To My Grandson, on the Occasion of His First Birthday:
It may be a little early to bring up the importance of proper English and public decorum.
By Robin Jovanovich
It may be a little early to bring up the importance of proper English and public decorum. You are, after all, still babbling, and everyone is quick to overlook your occasional biting, head butting, and toy whacking because you’re so adorable. But adorable gets old, PW!
The other day I had the unfortunate luck to be seated on a standing-room-only train next to a relatively attractive young man and woman who talked in loud and uncharismatic voices about their work life the entire trip. The woman texted while she talked, which may not be a crime as she wasn’t the engineer, but isn’t texting while carrying on a conversation rude?
The woman began every sentence (fragments, actually) with “Like, you know…” to which the man interjected, “F*^# that a******!”
Just as my father instructed me early in life, there are words that should never be spoken. He was referring to “stupid,” which I had brazenly used at a tender age.
There were no timeouts in my day, PW. There was something far worse — the Silent Treatment, which was unbearable in a small Manhattan apartment. While not college-educated, my father prized words. When it was all quiet on the Upper East Side front, I was disconsolate, because the world is lonely without dialogue and interaction.
Words are important in our family. We’re not just reading you those stories about Cowboy Small and Arthur to put you to sleep. Your grandfather and great-grandfather were storied book publishers. We love poetry (which is considerably better than those nursery rhymes you’re learning to bang a drum to); great literature (there are stories even better than “Goodnight Moon”, maybe even Harper Lee’s new one); and biography (after Babar, there’s Barbarossa and lots more on evil empires).
While the world changes overnight and even quicker than that, the rules of behavior needn’t. The idea that one shouldn’t speak unless he or she has something kind or invaluable to share went a long way in previous civilizations. When humans weren’t in constant “on” mode, we had time for contemplation and imagination. Believe it or not, during those idle moments, we enjoyed the chance to dream and plan. Admittedly, we came up with our share of mean-spirited action plans (i.e., how to get back at that no-good goody two shoes).
Now that you are 1, PW, I hope you will begin to comprehend that while boys may always be boys, they should always aspire to being gentlemen.
You can start by using a fork with your cottage cheese. (Ask your father if he still has that copy of “Tiffany’s Table Manners for Teens” I gave him back in the day.) The plastic phone with the long string that you drag around with you is the only one that will be allowed at our table. We have changed with the times, and it’s perfectly acceptable to read newspapers, good newspapers, at mealtimes. It’s also good to converse; babbling is what those other folks do.