"Your Five Year Old: Sunny and Serene"

Sometime, on a freezing morning in January, a well mannered mother might find herself in the middle of a standoff in front of an elementary school. One participant might be a five year old who recently ran screaming through the halls “There is a substitute in there! I am not going to any classroom with a substitute!” The other participant might be the kind and patient Principal of the school who probably has about 382 other things she could be doing at that particular moment including going inside to get warm. So. You ask yourself, “What is the well mannered mother to do?” Clearly, physical violence is out. Same with threats and bribes. If she chases him he will run home. (So much for “walk to school” being a desirable attribute when selecting a house). Plus it would be undignified. But really, she probably passed dignified about 15 minutes ago. Around that time the Principal might kindly offer the advice that ‘He should not be allowed to think going to school is a choice.” How wise. How true. ‘How the hell am I going to get him back in the building?' The well mannered mother might be thinking. Eventually, the Principal might decide she is dealing with a hopeless case and head back inside. At that point the mother may scoop her darling boy up in her arms and carry him to the front door of the school, humming gently to block out all the noise. The lovely school nurse might open the door for him and say, “Hello! All your friends are wondering where you are. Will you walk down to the kindergarten with me? “ He may give the nurse a winning smile, take her hand and walk down the hall chatting politely as if the last half hour had never happened. At this point the well mannered modern mother should take a deep breath, and turn her mind to the rest of her day, knowing she did the best she could and that her son will be just fine.

Only the Best for Baby

It all starts with the hand-painted mural in the nursery and the Dutch-designed oval crib. Next comes, “We considered the Bugaboo stroller, but decided to go with the Stokke Xplory since we felt it was important for her ride higher, where she could really see eye to eye with people and develop her observation skills.” Parents can relentlessly rationalize why they paid the price of a family sedan in India for their stroller, crib or high chair. And they do. Usually its European, “safer” and “more functional,” with some special feature that none of the other products have. Whatever it is, it is not available at Babies-R-Us or Walmart. Never mind that it will be outgrown or out-dated before the rationalizing parents finish their explanation. Never mind that recounting consumer purchasing decisions rivals C-SPAN for entertainment value. These parents want to let you know that, really they’re not the kind of people who just throw it around. Really, its important to have these things. But is it? Of course not. Nevertheless, some of us have been known to occasionally dress our children in rarified “hand-wash-only” clothing or even enjoyed the sleek design and smooth rolling of an expensive Dutch stroller, but lets just admit we like the ergonomic designs and chic color schemes. Then we can try to keep those splurges to a minimum and remember to pass them on to a “good home” when we are done.

Smarty Pants

“She could tell Mozart from Chopin at 12 months.” “He was potty trained by two – we’re pretty sure he’s a gifted athlete.” “We’re meeting with her teacher to come up with a plan. She’s never taught anyone this academically advanced.” Of course all parents are personally amazed that their once wet, sticky lump of a baby is now walking, talking and taking on the world. It is wonderful and amazing and we are all so proud.

However, listening to someone brag about the brillance of her child is about as interesting and pleasant as dental work. Yet, instead of telling these rude people to zip it, we smile and nod and say things like “Isn’t that wonderful” or “How fascinating” when what even the most well mannered among us should really do is come together and form a unified front against such bombastic arrogance.  Perhaps something along the lines of “Wow that’s great, it must be all that Baby Einstein he watched” or for those who can keep a straight face “That’s just super. Maybe she’ll be an investment banker and earn huge bonuses. Or someone who structures synthetic debt obligations based on sub-prime mortgages destined to default and leave millions unemployed and homeless. Maybe he’ll run a hedge fund with his sons. Or be a pro golfer with fabulous endorsements. Anyway, that’s great. Thanks for sharing.”

Forbidden Fruits (and goldfish, and graham crackers, and cheerios...)

