Danny's first day of preschool is fast approaching. We got his class roster, went to our first open playground time this week and I just read the official handbook. And I'm starting to get all panicky because the handbook is full of what appear to be rules and expectations. Someone else's rules and expectations. That I have to follow and live up to. Be on time. No late pickups. Show up for your assisting day on time. Be nice to the kids. (Okay, I know, that's not a hard one.) No nuts, popcorn or grapes allowed. Drive for field trips. Volunteer for a few hours each semester.
You see, I haven't been contractually obligated to do much since being laid off last April. It's been years since I've had to submit to someone else's rules and, specifically, school rules, which always seem much more restrictive and inane than rules in the real word. (Why is that?)
It's not that I was ever a big rule breaker. I was more of a rule resenter, although my mother might have a different view of things. I routinely questioned rules, quietly held authority in utter contempt and sometimes even flouted rules (mostly my parents' rules because, you know, they still had to love and feed me and couldn't screw with my permanent record). Once freed from the restrictive environs of school, I found that I could avoid authority by just avoiding certain situations. I'm not into organized sports, service clubs or even so much as a book club. Jobs are different, of course, as the motivation for compliance is more natural—no work, no roof over my head or food in my bowl. A rather simple and powerful motivator, don't you think?
Some days I can't believe that I'm actually in charge around here, that I'm "the authority." Lately, my son can't believe it either. This afternoon, we had the recurring "no, you can't wear just your underwear" discussion.
"Danny, get dressed. You can't come down until you're dressed."
"No, it's hot down there," he hyper-whines (a nerve jangling combination of hyperventilating and whining that makes me feel like hyperventilating sometimes).
A few rounds of this and I pulled rank. "Do you need help listening?" I ask.
This means that I will go in his room, pull out some clothes and physically put them on him (in the sweetest and most methodical way possible, of course). He, being the fiercely independent kid that he is, utterly hates this. I win this round, but not before he stomps into his room, takes his sister hostage in a tentative choke hold and clenches his jaw at me. I raise a mommy eyebrow, take a step forward and he releases a confused Fiona (who is probably plotting to bite him later).
What confuses me most about my role as "the authority" around here is that, at times, my decisions seem so arbitrary. Parents are urged to be consistent. That's neither easy nor practical sometimes when you have kids.
Truth be told, sometimes I let him run around in his underwear most of the morning. It's been about a million degrees around here lately and some days we don't have anywhere to go and my kids wind up naked in the backyard and splashing in the pool anyway. Other days, I have an attack of authoritarianism and decide it really annoys me that my kid doesn't want to get dressed. And then I think, in the midst of the underwear discussion, "Why am I fighting over this? What's the big deal? If he doesn't wear clothes, I'll have less laundry to do." But I'm committed to this battle now and don't feel like I can back down. After all, if I do, then my kid is just going to roll over me like a steamroller for years to come according to every expert out there. And I justify all this by saying that he's going to need to wear clothes to preschool, which is a ridiculous excuse since he always gets dressed if he knows we're going somewhere.
You can see my dilemma here. I even think the rules that I make are pretty stupid sometimes.