Social Decorum And The Horse It Rode In On

Table manners bwThis random thought began as a journal note in 2014. 

Table manners.  Ah yes!  A tiny window view into the vast array of merit badge earning opportunities awaiting on the shoulder-sash of parenthood.

My youngest son is hyperactive…seriously!  I’ve been told that during his toddler years, when he was scheduled to attend mother’s day out the staff added an extra person just to handle him.  Ha, that’s my boy.  Nowadays he can often be seen orbiting the table while we enjoy family dinner, which at my choosing we share every night.  It appears he came into this world with a wicked case of the “can’t-be-stills!”  I could force him to sit…but why?  Will he turn out to be a better citizen if I make him do so?  Will he feel it’s okay to be him if I force him to “not be him?”  Will any of us digest our meal more healthfully, or feel the world has been made a better place if I declare martial law at the dinner table?  Probably not.  However, at times, while chewing my food, seated within the gyroscopic whirl of his dining room orbit I do hear distant murmurs of a disapproving throng.

“Can’t you control that kid?”

“That walking about is not proper dinner time behavior!”

“Have the decency to teach the boy some manners!”

As though having trouble staying seated while masticating will lead directly to the unraveling of the social fabric of our entire culture.

As a nod to Emily Post and her followers,  I have explained to my son that some people will expect the use of traditional, “proper” manners and that table-orbiting may not be considered acceptable in the homes of his friends.  He gets it.  He has managed to avoid becoming “that kid in the principal’s office” at school, etc.  When required, he’s capable of masterful-ish self-control.  Perhaps the best way to look at manners is in context.   Are our opinions about the matter based on childhood experience?  If so they are traditional, possibly passed down through multiple generations.  Yes, these specific rules of behavior have been taught, but are they still supremely relevant?  The doctrine of a flat Earth was too once widely taught.  Do these lessons still hold their weight in the face of scientific, or in this case cultural evolution?

With that view in mind, one has to decide the goal, and more importantly the ultimate impact of one’s parental decisions.  I find that after deconstructing most etiquette protocol and running it through the, “Does this rule truly make the world a better place” test, flexibility and acceptance usually win the day.  Because really, are we here to “control” children, or help them flourish?  I know which answer sits, or doesn’t sit (pardon the pun) best with me.  I’m not advocating mannerlessness.  I’ve taught my boys every social rule and regulation that I’ve ever learned.  They are aware of and able to adhere to social decorum protocol at will.  Afterall, knowing the rules is a perfect starting point on the road to doing the right thing, staying out of trouble, and for those of you who remember high school, avoiding embarrassment.

Long after we are gone, our children will unconsciously run their lives on the operating systems we’ve implanted in them.  Our decisions about how to handle their youthful “behavior issues” will have shaped more than those teaching “moments.”  That is why I let the kid orbit the table at dinner time.  And no, I don’t let him do laps at Thanksgiving with the extended family.  Even I have my limits.  There are times and places for rules to be followed, and at least in my universe, times and places for their bending.  Most adults unconsciously carry childhood memories of being brought to heel over issues of manners or rules.  How the lessons were “taught” matters, even decades later.  The cumulative effect of an upbringing may leave one with a deep-seated sense of self-acceptance, ambivalence or shame.  I know which perspective I’d like to see shaping the future of this world.  I bet you do too.

 

Do you have a similar experience to relate?  Please comment.  Life is bigger and better with shared experience!

Stepmom-O-Rama

Here We Go Again

stripper shoes crop

Juliet zipped her dress and gave herself a once over in the hotel room mirror.  “Here we go again,” she half spoke, half laughed then took a swig of Stoli straight from the bottle.

I peered around her well-preserved, thirty-something body into the mirror straightening my tie.  “If I have to go to one more of dad’s weddings I swear I’ll set myself on fire!” I said.

“Really? Oh, that would be so sad for me.  I’d have to go to all his future weddings without my favorite brother.  Besides I thought you always wanted to die in a killer whale attack.”

