After making waves a few months ago as the first openly gay NFL player, defensive end Michael Sam was cut on Saturday by the St. Louis Rams. It’s an unfortunate roadblock to what was an amazing story. Fortunately, the decision looks to be purely a football decision, of all the NFL coaches, one would be hard-pressed to find a nicer guy than Rams coach Jeff Fisher. Sam was a seventh round pick, which, for those uninitiated, is kind of like being the last pick on the playground, so making the team was a stretch, particularly for a rookie.
It’s sad that a situation like Sam’s is actually newsworthy, to the point that American sports network ESPN was reporting on the Rams shower situation. That’s right, a major sports network really did send a reporter to Rams training camp to investigate the locker room hygiene routine of an openly gay player.
Undoubtedly, there have been gay football players before, and even with Sam getting cut there will be gay football players in the NFL this season; however, it would have been nice to get yet another major cultural milestone out of the way by having an openly gay player in the league. Sam may still catch on with another team, and he could even make his way up here to play in the CFL, but as someone who lives sports, but hates the culture that sometimes surrounds it, I can’t help but pull for Sam.
As I have mentioned before, these tired, out-of-date male stereotypes are just as harmful as their female equivalents. Until we begin to unravel theses gender issues from our culture, we will continue to live in a world where a female CEO or a gay football player is a big deal. The good news is that most of the qualities we associate with sports don’t need to change. Sports can still represent leadership, teamwork, power, strength, speed, and character without having to exclude anyone. The idea that there is room for everyone in the sporting world doesn’t diminish these qualities, it strengthens them by showing how universal they are.
I hope one day my daughters won’t even have to think twice about whether or not they can like the colour pink and still be interested in science, or love princesses yet still want to play football. I often think that in trying to solve some of these issues of injustice or inequality, we end up limiting choices rather than expanding them. The issue isn’t so much that Sam is gay, it’s that there is a misconception that being gay means you can’t also be mentally tough, physically strong, and possess the kind of character that would make you go through a wall for your teammate. There is no need for any accommodation for these changes other than in our own heads.
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The food service industry is tough. The business is relentless, the competition is fierce and the margins are slim. I worked for six years in the restaurant industry and I know just how tough it can be. One of the more controversial subjects in restaurant circles has to do with kids. Do you allow them or not? How do you accommodate them? Does welcoming them help or hurt your business? A debate on those subjects could take days, there are a lot of emotions on both sides. However, if you are going to not only allow children, but actively encourage them, how should you do it?
I recently returned from three weeks on the road, where a lot of restaurant meals were had, and I couldn’t help but notice the differences between restaurants who gets it, those who don’t, and those who think they do but don’t. So as a former restaurant employee here are some tips for restaurants who want to do more than just tolerate kids.
Seriously, I’ve been to restaurants where I swear the high chairs are older than I am. On our recent trip, we walked into a restaurant and were told that they couldn’t give us a high chair because they only had one and it was in use. One? I know margins are slim in restaurants, but if you’re going to go to the trouble of printing a kids menu (as this restaurant had) pick up a few of these and stop playing musical chairs.
You wouldn’t seat an adult in a chair that had French fries all over it, why would you do the same to a kid? I’ve seen some restaurants go to the trouble of shrink-wrapping the kids tray to demonstrate how clean it is but don’t bother to clean the actual seat. Most parents are going to whip out the baby wipes in a restaurant anyway, but we should only be doing it out of OCD-like compulsion, not because there is day old spaghetti sauce on the baby seat.
A restaurant can never go wrong with burgers, pasta, and pizza on the kids menu, but a little variety, and accommodation are important. Kids may seem like a cookie-cutter group to please, but allow for some variation. For example, my daughter loves veggies on her pizza but most restaurants offer a cheese-only or pepperoni variety. If you have some red pepper in the back, don’t be difficult about changing up the menu. A culinary institution should appreciate helping a kid develop a more complex palate.
I get it, I’ve been there. A child sitting in a seat is worth about a quarter of an equivalent adult. They don’t drink alcohol, parents don’t generally top up their tips (though they should so long as the service is good) and they create a lot of mess and noise. Problem is, if they don’t come I don’t come and I do pay full price. It’s a glass half full kinda situation. Most parents have the sense to know what kind of restaurants are kid-appropriate, and we do occasionally get out without kids. So if you treat us well (most of us) will remember it. Eye rolling, sighing, and being generally unpleasant won’t make us go away, but it will make your efforts even less worthwhile.
This is very much in line with some of the other points, just because they are kids doesn’t mean you can be half-assed and not give a shit about quality. I’ve been offered cups of broken crayons with dead bugs in them to placate my kids. No one is asking you to buy toys, but some clean, unbroken crayons and a piece of paper go a long way. I’d rather you provide nothing than put a disgusting glass of wax in front of me. As Yoda said, “Do or do not, there is no try.”
