The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

I’m the mom whose encounter with an angry Maine diner owner went viral. Here’s what happened.

My family wasn't looking for trouble when we stepped into Marcy's Diner.

Photo by Scott Suchman/For the Washington Post

Making national news was the last thing we expected on our quiet summer getaway to Maine this week.

One rainy morning, my husband, baby daughter and I went out for breakfast. We had stayed overnight in Portland, a place close to our hearts where my husband spent a lot of time in the Coast Guard. He suggested we grab breakfast at this diner he knew of. We figured it would have quick service and be family friendly.

When we arrived, we were told there would be a 30-minute wait for a table. While not ideal, we knew that on a Saturday morning in a tourist town, there would likely be a wait everywhere.

We finally got a table and ordered food. I ordered pancakes for my daughter, which took about 40 minutes to arrive. At this point, my 21-month-old was getting antsy, as I imagine most would when they have to sit in one place and wait for a long time. She wasn’t having a meltdown, so we decided to stay in our corner booth rather than go outside in the rain. In the noisy diner I didn’t see anyone looking at us or think we were causing a disturbance. (If that had been the case, we would have gladly taken our baby outside.)

[A kid cries in a restaurant. The owner yells at her. Now what?]

When the food came, my daughter was still fussing. My husband and I decided that we would eat our food quickly then leave.

Out of nowhere, Marcy’s Diner owner Darla Neugebauer threw to-go containers at my husband and yelled, “Either she goes or you go!”

We hadn’t seen this woman before and didn’t know who she was. She seemed so unprofessional that we didn’t take it seriously. Our waitress seemed embarrassed by the owner’s behavior too.

I continued feeding my child because the food was finally on the table. A few minutes later, Neugebauer, now behind the grill, slammed her hands on the counter. She pointed at my baby’s face and screamed, “You need to shut the hell up!”

My husband replied, “Are you serious? Are you really yelling at a toddler right now?”

[Staying in touch with your kid at summer camp is much easier now. It’s terrible.]

“As serious as a heart attack,” she said, with fury in her eyes.

I’ll never forget the look of fear on my baby’s face.

It was then that I turned to my daughter and said calmly, “This is exactly how I’m raising you not to be.”

We then paid the bill, tipped the waitress 25 percent and left.

I thought that was that. But after I left a Facebook post about my experience on the Marcy’s Diner page, Neugebauer responded with a nasty, profanity-laden attack where she called my baby an “IT,” a beast and a rotten child. News outlets picked it up, and  the story quickly spread. All of a sudden, thousands of strangers were commenting on my parenting skills.

What got lost is that it’s never okay to yell at a baby, especially if you own a restaurant. You should care about providing good service to their patrons. Neugebauer could have come over politely and told us our baby was disruptive. She should not have thrown things or yelled or cursed.

I want to raise my daughter to be good on airplanes and in restaurants and other public places. She is a normal toddler who is funny and curious and well-behaved. Is she perfect? No. Am I a perfect parent? Certainly not. But I do know that these things happen. Babies cry and sometimes moms make the call between a tantrum in the loud diner or going out into the rain. As parents, we sometimes rely on the kindness and empathy of strangers, who know we’re doing the best we can.

It’s compassion I try to model for my daughter. I wish others would do the same.

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