From the Founder: Of Mothers and Tips for Training Kids
So it’s May, and time for mothers to take a bow, as well they should. One of their prime duties, of course, is bringing up their children right. Which means teaching them how to become civilized human beings.
My mother relied heavily on a book called GOOPS & How to Be Them—A Manual of Manners for Polite Infants by Gelett Burgess. Never mind that it was first published in 1900. A page on table manners starts out: “The Goops they lick their fingers,/And the Goops they lick their knives;/They spill their broth on the tablecloth./Oh, they lead disgusting lives!” And the page on helpfulness begins: “I never knew a Goop to help his mother,/I never knew a Goop to help his dad,/And they never do a thing for one another;/They are actually, absolutely bad!” Boy, you didn’t want to be a Goop!
To be tidy: She gathered up the clothes left strewn all over my bedroom, waited until I was walking out the front door of our apartment building on a first date with a high school heartthrob and threw them out the second story window onto our heads.
To look our best: While her father waited in the car, a tall willowy classmate came inside to collect me for a school dance. Mother took one look at her drab attire that did nothing for her flat chest and said: “Missy, we’re going to fix you up.” Then proceeded to take her back to the master bedroom, stuff silk stockings into her bra, throw a cashmere cape around her shoulders and send us on our way.
To be generous: I awoke one morning in junior high to find my mother quietly nudging the cleaning woman’s little girl into my bedroom saying: “Help yourself to those stuffed animals. Donna doesn’t need them anymore.” Here was the woman who, if someone admired her earrings, would take them off on the spot and hand them over. I learned it was best to off-load my own stuff before she did it for me.
To be obedient: Later, as a mother myself, I had to develop my own training techniques. For instance, I’ve always had a Surprise Closet filled with gifts I have purchased for friends and relations. Nobody, absolutely nobody, is allowed in there. But one afternoon curiosity got the better of our five-year-old daughter, and I found her sitting on the floor in front of the closet playing with a doll meant for her birthday. So we neatly repackaged the doll, got in the car, drove over to the Goodwill box behind the Cos Cob Food Mart and deposited it inside. As luck would have it, the Goodwill truck arrived in the parking lot just as we were leaving and I could say to the driver, “Do you have a little girl at home?” Yes, indeed he did. “Well, there’s a brand new doll in there right on top and we’d like her to have it.” So Audrey learned to play by the rules, but she still can’t stand surprises. She just has to know.
And tales from other mothers bear repeating.
To clean up the kitchen: Ali Nichols’s mother used to collect the dirty dishes Ali had left in the sink and put them in her bed.
To clean up ourselves: A six-year-old son of Libby Flinn Tracy refused to take his bath one night. So taking a page out of Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, Libby said: “OK. Why don’t we just tape some seeds onto your arms and by next week we should have a beautiful crop of tomatoes and bean bushes.” This they did, until the tape got so disgusting that the little boy decided it was time for a bath.
To hold the door open for people: A few decades later Libby was teaching two young grandsons to always look behind them when going through a door to make sure it didn’t hit somebody back there. But when she and the boys walked into FAO Schwarz in New York, the kids caught sight of the first display of toys and got so excited they forgot to look back, and the door slammed right on Donald Trump.
To stand for grown-ups: Cristin Marandino’s mother trained her four children so well to stand up when an adult entered the room that when the family went out to dinner at the Westchester Country Club and the waitress came over to the table, they all stood up.
To pay attention: At age twelve, an English friend of mine boarded a train at Waterloo with her family for their annual ski vacation. One evening in the dining car, her father asked her repeatedly to pay attention to what was happening at their table. Finally he got up, approached an adjacent table and said: “Excuse me, but may my daughter join you? She is much more interested in the conversation at your table than at ours!”
Some lessons are hard to forget.