New parents think they'll teach by good example how to be responsible members of society. They don't know kids learn as well or better from parents' stumbles.
One Saturday long ago, as I was ferrying my children from one activity to another, Older Daughter asked about the registration sticker at the top left side of my car's front window. Pleased and proud to introduce her to the responsibilities of car ownership, I answered in my teacher voice. (Picture me puffed up with self-importance. Picture my kids rolling their eyes.)
"The price of the sticker helps the state build and maintain the roads we ride on," I probably said. (Unlike memoir writers, I don't have total recall.)
"What do the numbers mean?"
(Picture me thrilled at the prospect of show and tell.) "The sticker's good through the month and year printed on it." I must have pointed to the numbers representing the year. "And this number represents the renewal month." I probably circled the renewal month with my finger.
"Three stands for March, but it's May," Older Daughter said. "May's five."
I'm sure I shrieked. I probably cursed, too, and hope the words that came out were G-rated like drat, darn, and shoot. Why oh why did I squirrel away important mail for safekeeping--and then forget about it?
"Are you going to jail?" asked Younger Daughter.
Looking back, I see the prospect interested her. At the time, I rushed to reassure her mommy wasn't going away. "Jail? No way. I made a mistake, and I'll make it right."
For the next half hour, I drove as if taking a road test with the strictest DMV examiner on the planet.
Older Daughter noticed the number of cars passing us. "Why are you going so slow? I'll be late for the party."
"I'm driving within the speed limit." I didn't point to the road sign and then make Vanna White flourishes at my speedometer, because why give my darlings a reason to scold if I ever exceeded the limit by five freaking miles?
Before the end of the day, I got the car inspected. On Monday, I went to the tax assessor's office and paid my registration fee. The clerk tried to dish out shame, but she was an amateur compared to me—and to my then-boss. Yeah, I told him where I was going on my lunch hour because I wouldn't make it back within sixty minutes unless I ran every red light and rolled through every stop sign on the way.
Were the Daughters impressed when I scraped off the old registration sticker and slapped on the new? Not that I could tell. They did, however, learn car stickers have the power to make adults scream and swear. That gives me hope they won't repeat my mistake.
Let's hear it for teaching by bad example.