“Mama, why are you pulling over?” my son asked.
“Because there is a policeman with his lights flashing behind me.”
Tears filled my five year old’s face, “Mama, is he going to take you away?”
My son has been totally obsessed with rules and laws ever since a safety presentation at school in May. He is always asking me about the speed limit and if I am going too fast. Comments like, “Safety first!” and, “Mama, slow down,” have become regulars in my car.
So when the policeman walked up to my window and asked for my Driver’s License, my son totally freaked out. “I clocked you at 25 in a 15 mph speed zone. I am only giving you a warning, but make sure you slow down in the future.”
I thanked the officer and looked back at my son. Big heaves had started, “Mama, you don’t have any drugs , do you?” I had to choke back a laugh at this point. We have been talking about all of the things that were serious enough for someone to go to jail and he knew drugs was one of them.
“No, Baby. Mama doesn’t have any drugs. There is nothing that Mama has done that would make that policeman take me out of this car. He is just doing his job and trying to keep the roads safe. I was going too fast on that neighborhood road and he is just warning me to slow down in the future.”
More tears and heaves and then he said, “Mama, I had a really bad dream that Daddy was throwing dirt on bad people in a hole and that the police came and took him away,” more tears, “Mama, don’t let the police take you and Daddy away.”
Honestly at this point I was trying to stifle laughter. My poor child is having a major life crisis thinking that both of his parents are going to jail and I am just laughing at the irony of it all. Lately, every time we have passed a cop my son has asked me if I am going to get a ticket. I always assure him that they aren’t going to give me a ticket. If we go through a yellow light he asks if I am going to get pulled over. I always assure him that I am not getting pulled over. And doggone it, here I am parked on the side of the road waiting for the cop to return with my license and warning notice for breaking a traffic law.
So, a teachable moment arrived and I stepped up to the challenge. “Baby, nobody is taking Mama and Daddy away. That was just a dream and Mama just went too fast and is getting a warning, like your teacher gives to students before they have to move their clip. That policeman just wants the roads safe and he is warning me to slow down or next time I will get a ticket.”
“A ticket? Does that mean they are going to take you away using that ticket?” Well that whole teachable moment thing backfired. Tears started falling all over again. The policeman brought me my license and warning notice and we pulled back into traffic, a lot slower this time, and headed home.
Then it dawned on me. My son has been so afraid of breaking the rules that he has worried himself into a live-wire bundle of nerves. It’s not the rules that are binding him, but the fear he has associated with breaking the rules.
As we pulled up in our yard, I reached over, grabbed my son’s hand and looked him in the eyes, “Don’t let your fear keep you from enjoying the ride. Mama might go a little over the speed limit from time to time but if all you do is watch the speedometer then you are going to miss everything else. Fear of doing something wrong or of something bad happening keeps us trapped. Don’t be so afraid all of the time that you miss the fun and joy of playing with your friends and doing fun things with your family. Obeying the rules is important, but we can’t let the fear of breaking the rules be in charge of us or we are going to be miserable.”
Maybe my son wasn’t the one who needed that teachable moment. I think maybe this whole set up was for me. “Don’t let your fear keep you from enjoying the ride.” Alright, God, I hear you loud and clear…