My brother took the brunt of strict parenting so six years later, when I was born, my parents were either too bushed or had become too sensible to summon the strength to be strict.
They had their limits, though. Dad enforced his restriction against guys hanging out in my room behind closed doors. He worded it slightly differently: No entertaining males in your bedroom. I bristled at being told what to do and my big protest, which he found hilarious, culminated in my taping to my door a stick-figure sketch of me doing the Can-Can.
Mom had her limits, too. If I dared to cross those invisible etiquette rules I inevitably heard her icy remark: Don’t Embarrass Me.
Those three words drove me to action by cajoling me to call a distant relative I didn’t see often or know very well to thank them for whatever gift they had sent. Her Don’t Embarrass Me threat also inspired me to write thank yous that rose above the rote. The one time I tried to get away with dashing off a quick, possibly impersonal note, she broke open the sealed envelope, deemed the card crappy and sent me back to my desk.
I had better things to do. Ride my bike, play handball, collect snails in the backyard. I recently remembered my disenchantment with obligatory note writing when I helped a friend’s daughter secure a job to help pay her college tuition. I’ve only met her once, but she impressed me as a serious student. I asked my friend if his kid got the job.
“She started last week. Didn’t she thank you?”
He proceeded to tell me that despite his and his wife’s best efforts to get her to be more gracious, the student was overly lax on thank yous. In fact, her aunt grew tired of it so along with her congratulations-on-getting-into-college card and check, she also included a blank thank you card, along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Hint, hint.
The next day I did get a lovely thank you for the help with the job….from the student’s mother.
Last week, another mom I know covered for her son when he failed to rsvp to a holiday lunch I hosted. When I mentioned that her son hadn’t rsvp’d, she apologized and said he couldn’t make it due to a conflict with his class schedule.
As much as I resented my mom’s Don’t Embarrass Me threat, I see that she did me a big favor. She trained me to be considerate when I would’ve much preferred to be naming my snails.
In the meantime, I’ve got to hand it to the kids. Even with Facebook, Twitter, Skype, texting and all the access to social media that allow them to communicate, they’ve still managed to train us moms to handle their etiquette duties for them.