Lately, I can’t stop thinking about Kurt Vonnegut. Specifically, I keep thinking about his short story “Harrison Bergeron”. You might remember this dystopian gem from high school English class. It’s set in a world where “everybody was finally equal.” George, the main character’s father, is smarter than average, so to prevent him from thinking too deeply a “mental handicap radio” that sends out a loud noise every twenty seconds or so has been installed in his ear.
This is currently my life. Ok, ok, I’ll admit that I usually get more than twenty seconds; I’d guess that I get, on average, three to seven minutes between interruptions, and no government has had to provide an in-ear noise generator for me. Oh no, my thought-preventing mechanism is much simpler: I have children and we are stuck in our house.
After two weeks of complete chaos – the first week was officially March Break; the second was our own fault – we decided to institute a routine so that the kids don’t need to ask me for things every few minutes all day long. (The boys have pointed out that if I would let them do non-stop online gaming, they would barely ask for anything at all; I have chosen not to accept their gambit.) Last night, after dinner, we all sat down to co-create the schedule. This morning, before the kids woke up, I positioned three laptops at a kitchen work-space so that the boys and I could sit and work together. We were ready.
8:15 – I find the 11-year-old in his bed with a device. “My schedule doesn’t start until 8:30,” he assures me. I make him come down for breakfast.
9:00 – Everyone is working on something for school or work – hooray!
9:03 – Just kidding.
And so it goes.
9:42 – Despite the fact that we have devices for everyone in the household, approximately a million non-computer games, and a schedule that has the kids online at different times, a fight breaks out over the computer.
10:03 – Upon learning that I’ve organized a neighbourhood blog challenge for April’s classroom “Slice of Life” challenge, my children declare that they will have none of it – even though we haven’t started yet.
11:47 – *Someone* tries to convince me that bread with Nutella is a perfectly acceptable nutrition option for both breakfast and lunch.
1:00 – It’s cold and rainy – again – so the kids decide that “exercise” should be balloon soccer in the hallway. Wait, let me be more precise: balloon soccer in the hallway where we currently have all the framed artwork that we haven’t yet put up.
1:04 – I’m just about to start yelling when they get into a fight and stop playing together. The schedule says that exercise is supposed to be half an hour. I wonder if 4 minutes is close enough?
Last week, my husband resorted to bribing the kids to do math. I am typically anti-bribe, sometimes going so far as to refer to the research of Alfie Kohn and regularly touting the benefits of intrinsic motivation. Andre is more practical: if it kept them busy and focused, it would be worth it; he suggested that this was not unlike being remunerated for work. Then he offered an exorbitant sum if the kids could finish a particular math app which teaches linear algebra using pictures. (DragonBox – I highly recommend it.) Properly motivated, both kids finished in under 24 hours – so much for keeping them busy.
The 9-year-old laughed, “Dad is terrible at bribes. He pays way too much. From now on, Mom, you should be in charge of bribing us.” I pointed out that I’m not a huge briber. “Ok,” he shrugged, “but I would have worked a lot harder for that much money.”
So here I sit, thinking about how to create a schedule that they can manage a little bit more on their own. There are things that need doing, and too many “natural” consequences involve a lot of MY attention, which makes it hard for me to get work done. And the internet swears that 9-year-olds really only have an attention span of 18-27 minutes or so. Harumph.
If it comes down to a choice between bribes and installing a little radio in their ears so that they will stop taking “unfair advantage” of their brains, apparently I’m in charge of bribes. Wish me luck.