When you write a column about the difficulty of travelling and dining out with a baby, the response is sadly predictable.
Essentially, I shouldn't even be doing it. I shouldn't be flying. I shouldn't be eating in restaurants. My child shouldn't be annoying people. I should be at home, waiting a few years before resuming my life.
Babies are allowed to fly in planes. Yeah they're loud and annoying sometimes, but everyone else just has to deal with it.
Someone even emailed me in response to that column: "Why do people who have chosen to become parents think it is OK to utterly ruin someone else's meal? Why can't you stay at home til your child is human enough to cope in a civilised manner?"
There seems to be a particularly Anglo expectation that parents will cloister themselves and their young children until the little ones can be trained to act in the same way everyone else does. And if you do dare to leave the house with your baby – to eat at a restaurant, to fly on a plane, to do anything in public – you should be prepared to apologise for your kid, to feel bad about the effect he or she might be having on everyone else.
But you know what? I don't have to apologise for my baby. No parent does.
Babies exist in the world. They're real people. They're as much a part of our society as any citizen of any age. Every single person reading this column was once a baby.
So why should you feel bad about taking a baby to a restaurant that allows them? (Some have a minimum age for diners, which is totally reasonable.) Why should you feel like you're doing something wrong by taking your kid on a plane? Why should parents' lives stop just because they now move around the world with another tiny human?
I have a good friend who's been doing a lot of travelling recently with two young children, and the first time she flew with her eldest daughter, she brought a whole lot of lollipops on board the plane to give to all the passengers around her, to say sorry in advance for the behaviour of her baby.
That's a lovely thing to do, but it's also totally unnecessary. Babies are allowed to fly in planes. Yeah they're loud and annoying sometimes, but everyone else just has to deal with it. These are people. This is how they act.
I travel, now, with a nine-month-old named Angus, and I'm fortunate to be doing most of that travel in southern Europe, where the attitude to kids is a bit different to what you find in Australia. Babies are adored here. Strangers dote over them. Waiters run off and find them special food. Fellow air passengers smile and pull faces and ask to hold them.
I apologise for Angus in restaurants all the time, but people here will have none of it. It's fine, they say. He's great. He's a baby.
My partner and I do our part, which I can see that not all parents do. We clean up after Angus in restaurants and cafes if he makes a mess. We give him things to amuse himself so he doesn't lose the plot. We usually order food for him so he feels like he's part of the action and doesn't make too much noise.
We're aware of him and his effect on other people, and we try to minimise the annoyance if it's there.
Beyond that though, we need to stop apologising. Being in southern Europe makes you realise that. A baby isn't something to be ashamed of, it's something to celebrate.
This child is also a normal person with as much right to be in the public sphere as anyone else. Sure, he makes more noise than most of the other people around him, he crawls around on the ground a lot more and he likes to throw things off the edge of his table, but other than that he's just a miniature person.
I don't have to apologise for him. If I have to apologise for anyone it should be me – I choose to take my baby on planes; I choose to bring him out to restaurants and cafes. He'd be just as happy at home playing with his current favourite toys, the TV remote and the empty nappy box. This is no fault of his.
But even still, I'm not doing that. I'm not breaking any laws here. I'm not bending any rules. I'm just taking a little person to places he's allowed to be. I'm keeping him amused, but I'm also accepting that he doesn't always act like everyone else. I'm continuing on with my life in the way every parent should be able to (give or take a few major changes).
If that seems like a problem – well, I'm afraid that problem is yours.
Have you travelled with a baby? Which countries were most welcoming? Did you find people were annoyed by your child, or understanding?
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