Manners. My child will learn manners.
It was a mantra I said to myself long before pregnancy, childbirth or actual children of my own entered my life.
But it was essential.
And so when wee Child A was born, the quest for manners began.
I did not crazy baby-proof my house, little boy learned that some things were not his to play with.
I did not let him commandeer conversations with hysterical toddler rants, he learned to wait his turn and know we would fully listen to him when his turn came.
Although he had dramatic sharing problems (only child syndrome) he was dutiful about taking turns.
When he told me he was hungry, he learned to wait while I fixed something.
Manners, manners, manners. Every scream or shriek or wail I endured while we worked out these rules would lead to good manners, I told myself.
There are those moments, the ones where our hearts clench and we want to storm into the fray and right injustices done to our children… the ones where we want to resort to parentally bullying a pack of six-year-olds so those most precious to us will be spared a hurt.
We do not. Or, if we are not crazy people, we do not.
And I did not see how my quest for manners would lead me to this moment over and over.
I watched time and time again while patient little boy waited politely behind a pack of swarming children all eager to get the Otter Pop or the rice-crispy treat or the goodie bag… and walk away with empty hands because by the time his “turn” came the treat was long since gone.
I watched him look around a pack of rambunctious children clearly lost as to how to work his way in through the tangle to reach the prize after a few of these experiences taught him that snoozing meant loosing, even though we’d taught him that what others called snoozing we called courtesy.
I saw him tentatively try to wiggle his way through a crowd of squished kids who were mostly larger than he because he was a year ahead in school, and give up time and time again because those “rules” didn’t make any sense to him.
I actually told him once or twice, “Just shove your way through, honey, it’s okay. There aren’t any actual lines you’re cutting.”
I wonder if starting his school experience in England helped reinforce this – the English are terribly polite about queues.
So mostly Child A went without in these scenarios. He came away from the snarl empty-handed and sad. And confused.
My heart broke for him over and over. Over the treat he didn’t get, or the toy from the bottom of the box that no one else took because it was broken.
I tell myself that he will be well served by his patience later.
He will wait out the relationship that is healthy for him.
He will understand the value of patience for rewards that are worthwhile.
He will know that the things people scramble for at first are more often small, flashy things than large, substantial things.
I hope this with a mother’s breast full of hope in that blind-wishful place where I know that what I tell myself is true may never really turn out to be so.
And my heart will have tiny scars for the rest of my life from each time I watched his excited expression melt slowly into disappointment over the consequence of his patient, polite nature.
Child A, Age 6