I like to think I have relatively well-mannered kids — socially acceptable, witty and entertaining. But all that goes out the window the minute the phone rings or the delivery man arrives.
Take for instance the furnace repairman. Our recent encounter went something like this:
“So you smell smoke coming from the furnace and it’s 12 degrees outside? Let’s have a look.”
“Moooom! Tell her to stop bugging me!”
“I’m not bugging you — stop grabbing my arm!” My two youngest kids circle around me like cat and mouse.
“Guys — we have someone here I’m trying to talk to,” I say politely but with a look that says ‘keep it up and you’ll be in bed before dinner.’ They both retreat to the piano a few steps away.
The repairman lifts the cover off the furnace and starts to tinker as do the piano players. “I think I see the problem,” he says.
“What’s that? I can’t hear you.”
“I see the problem —,”
“Wait a minute — guys, stop playing piano, please!”
“I told you not to play,” my youngest says, taunting her older brother.
“You did not!”
“I did too! Mom — help! He’s gonna kill me!”
“Excuse me, I’ll be right back,” I say to the patient repairman as I motion to my kids that they better hightail it upstairs.
“What exactly is going on?” I ask as I grab them both by the arms and whirl them around to face me.
“Ow! That hurts — you’re HURTING ME!!!”
“I’m sorry, but I am trying to have a conversation down there and I can’t hear a thing. You are both being rude.”
“OK, but, geez, mom, I think you gave me a bruise,” the offended child shouts and rubs her arm in exaggerated pain as the repairman peeks over the stair railing.
“Wait here,” I warn as I retreat back down to the furnace room. Somewhere above me a door slams.
“I think we got it all figured out,” the furnace man says as he un-straps his tool belt and reaches for his coat. I hear faint screams in the distance. Great. At least one of us has.
This is one of those moments we discuss in parenting classes. We talk about setting up our expectations with kids before visitors arrive: instruct them to say hello, shake hands, say “nice to meet you,” play quietly or watch TV — whatever behavior it is we want them to demonstrate. I also love the idea of signals — gentle reminders that they need to get their behavior back on track. And then I pray the parents in my classes never stop by my house while the repairman is still here.
Just as the repairman is making his hasty retreat, my two kids come racing down the stairs, the entry rug scrunching up under their feet as they slide to a halt.
“All right then, have a great day,” the man says as he heads for his van.
“You’re leaving?” they ask.
“Yep — it’s all fixed.”
I can’t help but notice they seem disappointed.
“Thanks!” they say in unison. “Have a good day!”
Oh, sure, now that he’s gone they behave like the angels I know they are.
Charla Belinski is the author of the column “Are We There Yet?” in the Glenwood (Colorado) Post Independent where she shares her common-sense style and humorous world view on parenting each week. Charla has recently completed her first novel, It Came a Fine Rain. She lives with her husband, Tim, and three children near Aspen, Colorado. Contact her at email@example.com.