Teens and Table Manners
Photo of Renée courtesy of Phillip A. Lombardi
While observing my daughter Renée’s cotillion classes, I didn’t always agree with the instructor’s overly fussy standards. But I had encouraged my teen to attend: I wanted her to use this dry run to avoid the extreme awkwardness I had experienced during my first, second, and all subsequent school dances.
For me, the perfect illustration of cotillion’s goals and hurdles was unveiled the final day. The leader was encouraging her students to return next year, to tackle more advanced topics. At the end of a long list of skills, she added, “and learning to eat with your fingers” as a final sweetener. Imagining the disparity between this southern belle’s idea of daintily eating with one’s fingers and a teen’s blur of hands and elbows as she wolfs down pizza, I couldn’t suppress a loud guffaw.
Every once in a while, my daughter’s table manners border on the comical, and I’ll look at her as if this is the first time I’ve witnessed such bizarre behavior. I stare openmouthed in wonder. When she notices me, I smile, shake my head, and give a chuckle.
My 13-year-old can’t help but laugh. This isn’t bad: she hasn’t become defensive, she is acknowledging her faux pas, and — I pray — recognizing it as something she can control.
But I’m curious, “Do you eat like that in the cafeteria?”
Her reply is matter-of-fact, as if I’d asked a silly question, “Yeah.”
“Does it make your friends lose their appetites? Do they mind?”
Manners are all about — and exist only to guide — a person’s behavior in social situations. If this is indeed the teen status quo, I can only reply with an understated, “Wow.”
We meet my mother-in-law for breakfast on Sunday mornings. Preferring the occasional elbow in the side to a frontal view of her chomping, I sit beside my daughter. The adults are talking, and I notice Renée’s arms briefly paused somewhere between plate and mouth. Her fork is tilted in my direction and the knife held as if she’s about to reach across the table and impale her grandmother.
“Have we been researching Viking table manners on the internet again?” I ask.
But she doesn’t lose her stride. My daughter stabs her next piece of pancake — with her fork — she is, after all, a lady.
I can’t believe it, “That’ll never fit in your mouth.”
Taking this as a dare, she turns her head and smiles at me, opens her mouth — nearly dislocating her jaw — stuffs the pancake in, and provides that close-up of chewing I had hoped to avoid.
“I stand corrected.”
I try to look at the positive side of this, “When the time comes for you to date, I’ll recommend he take you to dinner.” That should keep her home Saturday nights.
Phillip A. Lombardi writes about the melting-pot family of his youth in Queens, New York, and his misadventures as a veteran parent of teens. On social media: facebook.com/IrritateParents, @PhillipALombard, and linkedin.com/in/phillipalombardi.