Spy vs. kids

If you're a fan of Cold War spy novels, then you've undoubtedly heard of The Moscow Rules, the code Western spies followed when operating behind the Iron Curtain.

During a recent business trip to Washington, D.C., my wife squeezed in a visit to the International Spy Museum (www.spymuseum.org), which she pronounced "extremely cool."

One of the trinkets she brought home from the museum gift shop was a postcard that lists The Moscow Rules.

I've kept the card on my desk, right where I can see it when I'm staring into space, and have decided The Moscow Rules remain pretty apt in our paranoid age. In particular, they work as good rules for parenting.

If you've got children, especially teens, then you know all about the Cold War on the home front. Here's how The Moscow Rules apply:

Assume nothing.
Nothing confounds assumptions like children. Just when you think you've got them figured out, they'll say or do something spectacularly strange or unexpected. It's their job.

Never go against your gut.
Instincts are all we parents have. You can read all the parenting manuals in the world, but nothing truly prepares you for the day-to-day toil, strife and decision-making of having children. Only your "gut" will tell you how to behave. As you get older, your gut likely will grow larger and get a deeper voice.

Everyone is potentially under opposition control.
In the case of children, read "opposition" as "those kids deemed to be 'bad influences.'" No matter how good a parent you are, your kid's peers will exert a stronger influence than you ever can. And that, my friends, is where belly-button piercings come from.

Don't look back; you are never completely alone.
Don't believe it? Try to have an intimate moment with your spouse anytime the children are awake.

Go with the flow, blend in.
A parent puttering in the background is more likely to overhear the truth than one who's hovering over the children, interfering in their interactions. But can you handle the truth?

Vary your pattern and stay within your cover.
Act like a parent, sticking to the "cover story" that you're a responsible adult. But toss out a little surprise once in a while to keep the kids on their toes. Something like, "Coldplay's okay, but I prefer the Foo Fighters."

Lull them into a sense of complacency.
Let them believe you'll put up with all the sass and abuse they can dish out. Right up to the moment you slip into their room at 3 a.m. with a bucket of ice water.

Don't harass the opposition.
Add to that statement "without due cause." Sometimes a little harassment's just what the doctor ordered, and somebody's got to do it. Who better than you, the parent? (You can't obey all the rules. Signs always say "Don't feed the chimps," but you know somebody's slipping them snacks. Is being a parent that different from being a zookeeper?)

Pick the time and place for action.
Let the kids get away with a few minor infractions here and there, but keep a mental inventory. When the time comes to drop the hammer, you'll want a full toolbox.

Keep your options open.
When situations get too dicey for spies, they slip across the nearest international border to escape. That can work for parents, too. But remember: Don't leave a forwarding address. The kids will track you down. And they'll demand back pay on their allowance.

No comments: