Sunday, April 18, 2010

When rules are rules to be broken

Why is it that children never have to go when you ask them?

"It’s going to be a long trip, you should use the bathroom now," I say to Ittybit, knowing from experience the wee girl has a wee bladder and an unreliable early warning system.

"I don’t have to go," she says in a defiant whisper.

This is our private war. There are rules of engagement.

Sometimes I win the battle and she disappears into the bathroom as I wait on the other side of the door. On those occasions I usually laugh when her voice echoes inside: "Oh, I guess I did have to go."

Other times, though, she wins and we end up making an unexpected stop. … Or two.

"You broke the seal," as my husband would say.

But this really isn’t about my daughter or her bladder.

This is about the kindness of strangers, and lack thereof.

Any parent will tell you, as we hunt for available rest rooms, we tend to become incidental shoppers. We buy lunch and trinkets, drinks and candy. Perhaps the smallest item we can get away with to meet the requirement "Restrooms For Customers Only."

When the kindest proprietors take pity on us ill-prepared parents, or have no such requirement, I try to buy something as a gratuity and become a repeat customer.

Of course the opposite is true when the rule-followers don’t bend.

You know who you are.

You are the people who think: "rules are rules," or "I didn’t make the rules, but they’re there for a reason," or "there’s a liability I just don’t want to take."

Every parent on the planet has probably made your acquaintance.

When I met you I was, unfortunately, at my wits’ end.

I was on errands with my two small children. The one not in diapers had already gone at the last stop, yet here she was squirming around, needing to go again.

We were shopping, with a few selections already picked out. You were smiling, probably a little uncomfortably, as you told me "No," she couldn’t use the bathroom. "It’s not for the public. Try across the street at the fast food restaurant."

Technically, I was asking for preferential treatment. And you were well within your rights as a store manager to deny access to the facility.

But when you smiled, I knew you enjoyed this power you had. I also knew you didn’t really value my business.

So I did what anger does. I dropped my selections on the nearest elevated surface and told the kids we were leaving.

The "we wouldn’t be back," was in answer to my girl’s question, but you knew it was directed at you.

I know you don’t care. I mean nothing to you, and you aren’t paid to care.

"I can hold it, I can hold it," my daughter pleaded, dragging on my arm trying to reverse my motion to the door.

I could guess she thought she’d done something wrong because I was unhappy. "We can go back. We can go back."

It’s not until we’re in the car, riding home, that I calm down enough to be human again.

"I’m sorry, kiddo. It’s not your fault. I wasn’t mad at you. I’m mad at that woman who wouldn’t bend the rules."

It’s a lot to take in for a child who is learning all the time why rules are important; why rules are supposed to be followed.

"Sometimes people are just more important than policy."

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