Saturday, March 23, 2013

Lovely is as Lovely Does

It’s a relatively common occurrence for a stranger to approach me in a store, or a restaurant, or a playground, or at church, and tell me, “Your children are just lovely.” I always accepted it as a sweet commentary on their looks, as my children are – in my entirely biased opinion – quite good-looking.
But yesterday I was in Costco with both kids, and when my son got a sample of some treat or another, he immediately told the lady giving out the samples, “Thank you.” She seemed quite surprised and told him, “You’re welcome!” then said to me, “Wow. Most of the adults don’t even say thank you.” And it occurred to me that what is unusual and striking about my children is not so much their looks, but their behavior and their manners.
Now, I’m not quite egotistical enough to assume that my parenting skills alone are what make my children unusually pleasant to be around. They're just naturally very good-natured, happy children. But I am egotistical enough to believe that without my making an effort to teach them politeness and proper social behavior, even my sweet-tempered children would not behave as well as they do. Without guidance, my son would probably say hello to other people, because he’s social and he likes people. But he certainly wouldn’t know to offer someone his hand and say, “Hi, I’m Ryan. Nice to meet you!” Nor would he know to say, “Excuse me,” and then wait to be spoken to rather than interrupting a conversation. He certainly couldn’t know to say “please” and “thank you” without being taught. And my daughter wouldn’t know that throwing herself on the ground and screaming when she doesn’t get her way is not proper public behavior. (Or private, for that matter.) Nor would either of them instinctively share toys or take turns at games with other children. But my husband and I have made a very deliberate effort to teach our children to be pleasant and polite. We’ve taught them how to behave in church, how to behave in a theater, and how to behave in a restaurant. Are they perfectly behaved in all of these venues? Of course not. But they know what they’re aiming for, and they know there will be trouble if they don’t make the effort to be polite and use their manners.
So the next time someone comes up to me and tells me how lovely my children are, I’ll think, “Lovely is as lovely does.” And I’ll say, “Thank you.” Because my Mama taught me how to be polite.

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