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.