Posts Tagged ‘manners’


Bill is turning out to be a charming boy.  At 21 months he is smallish and skinny, but with hazel eyes, a winning smile, and an irresistible giggle, he has also begun cultivating the social graces the Cap’n and I hold so dear.  (Read about ’em here, here, and here.)  When I sneeze, he says, “Ah-too, Mama.”  When he asks for more of something and I prompt him, he says, “Peez, Mama.”  And he regularly says “da-da” (infantese for todah, or “thank you” in Hebrew) when given something, with no prompting.

So for those out there who think teaching children manners can wait until they’re in school, or in the army, or never, I would like to point out that not only can babies be taught manners at an early age, but that even boys are educable.  (That last was the Cap’n’s observation.)

So parents of eligible daughters, begin placing your bids for my boy now.

And enrollment in Auntie Shim’s Etiquette Boot Camp begins this summer.

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Table manners

I decided early on that one of my jobs as a pedantic parent is to teach my children table manners.  The Cap’n and I figure this goes hand-in-hand with our philosophy that kids will live up or down to parents’ expectations, and that it is never too early to establish the foundations of good manners.  When our kids were still early talkers, we taught them the formula, “May I please…” and now have merely to remind them—in their occasional lapses into “I want…”—that “That is a ‘may’ question.”

As far as the Crunch family is concerned, table manners for young children consist of the following:

1) Sitting at the table for a reasonable duration of the meal.  During the week, this means the 40 minutes or so of dinner, which consists of eating and hearing a short summary of everyone’s day.  On Shabbat it means kiddush, motzi, and whatever of the appetizer course appeals.  They are then excused to play until the “real food” is served.

2) Putting their napkins in their laps, using a fork or spoon for their food, keeping elbows off the table, and chewing with their mouths closed.

3) Asking others politely to pass them things.

4) Not interrupting conversations, but saying “Excuse me” and waiting until the conversation is ended (or paused) to be acknowledged.

For many families, table manners are something parents just don’t have the koach (strength) to enforce.  True, correcting the same children on the same poor habits can be a bit like banging one’s head against the proverbial brick wall.  But consider the consequences of giving up: Rearing up a child who as an adult holds a fork like a shovel, belches loudly at the table, announces, “I’m done” the second the food is gone from his plate, lifts his cereal bowl to scrape the last few cornflakes directly into his mouth, and eats salad with his hands.  That might not bother some people, and people with manners like that have been known to get married, but I aim a little higher for the Crunch children.  They understand from the categories on their chore charts (for which they receive daily stickers and an allowance commensurate with their week’s performance on Friday afternoons) that good table manners are as much expected of them as cleaning their rooms, setting the table, folding their laundry, and doing their homework.

In general, I enjoy eating with my children much more when they use good table manners.  They’re neater eaters, dinnertime is more quiet and orderly, and I sometimes get to entertain the illusion that I’m eating with other human beings rather than barely-tame baboons.  They occasionally take their knowledge of table etiquette too far, though, and have loudly corrected their visiting grandparents’ table manners (which was kind of cute) as well as those of friends who hosted us for a Shabbat meal (considerably more horrifying).  The trick here, it seems, is to teach them manners as we would teach house rules: Adhere to what we observe, but don’t try to force it on others.

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Cleaning and nostalgia

Well, not really.

But I do remember the dean of faculty at my high school telling me (after learning that I’d sweated through the previous summer at McDonald’s for minimum wage) that whenever he saw restaurant experience on a teaching candidate’s resume, he was always favorably impressed.  He told me, this is someone who is used to being overworked and under-appreciated.

I was reminded of this not because I’m working in a restaurant right now, but because I actually think the cleaning profession rivals that of slinging chow for bone-crushing misery and thanklessness.  I gave the Crunch house the first good clean in a long time this morning, and as I had ample time for thinking (hands are occupied, but mind is free), I found myself recalling some of the more disgusting jobs I’ve done.

The one that takes the cake is the one I did two summers after McDonald’s.  For both summers I worked at Camp San Luis Obispo–not at all a summer camp, but a National Guard training facility.  Groups of Guardsmen would come through, check in, and go play war games in the hills each day.  Even the lowest grade of soldier was given the option of paying a little extra per day to have his bed made, floor swept, bathrooms cleaned, and ashtray dumped.  Ordinarily, this was a simple enough procedure.  Once my back muscles had gotten in gear from all the hovering over unmade beds and unscrubbed toilets, the work became fairly straightforward.  I had some great supervisors, especially the second summer (when there were fewer smokers on staff), including one who used to talk about “warshing the floor,” then “rinching out the rag,” and another who would guzzle down a case of Tab a day.  (Remember Tab?)  I learned one or two valuable skills, too, like when one of my coworkers, a burnt-out hippie named Tom, showed me for the first time in my life how to fold a fitted sheet.  (The Cap’n still can’t figure out how I do it.)

There were a few bad days, though.  Like the week each summer when one group would come through and invariably accuse us of stealing their stuff.  (That meant we were observed by a supervisor the whole time we did our chores, which slowed us down significantly.)  Or the day some wise guy decided to defecate in the shower.  When one of my co-workers found it, she was actually worried we’d be expected to clean it out.  Fortunately, our supervisor was as disgusted as we, and simply reported the incident.  Despite the fact that the toilets and sinks hadn’t been finished, she said, “Leave the rest of the bathroom undone.  See how the bastards like it.”  Or the time I picked up an ashtray, expecting to wipe it out, and saw someone’s Biblical “seed” swimming in it.  (Grossed out yet?  I sure was.)  My supervisor told me to throw if away and not give him another.

I don’t care for untidiness.  I like a good clean if it makes life more comfortable.  And it always amazes me when people don’t appreciate that from others who clean up after them.  The old Ethiopian man who swept the sidewalks in my neighborhood in Beit Shemesh (a thankless job if ever there was one) didn’t speak much Hebrew, but I think he understood enough to know I was thanking him when I would pass him on the street walking Peach to gan in the morning.

My favorite story, though, is about Rav Moshe Feinstein.  When he was in the hospital near the end of his life, he would chat with the Black woman who would come in every day to tidy his room and empty the trash.  He asked her about her family, her health, and was genuinely interested in her answers.  At his funeral, this woman stood outside the innermost circle, silently paying her respects.  The Yidn at the funeral were puzzled about what a Black woman would be doing at Rav Moshe’s funeral.  When some of them asked her what she was doing there, she told them about Rav Moshe and his kindness.  I hope they learned that one final lesson from Rav Moshe that day.  It may be the most important one they ever learn.

There have been a number of divrei Torah in the last year given by the rabbis in our neighborhood about the importance of hakarat hatov (showing gratitude).  Having been on the soapy side of the cleaning/cleaned-up-after relationship myself, I always try to thank those charged with the task of cleaning for my benefit, and to tip them when appropriate.

Because as we all know, cleanliness is next to godliness.

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In last Friday’s Jerusalem Post, there appeared an article in the Magazine section in which a macrobiotic chef claims she cured herself of cancer through a dramatic change in diet and lifestyle.   A woman I know claims her child with Asperger’s Syndrome has responded dramatically to a gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free diet.  And when I was an aide in special ed. reading classes, a substitute teacher claimed that none of those kids would be in there if they were on proper diets.

It’s very bewitching to think that our health—including disease, mental illness, and learning disabilities—can all be controlled through diet.  Despite many great medical advances, many disorders are still not fully understood and the feelings of frustration and helplessness that accompany being—or caring for—ill or disabled people can be overwhelming.  It gives people hope to believe that they can cure themselves of all kinds of maladies, and for those disappointed by the healthcare field (and there are many), taking matters into their own hands through altering their diet gives them back the control they regret ceding to physicians, psychologists, and learning specialists who (for whatever reason) have been unable to help them.

