So, the other day I made pork chops for dinner. This is the kids’ favorite thing. They were on sale, so I was thinking how neat it’d be to treat them. My husband was gone that evening, so I was holding down the fort, serving the chops, monitoring the mealtime chaos.
Now, over the years I’ve really thought I’d been inculcating my kids with good manners. We’ve had multiple, yea a hundred, discussions about “passing to the left” and not chewing with our mouths open. Countless reminders of “don’t touch your sister during dinner.” Unending lists of rules like “no singing at the table,” “no toys at the table,” and “if you say ‘jinx’ at the table you have to do all the dishes. Even the hand-wash.”
We’ve been over it.
However, I was not prepared for the caveman-like behavior that evening. One boy was eating in a para-European style, cutting the meat with the knife in the right hand and fork in the left, but then just shoving the cut meat immediately into the open craw. One kid picked up her meat in her hand. Maybe two did that. And when the other kid stabbed the whole pork chop onto the fork and started eating it like a candy apple on a stick, I lost it.
“What is wrong with everyone! We look like Neanderthals!”
They looked up in surprise. It was an emergency. And I had to pull out the big guns: a 1994 video called “Manners for Missionaries (and Everyone Else.)” That evening — before the remainder of the chops were chopped by their cute little choppers — they were stuck watching the whole 20 minute installment of the “how to” video on table manners. This movie was comprehensive. Slide the soup spoon away from you. Unfold a dinner napkin halfway. Unfold a luncheon napkin all the way. How to handle being served food you dislike. Pass to the left. The big hair and shoulder pads on the girl missionaries were a mild distraction, but they submitted themselves to the punishment. And, to my surprise, they were surprised by what was taught.
As if I hadn’t been saying these very exact things for months, years!
It proves how deaf our own children are to our voices. Proof. Proof!
Anyway, their manners at the second attempt at pork chops a couple of days later was improved. Mostly. And if we just watch that thing about 25 more times over the next 3-5 years, there’s a minute chance they won’t be doppelgangers for Viking warriors at the table.
It reminded me of our last big push for manners, also known as “the day I gave up.”
We hardly ever go out to eat. I mean, it’s expensive, and I mostly like food I cook more than food someone else cooks. Call me snobby if you must. But it’s even rarer to take the kids to a restaurant (at least one without a drive-through.) So we decided to dangle this special thing as an incentive. The “manners dinner.”
“If you guys can all have good manners for two months, we will go out to eat. You’ll prove you’re ready for a restaurant.” The word resonated in the air. Restaurant. Oooh! Granted, we had a two-year-old at the time, so some of our preparatory meals were less than stellar examples of good preparation, but we pressed forward. Everyone seemed to be trying. The two months went by, and there were lots fewer times when I had to yell, “Get up from under the table and finish your chicken.”
We were ready. It was restaurant time.
Fate dictated that we choose a Mexican restaurant. I mean, in this town of 10,000 people, we have 14 Mexican restaurants plus four taco trucks, so it was how it had to be. Yes, this town is the heart of the famous “Salsa Trail.” We had the kids dress up (even though everyone else in the place was wearing ball caps.) We sat down at the table and everyone chose something from the menu. The kids got to choose, which was fun for them. The adventurous eaters chose things with foreign names. The picky eaters chose dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets with ketchup. It was going to be a win!
Until it wasn’t.
To my right, at the end of the table, the youngest girl was standing up on her chair. I sat her down. She stood up. I turned to help someone on my left with a water spill. The youngest lunged for the little bowl of salsa and lifted it to her lips. My husband pointed toward her. I glanced and she’d drunk the whole bowl.
“Are her eyes watering? Is she okay?” he asked. I was horrified. That was the hot stuff. I mean, this is Arizona. Salsa can be pretty steamy here. (Incidentally, our town has a Salsa Fest every September with salsa tasting. You should come.)
“She seems okay. I think she liked it.” I shrugged and kept mopping up ice cubes.
Then the salsa made its reappearance. Baby girl threw up all that had gone down.
So much for manners.
The waitress saw it and kept walking. I waved for her. Finally I had to chase my way back to the kitchen and ask for a roll of paper towels.
We took the rest of our food to go. And we ate at home. Under the table. Where we belonged.