In the hierarchy of human existence, first and foremost is the individual — the self.
Then, before we get to large groups of humans like communities, regions, and nations, there is the most basic unit of human group existence — the family.
It has been depicted in literature (The Swiss Family Robinson), in song (We Are Family), in film (The Addams Family), and in comedic adult cartoons (Family Guy). And now, as I notice driving around with my very own family, it’s being portrayed on the back windows of vehicles ... and boy, is it annoying.
You’ve seen them, I’m sure. The rear window of a SUV or wagon. Vinyl stick figures representing the family inside, like some modern form of Paleolithic cave paintings.
The human menagerie typically includes one or two adult size stickers on the left, with varying numbers and genders of child size stickers to the right.
Usually, the children are portrayed according to their interests — one might be wearing a cheerleader outfit, another might be clutching a baseball bat, and the last might be reading a book. Some very inclusive families might also proudly display stickers to represent Fido and Kitty (what, no goldfish named Pepperidge Farm?).
I’m not exactly sure why I don’t like the stickers, but regardless, they’re like some two-dimensional form of ipecac syrup — they bring about instant retching. Obviously many find the displays adorable, and that’s fine, to each their own.
But I don’t get it. Am I supposed to be impressed? Am I supposed to have an “aww shucks” moment? In some neo-Darwinian reflex, am I supposed to run to the store and purchase slightly more impressive stickers?
In my family, overall, we smile a lot and my kids are great - they truly are (probably only because they’re not teenagers yet). But my experience tells me the caricatures of relaxed adults and well-behaved children are not telling the entire story.
Family life is not a static window dressing snapshot, but rather a roller coaster of emotions and events. Like a rickety wooden amusement park ride, there are highs and lows. There are scary sounds. There are twist and turns. There are times of exhilaration when you throw your arms up in the air. There are even times when you feel the need to vomit.
So, if we can’t amend Department of Motor Vehicles code or the First Amendment of the Constitution to ban the stickers outright (as I was informed by my Senator), how about campaigning for some balance and honesty? Maybe the stickers could show:
Bleary-eyed parents looking on as two kids have a tug of war with a toy neither really cares for, but rather only want because the other had it first.
Three kids plopped in front of the television, aka the electronic babysitter, while one parent cleans and the other pays bills.
Two parents trying to sleep in a bit, with one kid jumping on the bed while singing Laurie Berkner songs and another crying in the crib with a diaper full of homemade gifts molded from yesterday’s mashed peas and carrots.
Oh well, I guess they’re the new version of those “My Kid Is an Honor Student at Peachy Hill High School” bumper stickers of the not too distant past. Just another Mine-Are-The-Best-Kids-In-The-World fad that we’ll have to live with for its lifecycle. I’ve learned to cope though.
When I’m driving and I notice those stickers on the car in front of me, I just nonchalantly peek at my wife in the passenger seat and then my kids in my rearview mirror to see the best family this side of Venus — my own.