There is only one problem: Since these disorders are still not fully understood, there is nothing to suggest that a change diet is all that is needed to cure them.  I know a woman who, like the woman in the Post article, tried to save her mother from a wasting cancer by putting her on a macrobiotic diet.  She failed.

I have no objection to someone adopting a regimen they hope will help them, especially if it’s going to contribute to their overall health.  I had a psych professor in graduate school who advocated a multi-pronged approach to any mental illness—behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, and medication, if warranted.  Had someone suggested to him dietary therapy, he would likely not have shot the suggestion down.

What I DO object to is people who insist, loudly, anytime anyone is listening, that anyone who is sick is to blame for eating the wrong foods, and should adopt their personal regimen for perfect health.  We know that high-fat, high-sugar diets can lead to obesity, heart disease, and Type II diabetes.  We know that whole grains, fiber, pulses, fresh fruits and vegetables are nutritious and benefit everyone.  But it’s also true that someone like my grandfather can go through life, eating whatever he pleased, smoking, drinking to excess, and still live to a pretty respectable age.  Some things come down to genetics.  Some things come down to a hardy constitution.  Some things come down to regular exercise.

A friend of mine with a child with PDD (pervasive developmental disorder) blogs that she has not found most online resources to be useful to her, since some of them are written by what she calls “hawks,” or people who believe they have THE answers to their children’s problems, if only people will listen to them.  Some of these people, I have little doubt, are skeptical of the value of traditional healthcare solutions (as well they should be) and advocate alternative, sometimes simplistic solutions, of which they should be equally skeptical.

I believe a sensible diet is essential for overall health.  Avoiding foods for which one has no tolerance, substituting adequate nutrition from other sources, and exercising regularly are beneficial to everyone.  If someone has certain needs and those needs are met by a specific diet, they have my blessing.  But pontificating ad nauseum about what works for one person, or against one disease, or in one situation, and proclaiming that as the new gold standard of diet is preachy, bossy, and well, a bit much.

My doctor in the US told me after my kids were born that the best parenting book I can read is the one I write myself.  I would apply this same wisdom to what people eat.

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Saying “please”

The Cap’n and I are sticklers for the word “please.”  From the time our children learn to talk, we teach them the formulas for requests, such as “May I please have/do…” and “Would you please do/give me…”

We have both had occasion to notice that many parents do not teach this little word.  Many is the time my children have had young guests over who, when I’ve served a snack, just stare in expectation, or bellow the Israeli formula, “I also want!”  We have also had the very great pleasure of having the occasional young guest who, while he or she might not use the word regularly at home, is ready and able to use it in our house.

One thing I learned from working with challenged kids of various types is that they need adults to have expectations of them, and they in turn will live up or down to these expectations.  To decline to teach a child proper table manners (napkins in laps, no elbows on the table, chewing and swallowing before speaking) makes them rude, unsavory company at table.  To believe that a child cannot learn to ask with a “please” is to sentence him or her to years of barbarism, and eventual “please” training fraught with resistance.

I must also distinguish between a polite request (“Would you please pass the potatoes?”) and a barely softened command (“Pass the potatoes, please”).  The former is unassuming, and good manners.  The latter is entitlement.

I love it when my children say “please” and “thank you.”  Not only does it give me some pride in my own children’s manners; it also proves that children are as capable of kindness and consideration as adults.  As a mom who runs her own household, I sometimes feel a bit like an indentured servant.  When my children say “please,” I feel like a human being again.

For heaven’s sake, if Dumbledore can say “please” to Severus Snape in his final moments, a child can certainly say “please” when asking for a second helping of strawberry shortcake.

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I’ve already said my piece about smoking.  The litter, the smell, not to mention the deleterious effects on a person’s health are evident to all.  And yet some people still choose to smoke.  Fine by me.

