Maybe it was over-the-top, or maybe I'm just from a bit of a different generation that my kids, but my childhood was filled with a mix of wild fun and play dotted by perfecting manners and etiquette from the age of 8. I spent endless weekends learning to pour tea (pour from the right, eldest/most senior woman served first) to working on my punch-drinking skills (take white gloves off, lay in lap, keep your head up). In retrospect, it seems a little intense, but I gots me some Emily Post skilz. I want to teach my kids manners that will help them navigate conversation and environment, and demonstrate grace when not nailing each other with Nerf darts.
Four tips I learned in finishing school (HA! DID I JUST TYPE THAT?!), that I'd like to pass along to my kidlets:
1. Ballroom Dancing: The Ode to Commander Unander. Every Friday night my brother and I would go to a hall with other kids in my neighborhood in our dressy clothes. I'd say it was itchy and uncomfortable, but actually, I liked wearing the dresses (below the knee), having my hair done nicely and wearing tiny high heels. The only thing I didn't really like was the gloves. White gloves aren't really becoming on anyone, especially on a girl like me with hands like Shaq. Over several years we learned to dance ballroom with a strict, old, washed-up ballroom dancer. "Commander Unander" and his shiny black tuxedo shoes swept me across the room like a feather. I loved it. Learning to dance ballroom was a wonderful gift -- I can still walz and foxtrot my way through any wedding reception without wrapping my arms around my date like a drunk prom girl.
2. Table Top Knowledge: AKA Why do I have three forks? I can remember sitting at a fellow manners freak parents' house for table training. It looked like a dishwasher exploded in front of me, but in truth, it was pretty easy to decipher after just a few times of practice. When in doubt, work from outside by course with your utensils, unless you don't, then the waiter is likely to save you. Just don't use the same utensil for multiple courses or take it off the plate and put it on the table (that was the kiss of manners death). It was more than napkins on laps though. A lot of what we learned here was subtle: don't push a plate away from you, use the butter knife to put butter on plate not on bread, drinks go on the right. So far we've got the kids setting the table for dinner as a first step.
3. Host Management: Don't Bite the Hand that Feeds. As a kid, my parents took me everywhere -- from dinner parties to galas. There's only one whale at any soiree: the hostess. Once you get the gist that it's all about paying respect to her, you've got it made. Bring a gift (Not flowers or food, but instead a small gift like a homemade card from kids or special soaps); look in her eye, give her a compliment about her home or food; and most of all, don't do anything without the hostess doing it first. By that I mean don't put any food in your mouth until she has. Neeeeevvver.
4. Food: Not See-Food. I don't think I ever chewed a piece of food with my mouth open. I never remember doing it, anyway. My son, Thing 1, has never breached the open mouth gap, either. My dear Thing 2, however, is a see-food eater. Oh man, the battle. One thing I remember learning was a sure-fire way to help curb this food nightmare was to tell the kids to take very small bites. It helps, but it's not full-proof. Counting to 10 while chewing is another trick. I'm all about learning opportunities, but this one I have no tolerance for. Chew with your mouth closed or don't sit at my table.
I've come to understand that it's not popular to teach etiquette to children in 2011 -- I guess it comes off as snobby or wanna-be high class. I see it differently than that. I spent eight years as a kid going through manners training and in the end, I apply more of it today than most of high school classes put together. I want my kids to grow up with tools that will carry them from the house down the street to The White House and every little cottage along the way.
This post was inspired by the smarty pants team at the Yahoo! Motherboard. (#ymotherboard). Samantha blogs at Garza Girls.