DEAR MISS MANNERS: When my beautiful, lively, intelligent daughter was a small child, I was encouraged by parenting magazines and books to allow her to play with her food at meal time. It was supposed to enhance her tactile awareness and fine motor skills or something.
Now she is 12, and at meals she constantly uses her hands to supplement her utensils. I have corrected her both gently and sternly but she cannot seem to remember to keep her fingers out of her plate.
Last year, I enrolled her in a local cotillion class; she developed a fairly good handshake and can waltz, but it didn't make a dent in her mealtime behavior. How should I proceed to help her to become a refined young lady and outgrow this tiresome habit?
GENTLE READER: It must be at least a comfort to know that early training works: You trained your child to have bad table manners, and she does. Retraining is harder, as you have discovered.
Fortunately, your daughter is approaching the self-conscious age, when she will be worrying about what others think of her. Miss Manners knows that you, as a good mother, will be offering her reassurances and support. But here is something to throw in with all that good stuff:
"But darling, you really don't want people to be able to make fun of the way you eat. So let's practice at every meal until it comes to you naturally."
May Miss Manners take the liberty of adding, gently and sternly, that it is a mistake for parents to surrender their good sense to behavioral fads.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I just received a baby announcement from a casual acquaintance at work. Along with the usual information concerning the baby's name, gender, weight and length, the announcement provides a bit more than I needed to know about the state of my co-worker's cervix during the process of labor, her epidural, and the number of stitches required to close her episiotomy.
I am wondering if there is an appropriate way to express my joy and delight with the baby while making it clear that I really don't care to know any more gory details.
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners' first thought was "I'd love to see some pictures," but perhaps not. A simple note of congratulations would be the safest reaction to someone who doesn't seem to need encouragement to open herself up, so to speak.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am puzzled over the purpose of the "engagement party." Is it an occasion for celebration with gifts expected, or merely a celebration? I am of the generation that believes that only a wedding gift is required. Is this another event that is taken to extreme, like holding graduation for preschoolers, flying their children to Disney World for their birthday, etc.?
GENTLE READER: The engagement party as such is a relatively new form, and Miss Manners has the same suspicions that you do. It developed at about the time that adults started giving annual birthday parties for themselves.
But that is not to say that relatives and friends did not give respectable parties for engaged couples. Please bear with Miss Manners while she attempts to explain the subtle difference.
One type of party was to announce an engagement that was not otherwise known. Guests were invited as to no-particular-occasion party, and the host would surprise everyone by proposing a toast to his daughter and future son-in-law.
Another type could be given by either set of parents, or by friends, to introduce their circle to the person who was marrying into it. Before and after the wedding, friends might entertain in honor of the new couple, but -- here is the shocker. No presents would be given -- just lots of hugs and kisses and happy wishes.