There's nothing much new about manners (or the lack of them), except that corporations are now dishing out big bucks to hire consultants to come in and teach young executives not to eat peas with a knife.
The need for this arises, says the modern theory, because former hippies, yippies and love children didn't care about manners at the time when they should have been learning them.
Now they are all corporate bankers who can make a deal in a jiffy, but can't keep their elbows off the table.
A Los Angeles etiquette consultant recently went so far as to blame this on the fact that today's yuppies grew up eating dinner in front of the television set.
This struck a chord with me, because I was never allowed to eat dinner in front of the TV set, and as a mother, I have always reflexively flicked off the tube when the soup's on, but never knew quite why. Now that I do know why, I can be self-important about it.
Taming the Little Savages
But how does one tame the little savages who think that dinner time is only for fueling up, and that super-hero play may be continued on the kitchen floor between bites of macaroni and cheese?
One idea that will instill a sense of occasion into children is to throw a kiddie tea party, preferably co-ed, so that the little girls' better graces will prevail upon the boys. Ideally, the children should be between 5 and 7 years old, and there shouldn't be too many of them, maybe four or five.
Neighborhood children may be invited by note, and they should not be discouraged from dressing up.
When the local branch of our library gave a Peter Rabbit tea party for the story-hour habitues recently, some of the little girls even wore white gloves.
What makes a tea party uniquely childlike is a sense of scale--everything should be child-sized.
If it's unmistakably their party, it's up to them to behave. Their good manners will be their own decision, and peer pressure on the manners front is far more effective than harping from their parents.
Squirrels Can Clean Up Later
They should have a little table and child-sized chairs, perhaps set up outside so that the squirrels can help clean up later.
There should be a little cloth or place mats (paper or plastic will do) and a little centerpiece in a basket. Most importantly, the food should be small, because as we all know, children will eat almost anything if it is of the proper size.
My children, for example, will eat any amount of yogurt as long as it comes in those pricey teeny-weeny containers, but no yogurt at all when it's transferred from a pint-sized container into a dish.
This doesn't mean that they'll eat liver pate on little crackers or even cucumber sandwiches, but there are lots of good alternatives that kids can help make in advance.
Brew Fruity Herbal Tea
Most children won't want real tea, so brew up one pot (no choices) of a fruity herbal tea, sweeten it, and then let it cool to lukewarm.
Serve in those demitasse cups (unless they're antiques) that you never know what to do with, or have each child bring his own miniature cup.
Mom can pass the sandwiches, and each child should load up his own paper party plate.
Don't expect too much--if you get 15 minutes of polite conversation before they all split for the swings, you're doing well.
And if it all seems like a lot of trouble--well, that's what manners are, that's what ceremonies are and that's what memories are made of.
Do you really want Xerox to have to hire some consultant to teach your child to hold a tea cup?