Manners, Manners

January 3, 2011

Over Christmas dinner, my sister and I started talking
about table manners, and our children’s lack of them. She told me
of an idea she read about in a magazine, where the family all wore
paper crowns (to induce the feeling of being royalty, perhaps) and
if, at any time during the course of dinner, anyone exhibited bad
manners, they would have to remove their crown. The gracious,
well-mannered child who kept their crown with the most consistency
over the course of a month would get a special prize. I thought
this was an interesting idea and decided to try my own modified
version a few nights later. Instead of crowns, I pulled out little
colored dot stickers. You know – the kind you use to mark prices
when you are having a garage sale? I stuck one on everyone at the
dinner table a few nights ago, explaining the rules. In our family,
though, I thought a little more “immediate gratification” might be
more motivating. So I declared that if anyone still had their
sticker at the end of the meal, they would be exempt from the
kitchen clean up. The girls all sat up straight, looking pleased
and interested in this new game. I was encouraged by their
enthusiasm. No more scarfing food down, talking with full mouths,
reaching across other family members, chewing with open mouths. The
meal began pleasantly enough. I’d made carnitas with all the fixins
– homemade tortillas, salsa, rice, cheese, avocado. Everyone
politely began eating. It was about one minute into the meal when
Dave (who I must say ordinarily is the
best-mannered family member) exclaimed with his cheeks full of
burrito, “This is so good.” Smiling, I reached
over and ripped his sticker off. “Sorry honey. Looks like you’ll be
cleaning the kitchen, at least. But thanks for the compliment.” The
children were wide eyed for a moment, then giggled as Daddy
groaned. The meal continued, an unnatural quietness pervading the
atmosphere, although Dave’s breach of manners changed the dynamic
somewhat. I glanced over and saw Phoebe chewing with her mouth
open. I reached over and playfully said, “Well, at least Daddy will
not be lonely cleaning up” as I removed her sticker. Phoebe, our
nine-year-old, exuberant and expressive child held herself together
for about thirty seconds and then burst into tears. I truly was
shocked. In my mind, this was a fun game to help us pay attention
to our manners, not a big deal. Apparently in her mind, it was a
big deal. I backtracked, trying to diffuse the tension by
stammering that maybe she needed another chance. She shook her
head, tears brimming in her eyes, although she seemed embarrassed
and surprised by her own outburst of emotion. I “accidentally” had
a breach of manners a moment later, leaning my elbows on the table
and made a dramatic sighing event of removing my own sticker.
Phoebe was still looking miserable. Dave, in an effort to restore
some of the usual jovial-ness to our family dinner, tossed a piece
of carnitas over the table into the open mouth of Piper, our
always-expectant, eager dog. He gobbled it down and Phoebe started
laughing, unfortunately with another mouthful of burrito in her
mouth. Carnitas and cheese sprayed over the table and our entire
family burst into laughter. The manners game was a huge failure.
Everyone said, “That game wasn’t such a good idea for our
family…” I’m still going to try to work on manners this year. But
I think we’ll not make it a competitive sport or such a big
production. The fun at the table, the usual ease and relaxation we
experience as we enjoy our nightly family dinners together are more
important than having impeccable manners, right?

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2 Responses to “Manners, Manners”

  1. Lisa said

    Your family is so cool! And so is seeing something on your blog again! 🙂 Hugs, friend!

  2. Laura Lee said

    I love this. Catching up on your blog.
    I can’t believe you MADE tortillas!
    Impressive.

    Yes, in the end your family time is so important, more so that perfect table etiquette. But, I love that you tried in a fun way!

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