By Robin Conte

Robin Conte with some rules to live by.

So, I’m browsing Pinterest, trolling for inspiration and I see it. It’s just what I need to whip my family into shape. It’s a “house rules” sign.
But it’s not your typical, “play nice,” “mind your manners,” and “always tell the truth” sign. It’s not even a rudimentary plaque of the Ten Commandments.
This is a house rules sign that means business.
I could tell, right off the bat, when I read the first lines:
In this house …
We Do I’m Sorrys
We Do communication.
Wow, I thought. This is a sign that doesn’t let the rules of our language get in the way of its point.
I wondered if its tactic would work. Maybe it doesn’t matter that “I’m sorry” is already a perfectly complete sentence—maybe if it’s turned into a noun and pluralized, the kids would start apologizing. Maybe that tactic would be even more effective than leading by example.
Yes, that sign got me thinking. There is brilliant appeal to the whole flippant, leave-your-grammar-at-the-doorstep approach. Somehow, it seems, if we really mess with our language, it’ll make our kids feel like we’re on their side, like we’re all a part of a team. It’s a grammatically challenged team, but we’re all on it together!
I read on:
We Do real.
We Do loud really well.
We Do kindness. And when we’re done with it, we’re moving on to other virtues. (I added that last part.)
I admit, I understand the allure of the whole military talk staccato. After all, we can be kind and real, but if we do it—well, that means action, sister.
If you think about it, we can Do just about anything. We Do 50 pushups! We Do a favor! We Do our nails! We Do the laundry! We Do hard time! We Do the Hokey-Pokey!
“Do” has been our go-to helping verb since the days of Beowulf, probably, and he has proven his ability to function in just about any sentence, so isn’t it time to unleash him? Why not occasionally drop him between random words; why not let him function as a linking verb every once in a while?
I might even buy that sign. It’ll be a lot of fun to start talking that way. I’ll tell my kids to wash up and they will start whining, “but mom…”
Then I’ll come back with, “No, fellas. In this house, we Do hygiene!”
And what can they say to that?
I’m going to start throwing words together and see if I will not only be understood but also sound cool enough to inspire my kids to take action:
Hey, kids! In this house …
We Are yard work!
We Have thank you!
We Do dishwasher!
We Jump dogsled!
We Sniff crayons really well!
Yes, that sign-maker definitely hit on something. I think we can get our families to do just about anything, if we only say it wrong.
On the other hand, I could stick with a plaque of the Ten Commandments. They’re tried-and-true. They’re grammatically correct with all those Thou Shalts and Thou Shalt Nots. In a way, they are the original House Rules and the precursor to all House Rules signs yet to come. And they do cover all the bases.
They really Do.

Robin Conte is a writer and mother of four who lives in Dunwoody. She can be contacted at

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