Rules. I like ’em. The end.
Of course that’s not really the end. I do really like rules. They are how I make sense of the world. I get really anxious when people around me aren’t following the rules. Or when I don’t know the rules. Or when I thought I knew the rules, but they seem to have changed with no warning. Or it only seems like they changed to me because I never really understood them in the first place.
Like Mr. Rose. When I was in kindergarten, my mom was a substitute teacher. On days she was working, I would go to stay with a woman called Mrs. Rose who had a son a year younger than me at home with her. He used to beat the shit out of me all the time. I probably could have taken the kid, but he was younger and I was in his house, so I believed I was not allowed to fight back. I hated going there, but that’s not the point. The point is that one day, when my mom came to pick me up and we hadn’t left yet, Mrs. Rose’s husband came home. He walked in and, polite little girl that I was, I said, “Hello, Mr. Rose.” Everyone laughed at me. The adults tried to explain that the family’s last name was X, so the lady’s name was Rose X, but the whole thing didn’t make sense to me for a long time. The rule, as I understood it, was that you used the prefix when saying the last name, but not the first name. And nobody ever told me that Rose wasn’t her last name until that day. And I still think it was pretty shitty of them to openly laugh at me for it.
Like in first grade, when I believed I was responsible for everyone else’s behavior in addition to my own. The teacher would admonish the whole class for whatever behavioral rule had been broken that time and I would sit at my desk, quivering with guilt and frantically searching for a way I could restore myself in my teacher’s eyes, knowing full well I had had no part in the rule-breaking.
Come to think of it, first grade was also the class where I got a spanking for not doing the reading homework I kept forgetting to do. I could read on at least a third grade level, but it was important enough for me to complete these questions on a too easy story that I probably hadn’t read to spank me for not doing it. I must have learned my lesson, too, because I went all the way through advanced placement English in high school. That is, if the lesson was to bullshit my way through assignments as long as I turned them in, because I never read any of the books we were assigned to read. I guess I should clarify my love of rules: I only love the ones that actually make sense to me.
And then there was Sally Knap. In later elementary years, I went to a daycare center after school. One of the teachers (or whatever they were called) who worked there was Sally Knap. I never heard her referred to as anything but Sally. One day I was in a room with just her and another girl. I should point out now that that I was a very Hermione-esque as a child, mostly when it came to language use. I was not afraid of correcting anyone who abused the rules of English as I knew them. Anyway, this other girl saw Sally’s full name printed out on some paper or other and read it out loud, pronouncing the k. I, being well-versed in kn words such as knife and knit, knew that the k was silent and told the girl so. At which point, Sally told me that the k was not silent, so her name was pronounced kuh-nap. I never did find out if that was actually true or she was just putting my little know-it-all ass in its place. Probably doesn’t matter because it didn’t deter me from announcing to my teacher in front of the whole class the following year that the h in herb was silent. She actually looked it up in a dictionary in an attempt to prove me wrong (turns out both pronunciations acceptable). I don’t know if that says more about my obnoxiousness or her insecurity.
These days, I keep the rule-skirting and -breaking admonishments to myself. Mostly. Except when newscasters say ‘pleaded’ and I scream at the TV or radio. It’s okay to use irregular verbs, people. The word is pled.
What bothers me most lately is that Zoo Keeper is in first grade and following in my footsteps. He wants the whole class to adhere strictly to the rules and feels it’s his responsibility to make that happen. Because he needs the structure just as I did. Only he speaks up about it where I was silent, at least in the early years, and it’s going to get him bullied. I have to find a way to keep him from doing that; to make him understand his actual level of responsibility in a way that will keep him safe.
Because that really is my responsibility.
More than once I’ve corrected my step-cousin’s grammar on FB. The other day she had “Always remember, your everything and none the less”. It’s like a compulsion. Oh, and one of my religion teachers as a kid was “Miss Patty”. When she got married, her husband was “Mister Patty”, even though he was technically “Mister Matt”. Luckily, it didn’t seem to bother him too much. 🙂
Ha! How does your step-cousin take it?
Spy loves to be the rule police as well. Years of discussion about situation-appropriate times to speak up has improved things. Some.
That’s been our tactic thus far as well. I think I need a new way of explaining it, though. I’m glad to hear other parents experience it because I used to think it was just me causing it. We had a dog who would bark at the running dogs in the dog park. I always joked about embroidering “Hall Monitor” on a coat for her.
The hardest part, for me, is trying to teach my kids that, though some rules are stupid and don’t make sense, we have to follow them to avoid undesirable consequences. H got in trouble because she waited for her friend who was using the bathroom, instead of going straight to class and missing the bell. I told her that even though that’s the rule and she got marked for her wrong behavior, she did the right thing in waiting for her friend and not letting her walk back alone.
H absolutely did the right thing. She is so awesome and loving. I agree, the stupid rules are the hardest in explaining why. Ugh.
Let me know if you figure out how to help the Zoo Keeper because I’ve got a rule-follower of my own and still being one I struggle to know what to do. Since my rule-follower is a girl, I struggle with not wanting to tell her to be a “good little girl” and not speaking up for herself as well. I find this a difficult balance.
Ah yes, I still struggle with that myself. The balance of passiveness and assertiveness. And when it’s okay to be passive on the outside even though you’re not really on the inside. And when it’s appropriate to speak up. Only appropriate’s not really the word I’m looking for. More like prudent. Because I’m learning that it’s more about my comfort level and what my goal in speaking up would be. And how to word what I say so that it has the impact I want. And there’s the balance between assertiveness and bossiness. I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten a glimpse of that line, so I don’t know how to teach Zoo Keeper what to look for.