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Compartment 14B

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Musing on the results of other people's choices.

2008-01-28 - 1:34 p.m.

Last night at dinner my 17 year-old brother started talking about squeezing zits. His mother said that that wasn’t a great topic for dinner conversation. He persisted and mentioned that his girlfriend sometimes squeezes zits for him if she notices them, whereupon I said something like, “That is totally gross and not really something I want to hear about while I’m eating.” And my father made noises of agreement.

My brother got up and declared he was “done” and started to march out of the room muttering about how he was still hungry, so his mother called him back and wanted him to clarify how he could be done but still hungry. His response? “I’m still hungry but don’t want to stay here anymore.” The clear implication was that we’d so offended him with our objections that he didn’t feel he even wanted to sit with us. His mother made placating murmurs and shot a warning look to quell anything my father might have said, and my brother sat down again long enough to gobble up some more food then stalk off.

What would I have done if I was a parent of his?

It’s a hard question to answer, because I kind of hope my kid wouldn’t have brought up something gross during dinner with company. And if they had, I hope they’d have taken my admonition for what it was – a lesson in politeness – and dropped the subject. Ideally they would have even said a quick “sorry”. I also kind of hope they wouldn’t have evolved such a sense of self-importance that they would even think to threaten to deprive the dinner table of their presence if given a mild rebuke.

Had I been able to temporarily take possession of my father or stepmother though, I would have said, in a reasonable tone, something like, “You know, it’s important to have a sense of what’s appropriate to talk about at meals and what isn’t and that’s all we were trying to convey, but certainly you are free to leave the table if you want to… but first I’d like you to apologize for disrupting the meal.”

Of course, it’s easy to say this after the fact, when I can reflect and pick and choose my words. Perhaps in the heat of the moment I would have just waved a cheery, “See ya! Come back when you can say your sorry, otherwise, no snacks ‘til breakfast tomorrow.” And of course too, my brother being the way he is would probably have ignored me and stumped off without another word, unless it was to say something rude and possibly swear-like to me.

I wonder, did he learn anything from the episode? It seems to me that part of a parent’s job is to prepare your kid to function in society, and teaching basic things like manners is part of that. I don’t think it was rude to originally bring up the topic – he just didn’t know any better – and perhaps it was pushing a bit to persist after the first indication he’d mis-stepped. Really though, to threaten to remove himself, add the guilt trip on his mother about how circumstances were forcing him to starve himself, and imply that we were simply too offensive to abide any longer simply because we’d tried lightly to get him off a topic? Please!

I know I’ll make mistakes as a parent, but at least I can be reasonably sure that they will be different mistakes than to let my kid get away with this kind of stuff.

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