The other night we went to dinner at our next-door neighbors (I know, we’re sharing a lot of meals lately). These are new neighbors, as we all are in this fresh little corner of suburbiaville. Other neighbors, from across the street, were their.
We know the next-door folks a little — they’re both physical therapists and she’s also a pilot (she doesn’t practice her professions concurrently). They don’t have kids. Which is why they have very, very nice, brand-new furniture.
We’re sitting around their living room, on their comfortable, immaculate leather sofas, engaged in adult conversation and I look over at Trish and Ella — Trish is trying to contain Ella, who is trying to jump up and down, but she’s at least taken her shoes off … they’re resting on one of the niiiiicccce cushions.
I scowl. “Put the shoes on the floor,” I say.
Ella starts playing with a small pillow, squeezing it between her legs and sweeping it across the floor, as Trish holds her up by her hands.
I toss them another glare.
Trish grew up with four siblings. It was every child for itself. Etiquette was not drilled into her. It’s nothing for her to PUT HER ELBOWS ON THE TABLE. Or, worse, TALK WITH FOOD IN HER MOUTH.
I grew up in two worlds — my mother’s, which was, literally, a farm house; and my dad and step-mother’s, the museum of everything Southern and civilized.
The museum piece is more heavily weighted. But I’m trying to shake some of the starched manners, and I still have a little of my mom’s farmhouse in me, too. The world’s aren’t exactly balanced, and this places me in a quandary every now and then.
During dinner, hardly any attention is focused on our child. This is a recipe for a toddler-scale catastrophe — think of Lindsey, Paris or Brittany as toddlers (that’s really not a stretch, is it?) — because the world revolves around 2-year-olds. Ella is the axis of the universe, because her id hasn’t developed, or something like that.
Ella climbs down out of her chair and starts crawling around on the floor, under the table.
I glance at Trish. She couldn’t care less.
What do I do? Do I interrupt my neighbor, whom I’m trying to get to know, and apologetically retrieve my daughter? That would be rude. And if I do, then what? Do I really expect her to sit still and listen to boring conversation without throwing a spoon into the shiny new china cabinet’s glass door?
I think about it a few seconds. She’s quiet. She’s not hacking away at the table legs with a knife. She’s not, as far as I know, untying anyone’s shoes or pulling their toe hairs. Nobody else really seems to care.
So I leave her alone.
Which is huge for me. Huge.
Maybe someone’s going to think my kid’s a brat. Maybe someone’s going to think that we’re so apathetic about our daughter’s well-being as to ignore an opportunity for reprimand.
You know what? So.
The evening wore on, Ella got to eat ice cream, nothing was broken or permanently stained (I hope). When we left, Ella waved goodbye and tossed out her falsetto “byyyyyyeee,” and I heard the cross-the-street people say, “she’s sooo sweet.”