Summer 2016 was quickly coming to a close, the first day of school was approaching, and I finally put my mind to consideration of my children’s schedules for the year. Soccer, dance, basketball… was I missing something? They were entering second, fourth, and fifth grade. Having been a teacher of both fourth and fifth grades before having children, I was both looking forward to and almost at the same time dreading having two of my own in “my grades.” My thoughts turned to my time teaching fourth grade at Ashley Hall. How things have changed in just a few years, but how they are also just the same. What had my students at Ashley Hall done in their after school hours? Horseback riding was a big one. Swimming was also quite popular. Yes, and then there was Cotillion. Oh no! Cotillion! My son was ready for Cotillion!! And I had nearly missed the enrollment deadline already!
I went to the internet to begin my research of available options, schedules, venues, prices. Surprisingly, I found very few local choices. I took to my friend networks to ask, “Are you all thinking about this yet? Am I missing something out there? If I enroll my son in this one, will you be doing it, too, because goodness knows, he will only go kicking and screaming unless he has some friends doing it, too?!”
Once enrolled, it was the idea of the new sport coat, tie, and shoes that hooked him on the idea of it. And of course the names of those of his friends who would also be going.
Seeing him dressed as such a “mature young man” for the first time nearly brought tears to my eyes… of nostalgia, pride, love, and fear…. Growing up so quickly!
Drop off for the first class was pretty chaotic. While I was happy to see so many more friends and acquaintances had enrolled their children, I was stunned by the number of children who would be in the same room together.. 60, 70, possibly even 80 kids all dressed to the nines crammed into a room together to learn some basic Southern grace and charm.
I looked forward to the post class debriefing session, but I knew not to expect much. My son is a man of few well chosen words when it comes to his answers to my questions. What I got was, “It was ok. Do I have to go again?”
He finished the season of cotillion classes, and I never heard more from him than that. Of course I spoke to other moms and learned a tad more, but no communication from the instructor and no observable impact on my kid.
Out of the cotillion experience began “what if” chats with my good friend Allie. Her daughter had also been enrolled in the program, and we shared the same disappointment. During morning walks we began supposing… What if we had an etiquette option here on Daniel Island? What if table manners were taught using real food? What if the curriculum could have a real impact on character development? What if parents didn’t have to drive so far to take their kids or could stay and socialize themselves during class?
Another friend who had become vested in our “what if” ideas suggested we talk to The Islander. We loved the idea: a mutually beneficial relationship for two local businesses, a welcoming place for parents who might want to either stay to catch up with each other or incorporate a family dinner into their likely hectic and crammed after school schedules.
The Islander was equally excited about a partnership, and dates were locked down for Tuesday evening classes. We agreed that making food a real focus during most classes would bring a hands on component to the course while also serving the very practical need for children to be fed sometime between 5-8pm on a school night. Having struggled with the timing and preparation of dinner during the extracurricular shuffle of multiple children after school, I knew I would not be alone in my thinking: Giving my child practical instruction in manners and a meal, too, is a big win-win!
Meanwhile, Allie and I continued to share ideas about our curriculum: social media etiquette, the art of giving and receiving gifts, polite self advocacy, bucket filling vs bucket dipping, etc. We opened our conversations to other moms we know for input and additional ideas on our concept for a modern approach to teaching good old fashioned manners.
As we embark upon this new challenge as two moms, two friends, and two well educated professionals, we realize that others who do not know us may wonder what “qualifies” us to do this? What assurances can we provide to students and their families that we are able to provide useful, practical, engaging lessons to children in manners and the social graces? Neither of us are high society gurus or well heeled former debutantes. We are moms who want our children to learn to be kind, respectful, confident human beings in a variety of situations and settings. Together we have a great variety of background and experiences, including teaching and writing curriculum. We want to provide something meaningful, useful, practical and important, something that will “make a difference” in our world. And we know that helping children to find the kindest part of themselves to share with the rest of the world will most definitely make a difference. This is our challenge, our mission, our passion, and we are so incredibly excited and grateful to have the opportunity to pursue this worthwhile endeavor! As parents, we struggle just as most others do; we are far from perfect. But we share a work ethic and a vision for a world that is mannerly and respectful, kind and considerate. We are excited to help other parents to refine and polish their little “GEMs.”