Tag Archives: manners

Terrible mother seeks redemption: dinner-time edition

Here is my secret shame. Which I can only tell you about now that I’m doing something about it. Because up till now I’ve just been a bad parent, and no matter how much everyone pretends to blog about their terrible parenting, nobody really does.

Increasingly, totally, I’ve been feeding my children their dinner by bringing a plate into them while they watch TV. Dash, we know (bad parenting already acknowledged), has a sandwich on a plate. Mabel might have a bowl of pasta, which she would eat with her fingers although I definitely gave her a fork. There might be some broccoli in there. She might have had an apple or there might not. There might be some chicken, which I would offer and she would reject. It was all very terrible and reeked of atrocious parenting and yet I was powerless to change it. It made my life easier because once they were nominally “fed” I could make something nice for B and me and we could eat it in peace while they continued to watch TV. Mostly, I was lazy and blaming it on the children.

Two nights ago I decided I’d had enough. I was sick of being the waitress in the movie theatre of my home. I called a family meeting, got out my trusty notebook, and wrote a list.

This was basically how it went:

  • Aim: We need to eat dinner together at the table.
  • Difficulties: They don’t want to wait till 6pm. B can’t come home earlier than 6pm. How can I get them to wait longer, and then to turn off the TV and sit with us?

The answer, as usual, was bribery. Sorry, I mean a star chart. They now both have clear motivating factors – an Anna doll (from Frozen, that Anna, of course) for Mabel and more money for Dash, who likes acquiring money and has no immediate plans to spend it on anything.

I put forth my plan, as follows: That we all have dinner at 6pm every night; that we all sit together and eat our food with nice manners. That in return, I will provide food that people like, and also a hearty snack at after-school-time so that they can wait until six for dinner.

Then I got them to help me list food they like for dinner (Mabel, that is) and for snacks, so that I could go shopping. And we agreed on the star system, of course. They can earn a total of three stars per dinner: one for eating at the table, one for using good manners, and one for trying/eating a new food. (Definition of “trying” is at my discretion. Because for Dash sometimes a lick counts; for Mabel I expect a bit more than that.) And I get a star for every dinner-for-four I get on the table, because mums need motivation too.

Once Dash stopped shouting at me because he wanted to have the meeting in what he had decided should be the “meeting room” (aka the front room) and I wanted to stay at the kitchen table, the rest of the discussion went down a treat. They loved being part of the decision-making process, they really did.

Last night too, things went surprisingly well. I’m still making three (mostly) separate dinners, but first things first. Dash sat at the table while we ate cooked food that he could smell (quinoa, kale, chicken) and didn’t complain about it. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but for him it’s a big deal. Mabel ate her pasta and peas with a fork. They both tried some raw carrot: Dash didn’t like it and Mabel has found a new favourite food. (They have both had carrrot before, I promise.)

I made the table a bit more exciting by letting them both drink their milk out of small, sturdy wine glasses, which they loved. I’m thinking tonight I might put fancy napkins at each place, if only to stop Dash wiping his fingers on his sweater.

So we all got our stars last night. I have decreed that they will earn 5c per star, which doesn’t sound like much but works out to 1.05 at the end of the week, which effectively doubles Dash’s allowance and will get Mabel to her Anna doll a lot sooner than she otherwise would. I have not yet decided what my reward will be, but I’ll be making sure I get one.

Will it work? Will it fall by the wayside like so many others of our star charts? Will I be ferrying food back into the TV room in a week’s time? I suppose it’s up to me, really. I do feel better for having started it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a pizza to put together.

Children sitting at the table

Dash dictates exactly how much pizza he might taste.

By any other name

When I was a child in Ireland, lo these many years ago, grown-ups were called by their last names: Mister this and Missus that; and Miss the other, in the rare instance of an unmarried woman (such as my recorder teacher and her sister, the infamous Misses K__ of D__ [I’m going for a Jane Austen approach here. Is it working?]). My teachers and my friends’ parents all went by this rule. My parents’ friends were a bit more of a conundrum: my parents would refer to their friends by first and last names, in almost all instances – well, when everyone you know is called either John or Catherine, I suppose you have to clarify; personally I favour a return to descriptive names like Big John and John the Shoe and John from Wicklow, but some people seem to like given monikers.

Anyway. I grew up, left my days of Mrs Quinn and Miss McDonagh and Mr Dunne behind, and started work, and was always instructed to call my bosses by their first names. I worked for Liam, and Teresa, and Helen, and TG and Kate. Generation gaps were smoothed away as I, first a teenager waiting tables and later a graduate in my early twenties (and not waiting tables, thank you), blithely addressed my elders and betters as if they were my best friends. At least, I’m sure that’s what my mother would say. She’s not a fan of all this pally-ness. She likes to be addressed as Mrs. Lastname. She will view you with some suspicion if, on first meeting, you try to call her by her first name.

And now I am here. You can tell me, if you like, whether this is a function of the country I’m in, or the part of the country I’m in – Maryland is technically the South, if barely – or the generation I’m in, but many children here address adults as Miss/Mr Firstname. At first it sounded peculiar to me, and while I’m getting quite used to being referred to as Miss Maud on occasion (as much as I’m used to being addressed by four-year-olds as “Monkey’s Mom”), the male version – Mister Steve, or whatever, still sounds odd and a little forced to my ears.

