This reminds me of when my husband and I enacted a daily piano-practice law. The children would launch any objection at length, and all of it boiled down to “It sucks!” None of these tactics worked, but one in particular backfired: when they’d look at me with an air of triumphant accusation and say, “You don’t practice every day.”
It’s true. I had begun learning piano as an adult, and I did not always practice, so to speak, what I preached. But far from silencing me, that fact inspired me. “You’re right!” I would retort. “If only I had a mom to make me!”
I do have a mom, but she lives too far away to make me do things for my own good. I try to do that myself but, too often, I listen to my own whiny arguments and let myself off the hook. It’s one of the privileges of being a grown-up — and also one of the drawbacks.
So I am a big fan of state and federal laws that make me do what I know I should be doing anyway. All parents — dads and moms — have house rules, but since I’m a mom, I think of them as Mom Laws.
As in, Don’t even think about smoking in the house. As in, We aren’t moving until you buckle your seat belt. As in, If I catch you texting while driving, you’re in big trouble. They force us to control our impulses, for the sake of our health — or other people’s. Or, in the case of plastic bags, for the health of the home planet.
Some people don’t appreciate being compared to children; they use the term “nanny state” like it’s a bad thing. Just like kids, we adults need help knowing what’s right and then acting on it. Unlike kids, we’re voters and taxpayers, who can essentially hire people to figure out what’s right and make laws to push us in the right direction. In this case, keep 23 billion plastic bags a year out of our landfills, rivers and oceans. (And if we think it’s the wrong direction, we can fire them.)
Ideally, Mom Laws would prevent me from regularly summoning a UPS truck bearing nonessential items made in China, buying bottled water in a post-workout “emergency” or getting coffee in a takeout cup even if I’m not leaving the coffee shop. Imagine that! “Excuse me, ma’am,” the nervous employee would stammer, “these seats are for ceramic-mug patrons only. It’s the law.”
A girl can dream! But I know it’s unlikely. My husband and I managed to enact only two non-negotiable laws, and we’re not even hamstrung by an Upstate/Downstate divide.
Furthermore, Mom Laws that do get passed can quickly be discarded by a new parent: President Trump, for instance, is busy undoing former first lady Michelle Obama’s lunch nutrition standards, which demonstrably improved child nutrition. Trump administration “reforms” lessen requirements on vegetable variety, minimum grains and so on.
Basically, the kids complained (and by kids, I mean both actual kids and school administrators) and New Dad winked and said, sure, kids, french fries are vegetables.
So I worry that the state Senate will change hands again, the law will be rescinded and our waterways will resume being clogged. The signs aren’t great: The law already exempts pharmacies and permits paper bags; a lawsuit has forced the state to agree to wait another month to begin enforcement.
Might the collective wail of millions of New Yorkers baffled at checkouts cause the state to back down?
“We’ll get used to it.” That’s what a cashier recently told me when I asked him what he thought of the ban. He said that when smoking indoors was outlawed, “It took about a month, and then everyone calmed down.”
I flashed back to the days when going anywhere in public meant braving an acrid haze of cigarette smoke.
What a difference an irritating law can make! Bringing your own bags, buckling your seat belt, going outside to smoke — none of it is terribly difficult. A little planning, a moment’s effort, a slight inconvenience. And then years pass and, voila, the air, rivers and streets are cleaner, fewer people die in car crashes or of lung cancer, and you can play the piano. I mean really play.
So to the New York state legislators facing seemingly endless whining, I say, hang tough. Maybe the kids will even thank you one day.