Saturday, May 12, 2012

I Triple Dog Dare You

We're headed to the eye doctor this afternoon. At his four-year-check, John bombed both the sight and hearing tests. Apparently it's not uncommon for four-year-old boys to fail the hearing test, and this typically has more to do with the test than the hearing. But the sight test? The pediatrician turfed us over to the opthamologist.

I love our eye doctor. I'm not, however, too crazy about how his office is run. Do you ever go into a store or an office and find one Warning! Warning! Warning! sign after another, all nicely laminated and posted on every door and surface? Such is the case here.

Payment is expected at time of service! Perfectly reasonable. Don't place your kid on the counter! Okay. No children in the restrooms unattended! I'll inform my fourteen-year-old son. And then the real kicker . . . Parents are responsible for any restroom damage!


Are my kids disabling a lavatory smoke detector? Wetting paper towels and sticking them to the ceilings? (Okay, in the interest of full disclosure, one of my kids did this once. Thankfully, I caught him before it became a habit.)

They keep the bathroom locked. You have to go to the front desk and ask for the key. I'm surprised it's not attached to a hubcap like some scene from a sitcom. All this leaves me feeling a tad . . . like an outlaw. Do they think I'm going to stuff the extra roll of toilet paper into my purse? Use an excessive amount of soap? Really, the bathroom isn't that big or interesting.

I had to take a quick trip downtown a few weeks back. A certain department store seems to have a monopoly on the white Good Humor Man pants required for this event. This store is a relic from 1950. Creaky wood floors. An elevator that leaves you worried about spending an afternoon between floors. A lingerie department that sells bras and panties I swear my great-grandmother would have worn.

And then there are the signs. No returns without a receipt! Hats are not returnable! Underwear is not returnable! Don't open packaged clothing! Beware of the dog! Trespassers will be shot!

I have a confession to make: Signs like these make me want to spray paint the walls. Really, they summon the inner rebel in me Big Time. It's hard to explain, but I've seen this dynamic before.

When I was high school teacher, I took my students to a play. We walked into the lobby, and this man started reading my students the riot act. Do this! Don't do that! I hope you know this is a theater! Blah, blah, blah. My students had done nothing except walk into the lobby. The other chaperone was so taken aback, she threw her arms up in the air and said, "Don't shoot!"

This man treated my class like they were a bunch of vandals.

And you know what? A really awful exchange involving one of my students took place during the intermission. And I can't help but to think the undeserved chewing out as we entered fed the event that followed.

Now, I've been that man in the theater. I get that people in charge want to side step trouble and sometimes go about it the wrong way. I gave plenty of briefings before field trips -- no short shorts, no gum in the theater, best behavior, representing our school, yada, yada, yada. But this was over the top. Every teenager isn't a potential vandal, but if you treat them as if they are, you just might get what you're looking for.

I spent twelve years in the Army reserves. My first unit was a badly run outfit with poor, poor leadership. Every edict came with a threat. We were a hospital unit full of nurses, doctors, and therapists, captains, majors and colonels -- and we were treated like twelve-year-old truants or bamboozlers out to rook the government out of a day's pay. Trust was non-existent.

I joined a second Army unit that couldn't have been more dissimilar from the first. I worked an odd day one week and was trying to explain to my boss how he could verify that I had worked when I said I had worked.

He looked me dead in the eye and said, "If I thought you were defrauding the government, I wouldn't come up with a plan to prevent you from doing it. I would fire you."

How refreshing was that.

The commander and his staff set a tone, a tone that said we were competent, hard-working, talented soldiers who were there to do top notch work. And you know what? We did.

As I go through my day, I realize how often I put up virtual signs and issue actual threats. At least three times this week alone, I heard myself saying something that I fully recognized as idiotic before it even left my lips.  And why is this? Frustration, fatigue, control, all of the above. None of this is effective, and it probably summons the inner rebel in my children just as it does me.

(Issuing the threat of the day is, I think, very different from pointing out the natural consequences: You can't go to your friend's house until the dishes are done and your room is straightened.)

I want to steer away from Threat of the Day of parenting. Truly I don't want to foment rebellion where there isn't much (that would be Kolbe) or stir the pot where it's ever present, lurking just beneath the surface (that would be John).

If you look an impish four-year-old in the eye and say, "I triple dog dare you," the results are fairly predictable.

1 comment:

Dianne said...

I hope all goes well at the opthamologist's office - that's for sure.

I spent ten years of my longer RN career as a child psych RN - working with emotionally disturbed children. Some were there with simple attention deficit disorders that had led to issues in the classroom. Most were there with much more serious issues - ranging from child abuse to, sadly, suicidal tendencies or attempts. Many were angry and acted accordingly. It didn't take long to learn that "positive behaviour modification" was much easier than any form of punishment or consequences.

Something in me rebels also when I walk into a place with one sign after the other telling me what NOT to do! I, too, look for the can of spray paint I wish I had in my purse! ;-)