Isn’t civilizing the next generation one of the roles of being a parent? I tried. I really did. But when son Dan went off the college, the cavemen began to win.
When he came home for Thanksgiving, he wore a cap everywhere–even to the table. He also rearranged his silverware and glass. Ignored the napkin. Devoured his dinner. This is not what I taught him. His table manners needed some brushing up.
My only firm request was that he not wear the cap at the table for Thanksgiving dinner. “Your grandma will be here and she would consider it disrespectful.”
“Mom, it’s only a cap.”
Well, Dan arrived capless at the dinner table. And other social graces also seemed to come back to him–at least temporarily. So he hadn’t forgotten everything I had worked to program into him over the years.
Even when Dan was small, we ate at the dining table–set properly, just like I’d learned in 4-H and Home Ec. Someday he’d need to be comfortable with a napkin on a knee, and knowing which fork to use. Who knew when he might be invited to dine at the governor’s mansion?
Growing up on the Farm
Back when my sister and I were growing up on the farm, Mom decided to try new tactics at the table. She must have read an article about children acting nicer when the table was set nicely. She even used a tablecloth. And sometimes lit candles. She reported that her daughters didn’t complain and quibble as much when her table was pretty. And that we were more mannerly as we ate.
After we’d been off to college, it was such a treat to come home to Mom’s pretty table settings, which she coordinated with the seasons. We looked forward to that as much as to her home cooking.
In the evening, Dad would even wear clean overalls to the table. I guess Mom shaped us all up. This also helped when we got old enough for 4-H and cooking and setting a nice table were part of what we learned there.
There were rules: No TV watching while we ate. No headphones. No rearranging the place settings. No milk jugs on the table. No reading at the table (unless you’re alone).
In spite of Dan’s activities before and after high school, plus a job, and my husband’s shift work, I tried to hang on to some semblance of family meals several times a week. Just for practice. Some kind of centerpiece. Courteous conversation. Maybe some music.
I did the best I could. If Dan embarrasses himself at the Governor’s Mansion someday, it’s not my fault.
But once Dan went to college, my husband and I rarely used the dining table. It held piles of papers, magazines, and the mail.
We eat at the kitchen counter. Sometimes we even filled our plates and ate in the living room in front of the TV.
At first, it seemed to uncouth. But slowly, over the months, it began to feel okay. Normal. Alas, I hardly think about it anymore.
This morning I ate breakfast alone in my robe at the counter. I worked the crossword puzzle in The Register, leaning on my elbow.
So this is how it feels to no longer have to be a role model. I can live with it.
I hope I will remember how to act next time Dan is home with his family.