Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Three years ago, on a day like just about every other, my three kids were driving me crazy!  Picking up after them… trying to get them to pick up after THEMSELVES... the crap all over the place.  It was enough to get me wondering if my passport was current.  (It was and is.)  Why is there no emoji for tearing your hair out?  Seriously.

Living with my younger daughter has GOT to be what it’s like to live with a raccoon.  She leaves a trail everywhere and then looks up from the ipad at me like, "What's your problem?" Just trying to get somebody to unload the dishwasher could easily send me into a resentment tailspin.  I've been a parent for a decade and a half!  Why have I NOT figured out how to get my kids to to at least pick up after THEMSELVES?  What kind of people am I making here anyway?!  There are THREE of them and ONE of me.  Why haven't I harnessed this potential work force?  I have THREE psychology degrees, for pete's sake!

What was I missing?!  Easy.  I was missing leverage.  But how to get it?  And keep it?  Much harder.  It took 13 years of being a parent for me to reach the point where I sat my three little darlings down and said something to the effect of, “You guys… this is RIDICULOUS.  I can’t live like this anymore.  This has GOT to change and NOBODY is getting up from this table until we figure out some kind of a solution.”

Three hours later, we’d collectively birthed… The Marble Method.  What the heck is the Marble Method, you ask?  It’s what every parent needs.  It's leverage.  Insert emoji with me smiling a sinister and triumphant mwa-ha-ha-ha.  There’s a new sheriff in town, kids, and it turns out it’s your mother.  Or father.  Or whoever needs to compel their shorties to CLEAN UP AFTER THEMSELVES!  AND how about this… be regularly and frequently contributing members of the household!

Enough ranting, you say?  How did one desperate parent take back control?  One word.  Screentime.  My kids have to earn their screentime.  Yep, you heard me.  They have to EARN their SCREENTIME.  Every single second of it.  How, you ask?  By doing chores, of course.  And by, good lord I sound like my mother, by PITCHING IN AROUND HERE!  And by helping clean up after dinner.  And by unloading their backpacks so I don’t find rank thermoses on Monday morning when I’m attempting to pull together something that will pass for a lunch.  And by keeping their rooms from being condemned by the Department of Health and Human Services.  And that most basic of all tasks that ought to be required of our offspring before we agree to continue to shelter, feed, clothe and constantly transport them... PICKING UP AFTER THEMSELVES.

The beauty of this Marble Method is that it has worked on pretty much everything.  Got a behavioral or lack-of-motivational problem?  The Marble Method works like this:  my kids get marbles for desirable behaviors and lose marbles for the undesirables.  The marbles represent minutes of screentime.  During our three-hour sitdown, we haggled over the values of a wide range of chores, behaviors, actions, utterances, gestures….  You name it, we probably put it on the list.  It can be as simple or as complex as you want or need, depending on how far towards feral your children have gotten.

So here’s the situation, nearly three years after that fateful day when my kids lost their treasured Sunday morning screentime, which they’d previously believed to be their birthright, the following are true statements:  My kids fight over who's going to unload the dishwasher.  My 9 year old daughter tackles the guinea pig cage with a fervor that continues to surprise me (hardly anything surprises me these days).  And get this… I have heard, from EACH of my three children, with my OWN TWO EARS, the most rare and treasured of all questions a parent can be presented with…. ready for this… “What else can I do to help?”  WHAT ELSE CAN I DO TO HELP?  Better than the sound of a baseball game on the radio, better than the sound of my neighbor's lawnmower revving up… better than most things I’ve been privileged to aurally bear witness to is the sound of one of my children asking me, “What else I can do to help?”

It's been nearly three years since the birth of The Marble Method.  I can't remember the last time I folded laundry!  Or put it away.  (I HATED putting it away.)  My kids vacuum, clean bathrooms, load the dishwasher, strip their beds and make them, collect the garbage from all the garbage cans, bring the cans in and out, my youngest goes to bed without a fuss, TAKES A SHOWER without a fuss....  One of my favorite improvements is that we get meals on the table together and we clean them up TOGETHER.  I could go on and on.

There are SO many good things about The Marble Method. Here's the best one.  A few months ago, while we were getting dinner on the table, and listening to some Neil Diamond, my nine-year-old daughter said... "this feels good."  This feels good.  This.  feels.  good.  You bet your little behind it feels good. Thank you complete and utter desperation... for giving me The Marble Method.  Necessity is the mother of invention, indeed!