Yeah, well... So I may have let it get away from me a little over the past couple of years. It's sad, yes, it is; but I admit it.
We've become a bit lax at mealtimes.
You know it has to be true if your fifteen-year-old takes the floor, raising his voice over the din of circus acts, to present an impassioned plea for civility.
For heaven's sake, have some civility, you hooligans!
And he's right. It's time to get things in hand. We used to have much more in the way of polite repasts when the big boys were little boys. We had somewhat organized conversation, the forks were set on the left and the knives on the right; if we didn't have our napkins in our laps, we did at least have napkins. But, in the last few years, all that has dissolved into more of a free-for-all. It's embarassing, but true.
And hard to fix. There are lots more of us now, for one thing -- and lots more going on with so many ages, temperaments, and pursuits. Because of his job, Dan is rarely home for dinner, so it's usually just me and the kids, which makes things, ipso facto, more casual. Less structured. Sometimes haphazard. Occasionally chaotic. And, to add to the fun, William, bless his sanguine little heart, has been compared to young Helen Keller at the table. (Yes, I know. Isn't that awful?) We have a hard time keeping him in his seat, and rarely get through a meal without his treating us to either a fuss fit or a stand-up comedy act. We really do know these are bad habits we have to break. And we all work on him (when we're not laughing at him), but he's singularly stubborn, and going through an eating phase, which makes things even more interesing.
(Have you ever tried working a child through an eating phase? We've learned through the years that, annoying as they are, they're temporary, normal and not worth obsessing over. And, though it may seem like coddling to his oldest brothers who don't remember their own food phases, those of us who live with William have just accepted his three-year-old menu. It's simple; life is good as long as you give him: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, dry cereal, bananas, or anything with noodles --and you have to let him talk about how he's eating worms the whole time he slurps the noodles down, and keep the secret that Mommy grated carrots into his spaghetti sauce. Piece of cake. Which, is incidentally something he will also eat.)
Thankfully, though, outside of William, all the children will eat anything you put in front of them, possibly even if it's moving. The fact is that they usually don't stop talking long enough to notice if anything's moving, much less whether or not it's something they like or don't like. At any given mealtime, two or three different conversations are generally going on at one time, merging, changing, and morphing into and out of one another like traffic on the Beltway. There are the occasional crashes yes, and sidetrips to coffee shops and comedy clubs. And the occasional musical interlude, with Anna very often carrying on her own private little concert down at the end of the table. One or two of the teenagers is likely to be wildly gesticulating in response to a tease-fight and breaking loudly into other conversations to garner support for an argument. Or someone, usually Theresa, is jumping up to grab a book to look for the passage that illustrates what she's talking about. And there's no sense in interrupting the conversation, you know, to ask someone to pass the bread or butter or iced tea pitcher; it's easy enough to just reach across and grab what you need. Why not? And elbows on the table are not as bad as feet on the table, right?
=sigh= You get the picture. Mealtimes here are more like a German Biergarten than a Victorian Tearoom. And, though I really can't say I'd like for our dinners at home to be formal and stiff with tearoom manners, I'd like for us not to scandalize any visitors who might not be the beer-stein-swinging sort.
So, in defference to Dominic's quest for civility, and because we really do need to discipline ourselves better, we made a stab at a polite dinner tonight. Napkins were folded at every place, and, after a little coaching, everyone put one on his or her lap (some after trying them on their heads first). Elbows were kept off the table (except for when it was necessary for two or three of the kids to illustrate how bad it looks to eat with your chin resting on your hand). Mouths were kept shut while chewing (except for those people who simply had to say something, regardless of whether their food was swallowed first or not). The tea pitcher and crackers were passed politely to waiting hands (and completely around the table from hand to hand, when deemed necessary). The chicken and noodles were eaten with a minimum of slurping (and William, by some quirk of fortune, didn't say the word "worm" even once).
Dinner was eaten, and it was not painful. We made it through just fine. Conversation still merged and swerved, running over and through, in and out, but tonight it kept hitting the Courtesy Traffic Circle -- which slowed things down a bit.
And gave us something new to talk about.
We'll see how dinner tomorrow night goes. It wouldn't surprise me a bit if the traffic circles are ignored in favor of driving over medians and grassy berms.
* Here's something fun to check out: a manners-based blog called The Goops Gazette!
* And here is a wonderful article: Courtesy: An Essential Element of the Catholic Home
**Heaven knows, we need all the help we can get! Any pointers out there?