Inviting Writing: From Table Manners to Bedside Manner

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Today's Inviting Writing story comes to us from Elizabeth Breuer, a.k.a. OB Cookie, a doctor-in-training who somehow finds time to write a wonderfully nerdy food blog.

(In case you've forgotten, this explains what Inviting Writing is all about. The first prompt was "manners," which has already inspired an ode to barbecue-stained fingers and a funny story about chocolate.)

An Orange in the Lap By Elizabeth Breuer

When my two sisters and I were growing up, my mother was always concerned—make that extremely obsessed—with our table manners. She wanted us to have ladylike interactions with all who surrounded us. Our posture was to be rod-inspired, elbows at our sides and napkins graciously placed in our laps. Our lips were to stay tightly sealed when food was inside, then part delicately to release “pleases" and “thank yous."

Despite all of her efforts, my manners could not quite be maintained. It wasn't that I was rebellious; I just think that my blunt, forgetful and extremely clumsy nature overcame any attempts I made to display learned actions.

These elements of my nature could be detected at an early age. At four years old, riding in a hospital elevator after the birth of my youngest sister, I lovingly pointed at a rotund man and yelled to my father: "Why is that man SO FAT?!"  (My father proceeded to press every single elevator button to be released immediately.)

While my filter improved slightly—very slightly—with age, my clumsiness unfortunately did not.

When I was twelve, shortly after my family uprooted from suburban Chicago and moved to Singapore, we were somehow upgraded to first class on an international flight. My mother was immediately anxious at the prospect of me sitting next to some unsuspecting business traveler who had paid big dollars and anticipated a peaceful, champagne-flooded journey.

Knowing me well, she implored: "Don't spill your orange juice on his lap!"

My seatmate turned out to be quite pleasant, and tolerated a decent amount of giddy chirping from his pre-adolescent neighbor. Unfortunately, the laws of nature and gravity always win. My lovely glass of orange juice came tumbling down all over the man's perfectly tailored suit. Although he was kind (and gently refused a couple of tall bills for a dry cleaning fix), my mother was laid to shame, yet again.

As an adult, I still don't always chew with my mouth closed or keep my elbows off the table. But my mother also taught me worldliness, compassion, and kindness towards people from all walks of life. These manners go beyond the table and carry me into the hospital and beyond, where hopefully I can have a positive impact...even though just last year I spilled a patient's Ensure all over my white coat, and her bed.

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