*Tuesday, February 6th 2019
So, last night* was the first time I incurred a complaint at the restaurant(s) where I have been working Kids Night every week for over 6 years now. Fortunately I get along great with management, perhaps in part because of all the years of merry making and so many customers coming in to see me.
The poor woman who called asserted that I needed to be fired, slapped across the face, and am the rudest person she’s ever met. Ironically, she’s never even met me. She wasn’t even at the restaurant; she was calling on behalf of her *sister* who had come home complaining. The irony of course is that the son/nephew/child in question -whose face I’d painted- had not just a great experience but a truly beautiful and transformative one.
Specifically, the child started out so unhappy and profoundly restless most of the evening. Then he was so completely unsettled on my face painting stool, until I came up with a brand new accommodation for him that worked like magic. (First time in 21 years I had a child hold onto my shoulders while I painted their face.) All the stress went out of his body as his face and shoulders relaxed completely. He was finally able to close his eyes gently and had all the patience in the world while I worked out the inane Sponge Bob on his face per mom’s insistence.
He loved it. He was so proud of himself and I praised and fawned and reinforced that he should be (proud of himself). After playfully admiring himself in the mirror for a while he turned to ask, “Where’s my mom?” I escorted him back to their table and gushed how great he’d done. When she took a photo it was in selfie mode and I could see the image so I jumped in for a playful photobomb. I noticed the kid wasn’t smiling anymore. It seems that’s the deal he’s got going with his mom.
You’d think she would have mentioned her son’s autism. This was the thrust of the complaint by the way, “MY NEPHEW HAS AUTISM AND THAT FACE PAINTER IS THE RUDEST LADY I’VE EVER…”
Never in the evening did that come up. Looking back it makes sense, and often I can tell since I work with kids on the spectrum so often. Had I been informed, it would have changed little about how I handled the boy, besides making a more appropriate choice in fidget toy to help him settle. But I would have been able to access a lot more empathy for the MOM as to why she felt so compelled to act the way she did; relentlessly dogging the child, feeding into his ennui and pre-empting any chance of my exploring a civil discourse with him. Parenting is hard and I’m here to partner with parents. Except when I can’t.
She was really no different from all the worst parents; ‘JOEY! WHAT D’YA WANT? YA GONNA PAINT CHA FACE?? YOU WANT A TRAIN? HOW BOUT A TRAIN? TELL HER WHATCHA WANT! YOU WANT SPONGE BOB? SPONGE BOB ON YA FACE? TELL HER YOU WANT SPONGE BOB ON YA FACE!!!…’
Usually my response to this is to turn directly to the parent, hold out my hand, smile with eye contact and calmly say, “Hi. I’m Jenny!” (subtext: ‘Hey there now, how about let’s cut the shit?’)
Often they come unglued by this, embarrassed by the direct attention and start immediately scrambling to deflect to their child, ‘OH, UM… THIS IS JOSIE!!!!!!!!!!’ (subtext; “The absolute most special, totally unique like you don’t even know and only important thing in the world…”)
“Oh! Hi Josie,” then back to the parent, “How about you? I’m Jenny.”
Through this simple but radical AF act, I am establishing that there is a distinction between the bleeping grownup and their CHILD. Like, actual separate entities and shit. Sadly I find many parents are unable to make this distinction –at all– in my (vast, vast) experience.
But I admit I was off my game last night. The woman had plopped herself down in the middle of the Kids Zone to issue her directives, in BOTH my direction (face painting) and my partner’s direction (balloons). When my partner offered a bunch of balloon suggestions including a race car, she told her son to get a TRAIN. When my partner skillfully said, like, ‘Ehh, yeah or a race car, might be an idea…’ I admit I am guilty of turning to her and saying -as playfully as I could- “How DO you make a train out of balloons?”
I do earnestly hope my tone was as playful and non-confrontational as I believe, but yes, the subtext of my statement was indeed, “Please lady how about you just STFU for ONE solitary second already? Like, maybe we actually know how to do these jobs we are doing right here in front of you and if you just observed for two seconds we could show your kid a wonderful time …jerk!”
