Diner Owner Gone Wild? Parents Not Parenting? Who's to Blame?

It all started this past weekend, when John and Tara Carson stopped by Marcy's Diner in Portland, Maine, with their nearly 2-year-old daughter. They placed their order—including a stack of pancakes for their little girl—and settled in for a nice meal that would turn out to be anything but.

At some point after the food was served, the child started crying, which is pretty standard stuff when you're out with a toddler. But here's where the story differs: According to Darla Neugebauer, the diner owner, the child's sobbing lasted an astonishing 40 minutes, at which point, she was fed up, leaned over the counter, and yelled at the girl to stop (which she did.) The Carsons recall things differently. They say their kiddo was in tears for 10 minutes before Neugebauer snapped.

The public dressing-down wasn't well received. "'I think I was just in shock because I've never seen behavior like this before, and we're like 'Are you really yelling at a child right now?' And she's like 'Yes, I am. She needs to shut the hell up and go,'" Tara Carson told the local NBC affiliate.

Incensed, the Carsons paid their bill, left a tip for their server, and walked out. Later, they posted a scathing review of the diner on Facebook, calling Neugebauer a "lunatic" and suggesting that if the crying "bothered you so much you should have spoken to me and not traumatized my child by screaming in her face."

Neugebauer fired back: "After your 4th attempt to shut her up I asked you to pack up either your rotten child or take the so important pancakes to go...but NNNNOOOOOO you just sit there & let your [expletive] kid go! & piss off my staff and my patrons!"

The post has since been removed.

Now, I'll be honest, my first instinct was to declare myself Team Carson. My husband and I have gotten our share of nasty looks when our son cries in public, especially when we're in a restaurant. Hearing your child cry is stressful enough, but it's ten times worse when you can feel the scorn of your fellow patrons.

Then I started thinking more about what happened. Though both parties disagree over how long the girl was crying, the fact is she was sobbing for a while. Even 10 minutes is a long time to have to listen to it. Neugebauer's restaurant is small, and my guess is that the sustained sound of a child crying was anything but pleasant for her other patrons. It makes sense that she would feel frustrated after a while, though obviously her anger was misplaced. Rather than yelling at a 2-year-old, she should have approached the parents directly.

By the same token, out of respect for everyone else in the restaurant—and to help soothe the child—I think one of the parents should have stepped outside with their little girl for a few minutes until she calmed down. My husband and I have had to do this many times before, and though not fun, the fresh air always works like a charm.

Of course, it's easy for me to say this—I wasn't the one having to deal with this very public meltdown. When you're in the hot seat, such simple solutions aren't always front of mind. As researchers recently confirmed, the sound of a baby crying triggers the part of our brain that manages fear, and frankly, who can think clearly under those conditions?

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Bonnie Gibbs Vengrow is a New York City-based writer and editor who traded in her Blackberry and Metro card for playdates and PB&J sandwiches—and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch her feisty, funny son grow up. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.

Harvey Karp, M.D. explains how to turn a crying cutie into a sleeping beauty.

Image of crying toddler courtesy of

Shutterstock

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