birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Following the Rules

I am a rule follower.

Or I was.

But mostly I still am.

I follow the rules.

I am too much of a chicken not to follow the rules.

I have been accused of not following the rules.

The time that most comes to mind is when I was flying with my dachshund, Olive, from Los Angeles to Birmingham.

Her carrier had broken and she could stick her head out of it. She hated flying then and was scared. Now she's used to it since it's something we do several times a year.

Anyway, a flight attendant thought I was letting her out to play at my feet. I was doing no such thing. I was trying to keep her inside her carrier by holding it shut.

The flight attendant kept stopping by my seat to glare at me. "What are you doing? If you're letting that dog out..."

I said, "I'm not."

He stopped by my seat again. "What are you doing? I am watching you."

I said, "The carrier is broken. I'm holding her inside."

I had draped my scarf over the carrier, which made the fight attendant suspect I was up to no good.

My seatmate said, "What is his problem?"

Finally, the flight attendant came over again and said, "If that dog is not in her carrier we will DIVERT the plane."

By this time I was shaking.

"DIVERT THE PLANE" rang in my ears.

We were somewhere over Texas.

Then he said, 'You need to come to the back of the plane with me."

My seatmate offered to watch Olive.

I followed the flight attendant to the back of the plane like I was being marched to the principal's office - something that had NEVER happened to me as a kid growing up in Catholic schools because I FOLLOWED the rules.

He got out a rule book but before he could read it, I burst into tears and shouted, "I follow the rules. I know the rules. I would never let my dog run around on a plane. I just had surgery. But I absolutely always follow the rules and you're being a bully!"

He blanched a little and said, "There's no need to get hysterical."

Then he said, "You may go back to your seat."

When I returned to my seat, the lady watching Olive said, "I am so sorry but she got out."

I imagined her racing toward the cockpit, but she was only a row up and I caught her and put her back.

Then another flight attendant came up to me and said, "So who had surgery? You or the dog?"

Mortified, I said, "Me."

She walked away and I was left alone after that but I wrote a very long and detailed complaint to the airlines and they gave me a voucher for a free flight.

But it still gives me shivers to think of that flight. I have had to fly the same airlines many times since, and nearly every flight attendant since that awful trip has asked me if they may pet Olive or they want me to open her carrier so they can see her.

Mostly they say, "I didn't even see a dog" when I am getting off the plane with her.

So clearly I just got a lemon of flight attendant that day, but I'll never forget his face, and I look for him every time I fly that airline even though it's been six years.

After twelve years of parochial school and growing up the oldest girl in the family, I was always terrified of doing something wrong. It was expected that I was already wrong/bad so I had to work extra hard to be good, which meant following the rules.

But in a way I've kind of let the rules go a little.

Sometimes, I watch TV in the middle of the day.

I drink a glass of wine or two most every night.

Sometimes, I skip social things I don't want to go to even though I would have gone in the past like a good girl.

I say no more often than I used to, and it makes me feel like I'm breaking the rules, but saying no to something arbitrary or time-consuming means saying yes to me and my own need for quiet and peace of mind.

I am an introvert who is expected to act like an extrovert.

I used to try and force my kids to follow the rules. But then they grew up. Now they have their own rules, and I do my best to stay out of their business and just be a good listener.

I don't always succeed especially when one of them is so out there with his choices - but arguing does no good. It makes it worse. So I try to keep my mouth shut. That is my new rule for me and the adult kid. That is a hard and fast rule for me, and following that rules give me great peace of mind.

But I am learning to break the other rules a little.

And that, too, gives me peace of mind.

The Rules

Laws Of Karma