Visiting extended family of my parents’ generation, I’m aware of how little we’ve focused on manners thus far in my kiddo’s life. He still eats with his fingers, comments on people’s appearance in a matter of fact way, and asks how old they are, assuming everyone is as proud of their years attained as he is at 6 and a half.
The age question catches our hostess up short. Sorry, I say, we haven’t put much focus on manners beyond please and thank you.
What do you focus on? she replies.
And I’m stumped, realizing I can’t articulate it.
Given that “why?” remains my child’s favorite word (followed closely by “poopy”), I’m regularly prompted to explain the logical reasoning behind various social norms. Take table manners, for instance. Napkins in laps protect pants from spills. Elbows are less likely to knock over milk glasses, again, if they are off the table. Talking with your mouth full is a choking hazard, besides just being gross to look at. These are concrete reasons to practice politeness.
But what about my higher priorities? What about honesty? Kindness? These require a greater appeal than logic. Honesty involves owning up to our faults, foibles, and imperfections. Kindness grows from compassion and acceptance that run counter to the mainstream in which we swim. I was taught how to be polite, not how to be kind.
Midday Saturday, he’s happily playing alone while we clean the garage. The clock catches my attention before my stomach does, reminding me that feeding the child is one of my life responsibilities. Uncharacteristically, he’s not hungry.
What have you had to eat?
Nofing. No eye contact.
You aren’t in trouble for getting a snack. That’s good to do if you’re hungry. I’m asking so I can know what to make us for lunch. What have you had to eat?
Nofing! I haven’t eaten anyfing since waffles.
Vacuuming later the same day, I unearth a new stash of wrappers stuffed beneath his dresser – the candy loot from a friend’s birthday piñata. I wonder what else I’ll find under there in years to come.
After being called to task and accepting the consequence, he later tells his father, I shoulda not ate all that candy, Poppa.
My hubby is matter of fact. No, kids eat candy. Eating that much gave you a tummy ache, right? That’s how you learn not to do it again. You shouldn’t have lied to Mama. That’s what got you in trouble.
At our recent conference, his teacher praised our son’s helpfulness with other children, especially with kids who have a hard time socially. Yet her tone had us ready for the “but” that followed. His rudeness, mimicking children and adults alike in an obnoxious sing song voice I know all too well, is a growing disruption.
We discuss her feedback at dinner. Pre-empting my lecture tone, my hubby smiles.
Know who used to do that? Points to his own chest. It’s funny at first, but not once you realize how it’s hurting. Later, alone, he reassures me. He’s doing it to be silly, not to be mean. He is kind at heart.
I hold onto a memory of my 18 month old boy in the child care room at the gym. He separated relatively easily, two gentle women, no other kids at the time, new toys to explore, and Pigget in his grasp. When I returned, an infant was in the nursery, too. The provider shared that the baby had been crying. My sweet boy had toddled over and offered her Pigget. I remind myself of this inherent kindness when I see rudeness emerge.
The Dalai Lama says, “When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.” If my boy can own his mistakes honestly and treat others in a heartfelt way, I can embrace spilled milk and embarrassing whys. May they bring inner happiness and peace to us both.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ginny is a yoga instructor, Reiki practitioner, gardener, activist, and middle aged Mama. She has put down roots in South Amherst with her spouse and young son. Daily she’s amazed by the beauty the Pioneer Valley offers, though her allergies beg to differ. She believes our natural state is to be balanced in body and mind so spirit can flow freely. Because modern life gets in the way, she offers self-healing bodywork to unravel imbalances and restore energy flow. In Off the Mat, Ginny explores how yoga’s physical and mindfulness exercises help her parent and how parenting shapes her yoga practice.