What I Can't Do.

”Don't TELL me what I can't do!!”-John Locke

Children are tricky. Actually, most people are tricky. When someone tells us what to do or what not to do, even or especially a parent or other authority figure, we tend to do the opposite. Over the years my parents and others have asked me to do things, and criticized me for not getting to them swiftly enough.

“Don't sit so close to the television; you'll need glasses!”

“Stop reading and do something constructive like clean your room.”

“Do you really want to wear that hair on your face? You look like a bum!”

“It's late; go to bed.”

“Did you brush your teeth?”

“Don't play in the street!”

“Go to the bathroom before we leave.”

“It's a nice day; you should go outside.”

“Did you go to the bathroom?”

The list could go on. There are a few ways to react to such requests. At first, kids listen. Gradually, they test their boundaries. If they aren't allowed to go into a cabinet, they'll cautiously try then back off when yelled at, only to try again and go a little further. At some point, simple requests might be met by outbursts. And over time, as we learn to obey, sometimes a gentle reminder may be annoying, especially when it's something we know we should be doing, or something we've done already.

I imagine textbooks could be written about my brain functions, were I ever to seek professional help. Many of my quirks could be hereditary, and I'll get to that momentarily. One of my bad habits is being a couch potato. Though I limit my shows and try not to take on many new ones as old ones go off the air, word of mouth and advertising invariably draws me in. This season I've finally added The Office to my rotation. I think the new 30 Rock is also winning me over after three damn funny shows. Tina Fey is awesome on many levels. The one solid addition, and only new drama I've committed to, is Heroes. The cliffhangers pull me back, and as the story of ordinary people with extraordinary abilities unfold each week, it just gets better and better. Comic book professionals are even providing accompanying online graphic novels to fill in the blanks, and one of my favorite characters has a hilarious blog. Perhaps you've read my geek-outs with Rey over the show.

On the darker side of my personality, I also responded defensively to a post from Darrell. While refusing to watch Heroes, he'd once more reinforced his stance against television in general, a respectable position. Even in an age of VCRs and the internet, I can be a slave to television. In referring to it as the “glass teat”, he inadvertently triggered an unexpected response from me. It felt like a parent or authority figure putting down something I enjoy, something that deep down I realize I enjoy too much. No one likes to hear the truth. I wasn't all that upset about it, but still fired off a response that read worse than it was, without pausing to think it through. The real tragedy was that for a few days it seemed my reaction was among several factors prompting him to give up blogging, but thankfully he's back and I think everything is okay now. Sorry again about that, D, and I hope we can put this behind us.

I see kids today snapping at their parents and other authority figures at younger and younger ages. Perhaps hypocritically, I wonder why they have no respect. In our neighborhood, the situation with the kids playing in the street has only gotten worse. At least with our immediate neighbors, my parents are friends with their parents and can talk to them if someone rides a bike down our driveway or hits my dad's car with a baseball. But these kids have brought in friends from around and outside the neighborhood, and these other kids have surprising attitudes for ones so young. Though the oldest of the mob can't be more than 13 or 14, and the youngest around 9, a lot of times they're out after dark, with no parents in sight. I've written before about their reaction to cars. When 20 years ago I was running around the same streets, we'd shout “CAR!” and get the hell out of the way. They stare and sneer, and when I finally beep, they slowly part, leaving just enough room for me to pull into the driveway.

I work all day, and most weekends if I don't have a musical gig I'll head out on a photo expedition. The kids are little more than a passing annoyance. My dad doesn't have the same luxury. He's a retired old man without many hobbies beyond jigsaw puzzles and looking out the window. I bought my parents a puzzle for their anniversary, and he rushed through it alone within a week to “get it out of the way” because if he “waited for [my] mother, nothing would ever get done!” Once more, the windows beckoned.

Last Saturday, coming home from church, four or five kids were in the street roughhousing on skateboards. It was dark, and it wasn't until one shoved the other under a street lamp that I saw them. When we pulled in the driveway, my dad was storming out of the house, his feet barely in his shoes. “Are those kids still out there??” he grumped, heading for the front lawn. “No,” I lied, sensing the tension of a 76-year-old man with a heart condition. “What kids?”

“Those damned kids with the skateboards! They were jumping on our sidewalk and front steps! If they get hurt, we're gonna get sued! I yelled at them from the window before but they just stared.”

I advised him to relax and to ignore them. They weren't the nicest bunch, but they were still little kids, doing the things that kids do. I was sure they were still out there, and my mom voiced concerns over the one long-haired boy that was “sniffing around” her friend's prepubescent daughter across the street, but in the dark they couldn't be seen. Out of sight, out of mind? I was a fool to think so.

I came home from work Tuesday, and my mom waved me in to the living room, speaking in hushed whispers and quieting me. My dad was watching the baseball game in the other room, and his hearing is really bad. With the television on, she could have shouted if she wanted to.

“We might have to move.”

“What? What do you mean?”

She went on to tell me how the kids were back during the day, and how my dad had enough. He went out to yell at them but they were unfazed. “Oh, we're not allowed to play in front of your house?” snarked one bold brat. At this point, my dad threatened to call the cops on them, but that's not the extreme part of this tale.

