Friday, September 21, 2012

Table Manners, By Jane Danner Sustar

       Otto has a cat. He told us about it at lunch today. “It used to belong to a neighbor but the neighbor does not want him anymore so now the cat belongs to our house. He is our cat because we feed him any way and he has blue stripes and his name is Lucky and we found a rabbit in the corner of the garden but it really stunk so maybe Lucky killed it but it’s head was missing but not the brains the brains were spread all over the grass but it did not have a head anymore, just the brains. It was really gross!” I let the story go on a little too long. I always do. My mouth was probably hanging open. I remember thinking during the brains bit, “Thank goodness I don’t eat gluten!” Today is noodle day.  Rice looks a little less like brains than noodles. During Otto’s monologue Orion kept on chiming in; “My cat!” and then “Our cat”, “But my cat”.  Otto was not going to let him get a word in edgewise but it was a good way for me to cut off the more graphic description of the brains; “Otto, Orion would like to tell us about his cat.” (Please, please, please! No more stories about cat kill!) Orion dropped his eyes and said softly, “We don’t have a cat*.” I heaved a sigh of relief. No cat=no cat kill. I am not always so lucky. I am still struggling with how to direct the fine art of table conversation when I am too shocked to speak.
      We are pretty good at saying, “please” and “thank you”. We are working on waiting to be served. Some children still grab the food the minute we sit down and I have to remind them that we wait to be served. Today Eli caught Miss Jane sneaking a chocolate chip out of the granola bowl! Example still speaks louder than words, I guess. Orion wanted to know why I was impolite. I had to explain how even I need to wait to be served and when I grab things out of the bowl it is impolite. Ah! The bitter taste of humble pie.
     Natalie is a firm believer in napkins. She likes her hands clean and is the first to get a napkin if someone spills. She loves to help and would spend her meals running back and forth to the napkin basket if I did not occasionally make her sit down and actually eat something. She helps us all stay presentable at the table.
We are the fastest table at Lifeways so very often we are waiting for the other tables to gather themselves for lunch. Leo likes to teach us songs he knows. Sometimes they are songs he has learned and reworded. Sometimes they are appropriate for the table and sometimes they are not. I always have to encourage him to speak up so that the whole table can hear. I have to encourage Otto to speak more softly so that the whole room doesn’t hear.
     Gus likes to finish with eating quickly and get on to more interesting things. I think he and Liviah would forego sitting down for a meal completely. It has been challenging for them to sit through a meal but I think they have started to enjoy it. Erica has the greatest expressions. Her face the first time she realized that she would have to hold hands with an almost complete stranger was beautiful! She did it! Especially when she saw Natalie and Isabel practically lying flat across the table to “close the circle”! It is all about including everyone and making a circle of hands is such an amazing thing, even the children recognize the importance of it.
     The lunch table is a small snap shot of what the children learn throughout the whole day. It is so important to learn the simple tricks of how to get along, how to respect each other’s spaces and ears. How to share a conversation, how to have a conversation! It is hard work! Even I forget the basics sometimes.
My partner, Mark, came home last week citing a study he had heard about on NPR. A professor had given four year olds a cookie. He told them they could eat the cookie whenever they wanted but if they waited to eat the cookie for ten minutes, he would give them a second cookie. It was part of a larger study which then tracked the children into adulthood. The children who waited for the second cookie had a much greater success rate in their entire lives than those who ate the cookie immediately. I. of course, thought of our little guys waiting patiently to be served. It is comforting to think that not only are they learning good social skills. It makes sense that they learning basic skills that can help them throughout their entire lives.   

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