B and Miles have been looking for ways to earn money. We don't offer an allowance. The kids have several jobs they are expected to do as part of our family (like picking up their toys, clearing dishes, putting laundry away, feeding the pets, keeping their bathroom tidy).
They don't get paid for those tasks, but we give them the option of doing extra work to earn money for their piggy banks. Chores to earn money might include wiping down the baseboards, vacuuming, sweeping the patio, or cleaning up after the pets (my favorite!)...basically anything that's above and beyond what's expected, that genuinely helps me and Kris, we're happy to pay for.
This week, B was lamenting that she doesn't have $10 in her piggy bank. There's a toy she has been wanting that costs $10, and it's taking too long to earn the money.
So, in a flash of brilliance, I thought I'd help her out. Every Wednesday, her school offers the kids the option of having pizza and/or Jamba Juice during lunch. I'm not a fan of kids eating pizza or drinking a smoothie every week, but I usually let B get the smoothie because she loves it and some of the money goes toward extracurricular activities for the school. (I pack her a sandwich and veggies to go with the smoothie--feels more balanced that way.)
This week I gave her a choice. She could have the $4 for her piggy bank or use it for Jamba Juice.
I thought I was giving her the opportunity of a lifetime -- a $4 windfall! Spend it or save it! You choose! I was already patting myself on the back for all the great life lessons I was teaching her when she burst into tears.
"You mean I can't have both?!"
"I want Jamba Juice AND the toy," she sobbed. She'd not only missed the point, but she was now overwhelmed by this life-changing decision.
Jamba Juice happens every week, I told her. You could skip it this week, buy the toy and have Jamba Juice next week. No biggie!
"But I LOVE Jamba Juice!" tears tears tears tears
Okay, so then buy Jamba Juice. Seize the day! You can still earn money for the toy. It will just take a little longer to get it.
"I don't know what to doooooo."
Listen. These are decisions your dad and I have to make every day, I told her. We earn a certain amount of money every month and we have to decide how much to save and how much to spend and what to spend it on.
"It's so hard," she said. "I didn't know money was this hard."
It is hard. I imagined myself standing at an espresso bar, deciding whether or not to spend half my life savings on a latte. There are times (especially when the kids were newborns) I might have forked it over.
It took her over an hour to decide, but ultimately, she chose Jamba Juice. "Is that okay?" She was worried I'd disapprove.
Sure, part of me wanted her to put the $4 into her piggy bank. But how could I disapprove? She weighed her options carefully. There's a tradeoff when you spend versus save. The decision isn't easy, and it's personal. Even simple pleasures come at a cost, though sometimes it's worth the cost to have the thing you want in the moment.
And also, she really loves smoothies. More than I'd realized.
By Gina at 10:54 AM | Labels: Bronwynn, education, existentialism, happiness, joy, parenting, school
I told myself not to expect a dramatic improvement. I told myself it will probably take a little time for her to adjust, to rediscover her confidence, to fall back in love with school. Be patient, I thought. There may still be tears.
I was wrong.
She's been asking me to take her picture every day after school. Her joy is palpable.
Sometimes the best decisions we make are also the hardest. But the reward is so sweet.
The kids have been bickering a lot the past few days. They've been moody and defiant, and I've yelled more than I'd like to admit. Yelling tends to make things worse, though. It stresses me out, which stresses them out, and their behavior deteriorates even more. So last night in the car, on the way home from one of the longest and craziest days we've had in a while, we talked about how it feels when everyone's yelling and fighting.
"It makes me sad," Miles said.
"It makes me frustrated and angry," B said.
"It makes me tired," I said. "When you guys don't listen, when you argue all the time, it really drains my energy."
We've talked about the "energy drain" before. It's a Love & Logic trick we learned a couple years ago. The kids know that when my energy is drained, I can't do fun things with them. I can't make their favorite dinner, drive them places, play games, or respond to all the little requests they make throughout the day. So I task them with thinking of ways to give Mama her energy back.
Usually they respond by picking up toys or being extra kind to one another. But last night, B declared, "Mommy, I'm going to do all your jobs tomorrow morning before school. I'm going to make breakfast and make my lunch and get me and Miles ready for school."
Her new school emphasizes independence and builds self-confidence by allowing the children to attempt complex tasks -- everything from washing glass dishes and baking to writing in cursive and adding decimals to the thousandth place.
I'm realizing that I am often an obstacle to my kids' independence. I swoop in and complete tasks myself because it's faster, it's easier, and I know when I do it, the work will be completed to my satisfaction. I'm a micromanager, and it's tough to succeed under a micromanager.
So, reluctantly I said, "Ok. You can do all my jobs in the morning, but you can't use the oven or sharp knives without my help."
This morning, B served me cereal in bed (2 different kinds mixed together, actually):
Then, she made Miles toast with almond butter and served him a bowl of Greek yogurt. She poured glasses of milk. She spilled. She cleaned up the spills. She sighed and said, "this is harder than I thought." And, she kept going.
Miles wanted to help too. He fed the pets and asked if he could make juice.
In the end, B ran out of time, so we threw some food into her lunch box and left for school with her shoes in her hand and not on her feet. But she was proud of herself, and I was surprised and impressed by what she and Miles can accomplish when I get out of their way.
Tomorrow, she wants to go to her swim coaches' houses and make breakfast for them. She acted out at practice yesterday, and she wants to give them their energy back. (Thankfully she doesn't know where they live... I'm not sure they want a visitor at 6 a.m.!)
The buzzer went off. B pushed hard off the wall and began slicing through the water as fast as her little arms and legs would take her. She reminded me of a wind-up toy in the bathtub, chugging steadily across the surface.
Kris gave me a look that said, "she might actually win this." B was the youngest in her heat, which consisted of seven other girls, but she wasn't the slowest. Backstroke is her favorite event, and while she's pretty good for her age, we never expect her to win against so many older, more experienced swimmers. We emphasize that she should try her best and have fun.
For most of the race, it looked like she'd hold onto second place. Yet, in the last 10 feet or so, she lost steam. She stopped kicking and drifted slowly to the wall. Fourth place.
No ribbon, but she'd beaten her fastest time, and everyone -- her coaches included -- was amazed at how well she'd done.
Bronwynn, however, was devastated. She'd wanted a ribbon. When she realized she wasn't getting one, she started sobbing, tears and snot dripping from her nose.
Instantly, I wanted to make it better. I wrapped her in a warm towel, knelt down and told her how proud I was of her. Her little chest continued to heave as she cried, "If I did so great, why didn't they give me a ribbon?"
My heart sank. She wanted tangible proof of her effort, and I wanted so much to give it to her. In some meets, they award ribbons for fourth place, or even fifth and sixth. But this wasn't one of those meets. I thought about promising her a toy or treat or some other reward, but I stopped myself. No. This is a good thing, actually. As much as I hated seeing her so sad, as much as I wanted to cry with her, deep down I knew it was a good thing for her to feel the disappointment.
Here's the thing. We work hard 24/7 to protect our kids. We shelter them from suffering, steer them away from bodily harm, and try to give them the tools they'll need to thrive. As much as I'd love to choreograph the perfect childhood for my kids, I know that life is far from perfect. I'd rather B experience letdowns now while the stakes are low, so that she learns how to process painful feelings in a healthy way and move on. I don't want her to be an adult who's afraid to take risks for fear of failure. I don't want life's inevitable disappointments to swallow her whole. I want her to feel proud of herself and continue to work hard, even when there's no immediate external reward.
Don't get me wrong: Her feeling like a failure for seven hours a day at school is not okay. But getting fourth place at a swim meet? Not a problem.
