I own a copy of Emily Post's "Etiquette." It sits on a bookshelf and collects dust somewhere between "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" and "Gone with the Wind." I haven't opened it in years because somewhere in the back of my mind, I fear that her ghost will suddenly appear and slap me on the wrist, or worse, stare at me with that dreadful look of resignation that silently screams, "You are beyond hope."

The truth is I would love to adhere to the rules of propriety that are taught in the precepts of that great book. Somehow I can't. I live in the real world where things get messy, and life is more or less a contingency plan.

To that end, I have come up with my own book of etiquette for real women. They lack the stringency of Ms. Post's tenets but should be somewhat more doable for the average mother. The following are excerpts from that book:

Chapter 1: A Few Blocks South of Fine Dining

  1. If you accidentally drop Lo Mein down your cleavage at a Chinese buffet, it is alright to fish it out and eat it. However, it should be done discreetly with one's napkin in front of the procedure.

  2. It is perfectly acceptable for your children to search under the sofa cushions for a snack if you are too busy to get them one. However, they should not wipe the bright orange faux cheese powder on their clothes afterward.

Chapter 2: Dressing for Mediocrity

  1. Using a stapler to temporarily hem pants is appropriate as long as you plan to let the hem out before you give them to Goodwill.

  2. Wearing a shirt for the third day is appropriate as long as you have properly sniffed the armpits and found that they do not yet offend.

Chapter 3: Gifts that Keep on Giving

  1. When pressed for time and cash is low, there is nothing wrong with re-using a birthday card you have been given previously. That is what white-out is for.

  2. Re-gifting is smart, frugal, and resourceful and is practiced by average women everywhere. Just make sure to periodically check the expiration on fruitcakes.

Chapter 4: Home Entertaining

  1. Low on fine ingredients to whip up some hors d'oeuvres? Hand the kids a sleeve of saltines, sliced processed cheese, a jar of pickle slices, a couple of boiled eggs and a jar of peanut butter and let them go to town. Everyone will be impressed that you are the kind of mom that doesn't micromanage and allows for creative growth.

  2. No budget for entertainment? Check crazy Uncle Bert out of the home for the afternoon. Paint his face and put him in oversized shoes and a festive hat. If he is silly enough, book him for future events at the neighbors. (See Chapter 11: Creative Financing for the Future)

Chapter 5: Anniversaries by the Number

(EP: Emily Post; BL: Becky Lyn)

1st: EP

Paper; BL:Last year's fruitcake wrapped in the newspaper comics (See Chapter 3)

2nd: EP

Cotton; BL:Last year's fruitcake wrapped in a cloth diaper (See Chapter 3)

3rd: EP

Leather; BL:That hideous deer head from when your husband

went through his hunting phase

4th: EP

Linen; BL:An old Beatles LP (you misunderstood)

5th: EP

Wood; BL:That hideous old duck decoy (see Year 3)

10th: EP

Tin; BL:A case of spaghetti-o's

15th: EP

Crystal; BL:A carton of Epsom salts

20th: EP

China; BL:General Tso's Chicken and Fried Rice

25th: EP

Silver; BL:A letter of congratulation or condolence

While it is good to aspire to greater things and a higher standard of living, chances of me sitting down to nosh at a state dinner any time soon are slim. I can live with that. I do try to teach my children to adhere to some semblance of propriety and decorum. They know not to put anything larger than their elbow in their mouth at one time. They know not to belch the alphabet in public. They know to never, ever, ever pull grandpa's finger. One lesson at a time.

Having been corrected on my grammar, manners, and any number of other things in public by unkind people, I have learned that this much is true. Manners are important. Kindness is more important.

Live and let live. Put the person before the precept. Laugh and enjoy life.

All Family. All The Time

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