In an earlier chapter we discussed how getting married changes a guy's life. But even matrimony, with all its waves of change, can't rock the boat of one's life like having children.

We will spare you the stuff about night feedings and burp cloths and singing purple dinosaurs. Other writers have expounded on these topics, so we see no need to reheat that particular microwave-safe bowl of beans-n-weenies at this time.

We want to focus on the biggest transformation that parenthood brings: The instant you become parents, you also suddenly become citizens.

Oh, sure, you're technically a citizen before. You have a driver's license, you think communism is a bad thing, and, if you have a sense of humor, you might even vote for a U.S. president once in a while.

Then comes a kid. And citizenship becomes a sure-enough priority. Forget the once-in-eight-years presidential voting stuff. Now you cast your ballot in every school board election, and you vote wisely, because you know each candidate's position on vital issues, as well as his or her employment history, blood type, favorite color, and favorite "Friend" from the TV show. ("You like Joey, and you think you can make school policy? Ha!")

You vote on every bond issue and every mill levy. (And before that, you take the time to learn what in the world those two terms actually mean.) You show up for town meetings on zoning, re-zoning, and re-re-zoning.

And that's only the beginning. You stop at every neighborhood Kool-Aid stand because you understand deep in your heart that it's your civic duty to do so:

"Hi, Devin, I sure could use a Dixie cup of tepid Kool-Aid on a hot day like this. What flavor do you have there?"


"Oh, goodie, that's my favorite!"

Moreover, to protect the safety of your own children—and that of young entrepreneurs like Devin—you begin to report potholes on nearby roads. And woe to the person who speeds through your neighborhood. Even if you are in your pajamas, you will run into the street to get the license plate number and perhaps to shake your fist and yell, "Slow down, you idiot. There are children around here!"

This child-induced citizenship is a good thing, for the most part. But it can create problems if it gets out of hand. That's what happened to Jedd a while ago, and that's why he can never call the police again.

Let us explain: A few evenings ago, Jedd heard disturbing noises coming from the house next door. It was well after 9 p.m., which once you become a parent-citizen is "way too late for a bunch of noise and shenanigans to be going on!"

The noise in this case was that of the lady of the house, screaming at maximum lung capacity.

"Stop it!" she shrieked. "Get away! Don't kill me! Leave me alone! Don't kill me! Oh, please don't kill me!"

Jedd, a citizen with a parentally heightened sense of responsibility, scrambled for his phone and dialed 9-1-1. The police showed up and heard the screaming, too. They broke down the front door and were shocked to discover ...

A mom and her eight-year-old little boy, playing a Nintendo game. She was screaming because her son was soundly defeating her by about 1,200 points!

Suffice to say that this mom won't ever lend the Jedd Hafer family a cup of sugar or anything else. And the police made it clear that they didn't want any more emergency calls from Casa de Hafer.

So even if a deranged, machete-wielding maniac shows up at Jedd's house, he can't call the police. "Oh yeah," the dispatcher would say sarcastically, "we better just hustle right over there. Could be another possible Donkey Kong in progress." Forget about the boy who cried "Wolf!" Jedd is the boy who cried "Super Mario!"

However, being a parent-citizen carries its benefits as well as its drawbacks. You see, before we had children, we had no problem being rude or downright caustic to telemarketers who called up at dinnertime, wondering if we'd like to turn our back on our current long-distance phone carrier and switch over to a completely new system, with new rules, requirements, and billing procedures, all for the sake of saving twelve cents. We also had no problem hanging up on these folks as soon as they'd say, "Hello, Mr. Haff-- ... Mr. Heff--... Mr. Hoffenhammer, are you happy with your current--?" [Insert resounding click here.]

But now that we're parents, we can't verbally abuse or rudely hang up on telemarketers. That wouldn't be good citizenship. It wouldn't set a good example for our children.

This creates a dilemma, though. Because while we don't want to be rude, we also don't want to buy a bunch of crud we don't need and can't afford. (Besides, we both tried "The Abdominizer" and we still don't have abs like Leonardo DiCaprio. Ours abs more closely resemble those of Leonardo DeNimoy-o.)

Thankfully, we discovered that the answer to the above dilemma was as plain as the tiny hands that are trying to pull the noses off our faces: That's right, our children. You see, as adults, we don't like talking on the phone to strangers. But our kids love it.

When Jedd's son Bryce turned two, he was designated Official Telemarketer Ambassador. Jedd would let a telemarketer start his spiel, then hand the phone to Bryce.

The system worked like this:
Telemarketer: So, Mr. Heffenmeyer, can I interest you in our money-saving blah blah blah ... with no cash down and blah blah blah ... no long-term obligation yammer yammer yammer ...

Jedd (covering mouthpiece with hand): Bryce, come talk on the phone. It's GRANDMA!

Bryce (into phone): Hi! I go on potty like big boy! I got new Batman toy. I love SpongeBob SquarePants! Do you love SpongeBob SquarePants? Wesley push me down at church! Wesley naughty....

When your children get older, you can still employ them as telemarketer troubleshooters. Especially when they are old enough to have attended Girl Scout camp, like Todd's daughter, Jami.

So beware, telemarketers of the world, because when you call the Todd Hafer household, the only response you're going to get to your questions is Jami's rousing rendition of camp-time favorites like this:


We know that some of you out there might criticize us for employing our children in this manner. But please understand, they love it. They often have trouble getting adults to listen to them, so the concept that total strangers are calling us on the phone, eager to chat, is a real thrill.

Besides, the effective handling of phone solicitors is a skill that any good citizen should learn. We are teaching this crucial skill to our children today so that they might delegate it to their own offspring someday. You see, with us, citizenship has become a family tradition. A legacy. And couldn't your household use a little more legacy, fellow citizen?

Excerpted from Mischief from the Back Pew by Todd & Jedd Hafer. Copyright © 2003. Published by Bethany House Publishers. Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.
Todd Hafer is an award-winning writer with 19 published books. Jedd is a comedian and speaker who has appeared all over the country. They have coauthored three other books including Stranger in the Chat Room.