After the race, several of B's teammates came up to her and told her she'd done a great job. Her coach hugged her and said how proud she was of her. Not everyone wins a prize, but that doesn't mean you can't be proud and celebrate a great effort.
Within a few minutes, B stopped crying and joined her teammates for pizza. Soon, she was her giggly, silly self again. Later, at home, when we recounted our highs and lows of the day, she said, "my high today was the swim meet."
"Really?" I asked.
"Yeah, it was my high," she said. "I didn't get a ribbon, but I swimmed really fast and I got to eat pizza before dinner."
More Miles stories coming soon. He's transforming before our eyes from a toddler into a little boy, so busy and curious and fearless. He's tender and tough at the same time, and makes me smile all day. Last week, he started karate classes and is excited to be "in ninja training" with his best buddies. I was worried he was bored at the swim meet today, but he said it was his highpoint too, because he likes to watch B and someone gave him a cookie.
Today is the first day of a new school for B. An opportunity for a transfer arose over winter break, and after much discussion and debate, we took it. When we told B that she would be attending this new school, she demanded I drive her there immediately! She's excited and hopeful, and I'm relieved. In fact, the night after I filed her enrollment paperwork, I went to bed at 7 p.m. and slept 12 hours. My whole body was at rest after months of tense worrying about my girl.
After observing the classroom and talking with other families, Kris and I feel confident that this school matches B's learning style and personality much better than her old school did. She's a perfectionist, so the constant testing and competitive nature of the old curriculum left her feeling stupid. There were charts with kids' names on the walls showing their progress and behavior, and B felt that if she wasn't at the very top of the chart, she had failed... no matter how much her teacher and I tried to convince her otherwise. The new school doesn't use charts or testing, but helps kids develop their own internal sense of worth and accomplishment, as well as a love of learning. I think at this critical young age, that's the most important goal of school -- to help kids fall in love with learning, to foster that internal drive to explore and problem solve. Testing and competition will come later.
It was sad to say goodbye to her teacher, whom B adored, but everyone was supportive of our decision, which made it easier. One thing we learned in moving out-of-state a few years ago: Your friends are not limited by distance or location. You can stay connected to the people you care about. B knows that she can visit the wonderful people at her old school anytime, and that new friends await her wherever she goes.
By Gina at 1:43 PM | Labels: adventure, creativity, iPhone photography, Memoirs of Miles, nature, outdoor, parenting
A few weeks ago, B requested a "girl day." She wanted a whole day for her and I to do "girl" things. When I asked her what she had in mind, she said, "First I want to go to In-N-Out Burger, then I want you to paint my nails, and then I want to go visit the secret hideout."
I wasn't aware of any secret hideout, but she told me to drive to the local park and she'd show me.
"Follow me, Mama."
The secret hideout is a spot she and her friends discovered near one of their favorite playgrounds. We spent an hour there, talking, adding new rocks and stacking branches to make it more "secret."
Our friends visit it frequently too, and this past week they added something special. So we had to go check it out. The kids packed their own provisions -- water, snacks, crayons, toys -- and we set off.
Buried treasure! B and Miles were so excited they were shaking. They signed the log book, added a couple of treasures and we reburied it.
Seeing this made me wonder what ever happened to the time capsule my brother and I buried in our backyard in Atlanta. It wasn't very well thought out...a cardboard tube stuffed with handwritten notes, a couple of school photos, and some Garbage Pail Kids cards, if I recall. Then there was our quest to dig to China. If I close my eyes, I can almost taste that memory, that feeling that it's possible, that we really could dig to the other side of the earth...or at least to our friend's house across the street.
After I took these photos, I left the kids alone, because things like secret hideouts and buried treasure are fragile concepts. I think adults sometimes bring too much reality, too much rational thinking, to the scene. The last thing I want to do is burst that bubble or choreograph their imagination.
From a safe distance away, I couldn't see them, but could hear the tone of their conversation -- intense, plotting, excited, rising in pitch. Exactly as I remember.