They're everywhere and you simply cannot escape them. They follow you to church on Sundays. They sit behind you on airplanes, in restaurants, even in the waiting room at the doctor's office. They disrupt family reunions and days at the beach.
They're the unwelcome but ever-present subtext to countless moments of irritation and unpleasantness. And now that it's summer, they're out with a vengeance, just waiting to raise your blood pressure and steal the peace of mind you hoped to find with a good book in a park, or over coffee with a friend, or while enjoying a movie with your spouse.
It's not politically correct to admit that you don't like them, but let's all confess our contempt for these ruthless killjoys and demand that someone do something about their growing numbers and the inescapable destruction they are causing civilization as we know it.
That's right. It's time someone did something about other people's obnoxious children.
To be clear, there is a time and place for age-appropriate over-excitement and enthusiasm. What child isn't thrilled by - and a bit exuberant about - a Fourth of July fireworks display, for example?
On the other hand, who isn't distracted and annoyed by the 7-year-old yelling "Bam!" at the top of his lungs each and every time a flare is launched into the night sky and bursts into shimmering streaks of red and gold? I know I was.
Not "Oooh" or "Aaah" but "Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!"
Sure, children have trouble sitting still, but who hasn't reached for a magazine from the seat pocket in front of him and dreamed of swatting the ankles of the kid behind him who, by kicking incessantly for the duration of a flight, produces a travel experience so torturous you wonder whether water boarding could really be so bad?
Just this week, while enjoying a rare visit to the rooftop-dining patio of our favorite Mexican restaurant, my daughters and I spent a good portion of our evening enduring the noise and antics of the children at the next table whose games included "Drop Tortilla Chips and Ice Cubes onto the People Below." Meanwhile, mom and dad chatted as though their children were not pelting innocent passersby from above.
Begging the question, how could you not notice your children throwing objects at other humans? More to the point, why would you not stop them? Why would you sit there and do nothing?
Jen Singer, creator of MommaSaid.net and author of the "Stop Second-Guessing Yourself" parenting series, says "Sometimes, today's parents overcompensate for not having time to spend with their kids by slacking off in the discipline department. Others prefer to treat their kids like their friends and still others simply don't know how to reel their kids in."
Ms. Singer notes the children of such parents "never quite learn how to get along with society because they're used to getting things their way all of the time.
"It's our jobs as parents to teach kids how we expect them to behave," she says. "If we let them kick the seat of the airline passenger in front of them from Detroit to Denver, we're teaching them that it's OK to act like the world revolves around them and adults are their minions."
Ms. Singer wisely redirects my annoyance where it rightly belongs: at the parents of these obnoxious children.
So take note, folks. We don't all think your kids are cute and we don't think their behavior is age-appropriate or benign. Just ask the folks with the tortilla chips in their hair.
Do civilization and your own children a huge favor. Do something.
• Visit Marybeth Hicks at www. marybethhicks.com.