The youngest conference attendee

The biggest regional conference in my field (TESOL Arabia) is going on right now in Dubai. I am presenting there on Saturday. Today, I headed over to catch a few sessions.

And I took baby Sterling with me.

I know, I know, maybe you're thinking I'm one of THOSE PEOPLE. I thought long and hard and seriously about it before I did it. I came to the conclusion that Sterling is still a nursing infant unaccustomed to being away from me, and I told myself I would take him out of any session if he made more of a disturbance than, say, a mobile phone buzzing during a presentation. The choice seemed to be go with Sterling, or not go at all, which technically made me bringing my baby to a conference the more professional option, not the unprofessional one.

And it was all smiles and sunshine at first - everyone I met through the picking-up-packet process was kind as could be, kidding me about Sterling being the youngest attendee, etc. But then I walked through one credential checkpoint and an employee of the hotel where the conference is hosted pulled me aside and said that children were not allowed to enter.

I may have actually looked from side to side to confirm that he was talking to ME. The one holding the tiny baby-in-arms. He was. And he was serious. He very nicely asked me to wait so he could call the conference organizer to speak with me about the no-kids policy.

She (the organizer) informed me that 1. this was a professional conference, not a crèche; and 2. it was for paying participants only, which Sterling technically was not. She felt that if she let me in with my baby, other people would wonder why they couldn't bring their kids with them, and so on. She said she didn't know where to draw the line, so she was drawing it at zero. I suggested that maybe she could draw the line at, say, nursing babies? Maybe? We went back and forth on this issue for a few minutes. I totally understood where she was coming from. And fortunately, she understood where I was coming from and eventually let me in, somewhat reluctantly.

As I walked into the venue proper, an attendee at a nearby stall who had seen the whole thing go down surreptitiously offered me a spare credential so that if anyone else gave me trouble, Sterling was now officially a "paying participant."

Not only that, but completely by chance I ran into a friend at the first session who took Sterling out in the hall for me so I could attend for an hour or so without worrying about him making noise. What a blessing.

What do you think about all this? Was I wrong to bring Sterling in the first place? What is the proper policy for situations like this? On the one hand, I see the organizer's point that it's an event for adults and it simply wouldn't do to have small children running amok. However, I am a legitimate participant in this conference and by shutting my baby out, you shut me out. I'm so sure this woman is tired of being the poster mom for people like me, but: Licia Ronzulli brings her baby to work at the EU Parliament. Just sayin'.

Do we as a society lose something when we expect mothers and their nursing infants to stay tucked away, out of sight, absent from the professional activities of their field?


March 14th, outsourced

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