About rules

18 Nov

This is an exciting story about rules from Chris Cleeve, posted in the Guardian.


“This week our 6-year-old withdrew to his inner sanctum with a black chunky marker pen, declaring that no one was to disturb him as he would be working on a Very Important Project.

Only his little brother was allowed in to see what was happening. Low and serious whispers emanated from the room. At intervals the three-year-old would emerge, under orders to fetch some delicacy necessary to sustain the worker. At such times, scuttling to fetch a biscuit or a glass of Ribena, the little one wore the secret and beatific smile of one who has been chosen to serve a higher calling. When asked what his big brother was up to he gave a pitying look, as if we could never understand.

This went on for an hour, by which time my wife and I were consumed with curiosity. Finally our six-year-old emerged in triumph, holding a single sheet of paper covered in his brilliantly wonky writing. His little brother squealed with excitement and followed him downstairs as, in scenes reminiscent of Luther nailing his Theses to the church door, our son pinned his text to our kitchen message board. We felt certain we were about to see something mysterious; something profound. When the boy stepped back with an air of pious satisfaction, we were at last able to see what he had written:

1 – sit on your cher nislee
2 – eetign nislee
3 – ask if yoy can get out ov the taibl
4 – sai pleez and tank you
5 – Lai the taibl
6 – cleen away the tayb
7 – chry evreefing on your food plat

Having expected at the very least an addendum to the Ten Commandments, I’ll admit to momentary disappointment at seeing a list of table manners that didn’t even include instructions on the proper placement of the desert cutlery, or an opinion concerning the propriety or otherwise of a woman reapplying her lipstick at the table.

Luckily my wife instantly saw the Big Picture, namely that our children at last seemed to be developing a primitive form of civilisation. Mealtimes with our three infants have always been a scene of appalling carnage, and my wife was quick to realise that we must nurture this unexpected interest in table protocol. So this is how we have spent the last few days, eetign nislee. I must say I prefer the weeks where we all get to dress up as superheroes and whack each other with rubber swords, but it’s true that mealtimes are more intriguing now.

For 24 hours, the rules were faithfully observed, and then a beautifully sinister transformation occurred. The rules which had so united the two boys somehow became a tool to divide them. The kids began to watch each other closely, and now whenever one makes the tiniest slip from decorum, the other will pounce: “You broke Rule Two! I’m TELLING!”

It’s fun to see how quickly the kids have progressed from anarchy, via the benevolent rule of law, to a police state in which citizen spies on citizen. Because the rules were quite hard to read, I took the liberty of typing them up. This has left my wife and I free to indulge in that other great pastime of centralised sates, the Orwellian evolution of laws.

At first the boys couldn’t recall the rule that said they had to give half of their oven chips to their parents but when we called their attention to “8 – share your food”, written in black and white, they agreed that they must have been mistaken and gravely ponied up their McCain’s. Our plan now is to add one new rule per day, making them gradually more outlandish until the kids learn that the law, for the governed, is a double-edged sword. Hopefully then they will tear the list up and we can wait for the day when, without the need of written instructions, a child of ours will finally sit on their cher nislee.

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Posted by on November 18, 2011 in The role of society


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