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Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

Feral Toddler in a Pool Hall

DEAR MISS MANNERS: I went to a bar with my husband to enjoy a cocktail and play some billiards. When we started to play pool, a toddler came over to our table and began playing with the cues, balls, quarters, etc.

We kept politely asking him to quit. After about 10 minutes of this, his father finally came over from across the bar, placed the toddler on a barstool and told him to stay there and watch us play pool.

The father went back to his table and sat down with his back to us. The child got off the barstool and began playing with things again at our table. I went over to the toddler’s father and mother and told them I was concerned for the child’s safety. However, by this point I was very upset and red-faced because I was so angry, and it came across as rude. The parents gave me a dirty look, took the child and didn’t say anything or bother to apologize.

I was astonished that parents would think it’s OK for a toddler to be in a bar, first of all, and second, to be unattended. Do you think I was rude to say something?

GENTLE READER: No, and citing safety is the right way to disguise your annoyance at the nuisance. But it must be said in a tone of concern, and you admit to doing it rudely.

Without commenting on a child’s presence in a bar, Miss Manners acknowledges that there are social settings in which a well-behaved child may have a degree of freedom to roam -- for example, an outdoor event where families are picnicking.

In such cases, it is the child’s responsibility not to torture the flora, the fauna or the other customers; it is the parents’ responsibility to ensure that the child lives up to these requirements. The latter requires constant line-of-sight contact, or very nearly so. In a less child-friendly setting -- the bar -- the acceptable distance from parental authority contracts, as does the range of acceptable child behavior.

People in your own position are free to return children who have clearly crossed these lines, if they can manage to do so without sounding like monsters who hate children.