I have abandoned etiquette in favour of sanity. I’m not proud, and there is a long line of women in my family who are collectively rolling over in their graves, learning that I am waving a white flag of surrender, abandoning all attempts to raise young gentlemen.
I had good intentions. When my boys were small, I taught them to say “Yes, please” or “No, thank you” when they wanted to decline something. Until they were about ten or 11, they were pretty good at that portion of etiquette. Don’t get me wrong, they were never great at it. I have a friend whose son could work in the diplomatic corps; he’s so polite, he made my two look like a couple of country bumpkins in comparison. But I did feel like they were getting the ground rules, and I was heading into level two, etiquette lessons like holding doors for little old ladies and allowing women to exit the elevator first, when a terrible thing happened. Puberty.
Puberty is a time when, as a parent, you want to make sure the things that are your ‘hot button’ issues, are well hidden. This is critically important, because what irritates you, becomes their favourite past time. It’s just something instinctive in teenagers. Sometime, around the time they hit puberty, my boys found out that poor etiquette is my hot button issue.
As I look back, I really didn’t stand a chance. I am, for the most part, a fairly even keeled human being, but someone being deliberately rude or ignoring common etiquette rubs me the wrong way. I can clearly recall being pregnant, and I mean enormously pregnant, driving to the grocery store on a very hot summer day. As I pulled into the parking lot, I drove toward the special spaces that the store management puts aside, near the entrance, for pregnant women or parents with small children. It’s such a minor courtesy, but on that day, one I desperately needed.
As I turned to pull into the spot, a man in a small car pulled in front of me and took the spot. He jumped out of his car, and he started toward the store. He had no small children. He definitely was not pregnant. He was not handicapped, nor elderly. He was a completely fit, young man. I put my car in park and jumped (okay, lumbered) out of my car, calling after him. “Sir, sir,” I said, “I think you’ve overlooked the fact that these spots are for parents and expectant parents.”
He walked briskly back and stood opposite me. He looked me up and down and sneered. “Nope, I just don’t think you pregnant gals deserve that big a break,” he said, and walked into the store laughing.
I saw red. I suddenly understood the expression “my blood boiled.” I would have slashed his tires had I been able to bend over that far. I was too angry to even shop. I turned around and drove home and tried to talk my husband, The Rational One (and this was the day I nicknamed him that), into coming back to the store with me to slash the mean guy’s tires, under my direction. He wasn’t having any part of it, the dirty male traitor.
So, when your teenagers discover that rudeness is something that makes your blood boil, you can be certain that will be their ‘go to’ humour from that day forward. I know all teenage boys like rude jokes; but when you combine that with a mother whose blood boils…well, that’s just pure gold.
Working this type of humour into the busy teenager’s day is the first trick. My first born has become the master of bodily functions at the breakfast table, particularly if I’ve reminded him of his chores or his homework in the first waking hour of his day. I counted in one 20 minute breakfast three uncovered sneezes, two burps and something that definitely sounded like, well, let’s just call it what it is, a giant fart. If my grandmother was alive, her little British heart would have stopped before her first cup of morning tea.
And daily, there are behaviours that growing up in a family of girls, were just never witnessed. I had never, ever seen another human being smell any piece of clothing until I lived with my two sons and my husband. I mean, what could possibly prompt a person to smell their own, day old clothing?
I can still think of no reason. And yet now, I can almost set a clock by the amount of time it takes for a boy to get up, go to the bathroom , and then return to his room to smell yesterday’s socks. Is it a ritual, like a dog turning three times in his bed before lying down in it? I don’t know, but I do know, if I never see it again, I’ll lead a happier life. And let’s not even go into what happens inside the bathroom…
I’ve exhausted my sanity with the “why?” question. Why don’t you put your dishes in the dishwasher? Why do you need to stick your brother’s shoes in his face? Why are your gym shorts on the dining room table? Why do you ‘wet willy’ your brother? Why do you wipe your ketchup-y mouth on your sleeve?
These are questions for higher minds than mine. I’ve waved the white flag, am writing a letter of resignation to Ann Landers and Emily Post, and with all due respect to the gracious women in my past who hammered etiquette into me, I’m not sure they ever came up against 21st century boys. They might also have surrendered the fight. On occasion, I hear from friends and strangers “what polite boys I have,” so I guess as long as they don’t turn out to be that mean guy in the parking lot, I’ve done the best I can. Next step is some lovely young lady marrying them and polishing up those rough edges. Ohhh, I just can’t wait to watch that.
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