I love my kids. More than words can express. Please remember I wrote that. Because I’m getting ready to do some Grade A complaining about them.
If you haven’t met them, allow me to paint a picture.
Jake is four. Audrey is two. They both talk incessantly, and at an extreme volume. We’re not talking about a little bit of chatter and the occasional scream. That’s other peoples’ kids. The annoying ones.
With our kids, we’re talking about the "if-I-hear-that-kid-say-another-word-I’m-going-to-rip-off-his-tiny-little-fingers-and-pierce-my-own-eardrums-with-them” kind of loud. I have inflicted pain upon myself just to get away from their high-decibel yappers. Nearly suffocated myself under a pillow. Hot. Dark. Sweaty. Lack of oxygen.
It was worth it.
Gabby recently picked me up from the airport after I had been on a business trip. Jake and Audrey were doing their normal Abbott and Costello routine, turned up to 11. They were giving me a migraine, so I pulled out all the stops. I offered them a special treat if they could be quiet for one minute. Just 60 seconds.
Their longest silent stretch was four seconds. I timed it. Four seconds. Though they were in the back seat, they talked as if they were trying to have a conversation in the front row of a Miley Cyrus concert.
Gabby and I have found that the only real relief is to join in the conversation before they start to argue. My recent tactic is to use our traffic time as an opportunity to teach the kids their numbers. There are numbers everywhere. Even out in the middle of nowhere.
“Tell me what numbers you see, kids?”
“There’s a three!” yells Audrey.
“That black and white sign says fifty-five, daddy!” shouts Jake. “ What does that mean?”
“It means you can only drive fifty-five miles per hour, son.”
On a recent trip to Ohio, I was unfortunate enough to get pulled over for speeding on I-71. My excuse is that I was distracted by the kids and their incessant blathering.
The cop wasn’t even in his car. He was just standing beside his cruiser holding a radar gun. He waved me down while I was still a tenth of a mile away. It hardly seemed fair. Kind of insulting, really. If I’m going to break the law, I’d at least like for you to give me a good chase, like an episode of Cops. This was the police equivalent of a self-checkout at the grocery store. I pulled up right next to him, rolling my window down. Audrey screams from the back,
“Daddy! Why is that police man standing at our window?!”
I know it sounds like an innocent question, but it was incredibly embarrassing. I am avoiding eye contact with the officer, who is looking down his nose at me with great disapproval. I was going 20 miles over the limit.
In my defense, it was a speed trap.
How to respond to my two-year-old? I had a couple of options.
Option A: I could confess my traffic violation in the presence of the nice police man. This alternative gave me the willies. I grew up Catholic, and the idea of confession scared the holy shnikeys out of me. By the rules of God, you’re supposed to do your first confession in the 3rd or 4th grade. Must be in the Bible somewhere. Anyhow, I played sick for an entire semester of Sunday School to avoid it. I was confession-free until the 8th grade when my Catholic guilt finally got the best of me. By then, I had accumulated four more years of sins, which equated to an additional 45-minutes in the humiliating, non-sound-proof booth opposite Father Mikliska.
Confessing is not my strong suit. What was the alternative?
Option B: I could answer “I don’t know, Audrey.” Thereby, leaving it up to the nice police man to tell the kids what a menace to society that I am, and how I had placed their lives in jeopardy with my reckless behavior, and how if I speed too much they can lock their daddy up in jail.
I chose option A. Stopping just short of Jimmy Swaggart tears, I played it soft,
Menace: “Well Audrey. The police man pulled me over.”
Jake: “Why daddy?”
Menace: “I was driving too fast.”
There goes my chance at pleading “no contest” or arguing that his radar gun was mis-calibrated. Thanks kids!
Jake: “Why were you driving so fast?”
Menace: “I don’t know, Jake.”
Audrey: “What’s he doing?”
Menace: “He’s writing me a ticket.”
Audrey: “A ticket!?!?! ”
She said this with unbridled enthusiasm, confusing this ticket with the slip of paper that allows you to enter an amusement park. Or the colored slips of paper they give out at the YMCA with bible verses on them.
Menace: “No Audrey, not that kind of ticket.”
Jake: “What’s it for?”
Menace: “It tells what I did wrong. It tells me I have to pay a fine.”
I would have bought them matching Ferraris for their 16th birthdays just to get them to stop talking. There is no way that would have worked. Jake, still yelling over the howl of an imaginary jet engine called out,
“What’s a fine?”
Menace: “Daddy has to pay money to the police department because he broke the rules.”
Jake: “Oh. That’s not good.”
Menace: “No it’s not.”
Jake: “Why were you driving so fast?
