A very polite 2-year-old

January 02, 1996|By Mona Charen

WASHINGTON -- David is very possibly the world's most polite 2-year-old. He nearly always says ''please'' and ''thank you'' without prompting and has recently added ''you're welcome'' to his repertoire. Even when he is violently shaking his head and squirming (as when he has to swallow medicine), he'll say, ''No, thank you. No, thank you.'' Whenever he departs a room, he takes his leave of everyone in it, as if he were going on a thousand-mile journey instead of just into the living room.

His greetings when a loved one returns to the house are nothing short of rapturous. ''Mommy!'' he cries, ''you're home! Nice to see you again, Mommy.''

Well, the first part is rapturous anyway. The second part actually tags David as a Washingtonian. Politicians are always saying ''nice to see you'' when they shake hands. It's the perfect greeting for those whose job it is to know people. If the senator or congressman has already met and forgotten you, saying ''nice to see you'' instead of ''happy to meet you'' obscures that embarrassing fact.

Eight nights

Hanukkah provided ample opportunity for David to stretch his politeness muscles. Against our usual practice of restraint in holiday gift giving, we showered Jonathan (age 4) and David with presents on all eight nights of Hanukkah this year. With wrapping paper and ribbons flying and with bright, new toys beckoning, David did occasionally forget his manners. But his and Jonathan's sheer delight was payback aplenty.

I've always understood that it is more blessed to give than to receive. But not until I had children did I discover that it can also be more fun. Jonathan is, by now, an old hand at getting presents, and though he is always thrilled at the prospect (I had to help him count the days until Hanukkah began), he has also developed the first understandable but lamentable signs of expecting gifts. Jonathan assumes that every wrapped box he sees is a present for Jonathan, and he can be convinced only with much effort that a wine rack is not a toy.

But David, still new to this, expressed such wonder and delight at the munificence shown him that I just wanted to keep piling it on. On the first night of Hanukkah, when after lighting the candles and singing the prayers, we handed Jonathan and David their first gifts, David went dashing around the kitchen exclaiming, ''They bought me a present! They bought me a present!''

Each child got one gift each night. And night after night, the two would decide together which was the better toy and promptly make themselves miserable by fighting over it. ''Give it back to me'' was one of David's first sentences -- for good reason --

though he isn't always precise in the use of the word ''back.'' Sometimes it is David who is poaching even while protesting, ''Give it back to me.''

'No new baby'

Being 2 years old has its advantages, though. David doesn't have to worry about the impending arrival of a new baby because the concept is really beyond him. He does say, ''No, no new baby,'' when the subject comes up, but he says it with the same emotional emphasis that he applies to asking for the ''spaceship Magic Schoolbus'' instead of the ''lady bug.''

Jonathan, by contrast, does have an inkling of what this new arrival will mean. In some primal way, he knows that before there was David, there was no need for that annoying sharing stuff. But he's also happy about it insofar as he sees a new, more grown-up role for himself in this. He will be the helper. He will be the biggest big brother.

''Is Daddy going to get a baby in his tummy?'' Jonathan asked one day out of the blue, hanging upside down from his jungle gym. I told him that having babies in tummies was exclusively a Mommy thing. He accepted this with a serious nod.

Anyway, even if David's arrival did mean jealousy and strife, it also meant a partner in crime -- a co-conspirator in the important work of dragging blankets off beds to build tents and stealing wooden spoons from Mommy's kitchen to use as batons in a marching band, and a partner in bulldozer worship. Perhaps a

new baby won't be so bad after all.

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

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