Now here is why I have no regrets;
#1) It worked! She DID, in fact, shut the fuck up. (Hooray!)
In fact she LEFT to go back to her table, and that is when the incredible transformation of her previously anxious, hyperactive and very unhappy child was able to begin.
#2) She (or her sister from back at home anyway) is the only one who’s complained about me here or at the other restaurant in over six years, so…
This is what I call a fluke.
Once is a fluke. Twice is a pattern. (Three times is a problem.)
I’m sorry her son has autism. In future I hope it maybe occurs to her to 1) Speak to the professionals working with her child instead of just bossing the hell out of her child in front of them, and 2) Maybe share relevant information about him??
I’m also sorry she had such a miserable time. Never mind that she had a lovely meal with two girlfriends, that their SIX kids had very good meals plus ice cream –for one dollar each– and were wonderfully entertained and all received fantastic balloons, excellent face painting and fun attention from a couple of unique and fun seasoned professionals. I’d even done some extra well-received subtle clowning around the table, had the kids in stitches, got them all to behave and led them in an adorable little train across the restaurant to the Kids Zone so all the moms could enjoy some GrownUp DownTime.
(This was AFTER a full day of entertaining kids in the hospital no less.)
After speaking with management some more at the end of the night it was clear they were not at all ruffled by one maniacal phone call, and that dealing with crazies is part and parcel to the restaurant industry. The head chef even joked, “At least we have Jenny to get rid of all our worst customers for us!” (Not true, just funny.) I’m so spoiled over in in my usual Jenny the Juggler bubble of sparkles, magic, art, love, adoration and adorableness that I mainly only see all the BEST customers!
PS: There was also a part of the complaint claiming I was saying bad things about the child’s parent to the child. Honestly this mystified me for a couple days, but upon further and further reflection I’m guessing this might be referring to the humor I sometimes use when kids ask me why the Kids Zone is just for kids. Sometimes I say things like, “Because grownups are the worst!” Or more to the truth, “Because parents cannot be helpful here.” I’m thinking this fabulous lady heard me say that stuff, cannot imagine that I TOO am a totally imperfect parent, is not versed in the practice of comedy with kids, and took it personally because you know, it’s all about her. Or whatever. Pfff.
But this night is not over. I’m trying to get out of there when this very sweet, tiny little lonely man I know from the bar repeatedly tries to engage me in conversation. (And yes he is short but I am referring to his mentality.) Of course I am nice to him and give him my time, but his attempts at conversation are such spectacularly embarrassing and offensive failures I cannot even repeat them here. “Believe me.”
So I get out of that hell only to find there are yet two MORE tables with young kids seated in the dining room. It is 9:30pm on a Tuesday, Kids Night has been over for an hour, I am all packed up and my partner has gone home. Naturally I charm the hell out of all them with balloons and singing and stuff, grab my food and flee. I am so innervated that I decide to take this selfie by the marquee outside that bears my name every Tuesday for over 6 years now, only to find I’ve been sporting a HUGE BLACK SMUDGE ACROSS MY FACE for the entire evening. (See above.) Not one person has said anything. Not one. Not a thing. Not management, my partner, the friendly bartender, my little hostess bestie; no kids, no parents, no waitstaff, no sad little man at the bar. No one.
I remember accidentally grazing my face with my fine black brush during the FIRST face of the night and thinking, “Oop I better wipe that off,” and that was it. SCORES of people I talked to after that. I know my outfit and makeup are eccentric, but THIS looks like a deliberate choice??
All I could do is shake my head at how paradoxically isolating performing can be, so much of the time. And then jump into inexplicable 10pm traffic whilst shoving pasta in my face like the elegant pig I am in the car between gigs.
I make it home to Dear Hubsand, get DF outta costume and hit the couch. Add beer plus cats and this is all I need.