“Yes,” I acknowledged, “killer whale attack has long been my preferred legendary death scenario…and I’m your ‘only’ brother.”

“Which makes you a shoe-in for ‘favorite’ you awesome man.”  She laughed.

Both of my sisters are wonderful, but Jules and I have always been especially close.   Our senior, and noticeably absent sister Samantha was supposed to be with us for pre-ceremony cocktails, but it seemed her chronic tardiness had struck again.

Juliet handed me the Stoli, “At least we’ll never have to live with this one.” She smiled.

“True.” I mused.  “I suppose being somewhat grown up and thoroughly self-sufficient has its perks.”

The door flew open.  “Sorry, I’m late!” Samantha rolled into the room like a runaway circus train, garment bag, cosmetics kit, and other undefined bits of tiny luggage hanging from her person.  “What are we drinking?”

“The usual pre-dad’s-wedding fair…vodka.”  I handed her the bottle, and as her lips touched it, we had once again closed the circle, completing a ritual celebration that had been part of the Montfort family culture since we were in high school.  Other family’s had Thanksgiving or Christmas; we had Dad’s weddings.

Sam lowered the bottle, “Well, here we go again!  How long do you think this one’ll last?”

Juliet sat on the edge of the bed pulling on her high heels. She motioned for a bottle pass.  “Her name is Candy for Christ’s sake…it can’t last too long!”

“I don’t know,” I interjected.  “Bambi lasted almost 13 months…come on…Bambi?  I give ‘Candy’ better odds.

By now the average observer may be wondering why three siblings in their late thirties to early forties were in a hotel room preparing for a wedding with no significant others in tow.  As it happens, the old expression about the falling apple and the inevitable proximity of its final resting place relative to the tree from which it came is beautifully illustrated by our family.  That’s right, my sisters and I are all divorced.

The advent of dad’s pending nuptials had Samantha in a reminiscent mood. “Do you remember the screaming red Christmas tree that Cinnamon put up my senior year?  The place looked like a holiday whore house.”

“Who could forget,” I laughed.  “How about Buffy’s pink Corvette with the heart decals?”  To this day her dropping me off at school in that thing ranks among my most awkward moments.  Idiot high school boys alternately calling me a fag for coming to school in a pink car, then saying they wanna ‘tag’ my mom.  “Ew,” I’d protest, “she’s not my mom”…and as an afterthought, “and I’m not gay you assholes!”

My darling sisters laughed.  We’re a fucked up bunch to be sure, but at least we have each other.  The shared experience of growing up in the company of a fast-moving parade of “dancers” has had the effect of “Gorilla Glue for the Soul” on us.  Jules looked at her watch and grimaced.   Then as her right hand applied deep red lipstick, her left reached into her carry-on luggage sized purse.   Without turning her attention from the mirror, she found, apparently by Braille, and produced three silver flasks.   She tossed them at me with a playful wink.  “Fill ‘em up bro; it’s go time!”  As I poured and spilled the Stoli into the unreasonably small flask openings, I laughed to myself.  Thank god for my two wonderful sisters.  We may not be well equipped for matrimonial endeavors of our own, but we make a hell of a team at a stripper’s wedding.

We raised the dripping flasks high. “To Pops and…uh, Candy is it?” Sam hissed.

Jules snorted, which turned my snigger into a guffaw.  I quickly composed myself.  Cleared my throat and in my best, if hastily conceived oratorical tone confirmed the name of the stepmom de jour.  “Yes, yes, to Pops and Candy, and the two most wonderfully inappropriate, dazzlingly witty and truly lovely siblings-in-arms a brother could ask for!”

“Goddamnit,” Jules scolded.  “If you make me tear up I’ll wipe my runny-makeup face all over that white shirt!”    I laughed.  We finished the toast with the clink of silver and a quick slug.  Next stop, stepmom-o-rama!

#fiction

Have thoughts on the subject?  Please comment.  Life is bigger and better with shared experience!