Highway pullover instills right kind of fear

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It was the subtle difference between a polite, “Hey, sis, would you mind if I lean my seat back?” and “Move. I need room.”

Apparently, my near-constant harping on improving the quality and tone of communication among my offspring isn’t breaking through. Go figure.

Short of installing a tone-o-meter to gauge the snarkiness level of familial discourse, I’ve simply said things like, “Your tone of voice toward your sister was rude. Please speak more politely.”

I had been going on the assumption that modeling the behavior I wanted to see would do the trick. Fat chance. We’re talking about children. Modeling only goes so far.

Now that I’ve explained the background, you surely can appreciate why that moment in the van was so critical and why it became necessary to use the power of the expressway shoulder to make my point.

There’s nothing as shocking to a child, no matter her age, as the moment when she realizes Mom is pulling the van over to the side of the road to target the laser beam of her disciplinary might on your behavior. It’s the parental equivalent of a stun gun.

So yes, that was me. Yes, I was yelling. If you slowed down to about 60 or 62 miles per hour, you might have heard words such as “if I ever” and “simply not acceptable.” (I’m not going to lie. I was on a roll.) Let’s just say I once more laid out my expectations for polite communication.

And no, the irony is not lost on me that I resorted to yelling at my daughter to get her to speak more politely to her sister. You couldn’t exactly blame me, though, because it was clear that whatever I had said previously about being polite simply wasn’t heard. Sometimes a little volume is what’s wanted.

I’m not claiming to be some sort of parenting guru, but the other day, I think I actually heard one of my girls say to her sister, “Can I use this chair, or are you sitting here?”

Of course, I still can’t get them to pick up the wet towels on the bathroom floor — but the next time we’re out for a drive, I’m thinking I’ll talk to them about that, too.

Columnist Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 20 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She is the author of “The Perfect World Inside My Minivan One Mom’s Journey Through the Streets of Suburbia,” a compilation of her columns. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide. Visit her Web site (www.marybeth hicks.com) or send e-mail to marybeth.hicks@comcast.net.

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