Little Miss Manners
I imagine that long ago in a
medieval castle a ravenous page grabbed a leg of roasted
chicken before the queen had her fill. The greedy hand was
chopped off, the page chastened, and the world was never
the same. News quickly spread among the other servants.
Voila! Manners were born.
Manners are being born in our
house too, but greedy hands are not even being tapped,
much less removed from their arms. We insist and remind,
cajole and reward.
"I want that!" Sophie shouts,
pointing at a toy on the ground.
"Use your manners," we admonish.
"Pwease can I have one of that
monkey?" she queries.
the lesson is on politeness and not syntax, we usually
reward her with her request. I bring her the monkey, let
her wear rain boots to the beach, sing the ABC song four
more times, and give her twelve sticky drinks from my
glass. But only if she says please and uses an appropriate
tone of voice.
Now that she has figured out the
secret password to success, she is testing it unabashedly.
"Pwease can I have one of that new shoes?" she asked in
the store the other day. I had exactly three minutes to
get myself a pair of dress shoes for the graduation we
were attending that evening, and Sophie had wiggled out of
her stroller and was laying out six unmatched glittery,
high heeled pumps on the floor.
"No, baby. Get back in the
stroller," I said.
She collapsed into a fit of
sorrow and rage, sobbing "Pwease, pwease, pwease can I
have one of that shoes?" Embarrassed and apologetic, I
grabbed the nearest matching size nines, hoping they'd
match my dress, and fled to the cashier.
Then there's the food thing.
Yesterday at lunch I laid out a nice spread for Sophie:
carrots, cheese sticks and a nectarine, with milk on the
myself I had a couple of salami slices and cheese. Sophia
looked at her own plate, then eyed my food and announced,
"I want one of that!" I looked down at my own meager fare.
I would have killed for a bite of the nectarine, but it's
not on my current list of allowed foods. Now she wanted
some of my lunch.
Reluctantly I reminded her, "Use
your manners, honey."
"Pwease can I have one of that?"
she rejoined. I gave her a small piece of salami, which
she chopped with greasy lips in a flash. "I want some more
of that, pwease," she announced.
A little fire started to burn in
me. It wasn't just the injustice--she had a far more
interesting lunch than I, and I craved hers--I was raised
among four active, hungry siblings, and learned early on
to covet my food. Food sharing was such an issue in our
house that my mother gave us each our own cartons of milk,
on which we inscribed our names in indelible marker. I
learned to measure food carefully, predicting about how
much I would eat, and how long it would last.
Now when I buy groceries, I think
the same way. If everyone eats his or her allotment each
morning, the box of cereal should last for a week (it
never does). The fruit will be ripe on Wednesday and
should be eaten before the weekend. My methods depend on
people eating exactly what I've planned, nothing more or
less. Sophia, however, knew nothing of my careful
"More, pwease!" she yelled.
I didn't want to give her another
piece of my salami. "No, honey. Eat your own lunch," I
said, but not forcefully enough.
"PWEASE can I want some more of
that, PWEASE!" she insisted, as though it were
my hearing that was interfering this time.
a polite tone," I insisted back, happy for the
distraction. I popped three more
salamis in my mouth and pushed the
baby carrots into an appealing circle. "Look, Sophie, an
orange circle. Yum, yum," She flicked the orange circle
aside and reached for another round salami.
"Pwease," she said in the most
civilized, sweet voice, "Mommy, can I have some of that
Busted, I gave her another sliver
of my precious food and swallowed my resentment along with
the shame I felt for having it. She's two years old, knows
how to play my game and win.
I send a plea to the great
beyond: please give me the patience to teach her to be
better than me. PWEASE?
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