Family / Parenting

Manners or Mayhem

Until I was 10 years old, my sister was my only sibling. Our house was a “girl house” for most of my childhood.

Mom was a self-identified housewife who loved to sew and bake, and she was committed to homeschooling us — not in academic ways, no. We attended public school from kindergarten through high school. But Mom provided tutelage in subjects that public school could not. Etiquette, comportment, poise, and grammar were on her syllabus, and our school day lasted for 24 hours. No vacations.

Miss Manners would have been quite proud of her distant disciple’s finishing school.

Judith Martin, better known by the pen name Miss Manners, is an American journalist, author, and etiquette authority.

Judith Martin, better known by the pen name Miss Manners, is an American journalist, author, and etiquette authority.

Mom even insisted we learn how to sew, which doesn’t sound like bad skill to have, but I promise you that it was not a pleasant experience. There was that velour robe that rolled under itself while I guided the material under the presser foot. I didn’t notice the accidental seam I had created until I had sewn the entire length of the robe, and I spent hours picking out every stitch by hand with a seam ripper.

But that’s enough about my PTSD: Post Traumatic Sewing Disorder. The picture I’m trying to paint is not of me as Cinderella sewing and seam ripping in a dungeon, even though the sewing machine was in our basement, and imagining my mother as a cruel fairy tale step mother is not difficult to do.

Instead, picture a house of ladies or rather one lady and two ladies-in-training. Imagine a house where no one yelled or cursed or even said, “Shut up!” No one placed the salad fork on the outer side of the dinner fork or elbows on the table and no one ever forgot to use the possessive case before a gerund phrase and no one ever … EVER … passed gas in public spaces and certainly NEVER referred to that bodily function by the rude and crass word that sounds like shmart. I still can’t say the word without cringing. But I’m trying. I’m trying not to emulate the rigid and oppressive experience of my youth – trying to let go and let our kids have a bit of fun without becoming a family of barbarians.

I am pleased to report that our home bears little resemblance to the household of my childhood. It helps that we have two boys in the house who say and do gross things and egg each other on. And it also helps that our two boys have a mom at home who does not stop them. She may even encourage it.

“MOM!! I can’t find my shoes!!!”

“Have you looked in outer space? Why don’t you check Ur-anus?”

I mean really, what is funnier than an anus joke?

Parents will tell you that you relive your childhood when you have children of your own. You go through all the growing pains and the emotional challenges and all the homework and school projects all over again, and it pretty much sucks. But it can also be liberating. I am declaring a do-over on my childhood. I’ll still suffer through all the crap with them, but I’m determined to have more fun along the way.

It’s not easy for me all the time. I lived a lifetime caring about what was acceptable and proper. I’m sure most parents my age would still think I’m uptight. But I’m proud of the progress I’ve made thanks to my kids. I may not say “shut up” in the house, and I may insist that the boys put their napkins on their laps before meals. But I have accepted and laughed and possibly even participated in conversations about anuses, sphincters, poop, penises, burps, and butts.

As for the word fart, it’s gaining steam.





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