Call Me Sisyphus

Oh, bite me, Camus. When was the last time you spent your whole life getting nowhere? Your Nobel Prize suggests “never”.

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.

 

  • TheReluctantWidow

    You are really far ahead of the game though. When we went to attachment therapy this spring, our family was supposed to embrace the “Four R’s:” Respect, Responsibility, Resourceful, and Reciprocal. And they did! Then I got lulled into thinking we had this down and now no one practices the four r’s anymore. My kids are 12, 9, 9, and 8 and only the oldest will look someone in the eye, shake their hand and say “hello” when introduced. He probably won’t say much more than that because he’s shy, but he at least does that much. I can’t even claim the credit for that parenting – it was the Boy Scouts that taught him that. I don’t understand why this parenting gig has to be so stinkin’ hard and such a long process. I mean, you’d think that after all these years as my children, it wouldn’t be such a big surprise to them that I have expectations, however lowered they are now.

  • Cordelia

    Albert Camus… Oy.

  • Sheila Connolly

    My 3yo is kind of shy. Or at least just slow. I don’t push him. Some stranger gets in his face at the grocery store (this happens SO MUCH) and I say “You can say hello to this nice man if you like.” Kid just stares with bug-eyed terror. Finally he opens his mouth to say hello but by this time the stranger is talking, and talking, and talking. “Bet you’re glad to be at the store, huh? Bet you’re keeping your mom busy, huh?” Glassy-eyed stare. Finally the stranger gets bored and wanders off … and the 3yo finally realizes what he’s supposed to do. He breaks out an adorable smile and a wave and says “hello” at about two decibels. No one notices. Sigh.

    I just say “that was great, I’m sure you made his day” and just move on with life. Someday we’ll get the timing right.

  • Nydia Burdick

    We have all been there. My youngest is 18 and eldest 31. They have turned out OK despite issues in the past.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X