Friday, December 21, 2012

They're Just Kids

There were six of them.  They were neatly dressed in first-time-this-season cold weather gear, or what passes for such when Tucson's temperatures dip to the 50's.  Each one held a prettily wrapped gift as she walked through the door and into Five Guys this afternoon.

Sitting at an outdoor table in the sun, waiting for TBG and Big Cuter to arrive from the airport, I smiled at those grown up Madelines, walking in one straight line, happy and healthy and .....

oh, no, they didn't do that.  They did not let that door slam in the face of the older woman who had been waiting patiently just inside the restaurant as they made their way past her.  They did not do that.  It's too nice a day for such bad manners.

Sigh.  The woman and her two female companions opened the door themselves and smiled at me and the girls as we all shook our heads.

"Obviously raised by wolves," I opined.

"Oh, no," said the leader of the pack, "they're just kids."

As they laughed and drove away, I felt even worse than I did before.

I don't think that the bar is set too high.  I think that High School students should have learned to hold the door for their elders, for little kids, for men carrying too many packages, for the disabled or the feeble or the limping.  I refuse to believe that it's too much to ask .  I absolutely refuse.

Please and Thank You and holding doors and waiting til the chef sits and picks up her fork before snarfing your dinner are not that difficult to instill if you start at the very beginning.  You model it yourself and you expect it of your toddler and by first grade it's part and parcel of who they are.

Why do I care?  Manners make the world go 'round, I used to tell the Cuters.  They take the edge off the inevitable inconveniences of living in society.  They are an attempt to connect on a human-to-human level in an increasingly uncivil world.  They reflect well on you and on your parents.  They demonstrate respect.

Giving those girls a pass is an abrogation of parental responsibility, a lovely phrase coined by someone in the Department of Justice as she was comforting me after the sentencing hearing.  I'd heard comments that I'd been too hard on the shooter's parents.  They were suffering, too.  Mental illness is intractable and tests even the hardiest of families.

True, true and true, I thought. What's also true is that they allowed an obviously disturbed young man to live in their house with a locked safe in his room.  Inside that safe was a written plan for the assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Under my roof, under my rules meant no locked doors (or safes, had it come up) when I was young, and when our kids were young.... and our kids were not mentally ill.  They were children and teenagers and my responsibility.

Didn't the parents of the Columbine shooters ever go into their garage?  Bombs were being constructed there.  How was it possible for them not to notice?

I understand the impulse to embrace anything that would connect a damaged child to the world around him.  I understand that it would be facile to say that the Connecticut shooter's mother should have refused to accept weaponry as an outlet for her son who, apparently, had little in his life which brought him joy.  But what about a gun safe?  What about renting a weapon at a shooting range?  Why not keep the bullets in the vault at the bank instead of accessible to a broken boy with a mental illness?

And why not say no when it came to purchasing a Bushmaster? What if he'd wanted a rocket launcher?

They're just kids just doesn't cut it.  It's hard to be a mean parent, not to be the cool parent, to make the rules and enforce the rules and stick to the rules. But if you do, you end up with kids who would never let the door slam in the face of anyone, let alone a woman old enough to be their grandmother.  If you do, you withstand the rage as you lock the automatic weapon in the gun safe, and admit that there is no ammunition in the house.

It's hard.  I wish you didn't have to go through it.  But there are 26 families in Newtown, just as there are 19 families here in Tucson, who wish you'd given a little bit more thought to the rest of us out here.  We're expecting you to set the bar high enough to keep us safe.


  1. I couldn't agree with you more.
    Both of my children are now grown and doing well, the oldest has two children of her own. But as teenagers they took issue with the fact that they had curfews, chores, high education expectations when it seemed like their friends did not. They used to tell my wife and I that we were the strictest parents in Holland, Michigan. We always took that as a compliment.

    It was never easy, I love my kids and wanted to spoil them...but I was raised to take responsibility for myself and my children so that is what I did, even when it would have been a lot easier to let them off the hook, we enforced the rules. Sure, we made mistakes but today both kids admit that they are glad we held them to a higher standard.

  2. I could not agree more either. Starting early and reinforcing it every day is necessary. My son (at about age 8) was invited for a sleepover and for dinner. I cautioned him to mind his manners, never believing for a minute that he would. The next day, the mom called me, bragging about my boy and asking me how I trained him so well. She said she had never seen better table manners from a child - especially a boy. I questioned whether she was actually speaking about my boy, but of course, I was very proud of him for showing that he could eat like a civilized person, and not a ravenous wolf (as he did at home.)

  3. Welcome back, Thormoo! You and Kenju and I could take our kids anywhere, couldn't we? Brag Brag Brag.... but not really. We just set the rules and stuck to them. It's not easy, but it's worth it.

  4. I'm all about manners and being kind to others. My daughters hold open the doors for others and they are extremely polite. When they were younger and in day care, one of my proudest moments as their mother came in the comment from the Assistant Director, "Your girls are the politest children I've ever seen". I was so thrilled to hear that. Some people look at holding doors open as a throw back to chivalry, but I consider it the right thing to do. I often see moms trying to hold the door open while trying to push a stroller through it and if I'm there, I always help. Helping out others and being polite costs nothing, but it's so valuable. :)

    I'm still not understanding how these other parents were so unengaged with their children. I go into my kids rooms all the time. I'm constantly going through their backpacks. They are not able to hide anything from me. ;)

    As they become teenagers, I will reinforce that even more. I will encourage them to think of others and I want them to be upfront and honest with me. Keeping communication open will defuse any issues that may arise.

    I'm angry that we have hover parents and then we have parents that are so uninvolved with their children. How the heck could you not notice your child building a bomb in your garage? Those parents were oblivious to what was going on around them or totally uninvolved in their child's life. So very sad.

    I do not let the "they are only kids" ever get by me. My children may just be kids, but they are treat others how they want to be treated. Being a child is no excuse for poor manners.

    Have a wonderful weekend, AB.

    Megan xxx

  5. Amen, sister! I am always saying that someone was "raised by wolves."

  6. For 19 years I taught the kids raised by wolves. I taught 10th graders for 19 of my 21 years at the inner city high school, and it was like boot camp. I got the kids who were like all the rest of the students: rough, unruly, rude. I fought hard for one year with them and turned that around. They became disciplined, polite, and caring. It took an immense amount of work that also took its toll on my health, and I sometimes thought I should just say, "forget about it," but then I got them back in their senior year, and they were the best students in the school. The cared about each other and wanted to give back to the community. They were polite. They dressed well. The other faculty members often said I got the best students. I had to remind them that I got what everyone else got, I just worked hard to make my 40 or so kids into the very best. We can all do it, but it's hard work to undo what the wolves have done.


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