I made Mim a choice sheet with check off boxes. She loves check off boxes. There are a plethora of choices. She may never earn all the boxes. But it gives us something to do and talk about other than the conversations we have already had fifty times during the quarantine- including but not limited to bad dream about coyotes and wolves eating her, Charlotte said she was dating Kenny, and she can’t find any shoes to wear. This behavioral intervention, may free me from the endless hours of Mimmy nekkid in my bed, eating Easter candy. In between wrapper openings, she whines about a mysterious stomach ache. “Mama, I’m sooo sick. I think I have the viwuss.”
If she accomplishes 75 boxes on the choice sheet, she will earn a sleep over in a tent with her best friend Katie (after the quarantine).
Which brings us to the question – Do I bribe my children?
There is a fine line between a bribe and positive reinforcement while in the thick of parenting. I have raised six kids and so I have developed lots of philosophies on childrearing.
- Carry your babies. The car seat that you are lugging around will hurt your back. Hold that baby close to your heart and use a sling if you need a hand free.
- Breast feed until you can’t breast feed anymore. With some of my babies I made it almost a year. With Dolly, less than three months. Just do your best.
- Do your best.
- Create rituals. like in Meg Cox’s book. Root beer floats on Friday night. Dyed red pancakes on Valentine’s Day. Sing the same Good Night song that has their name cleverly inserted into the lyrics. Watching nature documentaries on rainy Sunday afternoons.
- Have back to school bashes to celebrate learning and your school community.
- Read to kids a lot. Tell them stories. Use Abiyoyo, Pete Seeger’s book on storytelling. Give your children books at every holiday, so they know what a gift it is to read.
- When driving carpool, let them play music they like and listen to the tween conversations. This is when parents can learn important stuff.
- When you suspect an eating disorder, trust your gut. Doctors do not know your child as well as you do.
- High schoolers need us to show up. At football games. At pictures before Prom. On their fake Instagram account “finsta”. When we suspect drinking at a party. When we smell smoke, there is fire.
- Be consistent. Stick with your yesses and your nos.
- Bribe your children when you need them to do something that is not kid oriented- for instance, when taking toddlers on airplanes, after your daughter’s third eye surgery, or when the teacher emails that your youngest has not completed much schoolwork during the quarantine. Damn. OMG. We made a fucking play-doh plant cell in week 1 of “Distance Learning” and during week 2, she watched educational youtube videos before she watched crappy youtube videos.
Number 10. Reminded me of a good story.
One dumb time, Walt and I insisted on being consistent and sticking to our word.
We were living in a sleepy little river neighborhood in South Carolina surrounded by marsh and ravaged docks over pluff mud or a high tide. For Christmas, Tuck wanted a bow and arrow. I mean he wanted it with every fiber of his reedy little body. This was the year he was obsessed with survivalism and Indigenous People. Tuck is the kind of person that becomes one with a book. He doesn’t read words. He absorbs them. He becomes the characters. He transforms into the setting. He lives books. This time was interspersed between some Harry Potter years. The themes were survival and living away from people without food or shelter. You know- the kind where the parents die first. He was reading Jean Craighead George and Gary Paulsen. And a book by Carl Hiassen, Hoot. Everyone was watching the movie version of Hoot and Tuck looked like the main character “Mullet Fingers”. Same blonde straggly hair, scrappy/lanky build, and suntanned skin. Tuck loved the reference and nickname his friends gave him. Tuck became Mullet Fingers- who was called that because he could catch the small fish in his bare hands. He fed his brother and sisters mushrooms and berries, as they spent hours behind our house- in the forest that yielded to the marsh that fell into the river.
We were and are a no guns family. A no weapons family! We had no live tv or cable. We owned a tv, a VCR and had a Wii- so we could play games without any weapons and watch movies with too many cuss words but no guns. We owned only three vidoe games- Mario Kart, Fifa 08, and Just Dance. No guns. “Violence is not entertaining” is just one of my parenting mottos. I didn’t even allow their grandma to give them water guns. The decision to get Tuck a wooden kit to make his own bow and arrow had been highly debated and long labored. With many conditions, we ordered this kit. The bow and arrow completed his ideal view of himself being a lone wolf surviving the wilds of Bluffton, South Carolina just like the characters in his books. When it arrived, we hid it in the motor boat in the carport of our concrete block fishing cottage. Tuck was proud of how he had pleaded his case and he was very anxious to get started on his making of the bow. He was itching.
Walt and I were leaving for a walk around the loop that would wind around the gravel parking lot, the boat ramp and the May River. Seeing the gleam in Tuck’s blues, Walt and I clearly stated our expectations and possible consequences.
“If anyone looks for their Christmas presents and finds anything, you will not be allowed to keep the present.”
Repeat and restate after gaining semi-eye contact.
“Tuck, if you find your Christmas presents, we will take them away. Is that clear?”
The dogs rambled near, barking at squirrels and a cranky fisherman. George and Dolly strolled with us. Rounding the bend of *Alljoy Circle, Gidge piggybacked on Walt’s back and I carried a curly headed preschooler, who had dressed herself in her signature cheetah print skirt minus the obligatory underwear that most mothers required. Noting the tide, the color of the sky, and the cement barriers covered by bushes coated in cherry colored holly berries (better than any Christmas decoration ever bought) where our street strayed from the river bank, we finished our walk.
It was obvious. We could see Tuck slinking down from the raised motor boat- hopping off the trailer, trying to look innocent while grinning and blushing. Damn.
We knew it was going to happen. Why didn’t we move the damn bow kit? We should have made him walk with us. His self control or maybe it his impulsivity could not handle this angel on one shoulder, devil on the other situation. His scrappy blonde hair framing his face. His tight shoulder muscles developed by throwing shrimp nets, drawing up in a question. His eyes squinting toward our anguished faces. We didn’t have a choice. We didn’t share our torment. This hurts me more than it hurts you. Kids don’t really care about our empathy wrapped in a platitude.
“Tuck, you knew the consequence. You can’t have the bow and arrow for Christmas.”
Crushing a child’s heart at Christmas- yep that is what we were doing. Oh Lord, now what? How to put the joy back in the most wonderful time of the year. What kind of Christmas magic could we make? Four cherubs and one impulsive boy needed wonder and crackerjack presents.
Somehow in all our parenting glory and wisdom- Walt and I decided the only thing to do was to get him a bearded dragon. We had umpteen guinea pigs, a biting bunny rabbit, three dogs, five children and at least one escaped iguana. Tucky would love a bearded dragon. The only thing that could erase his shame and pain of the bow and arrow blunder was a small live reptile that would require a cage the size of our Master bedroom. It had to be done. It was our best option.
So maybe, I am not one to give parenting advice or luxurious recommendations because sometimes all bets are off, like when it is Christmas, or the intense years when their big sister was hospitalized, and definitely during the COVID19 quarantine.
By Valentine’s Day, the bearded dragon had escaped his penthouse and is assumed to be surviving alone in the forest by the marsh next to the river. We do not know if he is friends or enemies with the missing iguana.
Tuck’s birthday is April 1st and he loved that long awaited hand crafted bow.
Mim has earned 10 boxes out of 189 boxes available.
*Our street was actually named Alljoy.