Archive for February, 2012

The Matter of Manners

I’m going to be completely honest here and tell you that if you are dining in my space I am judging you. Sorry but it’s true. I have spent too many dinners with a kid leaning over the banquette picking his nose and yelling into my husband’s ear about how fish is gross and pickles make you burp. Many a fabulous meal has been ruined by a fellow diner picking his teeth with his knife, answering his phone, pilfering food off another’s plate or eating with his fingers. Miss Manners where are you?

I am so fed up with sitting in earshot of diners talking with mouths full of food and guzzling wine like Gatorade. If I can see what you are eating while you are chewing it, I am taking offence, I promise. Perhaps I’m a little over sensitive because we have been dining out a lot lately for one occasion or another. Maybe I’m over generalizing; I will admit that a vast majority of diners are well composed. A great many also possess manners that would disgust a troop of poo flinging monkeys.

In the interest of improving my dining experiences and the appetites of the many friends, I conducted a little informal survey of sorts and was offered the following…

• Fork to face not face to plate
• Sip not slurp
• Swallow first, speak later
• Lips tight – food out of sight
• Face your plate, sit and wait
• It’s a knife not a hacksaw
• A 10oz. steak is not a 2 bite brownie
• Bread and ribs are the only finger permissible foods – unless silverware is not supplied by the establishment
• It’s a napkin not a bib
• Exits from the body demand exit from the table
• It’s not a race – diner should take as long to eat as it took to reach your plate.
• Shut your $%&# phone off.

Oh I could go on all day, I got a lot of great frustrated responses, these just seemed to me the most indigestion inducing offences.

The number one complaint…(and I bet you can guess)…“kids who don’t have manners”

You know I’m talking about that booger eater dangling his cheese covered fork inches from your cashmere sweater. If you are wearing a cashmere sweater I promise you will get the table next to this kid, not the one over by the fireplace with the sweet ‘please and thank you’ children sitting nearby colouring quietly on their place-mats.

What makes the difference? Practice. Good manners don’t just magically appear in public, those kids and parents are practising at home, they are dining around the table, using please and thank you. Dad is sending kids to time out for flinging peas at their sibling and Mom is ignoring every comment made with a mouth full of macaroni. Many dinners are ending in tears and many are ending in folly but in defiance of how obstinate those kids can be, Mom and Dad are persisting, eating tums like after dinner mints and calling red wine a ‘dinner accompaniment.’ They are correcting and leading by example. Some parents (bless their table manner dedication) even offer gentle correction to little friends who stay for supper.

To these parents I say Bravo! Not only are you saving the dining experience for the rest of us but you are setting your kids up for remarkable futures. Futures filled with second dates and successful business lunches. You are saving them from diners like myself, one soufflé away from launching an ‘in your face manner intervention’ on the next guy who stuffs his mouth with bread and yells at a server to bring him another beer.

It’s going to happen; it’s only a matter of time.

You can also find Michelle at her blog The Space Between Raindrops, sharing wisdom, gratitude and humour.

Waiting on the Switch to Flip

Our kids are continually asking questions in our home “What did I do when I was little? What is something I used to do?” I get trapped every single time and it only takes Mike or I, in a brief second of ‘remember when’, to slip and mention someone’s former cuteness. All it takes is a casual comment like “I like your outfit, you’ve come a long way from those 3 weeks you wore a diaper on your head and those big yellow sunglasses.” That’s all it takes to get the barrage of memory recall underway. “What did I do Mommy? What did I used to say Mommy? How come you don’t remember what I used to do mommy? How come you can remember all those stories about Becky, Mommy? Don’t you love me Mommy?” (One day we are going to have a little conversation in our home entitled “Repression and its Benefits on the Parental Psyche”) I try to be patient, I completely get that one simple question leads to a battle royal of sibling rivalry and competition, what doesn’t?

Sibling rivalry is basic to human survival. We are born with the need to be number one. Battling for supremacy with our siblings is practice for becoming top of the real world heap; I read that in a magazine article somewhere. The concept makes perfect sense to me, until you apply the principals of sibling rivalry and combat to grown up life.

As an adult you could never get away with dumping a co-worker out of their desk chair, even if they deserved it. You cannot ram your cart into the ankles of the guy in front of you at the grocery store just because he is walking too slow and taking up both the aisle and your way around him. It might be nice to trade your coat at the hat check for something that works better with your outfit; but would you? Maybe the next time some person in the coffee drive through orders bagels toasted with 4 different cream cheese combinations somebody could get out of their car and pinch them in the face really, really hard. If you thought for even a minute that you could call your boss a baboon nose stupid-head without consequence, would you?

These thoughts cross my mind, I won’t lie, but I never act upon them. Somewhere between cutting up my brother’s comic books and bruising their kneecaps I developed a grown-up approach to interaction and negotiations. I began using my hands for helping not hurting. I grasped an understanding that my opinion need not always be outwardly expressed (sometimes I even follow that instinct). I have never kicked anyone in a bank line up to clue them into their turn at the wicket and I refrain from swapping out my garbage can for the neighbour’s shiny modern non-dented can.

