothing.
No “shushing” or whispered admonitions to sit still. No warning glances or shoulder taps. Not even a wry smile as if to say, “Just because you're adorable doesn't mean it's OK to be disruptive.”
There seems to be a pervasive attitude that rude behavior in children is to be expected and tolerated, which brings me back to the question, “Is it me?”
I don't want to get used to rude children.
I don't tolerate it when my own children behave thoughtlessly in public, and I don't see why I should put up with it when other people's children run amok. I haven't figured out yet what to do other than send a series of progressively more irritated glances toward the adults whose job it is to react which obviously doesn't work, if my experience at the dance studio is any indication.
With the song-and-dance exhibition nearing an end, the mother of the energetic little girl reels her daughter in with an index finger and pats the chair next to her. This prompts the boy to plop down against the back wall and pick up a Game Boy to kill the time that's left. Apparently, watching his sister perform a show tune is a fate worse than death.
On the way home, I congratulate Amy and tell her how proud I am of her efforts, especially in the face of such a boisterous back row. “You really stayed in character and stayed focused, even with those kids running back and forth behind the seats.”
“What kids?” she asks.
“There were two children playing tag all during the class while you and your friends showed the parents the routines you're learning. I thought their behavior was rude and unacceptable. You didn't notice them?”
OK, so maybe it is just me.
(Marybeth Hicks is a writer and author of the features “then again.” and “A View from the Pew.” A wife of 18 years and mother of four children from third grade to junior year, she uses her columns to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families and the communities we share. Marybeth began her writing career more than 20 years ago in the Reagan White House. She currently writes a column for the Washington Times. Learn more about Marybeth and her work at www.marybethhicks.com. This column first appeared in and is reprinted with permission from the Washington Times.)