I am perfectly aware of all of my faults. If you know me, I bet you think that I have some faults I don't know about. I think you are wrong. I think I just pretend I don't know about them because I don't want to change.
If you know me, I bet you also see faults in my children that you think I don't see. Again, I think you are wrong. I think one of the following applies: 1) I'm still trying to work that out of my kids; 2) I don't know how to work that one out of my kids; 3) I know you think it's a fault and you're probably right, but I find it charming nonetheless. Or something like that.
Last night one of my daughter's friends spent the night. My daughter was ecstatically happy to be having a real sleepover with a real friend. I tried to remember sleepovers from my childhood and tried to indulge them as much as I could, but I did worry about what "faults" I would find irritating in the other child because I am ALWAYS irritated by other people's children. I spent some time thinking about this problem of mine - always finding faults in other children. Why do I do that? Why do other kids "faults" bug me more than my own kids "faults"? I think I arrived at the answer. I think we (i.e. every parent in the human race) train our kids to fit our particular sense of right and wrong, proper and improper, acceptable and unacceptable. I think it is safe to say that the minutia of those criteria differ with every set of parents on the planet. Many of us will agree on the big things, but we will all vary widely on the little things.
Armed with this new discovery, I thought I stood a pretty good chance of tolerating whatever differences I may come across. I thought of this thing and that and prepared to be tolerant, loving, non-militant. I was, however, NOT prepared for what I encountered. Not even close.
In our house we are working on table manners. We are not perfect, not by a long shot, but we are working on it. I nag, nag, nag at the table, to the point that I wonder if I am too harsh. Today I learned, and my kids did too, that I am not too harsh.
Our guest chews with her mouth open. She uses her fingers rather than utensils. Sounds trivial maybe, but after enduring breakfast with her I could not eat lunch with the kids. I opted to wait and eat later. I was in the living room while the kids ate lunch. Her open mouth chewing results in smacking so loud I could hear it in the living room. I served waffles for breakfast. Before they were ready she observed some sugar cereal that she had never tried so we gave her some. She licked the pieces before putting them into her mouth. She tried the spoon, then set it aside and used her hands. (There was no milk on the cereal, it was dry.) When the waffle was served she sloshed the pieces of cereal around in the syrup before eating them. Then she sloshed the waffle around in the syrup, folded it up and stuffed into her mouth. (With her hand.) I was grossed out.
My kids often play a game with their cousins which they call the rule game, or the manner game, or something like that. They take turns being the judge and point out the others bad manners. They get to laughing uproariously at the lack of manners. I actually don't mind that game at all, because it shows me that they actually know what the rules are supposed to be, they are just having a fun kid-time with breaking the rules and being somewhat gross. Kids do that and I'm okay with it. At lunch my kids began goofing around with manners. One of them broke some rule and they laughed. The guest decided to join in the game. She had a jello square on her plate. She leaned down and began to VERY LOUDLY suck it up. I happened to turn their way as this began and I observed the horror on my kids faces. There was no laughter. Everything got very quiet. They ate the rest of their lunch in near silence. As soon as they were finished, my kids thanked me for the good lunch (required manner in our house) then ran downstairs to play. The guest had not finished her lunch yet. Here my kids showed bad manners in my opinion, and we'll add this to the list of things to work on. They should have stayed at the table with the guest. Nevertheless, off they ran. The guest, understandably, did not want to sit there alone so she got up and headed after them - with her hands full of buttery pasta. She was going to bring it with her and eat it while playing! I'm sorry if you think I am rude, but I stopped her and said "No. You need to eat the food at the table and when you are finished you need to wash your hands because they are all greasy." She just dumped the food and ran off.
At dinner (the guest was safely home at this point) Anna remarked on the open mouth chewing. I said yes, I had noticed that. I also said now maybe they see why I'm always saying "Don't do that", "Do this" and maybe they no longer think I'm so mean for it. They both agreed that they understand now, and I absolutely believe they meant it. Uncomfortable as this day was for me, I think it taught my kids a super valuable lesson that they never would have understood without observing what they did.
Today I am proud of my kids, and grateful for them. And grateful for their manners, imperfect though they may be. And maybe I won't nag so much at the dinner table for awhile. Maybe...