Sunday, July 03, 2005

“Look, that’s why there’s rules, understand? So that you think before you break them.” ~Lu-Tze

I've been in a rule making mood lately. Which, if you know me at all, you will know is really unlike me. I make lists and then lose them. I rarely even bother with itineraries. I've been known to stand up to speak in front of hundreds people without a clue what I'm gonna say beyond the first thought that pops into my head. Bedtime, dinner time, deadlines - all negotiable in my opinion. Give me a rule and my first thought is "How can I get away with breaking it?"

So why am I suddenly making rules right and left? For example, about a week ago I made a rule that my 13 year old son had to read three books this summer. Sounds fine, he mumbled, not even turning his head from the video game on his television when I announced it. After a few days of hearing no pages turning, I added another rule. He had to spend as much time reading on any given day as he spends time playing on his XBox.

He clearly thought that last rule was supposed to be a joke. He ignored me. When I reminded him of it, he looked surprised, he laughed. So last night I stood in the doorway of his bedroom and insisted he turn off his game. I don't like following rules. And I also don't like when people don't follow the rules that I make. (normally because they're good rules)

Did he read? Of course not. He's wandering around acting bored. It takes some talent to look bored when there's really a lot to do around here. You have to get just the right slouch when you lay on the couch - a sort of angled, too much effort to get comfortable, legs sprawled, sorta look. Then you hold the remote in your lap and flip channels listlessly. Sigh a lot. Holding a cat or dog on your lap helps.

Is he reading yet? Of course not. He's learned from a master that stupid rules don't deserve to be followed. He knows, I know, and he knows I know, and I know he knows, that if I'd just left the whole thing to evolve naturally, he'd have been bored with his games probably days ago and would have picked up a book without anyone telling him he had to because it was a rule. Of course this doesn't stop me from being annoyed at having my rule ignored, but in equal measure I'd be somewhat horrified if he saluted and did what I said without question.

Of course, there's rules and then there's rules. Important rules I have no trouble with creating, announcing, and enforcing. Yes, bicycle helmets will be worn. No discussion. No argument. Teeth will be brushed. People will be treated respectfully. Stop signs will be stopped at.

But make your bed every morning? Color inside the lines? Always get dressed before leaving the house? Do your dishes before you go to bed? No way! Those aren't important rules. They aren't safety rules or kindness rules. They're "organizational" rules. The sky won't collapse if we break these kinds of rules. The cops won't storm your castle and drag you off to jail. These are the kind of rules that often, when we ask WHY, gets a response along the line of "it's GOOD for you" or "cleanliness is next to godliness" or "because I SAID so, that's why!"

To my husband, these "because I said so" rules make sense. He has a comfort zone and he can only be in his comfort zone if everyone else is living inside the perimeter of his comfort zone with him. He's the sort of person who feels safer and calmer with structure to hold his life together. A toilet seat not put down or a deadline looming makes his blood pressure rise. Even unspoken rules make him nervous when not followed. "A raspberry colored front door!? Why did you paint the front door raspberry!? No one ELSE has a raspberry colored front door!?!"

For me, too many organizational rules makes me feel caged in, stressed. If there are too many rules to remember, I'm afraid that I'll become so busy trying to follow them all, I'll loose track of the original path I set out to follow. The devil, they say, is in the details and for me that feels true. Rules that nitpick life feel like they could truly be the the death of me, or at the very least, my spirit. As for unspoken rules, If everyone else is painting their doors safe browns or ecru, I simply must find an untraditional alternative. The minute everyone else is doing it, I'm outa there, I'm done with it, I'm off to untrampled pastures.

It's often hard to meld these two very contradictory views of the world. We understand the importance the view holds for the other person, but we don't grok the opposing view.

So, why am I suddenly feeling compelled to make all these rules lately? I suppose that within any viewpoint, there are two extremes. When I bump up against the "too many rules" end of things, I feel blocked, I rebel. But there's that other end, the one where perhaps life gets to disorganized and I start to feel like the path is gonna dissipate altogther and leave me nowhere to put my feet, no way to get any traction. Maybe making a bunch of rules is a way of trying to make sure I don't fall off into thin air. I do know that it works that way for hubby, although because his framework is opposite, his panic or rebel buttons are on the opposite ends of the spectrum.

Whatever the reason behind my sudden need to carve rules into stone tablets - no wait, that was Moses, or rather God, Moses just being the messenger - like a bad hair day, it seems to have passed. Now I feel rather silly at making this video/book rule, but rather at a loss as to how to back out. There probably is no backing out and saving face, or parental authority, so I'll just stick it out until William decides to break down and read a chapter or two. At that point I can safely decide to change my mind. Oh, how silly, I know.

In the meantime, it's closing in on 1 pm and I really should get off the computer, because I'm breaking the rule I made up this morning, which was "Get off the computer by noon." Or maybe it's just a stupid rule. Damn. Since I'm over my panic, now I'm feeling rebellious again. I really do want to sign out and go get something done in my sewing room, but now I have to stay online for a while longer just to prove I can't boss myself around.


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