I remember back then when my brothers and sisters and I were young. We could be a wild bunch at times,the five of us, but that was only allowed inside our own home. When our parents took us to visit we were warned way in advance to quell the rising fear of . . . Oh my God! Ciro and Marian are coming with the five kids!!
One Aunt in particular, my mother's older sister Aunt Mary, was pretty well to do and had a house that looked like a museum. It stayed that way even with her three children living there, thanks to her diligence and fanaticism. There was a long four cushioned sofa against one wall in her living room, just long enough to seat five children and that's where we were forewarned to sit and mind our manners . . . or else! And we did just that until compassion overtook her and she bought us cookies . . . but WATCH the crumbs! Why were we so obediently mild-mannered on family outings, you might ask? Because we knew with certainty that my mother meant business when she said "This is not our house. Do NOT embarrass me!"
When I had my own five children and they were small, I passed on the warning too. Behind the issue of embarrassment was the greater core of Italian-American family life . . . RESPECT! You respect your elders, your parents, your teachers . . . and last but not least . . . YOURSELF. My children knew very clearly what was expected of them from early on. No, they weren't perfect, but they learned respect. I remember my young son Brendan's astonishment when a schoolmate who came to our house one afternoon, walked right up to the refrigerator, opened the door, and grabbed something to eat for himself. Before I could say anything, my seven year old said "What are you doing?" The boy replied nonchalantly, "Getting something to eat, why?" And Brendan sternly said in his little gruff voice, "You better put that back. This isn't your house and you didn't ask!" The boy turned around and saw me standing with my arms folded and sheepishly returned his booty back to the fridge. Then Brendan said, "Mom, I think Adam's hungry." I asked the boy if he'd like something to eat and he shyly shook his head yes and I fixed them both something nice to eat. Adam started smiling again. The next time he came to our home he remembered that we don't starve hungry children here and all he had to do was ask.
Another time, a different friend came over and used the bathroom. When he came out, Brendan was next in line to use it. He walked in and ran right out pulling his friend back into the toilet in a panic. The boy had peed all over the seat and decorated the wall also and just walked out. I heard my son warn him that if his Dad came home and saw that mess he'd be very angry and he won't let you play here again. And then he added, "You have to aim inside the bowl in our house."
It's called . . . Respect. It's called . . . I CARE!
Allowing and encouraging children to grow and explore their world is a task that does not come without responsibility. Respect for oneself and others begins at a very young age, but those values taught and supported through childhood continue throughout one's life. Children need boundaries and when they're in new and unfamiliar places they need to know what these boundaries are. Do unto others as you would have them do to you is a wise lesson to learn early in life.
Children can't grow up alone or in households where no one ever has time for them. They learn respect from their parents first. It all goes back to the beginning. Kids need to play and have fun, to be free and be loved. It's not about restricting their good times. It is about learning how to live, give, and share the world around us and discover what joy means.