A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker
Some things you just have to take care of yourself - you know what I mean?
Like last Saturday morning. My 12-year-old daughter, Elizabeth - dear, kind, compassionate Elizabeth - was sitting at the table, artistically painting frosting on a toaster pastry. Meanwhile, her friend who had spent the night, was sitting next to her, eating . . . nothing.
I could have reported the faux pax to my wife, who has generally handled instruction in the social graces. But she wasn't there. Besides, I figured I could take care of this myself.
You can already see the writing on the wall, can't you?
"Elizabeth Ann!" I said, invoking her middle name in the time-honored way that parents do, as if to say, "Sweetheart . . . Darling . . . Please pay careful attention to what I'm about to say next, because it is VERY important."
Or words to that effect.
"Elizabeth Ann, what are you doing?"
What is it that compels parents to ask children what they are doing when we already know the answer? It was clear that Elizabeth was enjoying decorating her toaster pastry. But suddenly, when I asked her what she was doing - middle name and all - she stopped having fun.
"I'm . . . uh . . . frosting . . . uh . . . getting ready to . . . uh . . . eat," she stammered.
"And what about your friend?" I asked. "What is she going to eat?"
Elizabeth looked at her friend and shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know," she said.
I shook my head, absolutely incredulous.
"Elizabeth Ann, you know better than that!" I said. "We don't eat in front of guests. That's rude! I can't believe you!"
Elizabeth blushed. Yes - she knew better. I turned my attention to her friend. "Please forgive my rude daughter," I said, feigning joviality while still hoping to communicate to Elizabeth this critical, life-altering message. "Would you like one of those toaster pastries too?"
"Yes," the little girl said quickly. "That'd be good."
"Elizabeth, please cook a pastry for your friend," I said, triumphantly.
"And next time, don't be so rude!"
One would have thought that was enough instruction on the subject for one day. But no - compulsive obsessive father that I am, I couldn't wait to pound away at this lesson a little more as soon as her friend was gone.
Think of it as the sledgehammer approaching to parenting.
"I don't get it, Elizabeth," I said. "How could you even bring yourself to eat in front of your friend without offering something to her?"
Elizabeth looked me square in the eyes - patiently, lovingly.
"But I did, Dad."
Uh-oh. I could sense another parental blooper about to erupt. Somebody call Dick Clark.
"Sure," she said. "I offered her a pastry. I offered her toast. I offered her juice - whatever she wanted. And she just shrugged her shoulders and said she didn't know. I figured it was OK for me to go ahead and fix something for myself while she was making up her mind."
Sounded pretty reasonable to me too, come to think of it. But there was just one thing: "Why didn't you tell me that when I was making such a big deal of it in front of your friend?"
"I didn't want to embarrass her," she said, gently. "And I didn't want to embarrass you."
Too late - already took care of that myself.
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--- © Joseph Walker
Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com.