Manners…Or A Lack Thereof

I’ve let my blog sit idle for a while now, but today is the day I break my fast.

(Does that make this post breakfast?  If so, I wonder how to follow it up.  Will my next post be lunch?  Or maybe brunch?)

Any who, I feel I just have to comment on something that I see going on in my little neck of the woods.  It’s becoming more and more evident to me that some people these days simply have no awareness of the other people around them. Nowhere is this more evident than in the carpool lanes of the elementary and middle school where my children attend.

Before I begin to describe what I have encountered in these carpool lanes (or “circles of hell,” as I like to call them) let me just say that prior to having children, my husband and I spent nine years becoming the resident experts on how to raise the perfect kids.  Of course, a small dose of reality in 2001 destroyed our expertise (nothing like having a baby to put you in your place), but nonetheless, one thing we observed has remained true: the next generation that is being raised has largely not been instructed in the art of “otherness” – which is what manners are, at their heart.

[Quick disclaimer: if you know my kids, you know this is the pot calling the kettle black.  I am aware of the irony of the mother of possibly the most selfish kids alive writing a post on manners; however, it’s not the kids I’m condemning; it’s their parents.  So stick with me.]

Having given birth to 3 very self-absorbed kids has taught me how difficult it is to train children to put others first.  It’s hard enough to train them to eat with utensils (how many times do I have to say “Spaghetti-O’s are NOT finger food!” to my 8-year-old?), but putting others first?  That’s darn near impossible.  We certainly haven’t figured it out.

But here’s the thing – what hope is there for children to learn this if their parents have never learned – or at least, refuse to put into practice, these basic principles we in the South like to call “manners”.

Before you crucify me for being old-fashioned, and before you plant a picture in your head of someone with a frilly long dress and matching umbrella worrying about which color of gloves are appropriate for an afternoon tea, let me explain.  See, manners are so much more than just chewing with your mouth closed and addressing an elder with respect.  Putting your napkin in your lap and looking someone in the eye when you speak to them – these are all manners too – but at the heart of all of these is this idea of simple “otherness”.  Deference to another human being.  Awareness that you are not the center of the universe.  THIS is the general attitude I fear is going the way of the Dodo in our society.

(Of course, it’s not extinct yet, as evidenced by the young men – all Aggies – who recently delivered our firewood.  They were incredibly polite, even writing “Yes, Ma’am” in their text messages to me!  They understand something so few people seem to get, and that is the importance of treating others at least as well as you would like to be treated.)

So, now that I’ve built it up, you’ve got to be wondering what in the world caused this rant?!!  It was small – just a few things that happened the same morning while I was trying to get my children to school.  The first was at the elementary school.  One car was showing patience and allowing another car to turn in front of them, despite the fact that the first car had the right-of-way.  It’s a common turn-in to the drop-off lane, one which we all maneuver through once or twice a day.  First car – the one that was being polite and taking turns – had stopped and was waving the other car through – when the SUV behind her got mad and went around her, cutting off BOTH cars – the one being polite and the one she was waving through.  It was just so…arrogant.  Such an ugly display of selfishness.  We were ALL waiting our turn, we were all playing nice – until that one person decided that for some reason, they mattered more (or more likely, their KID mattered more) than the rest of us waiting patiently in line.

