On Sunday, my friend Kelly and her sons took me out to lunch for my birthday.

As we entered the restaurant, Jensen, who is five, went in first, and Alex, who is seven, was also about to enter ahead of us, but Kelly stopped him.

“Alex, would you please hold the door for me?” she requested. He obliged. 

And because his mom knew he would soon be distracted by the balloons and the games and the bright lights of the restaurant, she added, “And for Charity, too?”

So, he held the door a little longer, the perfect little gentleman-in-training, letting the ladies go first.

It was a beautiful moment. A mom, wisely training her son. A son, happily obeying his mother. The creation order of masculinity and femininity being played out in such a gentle way.

The evolving etiquette of door holding could easily be a meter for the rapidly changing views of gender and roles in our culture. According to an April 2010 article in the Chicago Tribune, age, social rank, physical ability, and who gets to the door first all outweigh gender in deciding who holds the door for whom.

I’ve found myself scrambling to hold the door for men and women of all ages, no longer sure who would be offended or not by such a gesture. A man who works in the same building as me calls it “the woman’s burden.” More and more, however, I am seeing it as the man’s burden when he is not allowed the privilege of holding the door. He is losing his place in the world as the one who goes ahead and takes care of things.

Alex’s lesson on Sunday was the second time this weekend when I felt like “the lady” to a gentleman’s kindness, however. Saturday evening, just before my birthday party, I ran to the corner convenience store for a couple of bags of ice. They weren’t all that big or heavy, but since there were two of them, they were kind of awkward. I was obviously fumbling with them as I waited in line to pay.

The man in front of me, who appeared to be in his mid-30s, stepped aside and said, “You can go before me.” 

It probably saved me only 30 seconds or so of juggling the ice bags, but I appreciated the gesture. I accepted and stepped ahead. When I continued to readjust my grip on the bags, the man made another offer.

“Actually, I could carry those to your car for you if you want,” he said.

I was touched. Little did he know that when I got home I would have to lug them from my car to the house by myself and even break them apart and dump them in the cooler of drinks. He had no idea that every month I have to carry 40 pound bags of dog food from the store to the car and the car to the house by myself. And I’m sure he didn’t even think about the fact that I take out my own garbage, mow my own lawn, pump my own gas. I could easily have carried the ice to the car. 

But in that moment, a gentleman was offering to help a lady. And since there are very few moments in my day when I am so kindly reminded I’m a lady, I took him up on the offer. 

I felt taken care of as I waited for him to buy his cigarettes and then grab my bags of ice and follow me to the car. I felt concerned about as he asked if I would like him to crunch up the big chunks of ice into smaller pieces, slamming the bags together as he walked. And I felt like things were as they should be as he put the bags in the car, closed the door, and told me to have a nice day.

Apparently there was another mother some 30 years ago who wisely trained her son that gentlemen hold the door for ladies. And I am grateful.