3.22.2009

Table manners for boys

One of our favorite pastimes is eating out, and our two sons have grown up in restaurants. To them, fine dining is no big deal.

These days, it’s rare for all four of us to dine out together. Our boys are on the go with their friends around the clock, and they’re way too busy to spend time in places where there’s no actual skateboarding or Guitar Hero II. Plus, they’re teen-agers and therefore can withstand the presence of their parents for only so many ticking minutes before their heads explode.

Once in a while we lure them out on the town with us, often using pasta as bait, and it’s always a treat to watch them handle themselves well in a restaurant, dealing with waiters and minding their manners.

At times like those, a parent can tear an elbow ligament trying to pat himself on the back, but it’s a good idea to put that fork down first.

Recently, my wife and I had such an outing with our young son. (Where was the older one? I don’t know. I believe he said, “Out.”) We showed up at a nice Italian joint in time for the sunset special, our son bobbing along beside us to a music only he can hear. His long hair hid his face, his posture was a question mark, and he wore an AC/DC “devil horns” T-shirt over pants that looked as if they’d been gnawed away at the knees by attack beavers. The usual.

As soon as we were seated, Mr. Scruffy became Mr. Savoir Faire, ordering with aplomb and using the correct fork and making only one brief joke with the napkin before putting it in his lap where it belonged. He participated in the conversation, didn’t dip his hair in his food, and generally was as pleasant a dinner companion as a person could desire, if that person didn’t mind picking up the tab.

So different from the way I’d see him a few hours later, slumped on the carpet in front of the TV, hooting at “Family Guy” and spooning sticky mint ice cream directly out of the carton.

Both versions are the direct result of his upbringing. From the time our sons were babies, they were drilled in “restaurant behavior.” Things were relaxed at home, where they might be able to get away with certain violations, such as that never-stale sabertooth joke with the asparagus spears. But such behavior doesn’t fly in restaurants.

Yes, it’s a double standard, and yes, it’s probably not the best way to rear children. Strict disciplinarians would argue that manners should be perfect at every meal, but those people are too uptight to enjoy a fine meal anyway, and should just eat tidy pellets like hamsters.

My wife and I were determined to keep dining out, even when the kids were small and couldn’t get through a single meal without knocking over at least one king-sized beverage. We were the only family at the diner where the adults were the ones wearing rubber pants.

Every time, as we entered, the kids got a little lecture about “restaurant behavior,” a reminder to use our best manners while sharing the establishment with other diners, including some who do not want to play “seafood.”

These excursions were stressful, of course, but gradually the lessons took, and on a few occasions, perfect strangers stopped by our table to remark on how quiet and well-behaved our boys were. This usually made us parents burst into tears.

Our answer, then, now and always: “You should see them at home.”

1 comment:

Linda said...

I can certainly relate. I remember how my kids would behave when we were in public and then be such little buggers at home. I guess we really did do a great job of raising them when they actually could act like humans when in public :-)