And so continues the circle of questioning. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Gabby smiling. For once, she didn’t have to be the bad guy and comment on my driving.
Now Jake has a new number game. First, he looks at all of the speed limit signs and reads them aloud. Next, from his prime viewing angle in the right rear passenger seat, he compares the posted speed limit to what he sees on my speedometer.
“Daddy! The speed limit is 45 and you’re driving 60! Slow down!”
“It’s OK Jake.”
“No it’s not! You’re going to get a ticket!”
And so it has been for every single car trip since I started teaching the kid his numbers. I almost wish he were an imbecile who just sat around and ate Elmer’s glue. But no. He’s Rainman.
This past Saturday, we were coming home from a shopping trip. The car in front of me was driving very slowly. Far below the speed limit, in my opinion. As it exited the highway, it straddled both left turn lanes. I couldn’t pass him, and the light was green. So, as soon as he got over far enough, I sped around him and tried to make the light. It clicked to yellow. To stop, or not to stop?
Traffic laws state that stoplights have seven colors. Green. Yellow. Yellow-pink. Yellow-orange. Yellow-red. Just-Turned-Red. And Been-Red-For-Awhile. You may proceed with caution with all colors except Been-Red-For-Awhile. Look it up. I promise.
As I drove through the “Just-Turned-Red” light, Gabby gasped in disapproval.
Jake: “What happened?!”
Gabby: “Daddy just drove through a red light.”
Jake: “You’re going to get a ticket, daddy.”
Menace: “No, I’m not going to get a ticket, Jake.”
Jake: “But you broke the rules!”
Menace: “I know Jake, but no police were around to see it, so I’ll be fine.”
I see Gabby wince. She gives me a look that spoke volumes.
Is that really what you want to teach your kids? That it’s OK to break the law so long as no one is watching?
I am not proud.
Then Jake verbalizes what she’s thinking.
Jake: “That’s still bad, Daddy. The next time you see a policeman, you need to tell him what you did.”
Menace: “I will, Jake.”
The next day, I neglected to take the kids to their second straight day of the “Music and Molasses” festival. First, because Gabby and I were worn out. Second, because there are a slew of mounted police at the festival, and I would have had to confess to every last one of them, lest my yapping kids rat me out.
But this begs the question. Are there some rules that are OK to break? Just because something is against the rules doesn’t automatically make it bad, right? And vice versa. Just because something is legal doesn’t automatically make it moral. For all of us, this is a tough call. Navigating the gray area. And, if you’ll allow me to go out on a limb here, it can be even tougher as a parent, when your every waking moment is being watched by a tiny little person that will likely emulate anything you do. I’d rather teach them how to count.
Take this example. Let’s say I wanted to start a business selling drug-free urine to people who were having trouble passing the good old fashioned drug test. Guess what?! In all but 13 states, it’s not illegal. In Tennessee, they’ve outlawed synthetic urine sales, but you’re free to sell all the real pee you want. Still, if Jake and Audrey became budding entrepreneurs and wanted to start selling their own “liquid gold,” I’d probably advise against it. Not against the law, but it doesn’t feel right, either.
And what about this one.
A few years ago, Gabby and I volunteered with a group called No More Deaths. They leave bottles of water, sometimes even 55-gallon drums full of water, in the desert in an effort to stop the deaths of desperate immigrants illegally crossing the border. Hundreds of them die each year crossing the deserts of Arizona, literally baking to death. Seems like the humane thing to do, right? However, these humanitarians have been arrested for littering. Granted, all have been acquitted using the defense that “How is giving a dying person water illegal?” Even so, the debate rages on. I know what side of the fence I fall on that argument, and I know what I would tell my kids about this one, but I’m not naïve enough to think that my position is shared by everyone, even my close friends.
So, which rules should I follow? Which rules should I bend or break because I think Jesus would do it, too? That’s a pretty tough question to answer, especially since the Hebrew-In-Chief isn’t here today to weigh in on the drug-free pee debate.
Something tells me he might not give me a straight-up answer. Instead, he’d speak in a parable. He’d probably save a good one for me. Like the story of the man who did everything right, but Jesus asked for one more thing, “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor. Then follow me.”
Can you run that by me again? I think I’d rather just obey the speed limit and limit my littering, thanks.
Living by the Jesus rules? That’s the tough stuff. The guy doesn’t give you a lot of wiggle room, does he? He’s always there. Reminding. Prodding. Challenging. He wants me to put my money where my mouth is. Literally. But that’s easier said than done.
And that’s why I think he’d probably describe me the same way I describe my kids.
“I sure do love him. More than words can express. But he’s a lot of talk.”