May 24, 2006


On Mother's Day, I took both boys to a popular family restaurant. Taking both boys out is generally a major production with numerous admonitions and much preparatory discussion about proper restaurant behavior. (Not that it necessarily helps.)

The three of us made our way through the endless salad bar without incident and were shown to our booth when I noticed that I had forgotten silverware. Swimming upstream, I made my way back and waited for an opening in the line. As I reached for the forks, a women several feet down the line bellowed, "Excuse you!" Momentarily stung, I turned, but gathering my wits, I immediately demanded to see her Etiquette Vigilante credentials and when she could not produce them, I made a citizen's arrest on the spot for verbal assault and impersonating a civil human being. Of course not. I skulked back to my table and seethed.

You see, I am a very mannerly person. I say "please" and "thank-you." I say "bless you" when strangers sneeze. I let people with two items in front of me in the grocery line. I wasn't always as conscientious as I am now, but since I have children, I have to be.

With special needs children, I frequently ask for accommodations, rules to be bent or dispensed with, policies to be reconsidered. I run interference with irate parents. I have taken on a posse or two of enraged teenagers. There may be parents who storm and bellow and know their rights, but I don't know if they get their way. I do know that camp directors, recreation supervisors, and school administrators don't dodge my phone calls . . . yet. Menacing teens haven't done anything worse than roll their eyes at me.

"It must have been annoying to have some little kid butt in." "It would be so disruptive to have him stay backstage until intermission, may I pick him up early?" "I know I've passed the refund date, but the guitar class just isn't working out. You'll pro-rate and refund the rest! Gee, thanks."

I have also learned that despite my best efforts, there are adults in the world who just don't get it. Some of them are even teachers, counselors and doctors. Recently, a coach had Hart spend so much time sidelined on the bench that I realized she had no other idea how to deal with him. I approached the rec staff with a number of suggestions: "Could we come a little later and skip the warm-up?" "Could one of the coaches accompany him during the warm-up and free play?" "Is there a 'helper' job he could do during the unstructured time?" I went on and on while they listened raptly. At the end of my monologue, the supervisor asked, "Well, but do you have any ideas for us?" As the old song says, "You gotta know when to fold 'em." I guess I will take that refund after all.

Back at the table, I entertained malicious thoughts. "I'll key her car." "I'll find out her email address." "I'll kidnap her baby." But I had my revenge. On the way out, with both boys clutching my hands, we detoured past her table. With my most winning smile, I announced, "We just want to wish you a happy Mother's Day, too." Leaving her and her husband gaping, we swept out of the restaurant with what I imagine to be a dramatic exit.

In the car, I tried to debrief the boys. "That lady was mean to me in the line," I explained. "When someone is rude to you, what could you do?" "Hit her." "Grab her food." "Smash her car." So much for the "teachable moments" of parenting.

I told my friend Joan about this incident the next day. In addition to being smart and sensible, Joan is about six feet tall, with a look about her that indicates she probably doesn't suffer fools gladly. "This was an angry person," Joan said, "It had nothing to do with you." Joan was altogether too sensible about the whole thing. I wanted righteous anger, or at least indignation on my behalf. I told her about my retaliation ploy. She smiled, "Of course, she must have said thank you." Snort.

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