Friday, July 11, 2014

How to manage situations if you are especially etiquette challenged

Etiquette has never been easy for me to understand and deliver, OR spell.  Oh, I get the full manners picture, but the sprinkling of etiquette that makes a situation completely acceptable , well there's no way around it for me- FAIL- nine times out of ten. This is not a statement of whine, or an on-my-knees-please forgive me Ms. Post.

 I think it is important to figure out our personal drawbacks and to try our best to overcome them, build them  up or in some cases even adapt. That adapt is about as good as it gets for me. There have been signs, indicators, and clues over my life that have all pointed to adapt as the way to go. Surrender to your truth and adapt.

Years ago, as a young mom, I tried to be in the know, and I thought I was prepared to be thrown  into situations I was unsure of. I figured somewhere out there along the bumpy road of my parental growth were  situations that I knew Emily Post, and then later, Martha Stewart could swim through with ease. I didn't want to appear ignorant or unknowing of how things need to go,  should be handled, sound or look. I want to be clear that I am not talking about perfection.I learned at an early age to redefine that concept. I'm talking about stripping away personal opinions, tastes, and persuasions. If you do that, you are left with a cereal bowl of social circumstances life gives us that are anything but cherries. And there are rules of etiquette that exist in all of that.

When my first born was in "real school" (kindergarten, yikes) she came down with a stomach bug and I kept her home. The next morning, I realized that, unlike the preschool days, where a quick call would suffice for explaining an absence, this was different, and I had no idea of how to handle a school absence. What were the rules about that?  No info in the parent packet, no info in the "your 5 year old" book. So I winged it.

When she returned to school, I sent her with 3 notes.

One said something like: Dear Mrs. Cook,
Monday night, at the dinner table, Emily began turning a pale shade of gray. Her eyes dulled and she began whining for no apparent reason. I'm sure you can understand my concern at this odd behavior. While still nursing the baby, I reached over the mashed potatoes, gave an extra helping to child #2, moved #3's juice cup 5 inches from the edge of the table  and then felt poor Emily's head with the back of my hand.

 I thought it felt slightly warmer than it should so I got out the thermometers and inserted them under her arm, in her mouth and,well, you know. . After two minutes, I removed all 3 and recorded the readings, then averaged them and found her mean temp to be 100.8. I was horrified. I  wasn't sure whether or not I should just take her to the ER, or call the Dr first. An angelic wave of end of the day exhaustion came over me, and I put the baby in her swing and took Emily's sweet face and held it in both of my hands. Then I felt her forehead with my cheek. I felt her neck and the top of her head and decided to postpone my panic for a few hours and I took her to bed and stroked her hair hoping she would fall asleep. Really, though, it was a team effort.
Her younger sister Liz told her bedtime stories as only a 4 year old can, and Rachel decided that jumping on the bed would be just the thing to lull her big sis to sleep and the baby fell asleep in the swing. I was proud of the team. Emily started trying to catch Rachel's feet as they pogo-jumped all around her, and Liz grew tired of story telling so switched from words to just saying "ZZZZZZzzzz and then zzzz and ZZZZ" and the baby slept in the swing. When the swing stopped, Rachel yelled SWING and my medic helpers and I hopped up to crank the swing again before baby Mary noticed it had stopped. When we came back into Em's room, she was at last asleep.

I worried all night. I tossed, I squirmed, I nursed the baby, I watched over Em, and I prayed with gratitude for being given the gift of these children.

When morning came around, Em was slightly better, she actively refused anything that looked like or sounded like it was called a thermometer, and she didn't look so peekid anymore, but better to err on the side of caution, so I  decided to keep her home . If this means she will be behind in learning to write  or sound out her letters, so be it. Sometimes, a mom has to do what a mom has to do and I can only hope you can understand.
emily's mom.

letter 2 :
Dear Mrs. Cook,

Emily has succumbed to some sort of illness that involves elevated temp and poor appetite. In an effort to keep her germs from infecting the other kids, I decided I should keep her home. if you need to discuss my reasons or the details of this malady, please contact me. Melanie, Emily's mom

Letter 3:
Em is feeling like crap so I kept her home

Mrs. Cook seemed to enjoy those notes, I found this out years later, when she was teaching another daughter. I found out that she enjoyed the variety and having a choice. I kept this up pretty well until # 4 came along and by then, absentee notes were sometimes written on the back of a hand as we got in the car to go to school. "chickenpox, better now- mary's mom"  Kindergarten teacher extraordinaire,Sue never criticized or graded my absentee notes.  and I have not yet discovered if the "right" way to write them exists.

I tried to pay attention as the kids grew up, to those instances when there was a right way to do something, a culturally southern right way, but my brain refused to latch on to much. and So I adapted through the years.

When friends had babies, instead of cute baby clothes, I usually took a jar of pecans and raisins to the hospital because at that time, the doctors would not release you until your intestinal system was in good working order. There were those who, like me, wanted to break out of the hospital asap, and they accepted the odd gift with question, but sometimes I'd  get appreciative words later when they were back into the comfort of their own home, own bed, own life away from nurses and blood pressure machines and intercom announcements.

I often times waited until the 10 day mark hit and would bring a comfort meal for the family, along with a bottle of wine, tea bags,(to sooth tender milking breasts), and a creamy dessert full of chocolate, fat and loads of calcium- it was called second to sex- but that has its own tale to tell.
I found that by 10 days, the rescue friends and family had left, everybody was tired and cranky, and the lovely newness of having a new baby had worn off.

