On Saturday, I took all the minions to the local Publix in a fit of misguided optimism. It was Doctor Who day, and I wanted to celebrate with jammie dodgers and fishsticks and custard, but since those things are British and gross, I settled for hot dogs and hot cocoa cookies. I figured that since the kids were so excited about the cookies and Doctor Who, they would behave. But they were like
True to form, I had barely turned off the engine and was still in the process of getting out of the car when Charlotte, a.k.a. the littlest Ogress, the child who, like her father, thinks “social niceties” are for the birds, embarrassed the crap out of me.
I groaned inwardly as I heard her small yet painfully clear voice say, “Who are YOU?” in the most condescending tone ever mastered by a 4 year old. Oh please, God, let it be a student, I begged as I turned around. God was all
Of course not. Of course it was one of my husband’s colleagues, and of course it was the most terrifyingly brilliant one, the one whose intellect is a credit not only to the university, but also to the species.
Luckily he has lots of kids himself and took it all in stride. He even tried to joke with her while she stared at him with increasingly narrowed eyes, adamantly refusing to apologize and speak courteously to him despite my semi-cajoling chastisement.
Also luckily, he was still totally within earshot when Charlotte finally broke her death-glare, turned to me, and said, “But Mommy, I don’t have to be courteous. Daddy says courteous is for doofus-heads.” I was all
Dying. I. Was. Dying. My children are so embarrassing. I wanted to be able to say, with a straight face and a clear conscience, “I didn’t raise her to act like that!” But since that phrase is pretty much a big lie, I couldn’t. I mean, I clearly haven’t even managed to impress upon her how not to act, much less moved on to the proactive “how to act” part.
Obviously, the Ogre has never said that courtesy is for doofus-heads, since courtesy is the #1 rule of all rules in our house. Also obviously, it’s not quite sinking in yet, which might explain why all the other rules keep getting broken every other hour. It’s all down to courtesy, right? Consideration of others, consideration of property, consideration of ourselves? Courtesy is the glue that holds the social contract together. Mediocre-to-good (depending on who you’re asking) Western dystopian literature agrees with me:
If my kids don’t learn courtesy, this is inevitable! I will never have the conch shell again! I’ll have to sleep with my glasses strapped to my head so I don’t wake up to find the house burning down around me in the glint of the early morning sun!
So I decided to teach my kids ALL THE COURTESY. Not until after Doctor Who, though. And we were pretty busy Sunday too, plus I was super tired, and I kind of forgot. Yesterday, though, I had to run errands, and the pharmacy provided the perfect venue for Lesson #1 in Courtesy.
There were a few elderly gentlemen also waiting for their prescriptions, since Naples is essentially the world’s most luxurious retirement village, and they smiled and greeted Liam.
Naturally, he glared and hid behind my back.
Sensing the Golden Courtesy Moment opening before me, I pulled him out from behind my back and told him, kindly and firmly, that when someone says hello he should look them in the eye and say hello back. I explained that it’s important to answer someone when they greet you or ask you a question, that it’s courteous, and that courtesy is important. Then I smiled gently and kindly (but firmly!) asked him to look at the gentlemen and say hello. The gentlemen smiled encouragingly at him.
He glared and shook his head and hid behind my back.
I pulled him out with the most patient and loving of smiles, and gently reminded him that even if he feels shy, it’s important to say hello to people when they greet him. I told him there was nothing to fear and I was right with him, and then gently and kindly (but firmly!) prompted him to look at the gentlemen and say hello. The gentlemen smiled encouragingly and looked amused.
He glared and shook his head and his chin trembled and tears spilled down his face as he hid behind my back.
After about five minutes of this, the elderly gentlemen looked less amused and more tortured. After another five minutes, I began to wonder if consistency and follow-through were really all that important, in the grand scheme of things. Five minutes after that, I was ready to re-write the Inferno and add “eternally failing to teach a 3 year old courtesy” to the ring right by Satan’s three heads. Sisyphus ain’t got nothing on me, I thought grimly. Five minutes later, I was ready to inform the Ogre why “courtesy” could kiss my ass. Even the pharmacist, who had been watching the whole drama unfold, was shaking his head at me in silent encouragement to give it up already. I started to be like
But then, just as the elderly gentlemen had collected their prescriptions and began shuffling toward the exit with the air of pardoned prisoners, Liam wiped his eyes, squared his shoulders, caught their eyes and said, “Hello.”
Then promptly dissolved into tears again. The gentlemen nodded wearily and kept shuffling, doubtless wondering how parents today got so terrible at this whole parenting thing, but I was so proud of my little boy. This went way beyond courtesy. This was courage! Fortitude! Self-mastery! I was all
I picked Liam up and pretty much squealed my delight into his ear, which made him mad enough to stop crying, hop off my lap, and go strike up a conversation with the nearest stranger.