For eight long years I have been trying to get my children to consistently use their table manners and it appears I am getting absolutely nowhere. I am tired of hearing myself speak. Wash your hands, sit up, don’t chew with your mouth open, take off your baseball hat, don’t forget to say “please” and “thank you”, wait patiently, don’t reach across the table, no yelling, no hitting, no..we don’t throw food, ask to be excused…blah, blah, blah. 3 meals a day everyday for 8 years is over 8,000 meals. Let’s be honest, manners are not natural for children. By nature they are primates. The way I see it, I am nagging primates. They don’t care about manners. They just need food and they need it now. I had no idea that maintaining order at the table could be so exhausting.
A typical night at the Doherty home:
Maggie: (Screaming in her high chair. Beating on the tray like a hungry Neanderthal.)
Me: “Would you like to eat?”
Maggie: (shakes her head emphatically, yes.) It almost scares me. She seems so desperate. My God. It’s as if she has never been fed.
Me: Using my best teaching voice, “Yes please?”
Maggie: (sitting with prayer hands now as if she is suddenly civilized) “Pweeeeee!”
Me: “Thank you!” She makes me smile. I reward her good manners with some strawberries. She seems pleased. The baby primates are so cute, aren’t they?
5 minutes later…. the 4-year-old…
Teagan: “Moooooommmmmmy? I need a napkin?”
Me: “How do we ask?”
Teagan: “May I have a napkin pwease?”
Me: “Thank you!” and I give her a napkin. Can you see the pattern here?
I donno..3 minutes later…
Flynn: (screaming and I am right next to him) “Mom! Can I have some milk?”
Now c’mon. He definitely knows better! Do I really have to prompt his manners too? There is a long silence. I wait. A confused 8-year-old stares at me. He is wide-eyed and wondering what the heck I’m waiting for. I help him.
Me: “Can I have some milk……..”
He has no idea what I want him to say and gets aggravated. How can he be so clueless? It doesn’t seem possible, yet he appears to be truly perplexed. I can see the wheels turning in his head. He repeats what I quoted and then he lights up. He has remembered that his mother likes him to use manners. Hallelujah!
Flynn: (with confidence) “Oh? Please. May I have some milk, please?”
I find it hard to believe that I still have to remind him to use basic manners. How old are kids when they get it? I pour him some milk and hand it to him.
Me: “Thank you Flynn! Thank you for remembering your manners so you will be a good role model for the little ones” (cough)
Flynn: (slouching in his chair. Slightly embarrassed.) “Sorry mom. Thank you!” I kiss the top of his head.
Everyone finds their seat at the table and dinner is served. We are eating a family favorite….spaghetti! All I can hear is the clinking of forks on plates. I watch all the content children eating their dinner. There is a certain amount of satisfaction I get as a mother when all of my children get a good meal in their belly. The blue birds are chirping. It’s all rainbows and butterflies until…
Molly: “Flynn, will you please pass the cheese?”
A fairly normal request in most homes. Flynn,being a typical pesky brother, completely ignores her. He grabs the cheese as if it was all a big coincidence that he was planning on using it at that very moment.
Me: “Flynn? She asked politely. C’mon.“
Molly sees what Flynn is doing and snaps. She decides to take matters into her own hands. I don’t know how she moved so fast. All of a sudden she was standing on her chair. She reached all the way across the table and snatched the Parmesan cheese out of Flynn’s hands. (I have no idea how she didn’t spill anything in the process) He immediately pulls back in defiance, knocking over his milk.(there we go…I knew something would spill)
Molly: “Dude. Give it to me!” (pointing to the spilled milk) “Now look what you did!”
Flynn: (my over-the-top, neat-freak kid who is practically in tears at this point) “Mom? Did you see what she did? She totally snatched it AND.. SHE spilled my MILK! It’s Everywhere!”
He looks at the mess, then looks at Molly and replays the whole scene in his head. He is so angry he can’t think straight. He wants to say so much but instead he goes right for the kill.
Flynn: “You know what you are Molly?”… (dramatic pause with heavy breathing…I got nervous here.) Then he says it…“You are a big (Oh boy? Big what? Big what? Please don’t use a daddy word here? Big what? ) Baby!” (Phew, I was relieved but it stung Molly pretty hard)
Molly cups her mouth with her hands. She is in shock. She cannot believe he has stooped so low. I attempt to restore peace and break the uncomfortable silence. What happened to my nice dinner?
Me:“Ok! That’s enough. We don’t call each other nasty names in this house!”
Molly: (through tears, yelling at Flynn)“You are the baby! You need to learn how to share!”
Teagan chimes in: “Fwin?..Maggie is a baby..not Mowee”
Me: “Molly?…Did you hear me? I said we do not talk to each other like that. Now..sit…down! What on earth! If you want the cheese you have to ask for it..”
Molly:( interrupts me) “I DID!” (Her tone makes me twitch. I’m so screwed when she is a teenager.)
Me: “I did…not…finish!”
Me: (I continue) “…and then, after you ask, you wait for a response …. patiently. Now both of you clean up the milk you spilled.”
They do so while muttering nasty things under their breath at each other. Then they plop into their chairs and we are faced with the same dilemma that got us here in the first place. I take matters into my own hands. I want this meal to hurry up and end. I sprinkle some cheese on Flynn’s pasta, some cheese on Molly’s, a little on Teagan’s and a little on Maggie’s. I close the top, put the cheese in the fridge and sit down at the table.
The storm has passed. The problem has been resolved but there is an underlying tension at the dinner table. After all, Flynn did call Molly the mother of all bad words..a “baby”! (GASP!) How could he have done that in front of her siblings? I look at them like I will hurt the next person who complains, whines, argues or speaks. They know better than to mess with me at this point. Molly and Flynn stare each other down. It’s a Mexican stand-off.
They finish their dinner in silence and excuse themselves from the table. Well? That was fun. I am alone in the kitchen with Maggie. Only a few minutes pass and she realizes that she has been deserted by her older siblings. She screams while beating on her high chair tray like a Neanderthal. In my best teacher voice, I teach Maggie the proper way to get what she wants.
Me: “Say..Out Please.”
Wait? Isn’t this the way dinner started? Who says parenting is monotonous? Sigh.