DEAR MISS MANNERS: When I am out strolling with my adopted 21-month-old son, I am periodically stopped by strangers who comment on how beautiful he is. My instinct is to thank them, simply because my son is not yet in a position to do likewise. At the same time, the "thank you" rings a little hollow in my ear since I am in no way responsible for his looks.
Perhaps I am mistaken here, but it seems to me that when we compliment a child's looks, we are also paying an implicit compliment to the biological parents who made those looks possible. An adoptive parent can have no share in such a commendation.
Is it appropriate, then, to say thank you? Or, should I behave in the manner of a disinterested bystander? "By golly, you're right!" seems even less appropriate than "thank you."
GENTLE READER: You will soon be responsible for your son's looks, in that as soon as he is able to understand what you are saying, he will look mighty embarrassed.
Weighing offhand compliments to make scrupulously sure that the credit goes where it is due is a tedious enough practice in itself, bound to alert people who are trying to be nice that it is not worth the effort.
It is more offensive when you consider foregoing ordinary maternal pride to maintain the point that your son is adopted. Strangers whose compliments do not provoke the customary response will simply conclude that you are rude, but your son will understand that you are distancing yourself from him.
For heaven's sake, just say "thank you." If someone happens to remark that you are looking good, do you feel obliged to defer to your ancestors?
DEAR MISS MANNERS: When one is arriving slightly late to a performance and is admitted during the overture, and then has to travel to seats in the center of a row, is it less rude to whisper apologies to each person one passes, which takes longer and makes more noise, or simply to move as quickly as possible to minimize the disruption and hope that one's body language conveys apology?
Also, because I was admitted at the rear doors and after the lights went down, I was granted my own light-wielding usher, who held his free arm out to me. I felt that I did, indeed, have some need for a guiding arm, so I took it -- whereupon he dropped my arm as if it were a wet codfish and seemed badly startled. Did I presume, or did he err?
I am, of course, aware that ideally one should not be late to the ballet. That is my new main goal in life.
GENTLE READER: And a noble goal it is, too. Should you falter, Miss Manners would suggest watching from the back of the theater until the overture is finished, as there is often a pause for latecomers.
This is for the sake not only of other patrons and your oddly flustered usher, but your own. As you should not whisper during the music and you should face away from those seated when passing them, Miss Manners cannot imagine what it would take to convey your apologies through body language in the dark. Ballet itself is a simple skill in comparison.