We're emphasizing the wrong message too often

Around town recently, I’ve noticed those stick figures on the rear windows of vehicles laying out the demographics of the family inside.

Usually, there’s a decal of a man, a woman, a boy or girl or several, a baby, a dog, a cat and perhaps a football or baseball.

The stickers remind me of those yellow Baby on Board signs from years past. The point, I suppose, was to warn drivers not to ram into your car because an infant was inside, but the people who needed to heed such advice didn’t seem to be able to read in the first place. (They had trouble with even short words such as “stop” and “yield.”)

I went to the store to buy a package containing a stick-figure family to place on my car, but when I got home, I found I had adopted someone else’s family. There were a mom and dad, all right, but the children were all wrong for our extended family: too few kids and the wrong sizes. Moreover, not one of them was throwing a tantrum or a rock.

Back to the store I went.

“I need something that reflects the people in my car,” I told the clerk.

“You’re in luck,” she said, handing me another package. “This is our hottest seller right now. It was made specifically for the local market.

“See, it shows a man with a smoking gun in his hand, standing over another figure who has X’s for eyes. Apparently, it hits home for a lot of residents. We can’t keep it in stock. This is the last one I have.”

I looked at the package.

“Well, I haven’t actually shot anybody yet,” I told her. “Even if I had, it still leaves out the rest of my family. And that, after all, was the point of the stickers in the first place.”

She rummaged through the store’s selection.

“Well, this one does contain a lot of children’s figures, but they aren’t carrying guns,” she said. “Hidden in their school backpacks, though, are drugs and knives and cellphones.”

I told her I would think about it and went home empty-handed, which I decided was a good way to be if I wanted to survive.

As I drove, I thought about something I read in our newspaper last week. Women who live in a local housing project were honored for putting their young sons on straight paths that keep them in school and out of trouble. That’s quite an accomplishment in a violent, drug-ridden housing complex where, last year, deputies were called out six times a day.

Staff Writer Tracey McManus reported that Carla Cleare, the mother of 12-year-old Kobe Patterson, said this of their situation:

“It’s rough here, but this is not permanent for us. We’re going to do better, so I talk to him about what you don’t do, and what he needs to do to get out – and that’s school.”

When was the last time you read such forceful, defiant, confident words? They should be plastered on the rear window of every car in town so that when we keep our eyes on the road, we also keep them on the prize.

 

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