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Summer…and beyond….


No…no…oh HELL NO!

The picture above is part of a brain scan I had done a while back for reasons which are not pertinent to this post…and I’d like to think that this is exactly what my brain looks like in moments such as the one which occurred during the first week of summer “vacation” this year, when I came home from the extremely unforgivably selfish act of playing tennis and (oh I am so very ashamed) enjoying it one night. I walked (…crawled…it was a long and challenging singles match) into the house late that night to discover that, despite clear parental instructions, none of the kids had done their clean-up chores and that everything was waiting there to be dealt with by…surprise!… me. I briefly considered dragging the three of them out of bed and putting them to work, but realized that I just did not have the energy required for such a daunting feat. I then thought about leaving it for the morning…but knew that, if I left the mess, the cats would most likely spend the night at their version of a county fair…and end up waking me to take care of it anyway. So, I tidied up and headed off to bed with just barely enough energy to fight my way out of my built-in-support tennis top. That night I simultaneously re-energized and stewed as I slept the sleep of the utterly exhausted.

Early the next morning (not early by choice, mind you) I woke up to joyous giggles and walked into the living room to find all three kids hooked up to some kind of electronic device as if to a life saving IV, as they happily munched away at breakfast while seated upon my brand new sofa. After asking them to take the food back into the kitchen, turn off all devices, clean off the sofa, and please go make beds, I was met with what might seem like a simple question from one of the girls. “If I make my bed, will you let me use your iPad?” …and my brain exploded and ceded control to what I have now lovingly named the Brain Bear. I am not at all proud of the full out adult temper tantrum that ensued, which involved most of the elements of a toddler temper tantrum…including the incoherant high volumed screeching, and flailing arms…but minus the throwing of oneself to the floor, however, as the distance/force ratios in both descent to and ascent from the floor have greatly increased since my toddler days. BUT, I most certainly got their undivided attention. When I was able to restrain the Brain Bear and once again take on the more reasonable, less homicidal appearance of their mother, I sat the kids down for a little talk.

NO MORE REWARDS! NO MORE “WHAT DO I GET Ifs”! Rewards, at least for the time being and the immediate future, no longer exist. They have been canceled and replaced with my grace…which, I explained, will shine upon them abundantly when I am pleased and my ire, which will darken the halls of our home when I am not. Why the sudden turn towards absolute monarchy? I can feel them actively trying to game my system and I have decided it calls for a reset. My apologies to Little Man, who is only seven and has not yet had his fair share of training time…but that is part of what sucks about being the third child…you have to keep up with the pack.

Perhaps, if you would humor my parental paranoia for a moment, it is an off-spring conspiracy. Now that they are able to stay connected with their peers in so many more ways than we could at their age, it is easier for them to conspire and to get support and advice in their rebellious efforts… often in real time! Back in the day, if I had wanted a friend to suggest possible places my parents had hidden something, ways to crack a password, or immediate comparative advice on the going rate for emptying the garbage, I would have had to either physically sneak out of the house and find a knowledgeable peer, use the home phone line (and I did NOT have a private phone in my room), or wait until we met up at school or somewhere else. Coordinated rebellion took so much more effort back then…sigh. Now, it seems like the odds are being technologically stacked against us parents. My kids do not have smart phones. They have “the suckiest phones ever” that can basically call (how antiquated, I know…a phone used for actually calling people) and text…with extreme (and uncool) limits in capabilities (“what do you mean we can’t see or send emojis?! HOW WILL WE COMMUNICATE OUR FEELINGS?!”), to which they do not always have access. When we took the cell phones away, they found other means of getting around this imposed communication break! They found out how to use the Kindles we bought them so that it would be easier to read on vacations…the simplest version… to message their friends and access the net! So, we took those. I walked in on them messaging through our television! All the remote controls consequently have ended up traveling around town with me, the cell phones, and the Kindles, when I need to leave the kids home and they are not supposed to be texting or online. Next it will be the microwave or the toaster…. I am going to need a bigger bag. My intention is not to isolate them from the world, but there are times (many times at their ages) when I want them to be present in the here and now.

Not that there hasn’t been or will never again be a place for any type of reward included in my tactics of parenting these three cherubs (I have learned that it is best to never say never when it comes to parenting), but I have decided not to attach them to actions or tasks that I feel they should simply be doing (or not doing) because they are a part of this family unit. If they want to go above and beyond and earn a little cash because they are saving up for something…we can discuss it. The girls get paid to babysit and dog sit around the neighborhood, so I am open to giving Little Man an extra opportunity or two, but he is also not asking for money to hang out with his friends or to buy the cool jeans he wants (heck the boy would wear the same jeans until they reached his upper thigh if I let him), so he really does not need the cash…and heaven knows he is not short of toys.

They are a part of this family and live in this home. Doing their chores is simply a responsibility: a concept that has become muddled in a cloud of expectations, peer comparison, and entitlement and one that, if learned, will serve them in the future. If they learn only to work for monetary or material reward, they will not experience the pure and simple satisfaction of a job well done. After all, in the real world, not every action and effort is rewarded. Sometimes all you have is your own sense of pride and accomplishment. Even at work, where there is ultimately a paycheck, it’s not like the boss is going to throw a five-spot at you for every task you complete. You have a job, with certain responsibilities, and you do it…and if you have learned self-respect and integrity, you do your very best because your effort reflects upon you.

And…I may add, my darlings…that in the summertime you may not have school work to do, but you are still members of this family and you still live in the same house with the same rules. What will you get if (which I would quickly correct to when) you clean your room? Well, you will get a clean room of which you can be proud and to which you will no longer be embarrassed to invite your friends…friends who you will not be able to invite anyway, by the way, if your room is a pigsty. What will we give you if (WHEN!) you feed the dog? You will get a happy, appreciative, and healthy dog, and you will have earned that love that he so readily offers you, anyway. What will you get when (you are catching on, I see) you help clean up after dinner? You will get a clean kitchen, a happy and appreciative more relaxed mom, and the Brain Bear will smile upon you.

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