Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Rule Followers and Rule Breakers

photo credit

I was sitting at my daughter's ballet recital last week trying to help soothe our fidgety toddler. The recital fell right smack in the middle of naptime, and I had packed a baggie full of teddy grahams before leaving the house, crossing my fingers it would tide her over. "I want cookies," Elisabeth demanded in an unmuted stage "whisper" as she wiggled around on Jeremy's lap. I quietly dug through my purse in the darkness of the auditorium, desperate to locate the bag of teddy grahams. Suddenly the woman sitting to my left leaned over to me.

"You aren't allowed to have any food or beverages in here," she righteously informed me.

My chin drooped and I meekly began to put away the teddy grahams. By nature I am a "rule follower" and she had caught me red handed. I felt like I was in second grade, caught whispering during class. But I wasn't making any noise! It wasn't like I was rattling around cellophane wrappers that were distracting others from the program. She simply objected to us introducing snack foods into the auditorium. As I rolled this over in my mind Jeremy leaned in from my right and whispered, "What are you doing? Where's Elisabeth's snack?"

"I just got in trouble," I answered, feeling ridiculous. I quietly explained that the woman sitting two inches away on my left side had just reprimanded me for bringing food into the theater.

"Are you kidding me?" Jeremy said loudly, reaching for the bag of teddy grahams. "Why don't you call the police already!" He opened the bag and handed them to Elisabeth. "Or feel free to hold our two year old for the next hour," I added, under my breath.

The happy ending to this story is that our entire row was exceptionally quiet for the duration of the program. The woman didn't make another peep and kept her eyes trained on the stage, Jeremy and I enjoyed the show, and Elisabeth munched happily on her snack until she fell asleep.

But since I am a rule follower, I left feeling badly about the exchange. The woman, however nosy, was absolutely right. There was a sign outside clearly stating that no food was allowed inside the auditorium. Now whether that rule was to discourage teenagers from bringing cheeseburgers and fries into the recital, or parents like us from handing out teddy grahams, I can't say. Probably both. What is interesting to me is the spectrum of reactions. The woman was evidently so appalled by our flagrant disregard for the rules that she felt compelled to weigh in on the situation. Jeremy, on the other hand, felt like it was a no-brainer and that a little bag of teddy grahams was infinitely preferable to a squawking toddler. I'm somewhere in the middle. I felt bad about breaking the rule, but in a moment when I felt panicked to keep Elisabeth quiet, I was annoyed by the woman's criticism.

We are a society lumped full of rule keepers, rule breakers, and the dazed and confused folks in between, half of which wouldn't have even noticed the "No Food Allowed" sign. I'm left wondering what our responsibility is to each other, given this spectrum of roles. Was the woman right to criticize us? Should she have kept quiet about it, even if she disagreed with our decision? Or is it reasonable to argue that rules can be made flexible when it is for the overall good, for the peace and quiet, of the rest of the audience?

What are your thoughts?


  1. I'm with Jeremy. Some rules are meant to be broken. Especially when it comes to 2yr olds.

  2. Unbelievably (or maybe not so), I have had this same dilemma in my own life recently! I was debating how much of a rule breaker I was being for eating a mint and sipping some water in a "no food allowed theater." I don't know the answer, but guilt sure is easy to find, huh? My favorite part of this, though is Jeremy (and for me, Brian)--are you kidding me? Why don't I think more like that?

  3. I say give the kid some cookies. I'm sure that woman would have been even more peeved if she was sitting next to a yelling two year old.


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