Joco Diversions

Emily Parnell — When the child’s away, who knows if he’ll stray?

Updated: 2013-07-16T19:35:58Z

By EMILY PARNELL

Special to The Star

Sending kids out into the world can be a nerve-racking experience for a mom. Will they need me? Will they make friends? Will they get thirsty?

With two elementary-aged children, I’ve learned that the answer to these questions — usually — is, “They’ll be fine.” Both my kids are old enough that they no longer communicate their needs through cryptic quirks and subtle cues. They’re capable of requesting to use the restroom.

But there’s one question that still plagues me each time I send them into the world: “Will they behave?”

For the most part, I know they will. But sometimes I have to wonder just exactly went on when I can’t watch them. We coach the kids on how to act with others, but when you’re not there, it’s hard to know what, exactly, transpires.

I’ll pick my kids up from a play date and ask the parents how it went. “Fine!” they say. I examine their faces. Is that a smile or a grimace? Did the “fine” contain a hint of desperation? You can never really tell.

My son, Cooper, recently was put to the test. He has a friend who is the epitome of politeness. Every time he comes over, my husband and I are amazed at his impeccable manners. The boy’s mother called me and offered to pick Cooper up from an activity the boys were attending together, and take him home for an overnight play date.

As I hung up, I realized I wouldn’t see Cooper until the next day — after the play date. This made me sad, of course I’d miss him, but it also made me nervous. There’d be no last-minute cram session for me to remind him to stay on top of his game, say please and thank you, ask to be excused, play nicely, take turns, do as asked, and act like a perfectly civilized young monkey. They would get the raw, unedited, tired-from-being-out-all-day, uncoached Cooper. And he would be compared and contrasted to his incredibly well-behaved friend.

The next morning, I received a text. “Coop is a very mannerable young man. He can stay anytime. I told my boy he needs to take lessons from Coop.” He was even asked back for a second evening of fun.

Can I tell you how proud I was? I wasn’t shocked that he behaved, it’s not the first time he’s received a glowing report. He knows what he’s supposed to do — after all, I’ve taught him myself. But to know that he made the right choices — to know that he decided it was important to make a good impression without even being reminded to do it — that is what a mom can only hope for.

I guess that’s one thing I can consider accomplished. Then again, it may be premature to consider him graduated from etiquette training. Reminders for good behavior are almost always in order — it’s one of those life skills you want to build and practice. I’ll keep worrying about this one. It’s a mother’s job.

Freelancer Emily Parnell writes weekly for Diversions.

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