Now, I understand that sometimes, there are emergencies.  Maybe she had just spilled coffee on herself and needed to hurry home.  I can forgive those unusual moments of someone’s rudeness.  But then I drove to the other school – the middle school – to drop off my older son.  Because there are no teachers outside to direct traffic and help open car doors, it is way worse at the middle school.  In fact, it’s been so bad that people have taken video of cars cutting each other off or running stop signs and sending them to the front office, who then distributed them to all the parents to see the latest “cars behaving badly” video.  I only wish it made a difference but it hasn’t.  Instead, on a daily and bi-daily basis, I see parents pull up directly in front of the school – right in the middle of the cross walk, where there are cones preventing anyone from going around you – and then proceed to park their car and talk to their child before letting them out of the car.  Never mind that there is a line of approximately 237 cars behind you.  Never mind that you have chosen not to pull up enough so that the rest of us, whose children have long since exited our car, could pull around you.  Never mind that the staff at the school has over and over again asked parents to pull up past the front of the school before letting their children out.  Never mind all that – you have important matters to discuss with your child.  To heck with all of us, you need to hand her a dollar for her lunch.  Don’t worry that all those people who can’t even turn into the school yet are trying to get to work and can’t even get close enough to the school to let their children out.  You go right ahead and take all the time you want.  JUST AT LEAST PULL UP FAR ENOUGH SO THE REST OF US CAN GO AROUND YOU!!!!

It’s just beguiling that the parents – the ones who should be setting the example – are the ones behaving badly.  What hope is there for our children if we don’t have the decency to at least give a thought to the other people who must live in society with us?  What will our world be like in one or two generations if we continue this pattern?  What kind of world will we be living in, once common decency has deteriorated and gone?  Can you just imagine what our kids will be like if we don’t stop being the center of our own universes and start paying attention to those around us?

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Of course, according to Samuel, this could all be avoided if we had an RV.  He’s been advocating for us to buy one, even putting it at the top of his Christmas and birthday list.  Because, if we had an RV, the kids could eat breakfast during the 5 minute drive to school instead of having to sit down at the kitchen table in the mornings.  And since I would be basically driving a bus, I could pull into the bus lane and let them out, avoiding all the other traffic.

Leave it to Samuel to find the perfect solution.

Bah, Humbug?

I have started writing this post 2 3 4  multiple times now, and each time, I have deleted everything I wrote before and started over – and not, as you may suppose, because what I had written previously was so bad! No, I keep starting over because each time, my mood swings and whatever I wrote before no longer reflects how I’m feeling about Christmas this year.

So I guess how I’m feeling is ambivalent. Wouldn’t that make a lovely Christmas carol? “We wish you an ambivalent Christmas…and a so-so New Year!”

But I think ambivalent is probably a more realistic perspective than it’s all good or it’s all bad. Not that many people do, in fact, walk around saying “Bah, humbug!” but from talking to some people and hearing about how terrible their life is, they might as well say it.  The truth is that this whole Holiday Season is made up of a whole bunch of normal, everyday kind of days, and mixed in with the good is the bad, whether we like to admit it or not.

So as I try to arrive at something close to a point, let me just say that yesterday was a bad day. The lights on the tree won’t all light up – and so after expending a whole lot of energy trying to figure out why, I’ve finally given up and have resigned myself to stringing an entirely new set of lights on the tree.  But this time I’ve gotten smarter! I’m using the indoor/outdoor kind with BIG BULBS! That way, it takes fewer lights to illuminate the tree!

I considered just buying a whole new tree.  Until I saw this at Target.  Even worse is that the tree was really ugly.  I looked at Hobby Lobby, just to give it a fair shot, and learned that they have really pretty floor models, all of which say “Price Reduced!” then in small print “Sold out. Floor model not for sale.”.  Thanks for getting my hopes up, then dashing them.

Another reason yesterday was bad was because I haven’t finished my Christmas cards yet.  Because (THANK YOU U.S. POSTAL SERVICE) I’m having to go through and write on every envelope “Please note the new zip!”. Yes, our zip code has changed but we haven’t moved and our address is identical in every other way. Some idiot just decided there were too many people living in our zip code and changed the last digit. From a 4 to a 3.  Yeah, that’s not going to be hard for people to remember.

