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.
14 thoughts on “I’m in charge of bribes: Slice of Life 30/31 #SOL20”
The humor and desperation in your piece is palpable. Hang in there! Your intentions come from a great place and you will find a working rhythm! I love the reasoning that you share throughout – my favorite being, “I wonder if 4 minutes is close enough.” Tomorrow is a new day!
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So funny! I wish I could write with your sense of humor about what is Really going on. I tend to gloss over the messes and pretend everything’s OK. I am glad, however, to be staying home with just a dog and a few cats. I miss the chaos of kids.
I thought 9:03 was my favorite spot. Then I got to the part where the balloon soccer was to take place in the hallway with all of the frames. New favorite part. Then, by the end, I realized I loved this whole thing. Who can’t relate to how hard this is for all of us?!
Listen, I’d rather be slogging through like this than have a family member who is sick. But that doesn’t make it all peaches and cream, right?!
I look forward to your slices every day. You speak my language through and through!
And on March 30th, there are 30 new posts for the month. One more than 2019 already, and it didn’t even have a pandemic. 🦸🏻♀️🧙🏻♀️🧙🏻♂️
I laughed so hard I needed to share this w/ Ken, so I laughed again along w/ Ken. Love the tie-in to Harrison Bergeron, one of my favorite stories. What’s Alfie Kohn say now! Thanks for keeping me entertained.
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It made me smile that you are in charge of bribes! (That is my role, too!) You also made me think of the Harrison B short story – a story that I haven’t thought of in a long time. I need to find that one and revisit it!
Again, I loved reading your writing voice!
Thanks for reminding me of Vonnegut’s all-purpose catchphrase: “And so it goes.” And so it does.
Hope tomorrow goes better for you and yours, that you figure out just the right bribery levers to pull — though the snippets of dialogue with your kids reveal how tall this order might be. Hang in there.
We’ve succumbed to bribes as well the girls now know that if I’m on a call, lollipops and gum are free for the taking. Whatever works. I just keep telling myself that they’ll be fine on the other side of this! 🤞
Amanda, you should have a daily syndicated column on teaching or parenting or teaching AND parenting — or anything you want, because you’re HILARIOUS. I know every bit of this is real but told with your specific sense of humor and comedic timing … it’s a riot. What got me most was the 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.” I can so see it .., plus asking if four minutes of recess is enough … at least you can make the rules and break ’em as you see fit!
This had me giggling and grateful (that my kids are home from college and not in grade school now). Creating a schedule during a moment where time means so little is almost a fool’s errand. Wishing you luck with your rules and timetables, but I think with your sense of humor you’ll navigate these waters beautifully!
I haven’t read that one, but I’ve been thinking of Vonnegut for 2 days (or 2 years or 2 minutes). Specifically I’ve been feeling a bit Billy Pilgrim-ish. It’s as if I’ve become unstuck in time. 🙂
We started with a block scheduled and have now moved on to a “to do” list. It mostly worked today. I only had 4 interruptions during an hour long meeting! And I got a 1 hour bike ride/ skating session out of them. We’ll see how tomorrow goes. I’m with you on the
bribery! But I’m also prepared to cave.
Oh boy! I remember those days, and I daresay I am happy they are best memories. In spite of – and because of – all the tumult, it is clear that you have a wonderfully (?) vibrant, loving family, full of the chaos that life brings. Your daily struggles and your humor and wonderful gift to be reflective through it all, highlight the beauty of a mom who is right in the fray with her kids – which is just as it should be. The days are endless but the years fly by. And when they are older, they will look back on all of this with great love and fondness. – You are giving them that. Priceless.
Oh, and by the way – great post. Brings me right back there – with love 🙂
Oh yes, I fully feel every painful moment of your day, there is nothing like kids trying to take advantage of a totally new and unforeseen situation and they sure know how to play us! I like that you are in charge of the bribes, but may your future days be mostly bribe free. I had to homeschool four kids (with a proper distance curriculum) for a while and it only worked for one of them. I gave up for the rest and sent them back to school. Don’t worry I’m sure you’ll be fine!