Why I Yell At People Who Run Stop Signs

Yes, I am one of those people. I yell at the folks who run stop signs in my neighborhood, “Stop sign!” and point to the sign.  I am more bothered when they ignore me than when they yell or give me the finger.  At least then I realize they heard me say something.

Yes, it’s the law.  But it’s more than that.  There are children all over my block – 15 at least in 5 houses on our tiny block – one of those awesome, wholesome blocks on which children of all ages play together and play outside constantly, running through one another’s yards and knocking on doors.  I worry that someone won’t stop as one of my children or one of their friends is walking or walking their bike across the intersection.  I live in fear that my short-for-their-age fourth graders won’t be seen by some large vehicle barreling down our residential street.  

My three children know why I do this – to keep them safe. Still, they are embarrassed.  Of course they are.  I am their mother and part of the definition of motherhood is humiliating your children with utterly routine acts.  I’m okay with that.  I will keep yelling at cars that don’t stop.  My children will keep asking me to stop, or, if in the presence of friends, shake their heads and say something like, “She does that.”  There’s so much in the world I cannot protect them from.  I will keep trying to cultivate my tiny corner of the universe as a safe place.  

So there I was, a few weeks ago, walking home from walking my children to school.  I yelled at some driver who ran a stop sign.  Then a realization hit me.  My stop-sign yelling, while literal, was also metaphoric.  What were folks doing when they ran stop signs? They were running without taking note of their surroundings, hurrying to get somewhere, or perhaps just rushing.  In any event, they weren’t paying attention to the signs around them.  The stop signs were only part of it – they probably were not noticing other signs to stop.  

Then I wondered: what about me?  Am I maybe yelling at myself, too, with those driver-focused rants?  Sure, I stop at red octagonal stop signs – I’m kind of fanatical about them.  But I don’t always stop at the right moments in other places of my life.  I worry that I am doing the dishes after dinner when I should be sitting alongside my children.  I try to keep papers in my work bag, my stress out of the living room and my phone out of bedtime.  I talk to my 80-year old mother most days on the way to work.  Rarely do I stop moving long enough to read a book, I want to study much more than I do, and can go months without seeing or talking to good friends.  

Sure, you could remind me that I am the mother of three children who is divorced and serves as a full-time congregational rabbi.  You could tell me that I do speak to my mom every day, do sit down several nights and several mornings a week for meals and conversation talk with my children and read that I in a purposeful way.  And you could go through my list and come up with explanations for each item. No doubt I could do the same for you.  

But that’s not the point.  Yes, my life is busy. So is yours.  All the more reason to stop and look who’s on my right or left, what vehicle others are driving, and notice my surroundings.  

But what are the signs to stop?  The challenge is that they are not usually as obvious as those signs on our street corner.  Birthdays, holidays and first days of school call out:  Stop, look around and see where you are!  When a child has had a tough day or is upset, their face or requests are stop signs of another sort.  And then there are the stop signs, good and bad, that I completely miss, those I run through, like the folks I yell at on my street.  

Some road markers of another sort do make me stop and look around.  In our house, the moments before we begin eating and sing Hamotzi, or those before bed when we sing Sh’ma are clear.  Some evenings as I leave work, the sounds of Lake Michigan remind me to say one of my favorite Hebrew blessings, for the wonders of creation.  My younger daughter is terrific at reminding us to stop for Shehechyanu, our blessings for firsts, even passing a deep water test or losing a first tooth.  And we say Kaddish when the anniversary of a death (yahrzeit) comes around.  Still, large stop signs like Shabbat often don’t make me stop the way I’d like – it’s still a rolling (in-progress) pause.

So, yes, there are still many times I long for a sign to catch my eye and say “Stop” – one as obvious as the burning bush that caught Moses’ eye long ago.  I can only hope to hear “Lisa, Lisa” at a key moment, like Moses heard “Moses, Moses” at the bush.  Maybe I will.  But first, like Moses, I have to look up to see the sign!

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