How can you have too many people living in one zip code? I mean, does it put too big a load onto one particular mail sorter machine? Couldn’t they have simply updated the machine, rather than put all of us through the excruciating pain of changing our ZIP CODE with every single company that needs our address? And to top it off, our zip is so new, it doesn’t even show up half the time!!! So when I order online, it’s always a shot in the dark – do I use my old zip, or do I chance it and use my new one??? And lest you think it doesn’t matter, I have actually lost entire orders because A) That particular system didn’t recognize my new zip or B) My entered zip didn’t match the zip on my credit card. It’s a lose-lose situation, if ever there was one.

Here is what my kitchen island looks currently.  Have I mentioned that I am hand addressing my cards this year???  I’ve never done that before, I don’t think.  But because my computer had the virus, I couldn’t print labels.  Then, after every one was hand addressed, I was informed by my husband that we did not receive the usual address labels from State Farm this year.  So I had to go back and write in the return address.  That’s when I remembered that we have a new zip code.  And I think I’ve pretty well covered how I feel about that.

Add to that children who have decided they hate each other and a dog who should be nicknamed “Cujo” and you get the picture – yesterday was not good.

However, now that it’s over, I have to laugh a little about some of what happened. For instance, Matthew and Samuel have this ongoing battle about how Matthew spells Samuel’s name. Here is one of the joys of living with Matthew – he thinks Samuel should be spelled Samule. And it drives Samuel CRAZY. No matter how I try to stop Matthew from saying it and Samuel from asking, they just keep going at it.

So yesterday, at the dinner table, Samuel asked Matthew how to spell “Samuel” and Matthew responded in the usual manner so I told them not to speak to each other anymore. In return, Samuel turned to Peter and asked him how to spell his name. Peter answered “s-t-u-p-i-d”.

Yeah. He’s not a preteen or anything.

By the end of dinner, everyone had lost every privilege except bathing and going straight to bed.

However, this morning is decidedly brighter. The kids are at school for one last day before their 2 week break, and since today is a party day at school, they all woke up without alarm clocks and were ready to go 15 minutes early!!!!

Add to that the wonderful cold weather, the stack of firewood outside, a dog I can finally walk since the rain has stopped and you have the makings of a lovely day! My Christmas cards are almost ready to mail, my shopping is pretty much done, and – best of all – today I get to finally unload all these teacher gifts and not think about them again until next December!

So it’s not all bad! Who knows, maybe I’ll even turn on some Christmas music! Maybe I can find a song about having a mediocre Christmas.

Here’s wishing you and yours a very blah Christmas and an abnormally normal New Year!

Now, my Christmas gift to you – more pictures of my completely average children!


Picked Peter up from 5th grade camp and he was all smiles – despite falling into the lake right before they got on the bus!  (Falling in the lake actually made his story THE most popular story from camp.  I’ve heard it retold multiple times.)

Tuesday night, Samule Samuel and I went to his gingerbread house pajama party at school.  We had basketball practice starting right after, so we had to rush through making our house.

Of course, Samule cared not one iota about the house and just kept eating candy.

That is, he didn’t care about his house until I we finished making it.  Then he looked around and started complaining about how boring ours was compared to the ones with 2-3 stories.  I almost said – but bit my tongue – “Kid, you’re lucky you even got to come tonight.  Look around – the ones with the really cool houses have TWO parents here building their house!  You’ve got ME and we’re in a hurry!”

Next up – practice – where Samule Samuel showed off his MAD SKILLZ…at doing the splits.

The next morning, the roof had caved in on the GB house so I fed it to him for breakfast.  I figured it was payback for the teachers who fed him all that candy then sent him home with us.

I almost bought this for my dog.  Until I remembered our dog would EAT IT FOR BREAKFAST on Christmas morning.  Mmmmmm…tasty!

I had never actually seen a pair of these, but have read about them on various blogs.  And I have to agree…if you’re too tired to change out of your pajamas into ACTUAL jeans, then you should just stay in bed.  But you’ve gotta love the blurb “Pajamas you live in.  Jeans you sleep in.”.  Notice it’s actually TRADEMARKED.  Because good heavens – you would never want anyone to steal THAT gem of marketing verbiage!!!