When I was a sixth-grader, I was a proud member of the Safety Patrol. This meant I wore a sash and silver badge, and I got to keep the other kids in order. If they were walking in less than perfect order, I was instructed to yell, “Keep to the right!” If they were running down the hall, I got to advise them to “Slow down!” I can’t remember the effect any of this had, but I know I relished my role.
I was born bossy. My third grade teacher noted on my report card, “Tends to be bossy.” Tends to be? I was just getting started.
The best thing about being on the Patrol was brushing the snow off the kindergarteners when they entered the building. That was, at least, not a bossy thing, but a kindness. Those kids were so darn cute, covered in snow! And they stood so patiently as we wielded our little brushes over their snowpants and hats.
I think there are two kinds of people in the world: those who relish following rules, and those who delight in flaunting them. People like me, in the first category, feel that life simply flows more enjoyably when people line up politely, when a person with 67 coupons goes to the end of the line, when drivers stop on a yellow light. It’s polite, it’s kind, it’s safe. Why do you think they called it the SAFETY Patrol?
The other kind of people, the flaunters, think it’s fun to run yellow, even unequivocally red, lights. They think they’re getting away with something, and that no police car is ever going to be anywhere in sight of them and their fast cars (That usually does seem to be the case.) They think the universe owes them. I mean, did you hear about the lotto winner who was caught on security video stealing a few things after claiming his prize? Definitely not Safety Patrol material.
One time when I was in the hospital, I saw two of my fellow patients walk out the front door, then come back some 15 minutes later, fast food bags in hand. Did I tell on them? I did. It wasn’t because I wanted to get them into trouble. Rather, it was to keep them out of it, especially the one I knew was having major health troubles. I didn’t want him driving into a tree because he was under the influence of heavy-duty IV drugs.
I’ve been on lots of medications myself, for the same reason as that guy – chronic, intractable migraines. (We were both in the Head Pain Unit.) I know how they can mess with even the best Safety Patrol Girl’s intentions to play by the rules.
One time – one very memorable time – I was coming off one medicine and starting up another. My husband and I were vacationing in a cabin way up in the Colorado mountains, near a gorgeous town ringed by mountains whose peaks were snow-covered even in the middle of summer. I felt great. In fact, I felt so great, I cooked breakfast every morning, including poached eggs in a pot of water, and I wrote a column every. Single. Day. And they were good! Maybe you read them! But by the time we got home and I found myself blithely sailing through an apple-red light on Bluff Street, I knew what was going on. I was manic.
Manic is different from Safety Patrol. Manic is to Safety Patrol what French-pressed espresso is to decaf Folgers. It’s the high side of bipolar disease, the side that makes you feel you can do anything and stay up all week to do it. Eventually, all those great ideas for columns can become so much gobbledygook. If you’re a writer, like me, it’s as if you’re typing your masterpiece with your fingers on the wrong keys. I got better once I figured out what was going on and called my doctor.
So although order – not to mention productivity – is to be desired, for us Safety Patrol kids, anyway, mania is not.
I like rules. I like rules that say, Get a flu shot; it’s the only way to avoid a deadly disease. I like rules that say, Leave a big tip; those servers are working for peanuts. I like rules that say, Give to charity (like Toys for Tots!); you’ve got it better than you know. (Even in Dubuque, the home of creative parking, I like rules that say, Park on the correct side of the street, for heaven’s sake. Keep to the right!)
I know there are times when being a Safety Patrol Girl can get out of hand, when that bossiness I mentioned before gets ugly. Bossiness has a sibling, and that is something I think of as Trying to Solve the Problems of the World, Even if Nobody Asked You To. This happens to people who are, like me, hypervigilant. People who notice everything, and want to set all the injustices they witness right. I know it makes my husband nervous when we observe trouble brewing and I’m itching to speak up, whether anybody asked me to or not.
It can be hard to give up being a Safety Patrol Girl. These days, even bosses aren’t supposed to act bossy. And the supply of snowy kindergarteners is growing slim, as fewer kids walk to school and climate change robs of us the 20-inch snows Iowa used to contend with. Still, it doesn’t hurt to keep an eye out for each other. That’s not being bossy. That’s keeping each other