Editor’s Note: This is a guest from Kathy Sena of Parent Talk Today.
The three children vied for their mother’s attention and sipped from plastic juice bottles as their mom and grandmother unloaded the cart in the Target checkout line ahead of me. Of course, it was just a matter of time until the inevitable happened and someone’s juice hit the floor. No biggie, I thought. I’m a parent. I know how Mom and Grandma feel. Been there, cleaned that up.
But when the youthful-looking grandmother surveyed the mess, she simply said “pick up your bottle” to the preschooler — and continued on as if there was nothing wrong with leaving a puddle of juice for the rest of us to trudge through. When the little boy started skating through the juice, spreading it further with each glide of his tennis shoes, I thought surely Grandma would realize this was not just a sticky mess but a potential hazard for the shoppers in line behind her.
Watching the boy, Grandma continued putting items on the conveyor belt. Okay, now I was getting cranky.
Thinking I might demonstrate a more-appropriate response, I leaned close to Grandma and said to the check-out clerk, “Excuse me. Do you have a paper towel? There’s juice on the floor, and I’m afraid someone might slip.”
“Sorry, I don’t have anything,” she replied. Okay then. It was clearly time to go straight to the source. I’d simply embarrass the woman into cleaning up the mess. “Ma’am, do you have any wet wipes in your purse; anything like that so we can clean up this juice?” I asked Grandma.
She rooted around in her purse and came up with… a man’s white athletic sock. “OK, that’s a bit odd, but I guess she could use it,” I thought to myself — right before she handed the sock to me.
“Here you go!” she said brightly. “It’s clean.”
I was too stunned to reply. With visions of an unsuspecting elderly shopper breaking a hip at checkstand 9, I knelt down and mopped up the juice with the sock while the woman watched.
By then I was more than a bit cranky, not to mention a bit overdue to receive an embarrassed “Why, thank you!” at least, if Grandma and Grandson weren’t going to do the job themselves.
She said nothing. Not a peep. “You know, you could thank me for wiping up your grandson’s juice,” I finally blurted out, looking her in the eye and holding up the juice-filled sock.
“Oh, just drop that anywhere,” she said, pointing toward the sock. “That’s disgusting.” And with that, the five of them were on their way, leaving me to find a trash can for the drippy sock.
Yes, it certainly was disgusting. But unfortunately, it’s becoming less and less surprising. Life’s little niceties, like holding the door open for the person behind us, saying please and thank you and even just having basic respect for those we encounter every day, seem to be disappearing faster than we can say “It’s all about me.”
Grocery clerks will be the first to tell you how much common courtesy has vanished. Ask them how it feels to ring up $100 worth of groceries for a shopper who continues a cell-phone conversation, hands over a grocery-store club card, runs the debit card through the machine and then leaves without ever making eye contact, much less saying “thanks.”
It’s easy to encounter the “it’s all about me” folks on the road, too. As our once-wide-enough residential streets become virtual one-way passages, narrowed by parked SUVs on both sides, there’s often room for only one vehicle at a time to go by. When I pull my car to the side of the road to let someone else pass, is it too much to ask for a friendly “thank you” wave or a smile? When someone responds with that simple gesture, it brightens the rest of my day. I’m guessing it perks up their day, too. But if it happens one time out of eight, it’s a good day. Most folks just drive on by as if to say “Of course, you should pull over for me.”
Not long ago, our local parks-and-rec department offered an “Etiquette and Social Skills” class for kids ages 7 to 12. Parents ponied up 70 bucks per kid for two 3-hour classes so that someone else would teach their children why manners are important, how to behave in a restaurant and how to be polite.
The trouble is, such a class may teach a kid the difference between a salad fork and a dinner fork, but it can’t create a thoughtful child. It can’t instill basic kindness or the desire to consider others’ feelings. That’s a parent’s job, and it takes years. And you can be sure our children are checking out our moves, noting how we behave.
At first I was incredulous that the mother of that preschooler, who continued to unloaded her cart and watch while the “juice incident” took place, didn’t step in to show her young son the right thing to do. But then I realized the sad truth: Her mother had never taught her the importance of common courtesy. And now Grandma and Mom were passing on that same lack of concern for others to a third generation.
Our children want so much to be like us. So they watch closely how we treat cashiers and waiters and crossing guards and fellow shoppers and fellow drivers and all the other people whose paths we cross each day. They also see whom and what we ignore — the people and things that don’t make a blip on our radar screen as we go about our business.
It doesn’t take a fancy etiquette class to teach our kids how to treat others with kindness. Sometimes all it takes is the willingness to clean up a little spilled juice.

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