The extreme part is when he actually did call the police.

In horror from the other room, my mom heard the clicking of the telephone as he dialed. The desk sergeant treated him like a crackpot, and tried to brush him off with “They're just kids.” Nevertheless, my dad was stubborn, and going on about how he didn't want to be responsible if they got hurt skateboarding on our sidewalk. And so, my mom's horror and embarrassment escalated when she looked out the window to see a squad car parked in our driveway.

The children, seeing that my dad wasn't bluffing, were now sitting along the curb across the street, sitting in wide-eyed angel mode. The officer spoke with them first, even as my dad stormed out of the house and my mom tried to hold him back. The cop talked to the kids about safety, and pointed out the one illegal thing they were doing, which was skateboarding in the street. After dealing with that half of the problem, he turned to face the other half.

My mom said he did his best to calm my dad down. “Don't you love kids? I love kids. My daughter's all grown up now; I wish I had kids playing in my neighborhood. And isn't this better than them going off and doing drugs? Would you rather they were off smoking pot somewhere?”

YES! I would!”

The cop was stunned as my mom said, “he doesn't mean that” while my dad in his anger barked, “yes, I do!” The officer regained his composure, and began talking about how my folks were getting on in years and things like rowdy children can be intimidating. He reassured my dad that he wasn't going to get sued if the kids fell down, and finally left.

My mom was mortified. My dad doesn't know she told me, and he hasn't mentioned it to me at all. He probably realized after calming down that he overreacted, and that I would disagree with the way he handled things. I would tell him the truth, that it would have been better to ignore them, but no one likes to hear the truth. As I've said, many of my quirks could be hereditary.

At least these weren't the children of the neighbors we know. My concern is how these kids will now respond. They're at the age where they test their boundaries, and do the opposite. The more my dad chased them away, the more they kept coming back in defiance, daring his authority. Actually speaking to a police officer might be the needed scare to set them on the straight and narrow, or it could have the opposite effect of escalation. It's been quiet for two days now, but why oh why did my dad make his stand so close to Halloween?

In over three decades, this house has never been egged or toilet papered. I'm not looking forward to what I'm going to find when I get home from work next Tuesday. When you tell people of any age what they can't do, they just might push back, and there’s not much I can do about that.


Blogger Lorna said...

you really can tell a tale---I didn't miss a word!

10/26/2006 6:06 AM  
Blogger Darrell said...

Sorry again about that, D, and I hope we can put this behind us.

Oh, absolutely. What bothered me was that I'd upset you, which I'd not intended. I am as overly sensitive as anyone, I'm just sensitive to the idea that I've rubbed somebody the wrong way and I tend to have a reaction along the lines of "Fine, I'll take my ball and go home!"

I figured you'd laugh and/or brush off my opinion about the show, considering that I've never even seen it. Anyway, as I said before, my blog addiction is no better or worse than anyone else's TV addiction... it's just that TV is an easy target and I'm not above taking pot shots at easy targets.

And I'm glad to find out that somebody thinks I can come off like an authority figure. ;) Can you help me figure out a way to convey that to the kids?

10/26/2006 7:19 AM  
Blogger TheWriteJerry said...

It sickens me whenever I see or hear or read about the lack of respect kids today have for authority or themselves or anybody else.

At least now there is an official report of your father's efforts to stop them from using his property as a skate park, so if they do get injured, their be something on his side when their parents - who probably never taught them to have respect for others - sue.

But you're right in worrying that this may escalate. Fact is, people with zero respect for others usually want to re-establish their dominance. An egging is hopefully the worst that will happen.

10/26/2006 9:01 AM  
Blogger Rey said...

Check one: Buy eggs.
Check two: Assume they have eggs.
Check three: Warn them that if they dare to touch their eggs they will be egged.
Check four: Get your friends together to nod their heads behind you when you tell them the second time.
Check five: Preemptive strike on October 29th. Egg the hell out of them.

heh heh.

10/26/2006 10:07 AM  
Blogger TheWriteJerry said...

Rey was definitely one of those kinds of kids...

10/26/2006 10:11 AM  
Blogger Rey said...

In that case, so was George W.


10/26/2006 10:27 AM  
Blogger Scott Roche said...

Having worked closely with some of todays youth (my wife and I did a year as house parents at a home for troubled yutes) I can tell you that kids in general today have nowhere near the healthy respect and yes fear that we had as kids. It comes largely from today's adults wanting to be "friends" with their kids and their kid's friends. As an adult you cannot be a friend (primarilly) to a kid. This cauises confusion in their little brains. They need authority figures and structure.

Read the above in your best "old dude" voice.

10/26/2006 10:45 AM  
Blogger b13 said...

Oh, you are SCREWED! :(

I'm with Rey. Preemtive strike.

10/26/2006 11:20 AM  
Blogger Janet said...

I'm sorry, but to this day when I think of egg and toilet papering houses I still think of Can't Buy Me Love.

"You shit on my house man. You shit on my house."

I fixed the problem, btw:)

10/26/2006 8:25 PM  
Blogger Otis said...

You do play paintball, right?

That's all I'm saying.

10/27/2006 5:42 PM  

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