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 to 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?

spaghetti (2)
No rules at Grandma’s.

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 while eating.

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.

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.

Dan, again

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. Asking God’s blessing. 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. Still does.

We eat at the kitchen counter. Sometimes we even fill our plates and eat in the living room in front of the TV.

At first, it seemed so 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 comes home with his little family.


Dan’s never been invited to the Governor’s Mansion, but he did get to meet Iowa’s Governor Terry Branstad at a Scouts activity in 1985. (Branstad was Iowa’s longest serving governor, then became the US Ambassador to China.)


  1. I enjoyed your post about manners. Remembering my brother’s college days at the University of Vermont, I can understand how Dan came home lacking in some social graces.

  2. 😝 this reminded me when I was in my early teens or younger, I was eating at the table with my grandparents! All the sudden !THWACK! Grandma Cameron shoves my elbow off the table with such force I almost fell off the chair! “DONT PUT YOUR ELBOWS ON THE TABLE !!”

    even now I catch myself, and down my hands go to my lap….gramma might be watching!

  3. This one was very entertaining. Most Mom’s are happy when their children show up at their table and don’t make a mess. It is nice when they move from the highchair to the table. I always loved being at Mom’s table.
    I hope you are doing okay during this weather you are having back there.

  4. This is true of so many of us. Now I find myself making the effort to instill good eating habits and table manners with our grandchildren when they are here 🙂

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