KINDERGARTEN is an excellent institution, in its way, and Miss Manners can think of few better solutions to such problems as keeping 5 year olds off the streets and producing handmade potholders. But she does not see why she, having reached what we shall call a certain age, must continue to be subjected to its rules and practices in what ought to be a larger, if not more sophisticated, society.
In kindergarten, nobody has a last name, and few even have full use of their given names. Everyone has a simple nickname, and must always be telling everyone else what it is. We make quite a point, then, of addressing them correctly, and of helping others to do the same to us, as in, "Hi, I'm Cindy." Naturally, nobody has titles -- even many of the teachers have ceased to be "Miss Twinkles" and become "Hi, I'm Pam."
In kindergarten, we all wear simple, durable play clothes that are practical, mostly in bright colors, and sporty. We only dress up as a big joke. And those of us learning to read like to have signs across the fronts of our shirts and our possessions marked with their names -- lunch bags that say LUNCH BAG, and so on.
In kindergarten, we are not expected to go very long without juice and cookies, and so we can eat at our desks and wherever we wander, and we always have simple snacks available for breaks. We prefer to drink from heavy mugs marked with our names or pictures of our favorite cartoon characters.
In kindergarten, we have Show and Tell, in which we are assured that nothing is too trivial or too personal to command the attention of all, who must treat any revelation, no matter how pointless, with rapt attention. We are assured that if we blurt out everything that is on our minds, we will feel better.
We may also have general conversation in kindergarten, but it should be about things that everyone understands, such as sports or television programs or how we feel about our food.
In kindergarten, exercise is very important, and anyone who does not want to play is cajoled into doing so.
In kindergarten, creativity is very important, and so we praise and accept anybody's efforts and consider them all equally worthy.
In kindergarten, we must all learn to work together and to share in the rewards, and anybody who wants to go off alone or who piles up more than his or her share must be gently led back to the group to let everyone else participate and catch up.
Most of all, we must learn, in kindergarten, to like and accept everyone else. Not only do we not want loners here, but we want to show everyone that if you make an effort, you can like anyone at all, and all of them more or less equally. We assume that dislikes are only a matter of prejudices and misunderstandings, and that any people, if placed together in pleasant circumstances, can get along as well as any other people.
In kindergarten, if we discover anyone who simply cannot learn and flourish within these standards, we suggest a little outside help, because we know it must be a sign of emotional problems.
Miss Manners does not quarrel with any of these rules, under which kindergartens have flourished for some time now. She only pleads that, having put in her time, she be promoted into a society where formality, distinctions, subtleties, individuality, standards and eccentricities are permitted. MISS MANNERS RESPONDS
Q. Several times recently, a similar situation has caused me discomfort enough to generate an intense self-examination of not only my feelings about graciousness and countesy toward guests in my home, but also of my basic feelings about children and parenting.
Let me say that I am childless and have told myself that perhaps I am also too intolerant.
What is the correct position of the hostess with regard to destructively misbehaving children?
I realize that the most appropriate action would be to take my cues from the accompanying parent, but when that parent is chatting amicably about whatever in the midst of a whirlwind, but oblivious to the fact that her child is attempting to shotput my sofa cushions into the fireplace where there is a -- you guessed it -- blazing away, am I permitted to speak? Whom do I address? Is it more gracious (if possible, civil if not) to keep silent, wring my hands and hope their visit is blessedly brief?
I have spoken, wishing later to bite off my tongue; and I have bitten my tongue, wishing later I had spoken. Neither affords me noticeable comfort.
May the hostess speak before a small guest puts her cat in the freezer? May she speak afterward? Should she rather keep still, emulating the blind parent and try to resuscitate the cat at a later date.
Please help. The knowledge that I have acted correctly may be my only consolation.
A. Miss Manners has been trying to think of an appropriate thing for a hostess to say after she has allowed her cat to remain in the freezer for a polite interval, but none of them seems quite right.
"Oh, my, what have we here?"
"I'm sure you were just playing, but Kitty doesn't like that."
"Would you like some ice cream, dear, or would you prefer some of THIS?"
Let us therefore find you some other consolation, or rather, let us allow you to head off the need for consolation.
It is the firm belief of all parents who abdicate the responsibility of child rearing that: 1) It is kinder, healthier and wiser to allow children to do whatever they wish than it is to bring them up and pass along to them the benefits of civilization; and that (2) childless people who do not understand this are heartless.
Do not allow them to persuade you of either of these premises. A parent who does not civilize his child leaves civilization the task of defending itself, and you had better save your premises from such children.
It would be rude, not to mention futile, to enter into a discussion or contest on the subject of child rearing. It also seems selfish to value your possessions above a human being, even a nasty little one. The only grounds on which you can enter into the fray, then, is as protector of a child's and a guest's health. "I'm afraid that Tinkerbell is vicious -- you'd better discourage Natasha from teasing her, because we wouldn't want that pretty face to get all torn up." "Oh, dear, I know the sweetest child who got terribly burned playing near the fire like that. Please make her stay a safe distance."
You will get a pitying look for being so timid about danger, but never mind. It will work; or, if it doesn't, you can appeal to the child directly by saying, "Darling, you'd better stop that or you'll get hurt," with a narrowed look and perhaps a vise-like grip on a cherubic arm that will suggest to the child just how he might get hurt.
The time for tolerance is when the parent actually is attempting to discipline the child, but having a bit of trouble. A parent who is bravely doing his duty by saying, through a clenched-teeth smile, "Come on, now, Jonathan, cut that out," should be encouraged by murmurings of, "Oh, he's really such a dear child, maybe I can find something to amuse him besides Tinkerbell, who's not used to children."
Feeling incorrect? Address your etiquette questions (in black or blue-black ink on white writing paper) to Miss Manners, in care of this newspaper.
Copyright (c) 1983, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.