“One of those no-neck monsters hit me with some ice cream… You can't wring their necks if they got no necks to wring. Isn't that right, honey?” Maggie the cat, from her precarious position on a hot tin roof, always made me laugh with that line. I first encountered Tennessee Williams’ immortal words in high school when I used Maggie’s arsenal of bitter verbiage as a theatrical audition piece. I was reminded of her words just yesterday when things started getting real at the Whole Foods in Noe Valley: a distracted Lulu Lemon-clad yoga mom stood blithely chatting on her iPhone while her no-neck monster ran – cart first – screaming down a crowded aisle, nearly taking my left foot with him as he flew past. Not cool, little no-necked dude.
Let me be clear out front: I was raised by parents who, if I ever dreamed of behaving like that, would have locked me in the car for, like, the rest of my life. I am not nearly as strict a parent as mine were (that level of discipline is not really, um, legal anymore), but I have very high standards of conduct for my children and I expect them to live up to those standards and be considerate of others in public (and private) places. And they do. This is not a recent development: as soon as they were verbal I started emphasizing the importance of respect, consideration, and good manners – you know, the basic, old school stuff that most of us learned from our folks and that makes us able to tolerate one another in this thing we call civilization. I do not think this should be a particularly revolutionary position to take as a parent. No means no (and backtalk will cost you); actions have consequences; don’t behave like a damn fool when you’re out and about. How hard is that? Apparently it’s really really hard, because the obnoxious antics I all too often witness children carry out in public places while the parents do nothing make my head explode. I once saw a little kid scream “YOU are NOT my parents ANYMORE!!!!” to her mom and dad on 24th street when denied an object of her desire. If I had said anything – thought anything – like that to my Dad, I simply wouldn’t be here writing because he’d have made sure I ended as a spot on the rug. And as for Ms. Lemon with her cart-monster at the Whole Foods: would it have killed her to hang up the phone and take a minute to teach her kid right from wrong? At the very least to prevent collateral damage?
Let me also be very clear that I am acutely aware that there are children with behavioral issues that arise from circumstances far beyond anyone's control and not remotely due to lack of parental will. I’m talking about the garden-variety spoiled brat, and bringing back the golden rule we were all taught in kindergarten, which is not exactly rocket science. My girls are now 12 and 15, and I often receive complements on their behavior/attitude/work ethic from their teachers, camp counselors, employers, friends’ parents, the lady at the corner grocery – usually spoken in vaguely shocked and awed tones that suggest how rarely they encounter kids like that. Of course I’m proud of the way my girls conduct themselves – gratified that all my (and my husband’s) endless nagging actually got through – but shouldn’t that be the norm? Isn’t it our job to unleash decent human beings on the planet when the brief eighteen years we get are up and not thoughtless, entitled, rude little turds? My Dad could have (and would have – right in front of Lulu iPhone) straightened out that little no-neck monster in a jiffy, and everyone on the pasta aisle would have thanked him for it. ‘Cause in the end, no one wants to be around a person like that, young or old, and I was lucky enough to learn that lesson early and often from my parents, and to pass it on to my kids. No school like the old school.