Table Manners

It's day 2,015–or is it only day 10?–of vacation, and tempers are fraying.

That's not to say that it hasn't been a glorious break. We've gotten to sleep late, ice skate, loll about, and other excellent pastimes, and it's been pretty wonderful. But an, um, issue came up today that inspired tears of frustration and bitterness.

It is this: reading at the table.

Now, I love to read at the table. I read during breakfast (yes, I will be one of the last people who actually gets the New York Times delivered in paper form, holding onto it the way other people hold on to home delivery of seltzer long past the time when it makes any kind of sense). I like to read a novel or The New Yorker at lunch. At dinner, which we eat all together, I am more civilized, but on those odd nights when something or other keeps one of us out late, I relish the chance to read, drink a glass of wine, and eat in total quiet. Or even, on those rare occasions when I eat out by myself, I bring a book, and order something that is easy to eat with one hand, and it's a complete luxury.


We have long had a problem of crumbs in books in this house. Crumbs, butter, chocolate thumb prints, other unpleasant food traces. These are mostly a byproduct of mornings and weekend lunches (though we do have one special night of the week, Tuesdays, when people are allowed to read during dinner). But they're gross. We've outlawed reading library books while eating, and we've tried to outlaw book-on-the-lap eating, and recently we came to Only Read Magazines and Newspapers sorts of rules.

But now siblings are wanting to bring books to the table. They argue that since they've never gotten food in a book yet, they should be exempt from the rulings. But how can you let one kid bring something really tempting, like a Clue book, to the table, and relegate the other to the September 2007 issue of Cooks Illustrated? Especially when you're sitting there reading your own library book while shoveling in the hummus. I mean, I know you're supposed to teach a kid how to handle things that involve fine motor skills and food etc and then she works to achieve and all that sort of thing, and the idea is that eventually everyone will conquer all their challenges, and we will be busly conversing with each other without resorting to reading during meals anyway, and if we do we'll be ever so dainty about it. But that all seems so far away, doesn't it? I know I should just try to do the right thing. But sometimes it is hard to know what that is.

8 thoughts on “Table Manners

  1. What about a box of books specifically for table reading. I’m thinking Good Will and Yard Sale books, maybe. Story books would be especially good because they wouldn’t interrupt the flow of a novel. I don’t know.


  2. We have the same “breakfast and lunch but NOT AT DINNER” rule at our house, so I’m laughing.
    We haven’t had trouble with crumbs or spills, somehow. I really don’t know why that is.
    I remember reading somewhere long ago about a library that had to cancel one patron’s library card because he refused to stop using bacon as a bookmark. Google says this is a longstanding problem.


  3. I have a good friend who described meals as a child with her five siblings and a single mother (her father had died very young). She said her mother read aloud at the dinner table, and that always sounded so romantic to me.


  4. We can’t wait until Elanor is old enough to read at the table.
    As for the food stains/crumbs in books…I guess it’s a matter of personal taste, kind of like bending down the corner of a page instead of using a bookmark. My books are all stained, bent, and generally beat up. If they’re not beat up, how do you know that they’re read and loved?


  5. Similar to c, I guess I wouldn’t mind food in books if 1) the books are the reader’s (not the library’s, another person’s, or a household book) and 2) the food does not threaten to create a pest issue.
    No good advice, but I am curious whether any readers do allow reading at the dinner table on a regular basis. I really enjoy reading while eating, and I thought it might be nice in the future if children don’t *want* to have conversation extracted out of them at dinner–a way to ease conversation and interaction at the dinner table. But my son is not even 3 yet, so I’m just guessing.


  6. I smile happily as I read this. My oldest, who is in first grade, just read his first chapter book all by himself. (Captain Underpants–thanks for the recommendation!) And for a solid day, I could hardly get him to put it down. It reminded me so much of myself as a child, and it made me so happy.
    I guess this is like a lot of other issues when it comes to cherished items that are actually used, like books. Are they meant to be preserved, or should they show evidence of being loved? When I was a kid, I had a pretty substantial collection of books that were definitely mine. They lived in my room, they were things that interested me, etc. And then there were the books I borrowed from my sister, had out from school, or had taken from my parents’ communal book shelf. I can easily see my parents restricting us to only our own books in potentially messy situations, ensuring that we got to read when we wanted to and treat our books the way we thought was right, while still respecting the possessions and opinions of others.
    But then again, we’re just now launching into the age where my kids are going to feel strongly about their books being their own. So who knows?


  7. I’ve always read at the table – I’ve always read everywhere, period – but my husband doesn’t like it. So our rule is no books (or these days, iPods) at the table, when we’re all together. If one of us is grabbing a quick bite all alone…well, no harm there, right? So I also get excited when I’m alone and can properly eat & read my book!


  8. I can’t judge — I am a notorious bathtub reader. Most of my books get waterlogged. I try to stick with magazines but when the good book calls, I can’t resist. My kids yell at me but I persist. I even — gasp — read library books in there. Oh, by the way, I am a librarian. šŸ™‚


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