Maybe I don’t have to understand how floating your sister’s toothbrush in the fish tank helps you learn tack and compassion but I do have a few questions of my own for the parenting gods.

When in the name of parental sanity does it happen? When does the tide turn? When does the switch get flipped that will transform my taunting, pinching, borrowing, name calling little angels into civilized negotiators? Will it happen? Why does it happen for everyone else? Don’t you parenting gods love me?

Does it happen?….I wonder, because I spent 40 minutes locked in a minivan this weekend with two of my children debating fiercely about the strength, odour, and vomitrousness of one another’s breath. 40 minutes! There was no quelling the debate, no rationalizing, no cease and desist order that would stop the name calling, descriptive word concocting, breathing in each other’s face that consumed the backseat and my last nerve. I get called on regularly to referee debates like our Sunday night feature; a raging teenage laundry battle at 11:30pm. My mental file of made up names and slams has reached 5,234 entries. At least once a week someone gets pushed out of their chair, gets hit with a cart, has their face pinched or their favourite sweater pilfered.

I’m not certain that the switch is going to flip and it all makes me miss those good old days of them wearing diapers on their heads.

You can also find Michelle at her blog The Space Between Raindrops, sharing wisdom, gratitude and humour.

Get Real Romance

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and I urge parents everywhere to get real about your definition of Romance. I spent this past Sunday in the mall, my senses assaulted with a sea of red; roses, chocolates, singing stuffed gorillas, cards, jewelry, balloons at every turn. This is not the romance of the modern parent. If you’re looking for this I can’t offer any suggestions. The only thing I know about this brand of romance is that it will turn our home into a hormonal fallout shelter next week for teenage girls crushed by teenage boys who didn’t know the expectations were so high. The experience did remind me however that romance is not always clearly defined.

The romance I want all of us parental types to get real about is the committed kind. Let’s concede that pre-offspring-take-over romance is, for all intents and purposes, gone but not forgotten. You do remember it don’t you? Those Sleep in Saturdays spent spooning and basking in the joys on couple-hood and the remnant glow of a sleepless Friday night, the Impromptu getaways, candlelight dinners, romantic movies and all night conversations shared over red wine and Chinese food. I haven’t lost anybody have I? It hasn’t been that long; surely you remember tripping the light fantastic and stumbling to the kitchen scantily clad, seeking ice cream….

Back to today please, you have kids now, those days are gone! No sense sulking, there are diapers to change, lunches to make. The best you might do is to recapture those days in 20 years when the kids move into their own lives and you are left staring at a wrinkly stranger you once called lover. Won’t that be fun??? It might be if you can stay real about romance between now and then.

So many couples complain that their lives are devoid of romance. I want to point out that usually it’s not gone, we just don’t recognize it anymore. It’s not swinging from a chandelier after all, waving a purple feather boa screaming ‘here I am!’

I once heard the sentiment that ‘the best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.’ I have altered the saying a little. For as much as I would like to put all of the onus on my better half of 20 years, I know that if I’m going to get what I want, I’m going to have to take some ownership too. We have to love one another. This means having each other’s backs in the parental trenches, it means expressing romance with compassion more often than with passion. It means recognizing the gestures.

Romance is your husband feeding your toddler a steady stream of cheesies just to keep him quiet long enough for you to catch a 10 minute nap. It’s getting up before the alarm to start the morning coffee or opting for the action flick knowing you’ll be sleeping before the opening credits finish rolling anyway. Romance is being content that the closest you might get this week to a candlelight dinner is take-out sandwiches in the school parking lot together before an impromptu teacher’s conference. Catching your husband’s eye in desperation just as you leave shoe store number seven empty handed is a cry for romance. When he answers your plea by slipping you 10 bucks and pointing you in the direction of the closest Espresso Bar with an offer to meet you when your darling daughter has some shoes – That is romance! Congratulations… your romance is not gone! – you just didn’t recognize it wearing flannel pyjamas.

Romance is appreciating the bar of dark chocolate that mysteriously appears in your bedside drawer each week or dropping the kids at Grandmas of Thursday so that you can do groceries old school with a latte and conversations about the week.
Romance is folding socks, and other mundane actions that maintain the everyday connections. Acts of compassion that say “I love you – I care enough about us to put in the time and sacrifice now, so that in 20 years we’ll both emerge with our wits intact with a really great family and you’ll be ready for the wrinkly me that shows up at the door with an arm load of flowers and chocolates.”

That is romance in flannel pyjamas. If you happen to get a little Hallmark on the side, all the more power to you, you’re rocking your romance flannels in a pair of high-heels! If you can do it and acknowledge and appreciate the acts of compassion as acts of romance I promise, that when your wrinkly old lover shows up in 20 years you will want to greet him wearing that frilly little number he used to love so much.

Here’s to love, memories and singing gorillas!

You can also find Michelle at her blog The Space Between Raindrops, sharing wisdom, gratitude and humour.


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