“Sit up straight.
“Napkin goes where?
“Is this really appropriate conversation for the dinner table?”
My daughter can be a real drag.
Being in a restaurant with her reminds me a little of dinners with my great aunt, Mildred. She was a proud, delicate woman who, from the perspective of this former youngster, seemed happiest when she was swooping down over the children’s table at formal family gatherings and offering clear instructions on how not to hold one’s fork.
“Do you find that your friends often call you Emily Post when your back is turned?”
“Har-de-har-har,” she replied with a more modern vernacular that I refuse to quote verbatim. But then with a tiny, almost imperceptible sneer, she corrects my pronunciation: “‘OFF-ten’ ... You enunciate the T in often.”
Two generations later, it seems, the reception of criticism has made not an inch of progress.
“No, you don’t,” I shoot back with dubious gamesmanship. “The T is silent. You don’t pronounce the T in soften, do you?”
This ongoing argument will trail off into hiatus for the evening as soon as our server appears with drinks, and asks us if we’ve made our decisions or if we need more time with the menus.
We are never ready, but we order the “usual” by their proper menu titles as if “the same thing we always get” is now a seasonal delicacy.
My husband likes this restaurant. It has good food, and it puts up with us and our no-holds-barred conversations about politics, religion and all the topics that, we can be honest here, our grandmothers would have encouraged.
On tap tonight? Maxine Waters and the very tall order of serving our elected officials an entree of crow whenever they venture out into the world they apparently have no intention of sharing.
“That seems a little unfair,” says my daughter, who for six of her fourteen years refused to be seen in public with her little brother for fear he’d tantrum and cause a scene.
She’s not wrong. The boy never did get a single thing he wanted that made him go blue in the face. But making life a little unpleasant for others in line as we wait with a cart full of groceries isn’t precisely signaling the end of humanity.
It’s not like I could have left him at home by himself anyway.
Fair isn’t always a measurement that balances. But speaking up. Writing letters. Making signs. That’s part of the American way, too.
I tell her of my encounter last weekend with one of our esteemed US senators, Charles Schumer, who routinely congratulates 15K racers as they cross the finish line at the Boilermaker road race in Utica.
“I literally asked someone to hold my beer when I went to shake his hand and ask him to reconsider his admonishment of Waters.”
“We can never advocate harassment,” he responded, a stance that I can’t fault, but that doesn’t address our right to speak out against the abuse of power.
I could have argued, but that would just be the beer talking.
I said my piece. And went back into the crowd.
There’s a difference between a dose of social discomfort and, say, a bloody coup.
Our server arrived with hot plates and a wink toward the girl who wants nothing more than the world to be polite.
We’ve got your favorite dessert tonight. You might want to save a little room.
She sits a little taller, and her eyes get a little brighter as she considers the possibilities.
I narrow my eyes as if this discussion will be more thorough.
And all of a sudden she sees the power of NOT letting folks eat cake.