Friday, November 4, 2011

Do as I Don't

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.


Tim O'Brien said...

I had a similar car experience the other day. After I picked up my kids from school my daughter asks me, "Dad, why is (named deleted) an A-hole?
I almost slammed on the brakes and demanded she tell me who taught her that word. She replied, "Dad, you did." I explained that I have never taught her to use curse words. Then came the zinger. "Dad, you called that guy driving real slow an A-hole this morning on the way to school." Whoops...

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Tim,
Did you try to convince your daughter A-hole means apple pie-hole?

On second thought, that'll cause problems at Thanksgiving.

August McLaughlin said...

Haha! I love it. A great lesson in "even adults make mistakes."

shannon said...

Hehe...I have five year old twins who show me my mistakes on a daily basis. I hate that the know where things go now and notice when I don't put them there.

They teach us as much as we teach them, I suppose.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, August,
I've taught my kids plenty of "even adults make mistakes" lessons. Someday, they'll thank me for being a screw-up.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Shannon,
My kids taught me humility--by showing me my mistakes on a daily basis. Enjoy your five-year olds. It's handy having kids who know where you put the remote and your car keys.

Kristy K. James said...

Too funny! I don't even want to think about how many times my kids have learned from my mistakes (and they're unable to resist rubbing it in, of course). Gotta love them though...the kids and the memories from each learning experience. :)

Karen McFarland said...

I enjoyed your post Pat!

Oh yeah, our kids will be the first ones to call us on any mistakes we make so we might just as well own up to them. They'll respect us more for it later on when they get to be our age.

Prudence MacLeod said...

Long ago and far away, when my daughter was just learning to talk, I had her in the car with me when another car nearly forced me off the road. I managed to stay out of the ditch, but spent the next three weeks trying to teach her to say "truck"

Julie Hedlund said...

I love that! Kids have an amazing ability to call you out on something the minute they sense posturing.

I had my own moment when my daughter was little. I realized I'd left my purse behind in the store we'd just left. The whole way home, she said, "Mommy sh*t, Mommy sh*t."

And now I'm laughing because the word verification for me to post this comment is: flucker. I kid you not.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Kristy,
They do rub it in, don't they? And they have l-o-n-g memories.

Thanks for stopping by.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Karen,
By the time my kids get to be my age, I'll have forgotten what they respect me for.

Nobody told me parenthood's scarier than rapelling down a skyscraper. (Loved that blog post of yours.)

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

I'm laughing with you, not at you, Prudence. If you'd run into the ditch, you could have taught your daughter to stay "stuck," but, of course, you'd be in a ditch. I like "truck" 'cause it goes with "luck."

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

I don't know, Julie. Are you sure the word verification wasn't "trucker?"

Yes, kids catch posturing every time.

You and I spew the same bad word when stresed. Prudence would pronounce it "fit."

Lark Howard said...

Great story, Pat!

I don't have kids, so I haven't had to explain why I'm always a month or two late on my car inspection. Your post brings to mind the old saying, "If you can't be a good example, be a terrible warning." I suspect I've been both.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Lark,
If your vehicle inspection's overdue, use the truthful excuse that you've been out of the country, but don't mention the south of France unless you want to fail the brake test. Jealousy's a terrible thing.

Anthony V. Toscano said...

Pat, I loved this story. Fun, fun, funny. And well-written. Have you considered submitting it for publication?

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Anthony,
You flatterer, you.

Anonymous said...

LOL- yep children hold the biggest birghtest mirror for us to see ourselfs clearer- it's horrible isn't it?

Ginger said...

Love it! My kids humble me on a daily basis. And because I'm prone to 'colorful language' at times, I've instituted a firm double standard in our home. I'm adult and I can say what I want. You're a kid and you can't.

Kara said...

I've decided I teach more lessons to my children this way, then any other!

LynNerdKelley said...

Great post, Pat. I love your lesson about kids learning from our mistakes, too. I've made plenty and I hope my kids learned something by them. One of my daughters had her car towed a couple months ago because the registration was late. And after paying all the fees and getting it back, she and her hubby got pulled over the next day for late registration but had left the paperwork showing that they paid it at home! Go figure!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Ginger,
I've tried your stance and it works for a few years. Alas, bitter experience taught me that kids hit age eighteen and say whatever they want, only their impulse control is twelve.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Kara,
We who do so many things wrong also serve.

Think of the stories our children will be able to tell.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Oh, no, Lynn! Your daughter and her husband will never again forget to renew their car registration. Towing's harsh, though.