We Are Both Right

An Apology to Emily Post on Behalf of My Children

I can assure you (although sometimes I don’t believe it myself), that my children were not raised in a barn.

You’d never know it, sitting at the dinner table with them. I don’t understand. I don’t chew with my mouth open. My husband doesn’t put his feet on the table. We sit straight in our chairs and say “please” and “thank you.” We don’t kick the person who is sitting across from us under the table. We don’t slurp our spaghetti, nor does half of our meal wind up on our plates. We don’t reach across one another to get to the dish that we need.

If the best way to teach children is by setting an example, I’d like to know exactly who it is that sneaking into my house every day and eating in the most unmannerly way possible in front of my kids.

 © mwookie/stock.xchng

© mwookie/stock.xchng

I don’t get it. No matter how much begging and pleading and whining and screaming we do, they still eat as if they’ve been handed a plate of lime jello and a trowel.

And certainly, we try our hardest to instill manners in them. We go over the rules, correct them if they make a mistake and then “punish” when appropriate. A.’s biggest offense is that she always sits improperly in her chair. After two warnings, we make her stand for the rest of the meal. C.? He often has to be reminded of how a knife works. And to stop kicking his mother under the table.

What worries me is not what happens so much when they are home, but when they go to other houses and I’m not there to keep them in line. C. has a friend J. who not only puts his napkin in his lap, but he asks to be excused. The first time J. came for dinner and said that, C. looked at him as if he had asked if  he could wash our windows for us. I want my kids to go to someone’s home and ask to be excused! I want someone to tell me how polite they are!

Luckily, S. seems to be on the right path. Sure, he makes a mess and he throws his food but at least he has good reason — he’s 18 months old. At least he always says “thank you” before he hurls his carton of yogurt across the room.

Look, I know they are kids, but at seven and 10 years old, I don’t think we are asking too much of them. I’m not giving them seven forks and asking for their proper usage, I just want them to remember to bring their plate to the sink when they are finished.

Manners are important. They need to be instilled now, before they go to their first White House dinner!

When did you expect your children to display table manners?

Originally published November, 2010

Never Mind Finishing School for Manners-We Haven’t Even Started Yet

Should my daughter ever become engaged to a prince someday, I think we’ll all be in trouble. The Queen of England surely won’t approve of her habit of stirring her drink with a parmesan cheese covered fork. Or the way she turns her soup-filled spoon upside down on its way to her mouth.

Perhaps Her Majesty will be distracted by the fencing match between the fork and knife in my son’s hands. And then once he falls off his chair because he only bothered to pull it out at a 45 degree angle, the contents of the chalice carelessly left in front of his plate will spill on the 16th century antique dining table and the whole palace will be in a tizzy.

It’s not even like we can depend upon our beagle’s English roots to pull us through. Her incessant barking will add another layer of madness to the event and she’ll likely only stop long enough to sniff the Queen’s corgis and dorgis.

And there I’ll be, with my phone under the table googling which of the eight forks should be used for pheasant — too busy to notice or be embarrassed by this display of poor table manners.

On second thought, maybe instead of junior year abroad, I should send my kids to finishing school for remedial table manners. Because as much as my husband and I try our best to model good table manners and etiquette, we sometimes worry (possibly prematurely) that our children will be destined for a life of social missteps.

Not too long ago, I read an article about a weekend course for children that focused on the etiquette of meeting and greeting, answering the phone, and of course, table manners. All I could picture was kids walking 40 yards with a stack of books balanced on their heads and then sitting down for tea. It seemed a little much.

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But during meals when I get so frustrated with my kids’ disregard for the most basic of table manners, I have been known to threaten that instead of football practice we’ll send our son to “manners school” instead. He always objects with a groan and sits up straighter.

Right now we’re working on encouraging him to shore up his social etiquette skills, especially when it comes to meeting and greeting people. The warm welcomes he gets from his former day care teachers when we drop his sister off are all too often met with blank stares in the other direction. On a good day, they’ll get a belated and cursory “hi” when we’re halfway down the hall. Part of it is the shyness gene he inherited from me — but knowing how that held me back, I want him to work through it now and realize how his response in these settings is a reflection on him (and us as parents).

On my bookshelf, I have a tattered copy of Emily Post’s book of etiquette circa 1945 (curiously enough found at the home of my non-English speaking grandmother who didn’t arrive in America until 1955). I read it for a good laugh — especially the parts about men needing a collapsible high hat should they happen to be seated in the orchestra versus the boxes at the opera and tips on how to space place settings with a string in lieu of a less-than-accurate eye.

Etiquette sure isn’t what it used to be, and I don’t aspire to have my children constrained by these standards, but there is definitely room for improvement.

How far do you have to go on table manners and etiquette with your kids?

Originally published November, 2010