Yes, table manners.
I hear you – you think I shouldn’t worry about table manners that I perhaps have bigger fish to fry. But let me tell you, bad table manners is a pet peeve of mine that I just can’t let go. Somewhere in my mind I have attributed the presence of good table manners with a gold star on my ‘Mommy Chart’. I try to let it go, really, but the holidays bring it back in full force. Like my own personal race against time to get my kids to ‘brush up’ before anyone else is here to witness the horror.
My oldest son Gabriel is the worst. He actually has set the bar so low that it is hard for me to concentrate on how bad the table manners of my other two are. Gabriel knows our dinner rules; he can recite what the table manners are, in nauseating detail, answer a table manners quiz, and remind his brothers (and me) to mind our table manners should we falter, but, he cannot for the life of him follow them.
And it drives me to the point of madness.
Dinner rules are pretty simple at my house. I don’t feel like I am asking for too much.
Wear clothing at the table.
No feet on the table.
Use your utensils.
Keep your hands off your plate as best you can.
I don’t think those are too complicated for my sons. Nowhere does it say “You must eat what I am eating” or “You must stay in your seat”. I am trying to have realistic expectations. Even on Thanksgiving, the rules are the same. They can have chicken nuggets or peanut butter sandwiches, I’m easy. So long as they have a reasonable level of manners while doing so.
How exactly does Gabe challenge my OCD-like need for good manners? I’ll tell you. He eats at the speed of light, shoving his food into his mouth with his fork and hands in a sort of awkward partnership that is as unnatural as David Hasselhoff was on Dancing with the Stars – all with careless abandon and no points given for accuracy. The result is my child with food all over him. The floor. The table. His chair. His clothes. His hair. And whoever is seated next to him is covered in the overspray.
Yes, my 9 year old eats like a toddler.
I know this is a complex sensory issue. I even know how his senses each play a role in this eating-catastrophe:
Need to eat fast/always hungry (Introceoption)
Lack of awareness of where his mouth is (Proprioception/Vestibular)
In ability to feel food all over him (Tactile)
Seeking oral input (Taste)
I also know that eating is one of the few multisensory activities that requires coordination between all eight (8) senses. I understand his sensory issues make it harder for him to coordinate the incredibly complex motor planning and movements associated with eating.
My challenge is not an intellectual one. Not at all. It is an emotional one based on my own expectations of what dinner should be like. What my child should eat like. And to be completely frank, the social stigma of having a 9 year old that eats like a 2 year old. Especially in public. Or worse yet, in front of guests at Thanksgiving dinner.
For some reason Thanksgiving brings out the need for people (and me specifically) to try and recreate the Martha Stewart version of a perfect dinner. I try and cook the perfect turkey, bake the perfect pies, set the perfect table, make everyone’s favorite side dishes, have a perfectly clean house, and of course be showered, dressed and wearing pearls before serving the food. Not realistic.
Neither is my desire for Gabriel to have perfect table manners. Even on Thanksgiving. And you know what? That will be OK. Because Thanksgiving will be a perfect just the way it is. And so is Gabe.
So this year, when our family takes turns going around the table saying what we are thankful for, I am going to get choked up listing all of the things that come to mind from this last year, but one of them won’t be my son’s table manners. Which I think is perfectly OK.