Stop To Set an Example

The New York Times ran a very fine piece the other day about Raising a Moral Child. The scientifically researched upshot was anything but shocking: Children learn from example.

So, maybe, just maybe, someday, my kids will actually learn from watching me pick up after them all the time. That’s encouraging.

But I suppose I could try to yell at them less.

Oh, sure, I can rationalize my yelling: The message is urgent. It’s for their safety. No other mode of communication has proven effective. It is important for them to know that even parents can have strong emotions.

Still, I’ll try to yell less. (The NYT article is full of constructive ideas about what to yell while I’m weaning myself.)

I’m good at stopping at stop signs, though. And I think that’s an important example to set for children. “Stop,” after all, is one of the first words most kids can read, at least when it has a red octagon around it.

Stop signs are also the most obvious law-breaking opportunities for any of us. They may seem arbitrary and capricious, but whenever someone wants a stop sign at a corner, they always it’s “for the children.” Blow a stop sign, and you could kill a kid. That’s the message. And it’s true. Even children get it.

So I stop at every one. Even when there’s no one around and I am in a hurry, such as when I am running two minutes late for kindergarten pick-up. Which is roughly four out of five days a week.

I stop. For the children. Don’t you? Because if you won’t follow a simple little law about protecting the children in your neighborhood, just because you can get away with it 99.9% of the time, then what other laws or moral precepts would you break — or do you break — when no one is looking?

We have a stop sign almost right in front of our house. Maybe three cars out of ten perform what you could generously call a stop in front of it. I’ve contemplated painting a kid’s bike white and chaining it to the pole as a reminder of what could happen to any of the dozen children under ten who live within a couple hundred feet of that sign. But that would be a dishonest example to set for my kids. (Sigh.)

A lot of the cars who narrowly miss T-boning us backing out of our driveway have kids in them too. I can only imagine what those kids are going to grow up to be like. Probably like the person who rear-ended my neighbor Martha at that very stop sign.

When she got out to inspect the damage, the other driver immediately accused her of fault. “I didn’t expect you to stop!” he said.

To her credit, she didn’t yell.stop-signs

Do You Know This Friend of Mine?

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with adults for a couple of hours. Some of you may have watched it online. One particular highlight was chef Rick Bayless performing a dramatic reading from one of his cookbooks.

Rick Bayless inteprets "Watermelon Ginger Guacamole"

Seeing myself in the background there reminded me of a song my younger daughter, Lucy, came home singing at the start of kindergarten. It was one of those getting-to-know-you songs set to the tune of “The Muffin Man.”

Do you know this friend of mine, friend of mine, friend of mine?
Do you know this friend of mine, who _______________?

That last part was where you fill in some detail about the person you’re singing about. Then you and everyone else shout the person’s name. And everyone feels that much closer.

Do you know this friend of mine, friend of mine, friend of mine?
Do you know this friend of mine, who reads books?

“Rebecca!” we all shouted.

Do you know this friend of mine, friend of mine, friend of mine?
Do you know this friend of mine, who has glasses?


You can guess who came next.

Do you know this friend of mine, friend of mine, friend of mine?
Do you know this friend of mine, who has little hair?

No fair. I have glasses too.


Baby da Vinci


Take a Picture!

When I was a kid, taking pictures was a big deal. You rarely did it except at significant events, such as taking down a saber tooth tiger.

The first camera I remember in our house was the kind that you held at your waist and looked down into to line up your shot. Wackier still, cameras used something called “film” in those days. And until the invention of Instamatic cartridges, loading that film had to be done by pulling out the end of the spool and inserting it into some slot in a twisty thingy and then winding it and ruining the first half dozen shots.

Then, after an unspecified number of pictures, and the months it may take to use up the whole spool, you took the film out (hoping not to ruin more shots) and brought it to a developer. Then you waited a week or so before you could return and pick up your developed pictures and see who blinked in each one.

Today, everybody has a camera in their pocket. It’s built into our phones. That’s great for when we really want to take a picture of something that is spontaneously wonderful. But it leads to us stockpiling terabytes of irrelevant pictures we won’t be able to explain a few months from now.

I know this, because I have tons of such pictures. Many of which are ones where my younger daughter insisted, “Take a picture!” Such as when we were getting rid of her old mittens that hadn’t fit her hands for a couple of years. She refused to part with them unless we “Take a picture!”


Or when she found a piece of pepperoni that was vaguely shaped like a heart. “Take a picture!”


I hope we remember that it was supposed to look like a heart when we look at the next picture she insisted we take a moment later. “Oh, look at this one. Does anyone remember what ‘Lucy piece of sausage Mom’ was supposed to mean?”


We’ll have even less luck with the noodle that was “half a heart.”


They’re not all entirely insane, mind you. I mean, I get why she wanted me to take a picture of her crawling into the kitchen in her lamb costume.


And why she wanted me to document her lamb in a diorama that she constructed while we waited outside of mommy’s Zumba class.


I even get that the jalapeño dog picture on the wall at Hot Doug’s was cute, if not exactly of keepsake quality.


But what’s with the turkey feather?


Or the bubbles in the milk bottle cap?


Or the ???


Luckily, she seldom remembers that she insisted on most of these pictures, so it won’t really matter that the mystery rock is blurry.


Or if we forget what something was supposed to be. A unicorn?


Why do we do it then? I suppose I could blame it on our Document Every Inane Moment culture. But that would be too easy. I think the real reason we do it is because we don’t want to wake up one day and think, “Ohhh, if only we had remembered to take a picture of that fingernail!”


Regret like that would be too hard to live with.

Good News For Older Parents


Parents “of a certain age” all accept the fact that their inability to remember what they walked into a room for, or how they planned to end a sentence, is due to their… um…

Oh! Age.

But that’s because they forget how much their children forget. So write this down: Ask your six- or eight-year-old (or, heck, even a teenager) to take her shoes to the back door, then wait. After five minutes, walk into the next room and notice how she is reading a comic book and the shoes haven’t moved.

If you can hold that one simple image in your head, then you can take heart in the fact that your memory is as good as it was when you were very young!