Friday, July 31, 2009

We Don't Need No Stinking Napkins

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When does the need to use napkins begin?

Watching Youngest eat, you would think she uses them. Each time there is a drip on her hand or a spot on her cheek she wipes, folds over the offending area and drops the paper cleaner on the floor or table (depending on her attention). Youngest will not reuse a napkin once it has performed its duty. At some meals (barbecue, pb&j, cereal) this can lead to a discard pile that rivals youngest in stature. She appears as a dainty expert in the art of self-cleaning.

Until you see her leave the table. Peanut butter streaked across the front of her shirt, jelly smeared across her cheeks, and fading milk spots on her shorts would lead the casual observer to believe she had never even heard of a napkin. I believe this is not limited to my daughter either. I have seen the pre-k children at lunch. They all appear to be using some sort of wiping device, but largely end with the same results. So, effective napkin use doesn't begin here.

Then, it seems, in my home anyway, that by middle childhood they have given up the hope of napkin use. In handing Boy a napkin with dinner you will see a slight shrug of the shoulders and a reluctant hand stuffing said device in his lap. Here its existence is promptly forgotten for the duration of the meal. There is no flagrant wiping on shirt or shorts, instead it is a casual wipe across the shirt done quickly and effectively. If one is not watching for it, it would escape the eye all together.

Let it be said that Boy hates to have dirty hands. He washes them many times a day, spending full minutes completing the task after taking out the garbage or some other unpleasant task. Yet somehow this meticulous behavior doesn't translate to food. I sat watching him clear his plate and head to a bedroom yesterday. Only to find that his hands were too greasy to open the door. Instead of washing them, he reflexively began reaching for his shirt front. Being quick, I shouted urged him to freeze and think. He looked up sheepishly, began walking to a bathroom and then tried to casually wipe them on the couch! OK, I may have shouted "NO" at this point. So clearly, Boy has no real use for napkins either.

In looking at Teen, I see some napkin use beginning. She does not use her shirt or pants, or couch as far as I have seen. She leaves a table without a smudge except for the occasional chocolate milk mustache. But in the meal her napkin often lies forgotten near her plate, or in her lap. Greasy hands from corn-on-the-cob are unnoticed. Her wiping is kept to post meal, or in the event of an explosion of jelly to a minimum.

So, when/how does all of this become an adult's need to have a napkin at hand throughout a meal, and as older people do to keep one on your person at all times? Is it self-consciousness that causes napkin use? Is there a neatness trigger that flips when a person leaves adolescence? Is it peer pressure? Whatever the cause I will keep up my fight for cleanliness in the hopes that someday my children will not leave the table with milk mustaches and greasy hands.


  1. If it wasn't for my wife, I'd never have a napkin. I just don't use them. I'm a neat freak though so try to come into as little contact with my food as possible. Finger foods are not often served in my house. Though in the same breath, when we actually do eat something like wings, I just keep the roll of paper towels on the table.

  2. That is a very good question, I wish I knew. I can't remember when I started using one. Although I wish I could train my son to start using a napkin, other than to tear into tiny pieces and throw on the floor. He'd rather wipe his hands in his hair.

  3. Napkins were always on the Lazy-Susan on the table when I was growing up. Whether or not we used the napkins (probably not) I can't remember. But napkins were always there.
    Now, I try to keep napkins at the table and just look at my girls to make sure they have one. They are in their teens now, so I don't have to ask them to wipe their hands, faces, etc.
    I smiled at your description of your daughter's pile of napkins being as tall as she was.

  4. I have a grown man living in my house that still is just a lick it off and dry it on a shirt or pants kind of guy. I just don't get it. Last week, Boy Weasel, while setting the table asked "why do we need to put napkins out anyway?". My answer, "it's a chick thing. Go with it just to make me happy".

  5. ~Jason: You sound like a grown-up version of my son!

    ~PJ Mullen: At least hair is better than the couch!

    ~Surprised Mom: I keep them on the table too, for the little good it does me!

    ~WeaselMomma: Yup, must be a chick-thing. Probably because we are often responsible for removing the stains from the shirts!

  6. the g-kid has this really gross way of eating lately. no matter what kind of food it is, it seems that most of his fingers and thumb have to be inserted into the mouth and licked while chewing. it's totally grossing me out so i am continually reminding him to use his napkin. lol which he then uses AFTER he has licked and sucked on his fingers. every. bite.


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