Recently, a group of friends discussed the ups and downs—and importance—of teaching our children manners. I remember sitting in another friend’s kitchen a long time ago, having the same conversation. Her oldest son walked in, ready to graze the fridge.
“Wash your hands, please” she said, without even looking at him. I’m not even sure she knew she said it, or if it was an involuntary vocal reflex.
I asked “How old are they when you can quit reminding them?”
I will never forget her response: “I’ll let you know.”
Her son was a teenager at the time, and I was knee-deep in child training very little people—a task which already seemed to be taking an eternity. Half my daily vocabulary involved reminders about how to be a pleasant human: “say please;” “wipe your nose;” “wash your hands;” “say excuse me.”
The first time our youngest was asked to say grace at dinner, she ended with: “In Jesus’ Name, Amen. Joe, did you wash your hands?” Trust me, it wasn’t because she had any interest whatsoever in her brothers’ hands. That is honestly how she thought family prayer was supposed to end.
“Who makes all these rules,” my kids ask.
The short answer is, I do. And the longer answer involves the spread of germs and general respect for fellow human beings. But they don’t buy it.
“Why should I apologize for natural body functions?” my son argues.
Because there is a certain standard of behavior which makes us appear as though we are cultured human beings. Other people might like to be around us.
“In Asia, burping is a compliment.”
And clearly, we don’t live in Asia.
This is how conversations go.
“Why do we need three utensils at dinner?” Apparently a fork is adequate, especially for boys who carry a pocket knife at all times. (And yes, a pocket knife can cut steak.) Why add to the load of dinner dishes someone will have to clean up?
“Why do I have to take my shoes off in the house? We let the dogs in and they don’t wear shoes.”
“Is a thank-you note really necessary if I already said ‘thanks’?”
“Why can’t I wipe my nose on my shirt sleeve? I didn’t wipe it on yours!”
Telling them it’s gross only encourages the behavior.
My youngest—that same child who said the prayer—now has a belch jar. That’s right. The precious youngest daughter, a graduate of the esteemed Ms. Abadi’s “Sassy to Classy” class, has two older brothers that, despite my investment in her training, lead her astray.
I know they mean well, their brains just haven’t fully matured, and apparently grasping the need for etiquette is one of the last phases of maturity. Honesty, I’m tired of trying to explain it to them. They’ve only recently understood the need to shower regularly.
And so I created the belch jar. No explanations. I simply charge $1 when I hear anyone belch—$2 if they laugh afterwards. I don’t think it will make up for the years of futile instruction. Eventually, I hope they will figure out the etiquette on their own. In the mean time, I’m hoping at least I can get a pedicure with the proceeds.