Begin with the End in Mind
It was dinnertime at our house last Thursday. I sat eating a bowl of pineapple which I required nightly since cutting out processed sugar while Mike enjoyed something that involved black beans, kale, and a large quantity of chipotle chilis.
Ax’s plate of organic soy chicken nuggets and peas I knew he would not eat sat at his place, sippy cup of milk at his plate’s two o’clock. But not Ax.
I smiled at Mike, my beloved, across the table as we listened to our son practice his jumping routine in the adjoining living room. “Chop!” Ax exclaimed while he launched himself off the white-slipcovered club chair onto the super-sized fuscia beanbag that had become the focal point of our living room. Tonight’s show was Kung Fu-style jumps featuring mid-air chopping and kicks with sound effects. I am pretty sure one of the three-year-old thugs at his preschool taught him this stuff.
“Shouldn’t we at least try to get him to the table?” I asked Mike in as non-antagonistic, non-blaming a way as possible. “I’m just saying that it’s our job to teach him to be civilized.”
“Is it?” Mike asked, in that question-everything-assume-nothing attitude he slides into a lot of the time, an attitude that serves him well as a college professor and consultant.
“We limit his choices if we don’t teach him manners. Kids with good manners are welcome everywhere, kids without manners aren’t wanted anywhere,” I continued argumentatively, an attitude which served me well as a corporate lawyer. “When Basil and little Adelaide were here for dinner they were amazing -- asking if I could please pass them this and may I please have more of that. They asked to be excused from the table before they got up!” I exclaimed, citing evidence that Ax’s peers were achieving advanced acts of manners.
We heard Ax begin singing while continuing to jump, making crashing noises when he landed. “Nice jumping,” I called from the table, refilling my glass of sparkling water for the third time.
“That whole asking to be excused thing really creeps me out,” said Mike. “like we’re the jailers or something and he needs permission to be himself.”
“I think it’s considerate, letting the other people know you’re leaving the table.”
“That would be saying ‘I’m leaving the table now,’ not ‘please may I leave the table now.’”
And then my years of therapy kicked in so I didn’t go at my husband with a knife or even a fork at that moment. Instead I said, “Can we agree, my love, that teaching our son some manners might not be a bad idea?”
“We can teach our son manners,” he said, “but I don’t want to kill his soul. We have to begin with the end in mind and remember what we are trying to do as parents.”
“I want our boy to feel fully himself, free, adored, appreciated, and able to move about wherever he wants to go because he knows the customs.”
“Ok,” Mike said, “I can get on board with that.”
And we cleared our dishes, let Ax know his dinner was available when he wanted it, and sat down to watch the rest of the jumping show.