Rules and regs

July 18,2011
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

L. is a rule-follower. This is sometime difficult to believe since he spends a lot of time rebelling against the rules that are out there governing what he can and can't do. But he respects laws and rules, and whenever we go someplace new, and there are rules posted, he is probably the only person who actually stops and reads the list through. On Sunday, my mother-in-law took us out to a nearby family water park, and of course L. stopped to read through the rules and regulations posted by the entrance. 

"Look!" he exclaimed. "It says that kids UNDER ten have to be accompanied by an adult at all times." He looked smug and had a strange expression on his face.

"I guess you'e eleven now," Scott said, and then we got busy sorting out tickets and wristbands. When we got into the park we spent the first few minutes looking for beach chairs and finally found a place to set our bags. I turned to grab L. so I could put some sunscreen on him but he was gone.

It wasn't a big water park. You could stand in one spot and easily scan the entirety of the place. But it was a crowded water park nonetheless, and I never feel at ease if I can't see my kids. Plus I had no idea whether or not L. knew where we had settled our bags so that he could come back and find us. We have a family rule at places like parks and playgrounds that the kids need to follow: we outline the perimeters of the play area and remind them that they can't stray past certain points. We always go over what they should do if they get lost, and who is a safe person to talk to. T. needs to stay in view at all times, and L. needs to "check in" with us periodically and make sure a grown up has seen him. Scott and I spent the first twenty minutes walking the park and wading through the pools in search of L. who, thankfully, turned up a short while before annoyance turned to real worry.

"Why did you just disappear?" I asked him, after I had forced him to follow me back to our beach chairs for the customary "briefing" on rules and regulations.

"I'm eleven now!" he said, in that tone he uses when he thinks he's talking to someone who's a little slow upstairs.

"That doesn't mean you can just disappear in a crowded place without telling anyone!"

"But I don't need to be accompanied by an adult," he said. "The sign said so!"

Of course it did, and of course my literal-minded boy took the rule and ran with it. And while I had to smile a little at the incident, it also reminded us that we need to spend some time thinking about how we can work on helping L. develop his own common sense when it comes to how he interprets the rules and regulations.