Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"No" Means "No" -- For Adults, Too

We got home from a new-to-us park this afternoon and Chanel and I went into our typical roles: she fed Tiny, I occupied Big. Dinner was still to be made, so after I started it, Chanel relieved me and I strapped Tiny to me via our Snugli and took a walk with him, thus giving Chanel a nice little break.

Tiny and I walked out the back door to avoid direct sun, out to the community playground, and around to a small lake between townhouse units. Even at his young age, Tiny seems to enjoy looking at the ducks and geese that frequent this body of water and I enjoy showing him them.

Unfortunately, for my enjoyment of the experience, there were two guys, either older teens or just legal adults, that were walking around the ledge surrounding the lake...inside the fence with signs that include "No Trespassing." They were on the other side and appeared to be poking around in the water with sticks of some kind.


Further ahead, there was a small family atop the arched bridge spanning this lake. A young boy among them, perhaps 8-12 years old, wanted to cross the fence and walk around by the lake himself. And why not? After all, other people are clearly doing it with no consequence. I was happy to hear, even at my distance, the mother being firm with her son that he was not allowed to cross the fence. Every once in a while you run into one of these parents that don't monitor and control their kids and you just wonder what kind of difficulties just having your own kids around them would cause.

The young boy reluctantly climbed down and returned to what occupied the family. Then I approached close enough to see what it was that everyone seemed so intent on.

Carrying a baby in a Snugli is a pretty cute sight and I, as the father doing it, always get comments and looks at how adorable he/we are. On queue, the coos and sighs came at me as I passed one of those "No Trespassing" signs on the fence connected to the handrail at the base of the bridge. Those signs are actually multi-message, where the "No" applies to trespassing, littering, swimming, fishing, or feeding the water foul.

So there I am, climbing the arch when the (I think) grandmother said, "He's so cute." Sometimes, it's difficult to hold my tongue, and I responded, "Yeah, and the picture of you guys casting out off the bridge right next to that sign there that says not to is pretty good to." I wanted to embellish and say how I was tempted to snap a picture with my phone to capture the moment and upload it to Facebook so all my friends could comment, or upload it to one of those stupid-people photo sharing sites, but seeing their bright, smiling faces turn into scorn told me my message was received well enough.

The mother was most distressed at my comment to them as I passed and started talking at me, thanking me for my concern, etc. The grandfather, chewing on a fat cigar, turns around and says, "We saw it. We saw the sign."

"I knew you did."

Then he asks, "You have a problem with it?"

I turned around. "Yes...I do. Your disrespect for rules makes it more difficult for every other parent of kids that see you to teach their kids to follow the rules. But I'm sure you guys are special somehow, so you go ahead with your fun." I turned back around and went on my way as they mumbled amongst themselves, I'm sure about how exactly they are special and that I had some nerve to talk to them like that.

Through this point, I didn't really know why I didn't like this situation. It wasn't until I returned home to Chanel and relayed the story to her. Her first question: "Why do you always look to start things with people?"

Then it hit me: that right there is a large part of the problem. It's never the rule breakers that are "starting" things; it's the people who call the miscreants out on their deeds. That mentality is wrong. If we as parents are going to help change this world in a positive way, we need to start looking at it from a different perspective. Those who point out bad behavior do not create the behavior and therefore do not "start" it. Anyone concerned about the society and world their kids are going to grow into should immediately begin to embrace this mentality of asking people to do the right thing.

If a sign says not to do something, don't do it. If you say you will do something, do it. Hold yourself and those around you to a higher standard. Some would say that this is idealistic and perhaps it is, that we cannot expect everyone to simply start obeying laws and rules. I don't know who said it, but ideals are not what we hope to achieve; they are the stars in the sky by which we plot our course through life.

It's clear, though, that letting someone slide on something small means that someone who's offense is just slightly more severe has a case for lessened consequences, whatever they may be. Over time, we shift what we would consider acceptable behavior to slowly include ignoring the various parts of the signs. First, people feed the ducks. If were not going to enforce that part of sign, why can't someone fish? Trespass? Litter? Swim? Slippery slope? Hogwash. A slope doesn't need to be slippery for something to roll down and a certain expression about something rolling downhill comes to mind.

I challenge you, having read this rather long post to completion, to commit yourself to the higher moral ground. Make every attempt to be a good citizen you can and alert people when they slip. At the same time, do not be defensive if someone points out that you have room to improve; we all do. I ask you to spread the word of this notion to others you think will feel the same way, that this may empower them and inspire them to action. Share this post on Facebook, post it on Twitter, email it out to friends. Do what you can and let's show how we are not the one starting trouble, we're the ones stopping it.


  1. I agree! William is very familiar with "I don't CARE what friend/that person is doing. YOU are not going to do it."

    My parenting pet peeve: parents who let their kids eat crackers etc in the store before paying for them.. That's stealing! And if your kid is hungry, bring a snack from home. I mean, geez.

  2. I agree also. However, there are ways to point out that a person is doing something wrong without making him upset or causing a scene. I have seen people do the same thing you did today, but they did it in a degrading and mean manner...which makes them look like the schmuck.

    My biggest parenting peeve: saying no, letting your child throw a hissy fit for 10 minutes, and then giving in and saying yes. Hello backbone? Why even say no in the first place if you KNOW you won't be able to follow through. It reinforces the kid's bad behavior and I get a headache. :)

  3. The world is full of examples of what to do and what not to do. One of the greatest gifts we can give our children as parents is the ability to discern one from the other, and think for themselves.
    @Jenna: I agree, 100%!

  4. I agree, the rule followers, are the ones who are always blamed for 'starting' things. We have to stand up and teach our children right from wrong because if we don't we are condoning the activity and teaching our children that it OK.