Issue 43

Breaking the Rules


                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 doesn’t have a single check or balance in his favor.

                Let’s face facts: rules are for the people who don’t have to follow them.  For example, naps and regular bed times are for Mommy and Daddy; the hypocrasy of how I’m willing to let Skylar skip a nap or extend his bed time when it’s convenient for us doesn’t 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 Mom’s door.  One exhilerating time I felt the blood gushing and ran to her door, pounding as hard as I could while shouting gleefully, “I’m 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.

“Do 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 wasn’t 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 it’s my own wall.  And if I do paint a wall, I know that I’m 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 wouldn’t get caught.  But don’t 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:

                “Don’t talk to strangers (or make a new friend).”

                “Don’t get your clothes dirty (don’t take a chance).”

                “Don’t put anything strange (sushi) in your mouth.”

                “Don’t deface property (even your own, even with colors you enjoy).”

                As a matter of hard fact, Skylar won’t 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 he’ll learn the hard way that drawing on the kitchen walls over Mommy’s 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.


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