Skip to content

Dining With Squirrels Who Talk With Their Mouths Full and Eat With Their Fingers

We had my friend Melissa’s daughter stay with us for a few days last month.  Her table manners were delightful.  I mean, truly, full-on, sitting-up-straight, elbows-off the table, holding-your-fork-like-a-utensil-not-a-weapon delightful.  And I’m sure she didn’t mean to, but she made Ben look bad.  Or so I concluded.

I was deeply disturbed by the comparison.  So in the spunky manner of an elementary school teacher [love ya’, Sis!], I decided to launch the Manners Challenge.


The Challenge involves an evening meal imperative, such as “use your napkin properly,”  ” eat with a fork, not your fingers,” or “chew with your mouth closed and speak with your mouth empty.”  I created a chart on which each family member would track their progress by colored sticker-dot.  And, in a stroke of genius, I offered up a meal at a restaurant once we’d all achieved 20 meals of Mannerly Perfection.  Good manners AND I don’t have to cook dinner.  Crafty.

Well, what an eye-opener.  My manners SUCK!  I do believe I’ve been talking with my mouth full forever.  The first meal I spent trying to not eat/talk, I hardly said a word.  I was too busy chewing.  Now I know why the French are famous for long, leisurely meals.  No one talks with their mouth full and so it takes 4 hours to eat dinner!  This is particularly humiliating because, as I mentioned earlier, I thought the problem was Ben’s.  Nope.  It’s mine too.  I am especially chagrined because my mother, for those of you who haven’t met her, has impeccable manners.  Truly top-notch.  Emily Post-style.   And she endeavored, over many thousands of well-balanced and visually-pleasing meals, to pass this on to me and Andrew.  And I thought I’d gotten it.  But I can see now that Attention Must Be Paid.

We’re doing okay.   So far, Karl and I each have 15 dots on the chart, Ben and Lucy each have 12.  Lucy has mastered the use of the napkin and Ben has almost conquered fork vs. finger.  One night we attached a fork to his hand with duct tape and the kids really got a kick out of that.  We’re all still trying to chew with lips together and speak with empty mouths.  We’ve agreed that covering your food-stuffed mouth with your hand while speaking is just a cheat.  Mealtime can be a real drag what with all the reminding and nagging and harassing and being busted by vigilant and vengeful children. But so can the sight of your kids slumped on the table, fingering food into their mouths while talking, napkins floating aimlessly about their feet.  Or worse, the look of despair in your mother’s face across the Thanksgiving table.


  1. Dad/Grandpa wrote:

    Please pick me up off the floor. I think this is what a first-rate humorist does.

    When Eric and Melissa were here with Mia and Nat, they had a “Dinner Police” thing going, in which each kid kept a watchful eye on the other for rules infractions.

    Sunday, April 26, 2009 at 2:05 pm | Permalink
  2. Nicole wrote:

    I have an even better incentive, one that is in no way self serving; how about dinner in NYC once you all achieve 100 dots. Then you can come here and impart all your knowledge. Hey, a girl can dream 🙂

    Sunday, April 26, 2009 at 4:46 pm | Permalink
  3. Natalie wrote:

    I have my suspicions that I wouldn’t pass the food and talking test, either — tucked away to the side so you can’t see it, but food in mouth while words come out nonetheless. Hilarious! Keep at it.

    Monday, April 27, 2009 at 5:24 am | Permalink
  4. I will be only cosuming latte’s at your house for the forseeable future.

    How like you to make it fun and not punitive!

    Monday, April 27, 2009 at 6:06 am | Permalink
  5. Debbi wrote:

    I agree totally! However, in my defense most of the mouth-full talking is to correct the other unacceptable dinner behaviors that are far worse than speaking with food in the mouth!

    Monday, April 27, 2009 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *