Christmas Eve of 2014, my mother-in-law, Mary, drove up from central Illinois to celebrate with my husband, daughter, and me. She brought along her daughter, Lida, and the daughter’s new husband, Brent. We did the big meal thing, chatted over mostly coffee—I don’t drink coffee and my daughter, Amelia, was two years old—then settled into the living room for presents.
Amelia was thrilled to be handing out presents, and everyone was having a lovely time. My husband’s family is a bit more formal about holidays than mine, so I was relieved nothing had gone wrong. I stepped into the next room for a moment, and maybe 30 seconds later, the whole room went silent. Curious, I went back to the living room and found my daughter silently staring wide-eyed at Brent. He is a quiet, reserved person, even seven years later, but more so back then as a new member of the family. Amelia was making him uncomfortable. It was like one of those high noon duels, except only one of them knew why they were there.
After a somewhat-excruciating moment or two, I realized that I had heard Amelia say “thank you” to someone right before the standoff. Aha! I had been teaching her about proper manners in the weeks leading up to Christmas. When someone says “thank you,” you say “you’re welcome.” Amelia was standing in the room boring a hole in the middle of Uncle Brent’s head because he hadn’t yet said, “you’re welcome.”
Then came the fun part—telling a grown man that the two-year-old was insisting he properly acknowledge her “thank you.” He was gracious about it, and we all had a good laugh, but the whole episode made me realize how easily children can absorb the lessons you try to teach them.
Amelia, who is now nine years old, is Little Red in a virtual production of Into the Woods Jr. Yes, the one with the riding hood. We run lines together since nobody wants to practice in a vacuum (and it’s fun). One day after practice, she got this solemn look and said, “Mommy, I don’t like that when Little Red says ‘thank you’ for the bread, the baker’s wife doesn’t say ‘you’re welcome.’ They shouldn’t have written it like that.” I paused for a beat then, not seeing any other concrete option, offered to express my dismay on her behalf and inquire about a rewrite. That idea was more mortifying than the lack of decorum. Amelia decided to consider the tremendous pressure a frazzled baker’s wife in a forest full of witches and talking cows must endure and cut the woman some slack. That only seems proper.