The Thing About Rules

I was thinking of rules the other day and the unwillingness of some of us to follow any kind of instruction, to obey as it were, rules meant for the benefit of the greater good, such as not running red lights or driving while impaired, paying for goods and services rather than stealing them, contributing our share of taxes to keep the country running and filing our returns in a timely manner, and it got me thinking.
Children know all about rules and being told to sit down and calm down and a negative response to any query was more likely than a positive one. Children have their own code, their own rules of standard operating procedures and if we think about it for a minute, we will recall our own code when growing up. Every kid knows not to let arms or legs hang off the edge of the bed while going to sleep. Any number of scary things, that undoubtedly live under the bed, are poised to chomp off the arms and legs of the unaware. Even now I have a certain kind of anxiety when my foot sticks out over the edge of the bed. Some things you never get away from.
Who can forget the metal surfaces outdoors in the winter, begging us to place our tongue against the cold aluminum ladder. Why? Because we were told not to and most of the time, we heeded that sage advice, but we were young human beings, our brains not yet completely formed, so learning from our mistakes was sometimes the only way to learn. I think. Even now, as I walk by some steel implement in the winter, my child brain calls out the rule – don’t put your tongue on it. I nod in compliance, not that I am inclined, at my age, to lick a lamp post.
I can’t remember if I was a superstitious child. I do recall seeing my aunt throw salt over her left shoulder whenever death entered the conversation. I thought she was being funny, but I do remember thinking – who’s going to clean that up. I haven’t been a salt thrower in my life. Not as of yet. I did avoid cracks in the sidewalk as a rule, but that was more of challenge of regulating my steps than anything else such as preserving my mother’s back, plus I was a compulsive counter of things, steps usually.
I have very little recall of arguments erupting when kids were playing without adults interfering in the soup. That could be due to my selective memory or we really did work things out without too much fuss. In hopscotch, the tossed stone had to land clearly outside the line before a turn was forfeited and I don’t believe we got into too many wrestling matches about whose turn it was. Do-overs were allowed in reasonable circumstances. If you swung for a final strike in scrub baseball, in self defense because a bee flew into your face, a do-over was the obvious remedy. It wasn’t always so clear cut. Backsies were a little frowned upon. If you said something that you didn’t really mean, backsies were allowed and fell under the same heading as an apology. We knew that backsies weren’t allowed in a game of tag; that was as obvious as the nose on our face, tagging the kid who was just “it” a clear case of abusing the nature of the game.
It’s hard to tell a child not to do something while parents are exceeding the speed limit and parking under a sign that says no parking and smuggling goods across the border. We lead by example, that’s for sure.
wendistewart@live.ca


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