 I remember one friend who had surprised Ripley's believe it or not by introducing the perfect child from her womb. The child never cried. ever. Not ever. She kept telling me to come see the magical babe.Then, one night, a couple of weeks after she was born, I got a call from my friend who was totally freaking out. I could hardly hear her for the background sounds coming from the other end of the phone. " Something is wrong. Terribly wrong!!! I don't know what to do!!! OMG What IS that she is doing?" I listened a minute, concentrating on the noise trying to drown out my friend's fright..... " Oh, Beverly!!! Congratulations on the new baby! She's crying! How wonderful for you! I'm thrilled!"
"Crying? Seriously? That's what this is? Oh, God. Now what do I do?"
I smiled. " Now you get to find out who she is and what she likes and wants. You get to learn her language and you get to start putting together your bag of tricks." I will never forget that call.
"Why are you laughing? " she sputtered. " Because now you're a mom and you're starting an adventure that will keep you wondering, searching, trying, and guessing for the rest of your life. It's wonderful!!! "

Funerals used to be a real challenge for me. I rarely found myself comfortable dressing up and joining in moral support,with other friends who cared about the bereaved family. I tended to step back, out of the way. I observed that everyone and their next door neighbor comes out of the woodwork around illness and especially the preparation for and aftermath of funerals. I think this kind of help is critical, vital to keeping the support and community strong. I just couldn't do it. So I watched and waited and started checking in a month later, or many times I'd send a card to go along with the other 4,000 cards received from well meaning and loving friends, only I stopped buying and sending sympathy cards, and started sending cards like, "Congrats on your new job!" or " Way to go!" " Hope you are up and about again soon."  Something kept me from stopping by the sympathy aisle. I knew it was not what Emily Post would want me to do, but I did it anyway. and i still do.Once, a pastor at my church lost her mom.
It was a long long battle of managing her mom's aging health issues from afar. Lots of trips to check on her to care for her care, years of daughterly love and attention. After her mom had died, I sent her a silly card that was completely unrelated to death, sickness or the like. I saw the pastor friend not long after that, and she thanked me for the card. She said it made her stop a minute in confusion. She wondered why I had sent such an off beat card. I told her I wondered if by that time, maybe she had gotten weary of I'm sorry for your loss cards. That is when she admitted she had laughed  at it. That comment took a little of the guilt away from my straying from the Post's policies on friends and funerals.

At work, I want everyone to feel special on their special day. Most people like to be recognized on their birthday. I do not. I vehemently do not so it is hard for me to remember sometimes, in the middle of chaos at work, that someone has a birthday and it needs to be remembered. I decided to plan ahead, so I got everyone a card and penciled the date on the outside and filed it in my work file in the month of their birth. When I went through my file in Jan, I was so happy to see i had a birthday card all at the ready for John. I passed the card around staff for happy thoughts and well wishes, only.... Somebody was away for a week, somebody was in and out and in and out and in and out, and basically, it took 3 days to get half of the staff signatures on it. I needed a better plan.

February arrives. I find a couple of cards for the giving. I passed them and being two, confusion set up so that one of the cards for Ben got signed "Best wishes!, from Ben" and I hit the bottom again. FAIL.

Next month, one card at a time. able to get a pinch of signatures. So I added under one of the signatures, "And everybody else, too!"

Today, I found a card for someone who is busy as nuts now and who will be gone on his special day. I signed, "Happy Birthday to you!, your friend, Melanie. P.S. The rest of this card is filled with well wishes from everyone else invisible ink." That is just sad. A sad plan. A failed plan. Oh, Emily. Oh, Martha. Forgive me. I'm trying to do the right thing. I have the thought in my heart, I just can't get it to fruition. I'm thinking of maybe just getting everybody's cards  to staff meeting one Monday and saying"Get ready to sign all of these cards now, Go!" I'd really like to have everyone write something they find interesting and unique about each of the others and then sending those thoughts out at the right times, but not sure exactly how to do that without adding more hours to my already crazy schedule.

Another part of this is looks. Looks count. That makes me a little sad in my heart because Idon't really care about looks. (ergo titles earned such as Messy Chef, and secretary wannabe, yarning projects being Melanized, none of these say LOOKS GOOD). I care about heart. I used to try so hard to wrap gifts for friends, but  I know I didn't have the right attitude going in, and I knew my presents just didn't fit in with the others. Isolation hurts, so I struggled with what to do until one day, when an opportunity came  for a gift that needed wrapping, 3 of my workmates heard the request come from my boss and all said, with tough love in their voices, "You are not allowed to wrap ever again." The end of that.

Last year at Christmas I started making gift pockets. I make envelopes, bags with ties, just pockets from fabric and it has worked beautifully. The bags get recycled, and the previous gifts that resided in them leave traces of memories from their turns. The conversation is interesting. I'm sticking with that and even at that, they aren't ironed or perfect. They are just  pockets for presents. It's the best I can do.

I'm not Emily or Martha. I'm just me.


mamie said...

I love you and your amazing way of bringing happiness to people. Including me when I read this

Connie said...

Well you said it ;) I've questioned my decision to send my child to school and I've questioned my decision to keep her home. I had to laugh at your notes and question -- did you save them or do you have a memory like a steal trap --- readers want to know.