FEATURE — When your 6-year-old gets invited to the neighbor’s house for dinner on crepe night, it’s no surprise that he’s thrilled; he adores crepes. But when he comes home from dinner and says that he’s still really hungry, it’s a big surprise.
It’s also a little embarrassing when he complains about being hungry in front of the neighbor who just fed him.
“But I offered you more and you said you were full,” she said to him.
“I know. I’m not allowed to eat very much,” he said to her. “It’s the ‘Uncle Marcus Rule.’”
My neighbor shot me a quizzical look. I’m pretty sure she was wondering who is this Uncle Marcus and why does he have a rule that makes 6-year-olds refuse perfectly delicious crepes?
“That is not what the ‘Uncle Marcus Rule’ is about,” I said to both of them. “It’s about not hogging all of the food when you’re eating with other people.”
Really, the Uncle Marcus Rule isn’t just about avoiding hoggish behavior, it’s about being a gracious eater. And that’s a really big thing to me.
If I were Emily Post, graciousness would be the one and only rule of eating etiquette.
I think how a person approaches food is a good measure of how they approach life.
To help our boys learn to be gracious in life, we stress three main ideas around our dinner table: basic manners, three bites of everything and the (apparently slightly misunderstood) “Uncle Marcus Rule.”
First, basic manners. These are pretty simple for us: wear underwear, keep your knees under the table, don’t lick your plate – and always thank the cook.
Maybe I’m setting the bar a little low, but I think these are four concepts even little boys can master. Well, maybe not – we’re still working on don’t lick your plate. Some of my boys really like salad dressing.
Different cultures eat with their hands, slurp their soup and even belch to show appreciation for a good meal. As long as my boys are appreciative of the food and don’t make the eating experience too unappetizing for those around them, they are gracious eaters in my book.
Second, three bites. I make my kids eat three bites of every dish served at my table. I try to include at least one dish I know each person will like so they won’t go hungry, but I strongly believe palates and comfort zones need to be regularly challenged.
I want my boys experienced in trying new things around my table so when they are confronted with something new at someone else’s table, they’ll meet the unfamiliarity with graciousness not with their mind already made up against it.
Finally, the Uncle Marcus Rule. Uncle Marcus is my sister’s brother-in-law. He is tall and muscular and could probably eat his body weight in red meat. When we gather as an extended family and Uncle Marcus is around, no one ever worries that they’ll get aced out of food, even with his big appetite.
It’s not because Uncle Marcus needs less food or goes away hungry, but it’s because he is deferential and patient.
Uncle Marcus serves himself modestly on the first round and waits. He carefully surveys the group and usually allows others to make multiple trips before he goes back for seconds. When he knows everyone else has had their fill, he’ll eat anything and everything that is left – even if it’s left on someone else’s cleared plate.
With the Uncle Marcus Rule in play, everyone eats, no one feels shortchanged and even the little people feel respected.
British-born author and essayist Pico Iyer has said, “A traveler is really not someone who crosses ground so much as someone who is always hungry for the next challenge and adventure.”
In that case, I want my children to always be hungry for the next challenge and adventure and to meet those challenges and adventures with graciousness. Just like they would around the dinner table. And just like Uncle Marcus.
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