Though not likely to be endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatricians anytime soon, snacking remains an effective form of entertainment for little ones strapped in a stroller, waiting at the doctor's office, sitting around an airport terminal, verging on meltdown at the gymnastics studio. Who hasn't slipped a toddler a graham cracker to keep him quiet, or broken out the mini-oreos to keep peace on a airplane? However, when there is a sign saying “No Food or Drink”, the well mannered mother knows this pertains not only to her but also to her offspring. Even 24 pound, cheerio-eating offspring. There are some environments where a sign should not be required for parents to recognize that rampant snacking is not only nutritionally questionable but verging on disrespectful. Churches and synagogues come to mind. As do the White house, the Metropolitan Opera, and Buckingham Palace. Thankfully, your intrepid authors don't spend too much time in those places. It can be difficult to say no to a sniveling 3-year old who "just wants some goldfish," but say no one must. By doing so the well mannered mother teaches her children to be aware of their environment and considerate of the others using it. Not to mention those cleaning up.

Lost, Found, but Not Returned? Really?

What to do when an unfamiliar jacket appears in one's home may seem obvious to our gentle readers. For a certain variety of ill-mannered mother, however, it may pose a conundrum. Add it to the jumble of outerwear in the mudroom? Button her child into it and send him out the door because "its just so crazy" getting everyone off to school? Encourage her child to enjoy her "new find?" Of course not. The well mannered mother may look inside for a name or phone number, ask her child to whom the jacket may belong, and think back to recent playdates. No matter how harrowing the process of getting her children dressed and out the door, she makes every reasonable attempt to return the lost jacket to it owner. When her own child's jacket goes missing, the well-mannered mother will cope, hoping the jacket will turn up. Three weeks later, when she is informed by a fellow mother, “Oh Zooey’s been wearing Mackenzie’s jacket and just LOVES it,” her best response is honesty. "Well, we would certainly like to have that back, please." That is, if she can manage to speak through her own astonishment.

You may find yourself

From time to time the well mannered mother may find herself driving a car much larger than she ever wanted to own, full of yelling children, a few of whom are hers, to an activity in which she has zero personal interest. In the immortal words of The Talking Heads, "Well, how did I get here?" It might also happen that her not so well mannered daughter in the back row is terrorizing her son who is screaming like a Banshee in the second row while their respective friends look on in delight. It might even be that there is another mother in the passenger seat who is probably thinking something like "Did she say she writes a blog about manners? Oh my, how ironic." But the well mannered mother drives on knowing that some day her children will be safely deposited at any wonderful boarding school that will take them. At that point she will miss these hectic times as she scoots around town in her Mini Cooper, alone with her thoughts and her music. Yeah right.

Careful with those Old School Manners

Holding doors, standing up when an elder enters the room, or giving up your seat on public transportation are just a few 'old school' manners rarely practiced these days. Possibly (sadly) with good reason. No one should risk physical or verbal abuse for the sake of good behavior. Apparently some people get quite hostile when offered a seat on a bus "Are you saying I'm old? You're no spring chicken yourself." (Social Graces, Town & Country, January 2010 by Joanne Kaufman) Others get angry when a man holds a door. As one woman wrote to The New York Times "For years, I’ve gritted my teeth at the office when men insist that I enter or exit elevators before them — often adding “Ladies, first!” I believe it’s rude to call attention to my gender this way, as if I were a member of a weaker class." (Social Qs, The New York Times by Philip Galanes, October 29, 2009) In such situations discretion is the better part of valor. No need to end up in the emergency room just for trying to be considerate. So where does this leave the well mannered mother as she attempts to teach the next generation how to behave? "Edward, always hold the door for a lady as long as she is wearing lipstick and heels. Phoebe, it is polite to offer your seat to an elderly lady on the bus when she is not dressed like a Kardashian or packing an umbrella." Maybe not. Perhaps the best tact to take is for the well mannered mother to do what feels right in a given situation and then explain her action to her children at a later time (once the violent/hostile/grateful recipient of such social grace has left the scene).

