Part of being a parent includes teaching and enforcing rules, which means
that to my son I am officer, judge, and executioner all. Skylar does
not yet comprehend all the idiosyncrasies of this democratic system,
especially the great injustice that he doesnt have a single check or
balance in his favor.
Lets face facts: rules are for the people who dont have to follow
them. For example, naps and regular bed times are for Mommy and
Daddy; the hypocrasy of how Im willing to let Skylar skip a nap or
extend his bed time when its convenient for us doesnt escape me.
My mother used to take a nap herself at a different time than when I took
mine. The rule was that I could only knock on her door if I was
bleeding. I remember several times when I reached up to my forehead
after a particularly hard crack of my head against the glass coffee table,
thrilled with the prospect of seeing red and being able to knock on
Moms door. One exhilerating time I felt the blood gushing and ran
to her door, pounding as hard as I could while shouting gleefully,
Im bleeding! As my mother tells it, she opened the door to
an empty hallway. She had to follow the trail of blood on the carpet
to find me back in my room having another round of whatever fun game I had
hurt myself playing. I earned three stitches that day.
Rules, however, have a power beyond our immediate scope of understanding.
The other day I rode my bicycle on a road closed to car traffic, yet I
found myself still riding on the right side close to the shoulder.
Certainly, when I share the road with cars, careful riding makes sense.
But the entire road was mine, not another soul around and no chance of
encountering a motorized vehicle. I could turn without warning,
serpentine between the center reflector nubs, or just suddenly stop and
drink in the view. As I slowly moved over to use more of the lane,
my conscience angel poofed into being on my right shoulder.
you belong here? he asked, very close to my ear.
As I sheepishly kept to my self-imposed bike lane, I remembered an art
exhibit I had seen on graffiti. The piece wasnt about existing
graffiti, but about making my own. Faced with a blank plywood wall,
three cans of spray paint, and an explicit invitation to deface the wall,
I found myself paralyzed. Graffiti is wrong. Absolutely.
Even when its my own wall. And if I do paint a wall, I know that
Im supposed to use reasonable colors AND color with the lines.
I did spray that wall, and the guilt washed over me the entire time,
completely against my will and my common sense. I was doing nothing
wrong, yet I kept looking over my shoulder to see that I wouldnt get
caught. But dont kid yourself. I found it a delicious
thrill to feel like I was breaking the law without any of the risk
reparations. I also discovered just how hard it is to get a clean
line with a spray can.
Suddenly I swerved my bike into the middle of the road, swinging back and
forth from side to side and using up as much of the road as I could.
I could hear my conscience chattering away:
Dont talk to strangers (or make a new friend).
Dont get your clothes dirty (dont take a chance).
Dont put anything strange (sushi) in your mouth.
Dont deface property (even your own, even with colors you enjoy).
As a matter of hard fact, Skylar wont be able to buy a can of spray
paint for well over seventeen years. But I can buy him one, as well
as crayons and sharpie markers and finger paints. Of course hell
learn the hard way that drawing on the kitchen walls over Mommys
drawings is disrespectful. But I also foresee at least one wall,
probably in his room, where there are no rules but the rule to be himself.