Leaving Before the Fat Lady Sings
With three children, my husband and I attend several school concerts each year. I think we should stay through the entire concert to show support and appreciation to all the performers and their teachers. My husband feels we can leave once our child has performed and joined us in the audience. He is apparently not alone in his view. When we have stayed to the end, we usually find ourselves in an empty auditorium occupied only by parents still waiting to see their kids on stage. My husband is sure that my insistence we stay is due to an overactive politeness gene. What is the proper etiquette in this situation?
J.L. in Mendon
You are right, and your husband is wrong. Parents should stay until the end of the concert (or the play, talent show, soccer game). In fact, if it is as common as you say for parents to leave early, the school should take measures to stem this either by sending a letter to the parents, requesting all children stay for the entire performance, or some other tactic. (Ive talked to parents of musical kids, and apparently there are all kinds of sneaky tricks that schools use to keep parental butts in seats during concerts.)
Why does it matter? Because the real point of getting kids involved in music, theater, or sports isnt to teach them how to play the clarinet or paint a backdrop or run out a bunt. Its to teach them how to cooperate. How to rein in their egos and let someone else be a star. How to show up and do a good job even when theyre not in the mood. Extracurricular activities teach kids that the drudgery of practice pays off. Kids who practice arts and sports learn, in short, to endure boredom and stifle their natural narcissism.
Now, what message does it send when parents leave a concert after their kid has played? The message that no matter how much you practice, the only people interested in your music are those who love you anyway. The message that we do not owe courtesy to performers. The message that boredom is not to be endured. The message that you my child are the only one who matters. The very opposite of the lessons that a child should get from practicing music.
While staying at the concert should be the normal behavior, it, of course, will not always be possible. Parents are pressed for time in every direction. If you must leave, minimize the damage. Explain in advance to your children why its necessary to leave early and let them know that this is an accommodation to an emergency, not ordinary behavior. Exit unobtrusively; do not bring 15 relatives to hear your child play and then lead them down the aisle in a mass exodus when he or she is done. Apologize sincerely to the parents of other children, when you see them, and ask how their childs performance went.
My brother and his girlfriend are having a baby. The girlfriend has registered for a large number of expensive gifts, and because we know they need things, many family members have bought and sent them items, yet no one has received a single thank you call or card. My mother even confirmed that my brother had the addresses of some relatives who sent items. I havent sent my gift yet is it appropriate to give a box of nice baby-themed thank you cards (as a hint) in addition to the baby gift?
J.L. in Wellesley
A box of notecards is always a lovely gift, especially when accompanied by decorative stamps, and is especially suitable for new parents, spouses, graduates, the recently housewarmed, or anyone else whos got a lot of thanking to do. Dont give specific event-themed or thank you cards, ever; blank cards are considered more tasteful and are more versatile.
So, good idea. Heres where it gets complicated (more for me than for you, since its my job to think through all the angles on things like this, whereas you just want your relatives to behave like civilized people): What if your clever scheme takes off? Then, you see, you will have introduced what psychologists call "attributional ambiguity" to the giving of notecards. People receiving notecards as a gift in the future wont know if its merely a thoughtful gesture or a message that they are considered slackers in the thank you department. And human nature being what it is, the punctual and proper people will get cards and suffer mental agonies worrying if they have been delinquent by writing notes the day after they receive a gift and not that very day. And the people who never bother with any social graces at all will think "Cool" and toss the notecards in a desk drawer unopened.
But thats not your problem, now, is it? Thats for Miss Conduct to clear up. So go ahead and give those cards, and watch this space for the letter sure to appear in a year or so: "Dear Miss Conduct, my best friend gave me notecards for my graduation, and now I am worried. Do you think she is trying to tell me . . ."
A nifty idea for outdoor weddings: "Place pretty baskets containing sunscreen and bug spray in a few discreet, appropriate locations at the wedding site." Thanks to reader Riley Hart for this excellent bit of advice! If youve got a good tip, send it to email@example.com.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology.