The New York City bus was packed.
The school kids had colonized the back and were yelling and cursing.
The bus driver kept telling us to keep moving back even though there was no place to go.
The kid next to me slammed me with her backpack.
People kept getting on with no place to stand. At least I couldn’t fall—I was wedged between several other fellow sufferers.
Finally we got to the other side of town, and people started to get off. I grabbed a seat next to a teenager just to get out of the way. A young man holding a baby got to the middle of the bus, and I promptly got up to give him my seat. I remarked that it was too bad he had to get to the middle of the bus before he was offered a seat. Most of the people in front were able-bodied teens or young adults, as was the girl next to me.
A while ago, sitting in the rear of the bus, I got up to give my seat to a very pregnant woman. As I stood next to her we started to chat and commiserated that she had to get all the way to the back of the bus to be able to sit, that nobody had offered her a seat sooner. (Been there, done that. Usually without getting a seat, my belly practically poking the eyes of the seated young guy trying to avoid looking at me.)
This happens way too much. It’s ridiculously unusual for someone on a New York City bus or train to move their tuchas for the elderly, the pregnant, the frail, or someone holding a baby. And it makes me nuts!
Kids learn manners not only through instruction, but by example. They watch their parents and caregivers and copy their behavior. When my kids were growing up, they gave up their seats on subways and buses, first at my request, then on their own initiative. Getting on the school bus, they were taught to say, “Good morning,” to the driver, and getting off, they said, “Thank you.”
They learned to approach the host of a wedding or bar mitzvah to wish them, “Mazel tov.” They knew to clear the table when they finished eating and strip the beds when they had a sleepover. Prompt thank you notes were mandatory in our house. When the cleaning lady came, the kids had to leave their rooms neat and, even if they were rushing to school, they were expected to say, “Good morning, how are you?” and have a brief chat with Lodze.
I didn’t kvell as much over good grades as I did when my younger son’s rebbe in his Israeli yeshiva told us how impressed he and his wife were that Andrew was the only kid (!) who ever helped clear the table and work in the kitchen at a Shabbos meal. I made sure that the kids learned to be especially polite to people in the service professions, the doorman, cab driver, grocery bagger—those who are all too often treated like furniture.
Manners are part of dignifying all human encounters.
So whether or not you have pain relief during labor, breastfeed or bottle feed, co-sleep, give a pacifier, make your own organic baby food, let the kid watch TV while drinking apple juice, send your kid to a public or private school—nothing matters as much as modeling behavior which emphasizes that all people are created “b’tzelem elohim,” in God’s image, deserving of respect and compassion. Nothing matters as much in parenting as producing a mensch.
Some time ago, I got to the back of a crowded bus. A young man promptly got up to give me his seat. (I was not pregnant, old, or infirm… but I was certainly older than he was.) I thanked him and said I was fine. He insisted. I took the seat and we smiled. “You are well brought up,” I said to him. “Please tell your mom that she did a good job.”