I think I’m a fairly relaxed parent, but I have a zero-tolerance policy for bad manners.
This may be a bit of an overstatement, maybe not, but I tend to think that at the root of our societal ills is the fact that our society is too casual, too relaxed and good manners are not important any more. It is my top priority in life to teach Sean to respect others and how to behave properly and so consequently he gets away with nothing in that regard. And honestly, it has been a lot of hard work these past five years to stay on his case with the please and thank you’s and beyond, but I am relentless.
I think the idea that children should be taught good manners crystallized for me about 15 years ago. Back in 1994, my friend Patty was expecting her first baby. As is the custom, I went to Toys R Us to buy her a baby gift. I was nearly a decade away from becoming a mother at that time, so I knew a lot about how parenting should be done properly.
After I selected my gift, I stood in line behind a young gal with a little boy who was sitting in the seat of the cart. He was probably three years old. He had a toy in his hands that obviously had come from the store.
So I was standing there minding my own business, waiting my turn to check out, when Bubba spit at me.
I stepped back quickly, dodged the incoming loogie and in my firm voice used primarily for getting the attention of my disobedient dog, I reflexively said, “Hey Buddy! DON’T you spit at me!”
It was a knee-jerk reaction, but in retrospect, it was inappropriate to direct my comment towards the child. But 15 years later, I’m still not quite sure what the appropriate response is when spat upon. Also in retrospect, I can’t quite see myself tapping the mother on the shoulder to inform her little Bubba had just tried to spit on me. That just has confrontation written all over it and if ever there is a place I want to avoid confrontation it is at Toys R Us and church. There are all kinds of rules about correcting other people’s children and now five years into parenting, I still am not clear on what they are.
Had there been another check out lane open, I would have probably just moved, but I was stuck.
And then he spit at me again.
His mother turns to me at this point and she kind of chuckles and says, “Oh his grandpa chews tobacco and I guess he saw him spittin’…”
Oddly enough, that bit of information didn’t in any way make me find the scene nearly as amusing as she did, so I raised my eyebrows and looked at her like she was from Mars. But really I doubt that even the Martians allow their children to spit upon strangers. And then she turned back to the cashier and proceeded to buy Bubba the toy he had in his grubby little hands. And I just could not believe it.
It was at this point that I raised my eyebrows so high I could have tucked them behind my ears. Now, granted, at that point in my life, I was not fully aware or even slightly aware of how embarrassed one can be by one’s child. But still. I knew even then that if MY child ever spat upon someone that I would come down on him hard and fast and apologies would be forthcoming and no way on God’s green earth would we be leaving the store WITH A TOY forPetessake!
And while I have eaten many a heapin’ helpin’ of crow in the last five years years, my stance on spitting children has not changed. I had all kinds of grandiose ideas about child-rearing that have fallen by the wayside, but if anything, my stance on the importance of manners is more deeply rooted than ever. You might check back with me in another ten years.
I’m firm on manners. All else is subject to change.