The song reference, for those who don’t recognize the lyric. It fits with the “double meanings” theme of this post.
Friends have told me that my experience of small children creating new meanings for words I had previously believed were entirely unambiguous is far from unique. For instance, our tiny people are quite adamant that “Stop!” means “Do it more and with greater force and volume,” “Shh!” indicates my desire for them to make the loudest possible noise, and “No!” implies they should repeat their request a minimum of five hundred times.
I had an unexpected experience with this phenomenon of double meanings this morning. We had a few errands to run before we headed for the farm for our CSA pickup, including the always heart-stopping task of filling the van with gas and the less stressful re-stocking of our baby wipe and juice box supplies. After a stop at Wawa for the least costly regular unleaded on our end of the county, the tribe and I drove towards our second stop, Target, along a little connector road, happily singing along with Tom Chapin’s recycling song (if you have never heard it, please put down your drink and click the link). As we approached a side street, I noticed a couple of sheriff’s deputies, lights flashing, stopped behind a third vehicle.
When we attended the State Fair last year, and at every fair or event we have ever attended with our little blessings, my husband and I have made it a point to locate the booths for the state and local law enforcement agencies, point out the distinguishing features of their uniforms to the kids, and emphasize strongly to each of them that if they are ever lost, hurt, frightened, or in trouble, they should look for someone wearing a law enforcement uniform or driving a law enforcement vehicle. Our overwhelming message to them is that the deputies, the officers, and the troopers have the often thankless job of keeping people safe, and of helping people — even though that help sometimes comes in the form of having to explain to someone that he or she has broken the law. At the State Fair, the first state trooper we ran across listened to us explaining things to our kids, accepted handshakes and “thank yous” from Bugaboo and Beanie, then turned to my husband and I with a suspicious amount of moisture in his eyes. I’ll never forget what he said, “Thank you both so much. You know, you’re the first parents today who didn’t point to me and tell their kids that I was going to put handcuffs on them and take them to jail if they were bad.”
So, to us, it’s important that to our children, the job titles of law enforcement officers mean “help,” and we’ve tried very hard to find ways to remind them of that. I was somewhat chagrined, as a result, when upon spying the two deputies’ vehicles and the civilian vehicle, Bugaboo piped up from the back of the van, “I see police officers! Maybe that person robbed someone.”
After nearly choking on my cream soda, I offered several alternative explanations to our oldest daughter. Perhaps, I explained, the driver of the stopped car was sick, or injured, or lost, or frightened. Perhaps he or she was having car trouble, and the deputies were helping change a tire. Perhaps someone had tried to break into the car. Perhaps the driver needed to be reminded of the speed limit or the location of the stop signs in the neighborhood. But by no means, I explained, should we jump to the conclusion that just because a deputy, officer, or trooper is talking to someone, that the person has done something wrong.
“Oh. That’s right, because the deputies’ job is helping people, right, Mommy?”
“Right, Bugaboo. Can we say a quick prayer like we do whenever we see flashing lights?”
“Okay, Mommy. Please, God, help everybody get home safely.”
I read a post not long ago by the lady who authors Dear Friends, in which she opened a discussion about how easy it is to be critical or judgmental of others, and how hard it is to correct that rush to judge a situation or person, simply because they appear to be doing something that’s on that “never do” list each of us seems to have in our heads. Of course, getting pulled over by the police is one of those items on my “never do” list, and while my husband and I have made it a point to teach our children that law enforcement officers’ job is to help, we’ve also made it pretty clear that part of that help involves keeping roads and communities safe for everyone, which sometimes involves arresting the “bad guys.” The family habit of watching Spider-Man and other superhero-type programs reinforces that perception that if a person is in the company of law enforcement, he or she must be a bad guy.
Something tells me I need to make sure the kids spend a little more time learning about all the helpful things the deputies and troopers do. I don’t want my kids thinking that the only time they’ll come face to face with law enforcement is when they’ve transgressed, and I do want to make sure that if they ever ARE in trouble and Mommy and Daddy aren’t there, they’ll talk to the deputies and explain their problem, instead of thinking the deputies will just haul them off to jail. Ever hear of “Stop Snitching?” I want to raise children who have more respect for the deputies than they have for the thugs — but who also don’t assume that anyone talking to a deputy or an officer must be a miscreant of some sort.
Today’s prayer: Lord, we are teaching Your blessings to treat those who uphold Your law and man’s law with great respect. Please help us teach them also that being in the company of the authorities does not mean a person is guilty of an offense, temporal or otherwise. We have read, in Your book of love letters to us, how You were Yourself arrested, although You were innocent of any offense, and we know from watching the news that even in these times, not everyone who is arrested is guilty of a crime. Create in our hearts, Lord, a willingness to see all people, regardless of the circumstances in which we chance to find them, as Your children, and remind us that we have also needed help to understand both Your instructions and those of the civil authorities. Call us to compassion for both the victims of trespass and those who have trespassed, and remind us to pray daily for those whose job it is to enforce and uphold the law.