Jeffry P. Lindsay
"If You Eat Enough Broccoli, The Cops Leave You Alone"
Someone in my household got a speeding ticket this week. I promised my wife I would not say who this person was, so I will only say that it wasn’t me and the kids don’t drive. And in spite of the fact that there are many good reasons to keep this kind of thing private, I thought I should write about it today because there are also several good reasons to discuss a speeding ticket in print. First of all, most kids have very complicated responses to their various encounters with members of the law enforcement community, and if I can help these kids arrive at a clear understanding of the issues by devoting a column to the subject I feel this is time and ink well spent. And second, by writing about this speeding ticket, it is now tax deductible.
Furthermore, we can now say we weren’t actually speeding – we were doing research. And if I can make enough people believe this, I can qualify for a high-paying job in Washington, DC.
But the important part of this ticket that I did not get – I mean, research that we shrewdly performed for the good of the public and nice tax write-off – the important part, I say, is the effect it had on our kids.
All children have very complicated feelings about policemen. In the first place, they are told that if they are ever lost or in trouble they must immediately find someone in a police uniform and tell him or her that they are lost. And the police person will help them, and even keep away bad guys. In the second place, in many households the police have become bogey men who will throw you in a dark hole full of spiders and TV with no cable if you do not eat your broccoli. And since most children can’t shake the feeling that all cops somehow know what they really did with their vegetables, their feelings towards those in blue uniforms are in a kind of delicate balance between guilt and awe.
These perfectly natural feelings are further complicated at our house, since we have some very good friends who are cops, which means that our kids have seen some of these cops late at night after some very successful dinner parties, and nothing we can say now will convince our children that the bad guys are really in any danger.
But we have tried to say all the right things to our kids about law enforcement personnel, with only one or two minor slips along the way like the thing with broccoli. And in general we thought our kids were responding pretty well. They almost always cheer for the cops in movies, and they have always been enthusiastic at the sight of some naughty speeder pulled off on the side of the road and getting a ticket.
Now, I will stand by my promise not to tell you who was driving, but I was in the passenger seat in preparation for being dropped off at the gym.
And when I heard the siren behind me, my first thought was that it was one of my kids. So I turned around to yell at them to stop making those awful sounds, saw the cop behind us, and my second thought was, "Uh-oh."
One of us, whoever was driving, said a bad word and pulled onto the side of the road. I looked at the girls in the back seat. I was not worried about T.L. Bear, of course. At eleven years old, she is too sophisticated and experienced to be frightened by a speeding ticket. And sure enough, she sat there quietly, eyes as big as dinner plates, nonchalantly gasping for breath and chewing her way through one of the straps of her book bag.
Pookie, only five years old, was already standing on the seat, ready for combat, her teddy bear held up like a baseball bat.
The officer approached our car. A second cop stood behind him, a badge that read, "Training Officer," pinned to his shirt. So the man writing us a ticket was in training, which probably meant he would be a little more nervous than somebody who had been doing this for a while. It suddenly seemed like a good idea to keep my kids from acting like – well, acting like themselves, to be honest.
"Stay quiet, kids," I said.
"License and registration, please," the cop said.
"Are you going to put us in jail?" Pookie asked.
The cop smiled. "No, honey," he said. "Not if you’re good."
This was apparently the wrong thing to say, because Pookie immediately yelled, "My daddy has a GUN!"
"No I don’t," I protested.
"You SAID you did!"
"Yes, but I meant at home –"
"Shut up, he’ll kill us!" screamed Bear suddenly. And she tried to crawl out the window, screaming, "Don’t shoot!"
I got her back in her seat, which is harder than it sounds since I was also trying to hold Pookie back at the same time, and she was swinging wildly with her teddy bear. As she clocked me on the nose with the stuffed animal, I looked up to see the cop standing at the window, his mouth hanging open. But at least he wasn’t reaching for his gun. "Uh – license and registration?" he said. And both girls suddenly sat down and began to cry.
While I thought this was pretty good practice for when they were old enough to drive, it was too much for the officer in training. His lower lip began to quiver, and he backed away from our car trying to hide a sob.
So the training officer had to write our ticket, and one of us, whoever was driving, is driving much slower now.
Which is fine with the kids. They have learned a great deal from their run-in with the law, and they don’t want to repeat the experience.
They’re getting very tired of eating all that broccoli.