I firmly believe in picking your battles. As a mother, I make choices every day about which wars to wage and which ones deserve a white flag. One crusade I’ve chosen is to raise young men who are polite, have good table manners, and are properly groomed. Oh. My. God. What the hell was I thinking when I picked up my sword and marched headlong into this fray? Did I not realize that I have two small primates living in my house? We’re barely one step above flinging feces here.
I spend roughly 2/3rds of my waking hours talking to myself (because no one is listening), repeating suggestions, pleas, and ultimatums all having to do with proper etiquette. I don’t care that much if my sons’ rooms are a mess or if they leave their shoes on the floor by the front door. But, it makes me crazy when they chew with their mouths open, barge into a room without knocking, or fail to flush a toilet. My life is a litany of commands (all of which are normally followed by “please” because I try to practice what I preach).
- Get your finger out of your nose and use a tissue
- Wash that gunk off your face
- Hold the door
- Say “please”
- Say “thank you”
- Say “excuse me”
- Knock before you open the door
- Use your fork, not your fingers
- Use a napkin, not your shirt
- Brush your teeth
- Close your mouth when you chew
- Don’t wipe your boogers on the walls
- Turn the fan on when you’re in the bathroom
- For heaven’s sake, flush the stupid toilet already
These words are on an endless, repetitive loop echoing from my otherwise empty head. It’s no wonder I feel I’ve forgotten the fine art of conversation. I don’t know how to talk to someone unless they forget to put their napkin on their lap.
One ritual I absolutely insist on is thank you notes for gifts received. While we sometimes we fail to get cards in the mail to thank a great aunt for a $10 bill slated for Easter candy, birthday and Christmas gifts must be acknowledged with a handwritten note. Steve and I both come from families where these notes are compulsory. (Exhibit A. My 81 year old father-in-law still sends us thank you notes on personalized stationery.) Because our boys’ birthdays are three weeks apart (with my birthday sandwiched in between), we write a truckload of notes before the end of June. My sons hate this with a passion that matches their hatred for American Girl dolls, but I make them do it because it’s the right thing to do. People say they don’t need it, but I bet you’d be hard-pressed to find a person who doesn’t appreciate receiving handwritten acknowledgment of their kindess. These notes, while perhaps antiquated in today’s email and text society, is simply a polite gesture I want my boys to feel is not elective. Someday, when they’re interviewing for a coveted job and they land it because the boss appreciated their gracious, interview thank you note, they will see how truly wise I am and they will thank me because they know they should.
We’ve made some progress. My boys now hold the door open for me when we walk into the house. They voluntarily help me carry in groceries. They ask to be excused from the table and they clear their own place settings. And, if they happen upon a piece of “chewy” steak, they spit it quietly without fuss into a paper napkin (although they occasionally leave the napkin behind for me to find). The whole manners gig is much more difficult for Joe because of his ADHD but, God bless him, he tries. I hold out hope that someday my sons will be the teenage boys who impress their friends’ mothers with their thoughtfulness…and not in that smarmy, Eddie-Haskell kind of way. That’s the goal, anyway. And, if I can’t achieve that, I’ll settle for sons who are at least not the worst of the bunch. In the manners game, anything better than “the worst” is something. Some days are better than others, and it’s like shoveling snow in a blizzard, but we’re making progress. As long as they don’t start picking nits off each other and eating them in front of others, I think we’re on the right track.