And I am bad. I know I should adhere to the When In Rome rule, but not being a dyed-in-the-wool Southerner, or anything remotely like it, I don’t insist that my children preface every other adult’s name with a title. I sort of play it by ear – if a friend has their child call me Miss Maud, I try to reciprocate with my children. If a friend hails from Alabama, say, f’rinstance, I can be pretty sure this will be the polite thing to do. But with others I’m more lax and let the kids go with just first names. I certainly bear no ill will towards little ‘uns who call me whatever they want to call me, so long as it’s not Hey Stinkyface.

What do you think? Will civilization crumble if children don’t address their elders with an honorific? Is this a regionalism, or the norm in all of the US? Do your children call everyone by their first name, last name, or do they have courtesy aunts and uncles up the wazoo? (And how painful is that, anyway?) Should I beat some manners into my kids quick smart before they kick me out of the country? Or are good manners just an outdated concept? (Don’t worry, I know the answer to the last one. I’m just not sure how vital this particular aspect is.) Set me straight, why don’t you?

That’s no lady, that’s my babysitter

On Sunday we did something amazing: we got a babysitter and went to a movie.

It had occurred to me recently that while going out in the evening is still a pipe-dream, owing to Mabel’s sleeping – that is, waking – habits, we could perhaps get someone to watch the kids of an afternoon and skip out to a matinee. And that if it was an actual babysitter whom we paid with actual money, I would be more willing to do it instead of feeling that I was constantly depending on the kindness of friends to mind my horrible offspring.

In the end we did a bit of both. I arranged that one of the teaching assistants in Monkey’s school would come and babysit on the day in question. But then Monkey threw a wobbly at the idea of having someone – anyone, even someone he’s known and trusted for over two years now – come to his house and stay here while we, his beloved parents went where he was not. And while some of you may think that he should just suck it up, I decided that this is all one with the pre-five stage, including the crippling shyness he’s been exhibiting at parties lately (hiding not just behind my back hanging onto my cardigan, but periodically under it; crawling beneath the table instead of walking around it to get to the bowl of chips on the other side without being looked at by anyone; cowering behind his arm if anyone should point a camera in his direction), so I thought I’d give him a pass and arranged for him to go play at a friend’s house for the duration. It made him happy, it meant I could relax, and I didn’t feel like it was so much of an imposition as sending both of them to a friend. Economically it made no difference, and, most importantly, we got to initiate the use of a babysitter with the more people-friendly-aged Mabel so that when she’s four-and-a-half she won’t throw a wobbly about it.

In fact, Mabel had the time of her life. Three hours with the undivided attention of Miss P, whom she normally only sees in the hallowed region of Monkey’s school, from which she is always given the bum’s rush at dropoff and pickup. Three hours in which to show off, to delight, to entertain a totally captive audience, who would never just plonk her in front of Blues Clues or try to update Facebook instead of playing with her. Miss P was a bit bowled over, I think, by The Mabel Show.

At one point, Mabel was showing Miss P one of her babies, and Miss P asked if it was a boy or a girl.
“She’s a baby.” Mabel refuses to acknowledge that babies can be boys or girls as well as babies.
Miss P decided to investigate further.
“Do you think I’m a boy or a girl, Mabel?”
Mabel had to think about that one, because she’s not used to grown-ups being referred to as boys or girls. Also, Miss P has close cropped hair and a boyish figure. Eventually Mabel decided she was a boy. Miss P was amused.
They continued to plumb the depths of the 64-count box of Crayolas.
Then Mabel leaned in to Miss P and asked, in a whisper,
“Miss P, are you a lady?”

Miss P was tickled pink by this, as evidenced by the fact that she’s told me the story several times now. I think partly she finds it so funny because she didn’t expect Mabel to say “lady”.

Which brings me to my discussion point for the evening. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but somehow calling someone a woman to their face sounds a bit rude to me. A bit, well, biological, perhaps. I mean, we all know that small children are wont to describe total strangers, out loud, in their hearing. And not just with the classic “Why is that man so fat, Mommy?” My kids both started early on pointing out people in the supermarket or on the street, and just as an only-just-older toddler will announce “Baby” when they see a smaller one, my two would also announce “Man” while pointing blatantly at the person right behind us. And they needed a word for the other sort of person, and somehow I didn’t want them saying “Woman” about random females to their faces, so the word I chose to give them was “lady”. That way I can converse with them about the nice lady in question without feeling appallingly rude.

But am I being rude by doing just that? Does this make me a bad feminist or something? I know some people have a problem with being called “lady”, but as far as I’m concerned it’s just a politer, fancier maybe, way of saying woman. Like saying “ma’am”. I suspect it’s in large part geographical, so maybe it sounds perfectly normal in Ireland but peculiar in the US. Miss P is from Tanzania (I think), so I really don’t know what the appropriate word would be to her.

Care to weigh in with an opinion? What do your kids say when they talk about the woman behind you in line at the post office? And can you ever show your face there again?