Taming the Wild Ones

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Represent, New York

My parents and foster parents never taught me manners. I mean, I’m sure my mom and dad taught me to say “please” and “thank you,” but my sister and I mostly ran wild. My mother never took us to a restaurant because we didn’t have a lot of money, and we were definitely not high class, so she never had a chance to tell me how to act when you eat out.

My sister and I just acted like kids. We would run and scream and play tag outside. We ran around in the garbage in front of our apartment. We got pretty filthy running in the dirt, but we didn’t care.

My sister and I would go to the supermarket by ourselves because our mother was in a wheelchair and couldn’t leave the house. Sometimes we’d fight over who would push the cart, and we’d race around the store, laughing and joking and rolling past people in the aisles.

Then my sister and I met Gia, a woman who lived in our building, and she became our mentor and good friend. Gia taught us manners. She taught us that there are times to let yourself run wild, but that it’s not always OK to be hyperactive, especially when there are a lot of people around.

One day I was in the supermarket with her and they had samples out. I was eating a lot of them. I felt voracious.

“What are you doing?” Gia said. “You’re not supposed to do that.” She thought that I was being greedy and immature, and because of the tone she used I knew that she was a little upset. I was embarrassed, but before that, I’d never realized that what I was doing was wrong. I never did it again.

Gia taught us how to act at a restaurant. She explained that in a quiet restaurant, I should not talk or laugh loudly, should never make a mess or play with my food, and shouldn’t point at other people who are eating.

Gia showed that she wanted us to have a good time, while being careful not to make other people uncomfortable. If we were wild and crazy at inappropriate times, then people would not want to take us out to nice places or to be around us.

When I was about 12 years old, I was invited to a wedding with Gia. I was excited and scared. I said to myself, “What are we going to do there? I’ve never been to a wedding. What am I going to wear?”

Gia bought my sister and me dresses for the wedding. I got a white, pink and green one that looked right for a young girl like me, and pink shoes that looked like I could wear them in a ballet. I liked the way I felt in that dress.

When we got to the wedding I was a little nervous because I didn’t know if people would like my dress or how the wedding would go. First there was a ceremony, and then there was a little reception that had expensive food like sushi. It tasted horrible! I didn’t know what to do, so Gia told me to go to the bathroom and throw it out. I was glad she showed me how to politely handle eating something awful! I told myself that I was never going to eat another piece of that in my whole life.

People said they liked my dress, and Gia and my sister told me, “You look adorable!” I was glad about that. But I was even more proud of myself for acting mature. It felt good to learn how to act around adults at a fancy event.

Two years later, Gia and I were invited to a baby shower. I thought I had to dress fancy and didn’t know what to wear. I was going crazy about it so I asked Gia, “What should I wear?”

“Wear what is comfortable for you,” she said. “Don’t freak out about it.”

I was glad to get her advice because I really didn’t want to dress up. I also knew I didn’t have a lot of nice clothes in my closet. So I tried my best. I wore a nice gray sweater and black velvet pants. Gia said that I looked good. I was happy to find out I have good judgment. Dressing appropriately for events that are important to other people is respectful, and I also want to make a good impression.

I don’t always use my manners, especially when I’m just hanging out with my friends. If I’m upset, I might talk really loudly.

But for the most part, I use proper words like “please” and “thank you,” I don’t curse, I don’t yell, I don’t talk about people behind their backs, and I don’t run wild.

I’m glad that I know how to act when I’m around adults. When I was younger, I didn’t really understand why Gia wanted me to act so properly, and I was embarrassed sometimes when I got corrected. But now I understand why she wanted me to act civilized. It’s important, especially as you grow up and have to hold a job and go on dates and attend formal events, to know how to act in unfamiliar surroundings.

© 2009 Youth Communication/New York Center Inc., http://www.youthcomm.org.