What is not fine by me is the chucking of still-smoldering cigarettes by smokers to fall wherever gravity takes them: out car windows, on sidewalks, even in waterparks patronized by children.  Yes, Ima Crunch was well and truly pissed off this afternoon when Beans and Peach returned from camp, Peach hopping on one foot and sporting a mesh bandage from the first aid station at the waterpark they attended today.  Some smoker (epithets deleted) flicked a lit cigarette from her or his fingers onto the walkway and strolled on.  In a place swarming with children from all over the center of the country, this person, who wouldn’t dream of stepping on a lit cigarette with a bare foot, nonetheless thought it not unreasonable that a child should do so.

Or just as bad, thought nothing at all.  Given the many irritating and damaging effects of smoking, it seems to me that to become a smoker, one must necessarily have portions of one’s brain deactivated, including the one that actually, you know, puts out fires before moving on.  Do such people scatter rusty nails on sidewalks? Lit matches in dry brush?  Discarded paring knives and razor blades on beaches?  Then why the hell don’t they think to extinguish their smoldering fags before tossing them at the feet of children?

You don’t have to answer that.  There is no answer.

Peach has asked why people do such things.  I explained that I really don’t know, but I also took the opportunity to explain karma to her, the upside being mitzvah goreret mitzvah (one good deed causes another), and the downside being the opposite.  I told her we don’t know who discarded the lit butt, or what happened to him or her later on.  But sometimes people who do thoughtless, rude, or evil things themselves end up on the receiving end of other people’s thoughtless, rude, or evil deeds.  We don’t have to wish them ill; sometimes ill befalls those who do ill all by itself.

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Fourth child

After bringing three girls into the world, there seems to be an impression that the Cap’n and I had a fourth child in order to have a boy.

In my grandparents’ day, boys were valued more than girls. (I often got this feeling even in my day, as well.) I have a letter my grandmother wrote to her parents from college in which she reported that one of her classmates’s siblings had recently given birth to a little girl. But my grandmother was all too happy (in a feline sort of way) to report that she had trumped THAT piece of news: her cousin had given birth to a BOY.

It always annoys me when strangers presume to understand a couple’s motivations in having a child. Some people seem to think that a couple is yotzei (fulfilled their obligation) once they have a child of each sex (I think this exists officially in Judaism), and that their sole motivation in procreation is toward that end. It rarely dawns on strangers or casual acquaintances that a couple could choose to have a fourth child because they want four children.

Israeli society is still like this, unfortunately. Boys elicit a hearty Mazal tov! while girls get you the equivalent of “Better luck next time.” And nothing is more maddening than the look of disbelief and skepticism in the hearer’s eyes when I say we would have been just as delighted had Bill been a girl. (Not least because I’ve always wanted to name a child Wilhelmina Delphinium Crunch.) The way they see it, after all the brachas strangers gave me on the street that Beans should be a boy, the fact that she was a girl was the luck of the draw (oh well, it has to happen sometimes). But people who think like this are the same people who probably think Peach and Banana were similar failed attempts at a boy, and that Bill is the first successful product of our union (at last).

And people wonder why girls have low self esteem.

In truth, the first child I could have whose sex would not necessarily be seen as the motivator would be my fifth. *Sigh*

Well, I have a message for such people: Families whose children are all boys often get dreamy-eyed when the subject of girls comes up. In our experience, families whose children are all girls never seem to pine for a boy. Whether this is because the latter families are conscious that such facial expressions are hurtful to their daughters, or because they are grateful that their daughters will have a choice about going into the army or not, or because we fortunately live in a time when it’s not unheard of for the groom’s family to contribute to the wedding costs, I don’t know.

All I’m saying is that each child is an individual: mild or wild, fiery or calm, sweet or sassy. Each of my children could just as easily have ended up the opposite sex and still had the same personality. They’ll encounter different challenges as girls or boys, but they’ll still be my children, and they’ll still be wonderful people.

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