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Lynn Hummel: Lessons on standing in line

Children who are home-schooled are missing out on one of life’s very important lessons: how to stand in line. “Wait a minute,” you say — “A kid doesn’t need to learn in school how to stand in line. Everybody knows how to stand in line from their day of birth. It’s just part of human instinct isn’t it?” The answer is no. As a matter of fact, home-schooled children should be sent to regular schools starting at about age seven for some lessons on standing in line as a requirement for passing their grade in home-school.

For starters, students usually stand in line to get lunch. If some kid “butts the line” he’s usually put in his place by the other kids. No teacher is necessary for this lesson, but it’s important to learn. A certain amount of pushing, shoving and confrontation tends to round out a kid’s education. He’ll be standing in line for the rest of his life. Why should some child be cheated of this valuable learning experience because his teacher is a sweet mother who treats him to milk and cookies while he’s struggling to learn long division? “Here darling, now it’s going to seem easier. Let’s take a look at your denominator.”

Adults don’t like to stand in line. How many times have I heard this — “I stood in line for 4 years in the Army and I’m never going to stand in line again.” Wrong. We stand in line day after day: at the grocery store, at the post office, at the bank, at the ticket window for football games, taking communion in church, at coffee after church, at lunch after funerals, with our shoes and belts off and our pockets emptied in airports, and finally, waiting to congratulate the bride and groom at weddings.

I try to pick the shortest line for checkouts at the grocery store. But as you know, the shortest line isn’t always the quickest. How big is the load in the grocery cart ahead of me? How fast is the check-out person? What about extended conversations, or worst of all — will I get stuck behind somebody with a dozen coupons for specials? Can you speed it up with a comment like, “my poodle, Sweetie, has been waiting alone in the car and she gets lonely for me?” Are you kidding — that will only slow down the process.

The shortest line at the bank may not be the quickest either and there aren’t any shopping carts to give you clues. If the person ahead of you is depositing folded one dollar bills by unfolding them one at a time or insisting the teller inspect an old dime to see if it has any value as a collector’s item, you may be there for a long time.

We all hope lines will be like driving in and out of fast food places — fast. I recently drove into one and found the customer ahead of me having a long chit-chat with an employee leaning out the window. I waited and waited and finally flicked my lights on and off to signal that my patience meter had expired. The employee leaned out even further, looked back at me and hollered, “we’re waiting for the burgers.” So much for fast food.

I read an article lately by Nick Paumgarten who said, “very important people line up differently from you and me.” He said they don’t want to stand behind anyone else or seem to be wanting something to have to wait for. They like to pretend they’re not in line. Paumgarten didn’t suggest this, but it may be these important people were home-schooled and never learned to stand in line.

What do we say when adults try to butt the line we’re standing in? Sometimes we just glare, but that rarely helps because they’re avoiding eye contact. Sometimes we shift over a step or two to try to cut them off. It helps to have our elbows out. The longer we’ve been waiting, the more likely we are to shout out — “Hey get to the back of the line.” Even then, they act like they don’t hear you. It’s like their urgency is more urgent than yours. Or sometimes, we just say nothing, shrug in disgust and think “what goes around comes around — they’ll get theirs.” But it doesn’t come around and they don’t get theirs. The books in life rarely balance.

So what’s the solution? Mandatory standing in line training starting at age seven.