Don't Mind Me

These days there seems to be a growing number of individuals who believe the rules of polite, orderly society do not apply to them. No doubt Paris Hilton is somehow responsible. Well mannered mothers may wonder, what on earth makes people feel entitled to jump the post office line, scoot in front of you at the car service center, or usurp a sales person with “just a quick question” that turns out to be exactly the same sort of transaction the rest of the queue was waiting to perform? Prada boots? Tory tunic? Gucci bag? Because high fashion is no excuse for low behavior. In these and a myriad of other instances the best thing a polite person can say in a pleasant but firm voice is “Excuse me, you must not have realized that there are several people waiting, all of whom were here before you.” There is no guarantee that this will have any effect since the perpetrator is probably immune to such civility. However, you will feel better for having tried. Another common affront is the invasion of personal space in a situation where it is not acceptable. Obviously a subway or crowded elevator is one thing and the social norm is sardinesque. But in a restaurant or waiting at a counter when you have already made way for an encroaching individual once or twice you might try “I hope I am not in your way?” or “Do you have enough room?” Again such subtlety could easily be lost. And yet, the well mannered modern mother continues to fight the good fight against ridiculous entitled behavior. She knows that often the eyes of her young family are upon her and how she reacts in these situations will leave a lasting impression on her children. Plus these people are so annoying.

Time to Let Go

A good nanny can become like a member of the family - a family member who may drive you crazy by not loading the dishwasher right, buying your kids annoying toys as "presents", or eating the rest of the sliced cheese and forgetting to tell you. No matter, a nanny comes to your house, cares for your children, prepares them special food, cleans up, wipes their noses, teaches them to wear "big-girl" pants, and marvels with equal pleasure at all of the adorable things your precocious tots may say or do. She tells you in a quiet voice when somebody had an argument with his best friend at school today. She may even love those little rascals. But unless you envision your son at age 15 still wanting his crusts cut off his PBJ and needing a good nose wipe, all things must end someday. For some families, the end comes when the nanny decides to move to be closer to her family, to go back to school, or to start a family of her own. For an unlucky few, the police show up with a warrant and take her away. For other families, the nanny must simply be let go. The children are older, you’ve quit working, or what ever the reason, there are a few simple ways to soften this painful task. (1) Remember that she has been caring for your children (for years in some cases) and deserves your respect. (2) Ask other mothers you know if anyone is looking for a nanny. Get some job leads for her if you can. (3) Give her ample notice or give her good severance. (4) Always be willing to serve as a reference. (5) Have the children make her a special drawing or gift. As always, lead with the positive when breaking the news (“you have been so loving, reliable and kind”) and end things on a pleasant note.

I Fear Madam Has Been Over Served

While such occurrences are rare, it might happen that a well mannered social mother will occasionally awake with a “morning head” or, as it is more commonly known - a hangover. In this case she might take the following steps: Step One — assess the situation. Where are you? What day is it? What are you wearing? Should all these appear to be in order, move on to Step Two – physical condition. Can you move? Are you going to be ill? Are there small children climbing on you? If you can possibly sit up and think, it is time for Step Three – recovery. Who can you enlist to care for your boisterous lot while you “sleep it off?” Husband, neighbor, sitter, dry cleaner, television – any of these will do. If there is no help available remember the following: move slowly, do not shout (it is unladylike and very painful), drink flavored fluids such as water with a splash of cranberry or tomato juice with a splash of vodka, promise your children all sorts of treats tomorrow if they can whisper and not fight today. Lastly, Step Four – learn from your mistakes. The well mannered mother does not discuss the previous night’s excesses in front of her children, nor does she blame anyone for her present condition except herself. She may, however, wander around the house in dark glasses telling any adult who will listen that she is never drinking again – unless she has hired a sitter to arrive at six the following morning.
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