This one is huge. I used to work with a waiter who would make animals out of napkins for kids at his tables. This was a four-star restaurant that used linen tablecloths and where a seat filled me a kids instead of an adult was a serious revenue hit. Despite all that, this guy cleaned up. Families would ask for him by name. No one is saying you need to be a circus clown, but a little effort and understanding goes a long way. Parents need to eat too, and sometimes they don’t want to cook just like everyone else. When we were in Charlottetown, I complained at the restaurant with the single high chair, but I went out of the way to complement my server to her manager at another restaurant that did a fantastic job. Parents: if someone goes above and beyond, make sure you consider that in your tip.
Do you have any other tips for restaurants looking to accommodate kids? Let me know in the comments.
Before you become a parent, you are already well aware of the various firsts that will form major milestones your child’s life. First steps, first words, these are the things parents obsess over, paranoid that their child may be missing out on the development curve. Of course we all know in hindsight that, within reason, a few months early or late hitting these milestones makes no real difference in the long run. Kids have their own pace.
Recently I was getting a little worried about a few trends I was seeing with my eldest daughter, who is nearly four. Despite all our efforts to make her comfortable around animals, she was deathly afraid of them. Walking down the street with her, she would start to panic and cry to be picked up if she saw a dog walking the other way. On more than one occasion, she has been startled to tears by a dog in public that eluded her radar and got a little too friendly.
My wife grew up with dogs, however I am not the most pet-friendly person. I don’t really know why, it has jus never been my vibe. That said, I have done everything I could to not pass my discomfort along to my kids. We take the kids to every farm, petting zoo, aquarium, biodome and rodeo we can to try to get them comfortable with animals. My youngest has no fear, she’ll pet a lion if one is willing, but the idea of touching an animal fills my eldest with fear.
I suspect the fear started when she was a little over one year old. Our previous condo had a balcony where we had set up a sand and water table for her. One day, she went outside to play and accidentally startled a boxer that was asleep on the balcony next door. It awoke and barked angrily at her through the railing scaring her quite badly.
Despite our attempts at introducing her to every dog, horse, cat and insect we could find, nothing worked. Then, something did. We spent three weeks this summer in Prince Edward Island and if you’ve ever been there you know there are a lot of animals. Although the abundance of cows and horses we saw at a distance from the car window were a hit, it was a small dog that finally broke through. We were hosting a family barbecue at my parent’s place and my aunt had brought along her beagle, Duffy. Unlike a lot of beagles, Duffy was calm and patient. Almost instantly my daughter was drawn to her without any fear. My wife and I were shocked as we watched our two girls follow Duffy around giggling and playing with her to the point where I think the poor dog got kinda tired of all the attention. Just like that, through no effort on our part, she loved animals. We weren’t sure if it was a one time thing, but the next day when we went into town for lunch, Charlotte wanted to pet every dog she saw, to the point where we had to teach her some on the spot dog-petting etiquette. For months we had tried to force it, but it seems she just needed to come around on her own. Now she can’t get enough of animals, from the horses pulling carriages in the market, to the random dog at the park.
If that wasn’t enough, I was given a second lesson in just how fickle kids can be. Despite having been around pools and beaches quite a bit in her life, and having had no traumatic incidents I can think of, Charlotte was a very nervous swimmer. On the drive to P.E.I. she clung to me like her life depended on it as we swam in the hotel pool. Although I could tell she wanted to enjoy the water, and never passed up an opportunity to go in a pool, she was not comfortable once she was in. We put her in swimming lessons last winter and she did OK. However, even at her lessons, she would cling to the instructor and have great difficulty completing many of the activities. Technically she didn’t even pass her sea otter level, but we registered her in the next class up in the fall hoping the summer might turn things around.
Then, on the second day we were in P.E.I., we took the kids down to the beach at my parent’s place for the first time. Though she had been there last year, I could tell she barely remembered it. At first she dipped her toe in and was hesitant by how chilly the water was, but soon, as she saw her cousins and great aunts and uncles enjoying the water, she was in the ocean, water wings and all, and I could barely contain her. Far from clutching to me, I had to stop her from swimming out to sea, the water is quite shallow as there is a massive sandbar nearby, so she was thrilled at how far she could go and still touch the bottom. Even as the waves started cresting over her chin, she didn’t hesitate. As she squealed and splashed in the water, I couldn’t help but be amazed at the 180 degree change from the girl that three days earlier was terrified by the kiddie pool at the Best Western. No amount of encouragement and reassurance from my wife and I mattered until something clicked on that beach and suddenly she couldn’t get enough of the waves. For the next two weeks we could barely keep her out of the water.
As parents we love to help our kids, to teach them, to help them find their way, but sometimes there is nothing you can do but sit back and let your kid figure it out for herself.
That lack of control is tough to accept, especially since for the early part of their lives we have so much control over everything they do. In my daughter’s case, all we really needed to do what set the scene, make her feel as comfortable as possible, and let her explore the world on her own. Once I got over the shock of having two major developmental stumbling blocks overcome in the span of a few days, it actually made me feel a lot better knowing that, for the most part, my daughter is just looking for a chance to figure things out in her own time. I’m OK with that, but I’m still going to teach her to ride a bike.