Friday, September 27, 2013

The Economics of Changing Everything

It's been three weeks and we are still going strong with The New Program.

Well . . . strong-ish.

Week one was full of energy and excitement, as usual. I kept track of the boys' time doing homework and reading each day on the calendar in color coordinated pens. Extra time was given for memorizing a scripture, doing chores in a timely manner and random motherly whims.

Week two faced a major stumbling block when Robert and I spent three days in Bend. I wasn't there to monitor homework or reading time, nor was I able to record time on the calendar. I had to trust whatever amount of time the boys said they'd earned. Also, I started taking away time as penalty for getting to bed late and two boys lost 2 hours when they snuck 2 hours of TV instead of going to bed.

Now, here we are at week three. The boys are now responsible for recording their time on the calendar. Jonah and Isaac are excellent at following through with this. Ethan, not so much. This is where things might potentially fall apart. I'm too lazy--I mean, busy--to monitor all the reading and homework Ethan does and while Ethan is honest, for the most part, I don't think he has anything against evaluating himself in the best light.

The Program has evolved over the last few weeks.

Exercise is now one way kids can earn time. Also, Ethan gets time for homework he does in study hall at school. While I didn't want to include this because I have no control over monitoring, I realized there would be an incentive not to do homework at school, so I acquiesced. Kids can earn time and a half for reading the scriptures or working on Duty to God.

I've been taking time away for not following through on responsibilities or other infractions. I must admit, it makes me feel like Professor McGonigal to declare, "30 minutes from Ethan!" I kind of like it.

Finally, Robert and I decided we'd add an incentive NOT to play screen on Saturday. So we offered to buy screen time for $1 per hour. So far, Jonah is the only one to take us up on the offer. But Jonah is the one who has regularly accrued 12+ hours of screen time--more than the allowable hours on Saturday--while Isaac and Ethan usually have 4-6 hours accrued.

Today Jonah's brain wheels were spinning. He had 6 hours left over from last Saturday. I told him I didn't want to have time carry over from one week to the next so he would have to lose the 6 hours. He didn't care for this one bit! He had planned to sell that time to Isaac who only had 4 hours earned this whole week.

"No selling time," I told him.

We agreed that I would pay 50 cents an hour this one time only, and starting tomorrow, he would have to sell or use all his time by the end of the day or lose it.

Earlier in the week, Isaac begged not to have to do his homework right after school. We had this problem last year: Isaac would beg to do his homework after dinner, then forget until about 30 minutes after bedtime. He would end up in a panic, staying up way too late to finish everything.

So this year the only option was to do the homework right after school. And Isaac was on board with that for the first few days. But soon he started begging to put off his homework until later.

My answer was always "no," but when his begging became annoying, I made this offer: he could postpone his homework in exchange for 1 hour of screen time, but could earn that 1 hour back if he completed his homework and was in bed with the lights out by 9pm. So far, he's taken that risk twice and it has worked out for him.

I feel like The Program has taken on a life of its own. It is growing and evolving and becoming more and more about incentives. Our currency is screen time and we are wielding it to get desired behavior.

I, for one, welcome this new economy, but am still not convinced it will last.

However, if it lasts only long enough so that my boys establish good habits of time management and self mastery, then I say, mission accomplished.

Friday, September 6, 2013

One-Canoe Garage

Early in the summer, Robert got the idea that we should have a canoe. I pointed out the problems with having a canoe like not having a place to store it. Also, canoes have four seats, while our family has five.

But it was okay. Robert was just looking on Craigslist. No decisions were being made. Just looking.

But then there were emails with someone who wanted to sell their canoe, and an appointment was made for Robert to go look at it. And I said, "I didn't think we were buying a canoe."

And he said, "we're not buying a canoe. I'm just looking. I don't even have a way to get it home."

Apparently he did have a way to get it home, because that evening, he came home with a canoe.

With in the next two days he purchased a roof rack system (more expensive than the canoe) and life jackets and Other Things that go in a special duffel bag that stays with the canoe. And then he took the canoe to Hagg Lake, and Sturgeon Lake and Trillium Lake. The boys love it.

But as the weather cools and the days shorten, I want to park my car in the garage again. The time has come to find out where to put the canoe.

Robert called me to the garage. "If I move this," he said, pointing to the bike racks on the ceiling, "and change this," he said pointing to something else I can't remember, "I might be able to rig something up so we can hoist the canoe on a pulley system and hang it here."

I imagined the canoe falling on my head while I was carrying groceries into the house.

"Or," I said, we could put it on the side of the house and cover it with a tarp." We walked out to the side of the house to survey the scene. "We could fashion a platform with all this wood I've been begging you to get rid of," I pointed out. "We could turn it upside down on the wood. The canoe wouldn't even touch the ground. And we would use bungee cords to keep the tarp on it."

It was the perfect solution.

But, Robert is not an engineer for nothing. If there are two ways to do something, there are probably three, or four, or ten. So he got on the internet and started searching.

Guess what he found out?

REI, that company that sells outdoor stuff, has figured out everything that would be easy and perfect for storing our canoe and has created a website explaining why all of it is wrong, wrong, wrong.

"It says here a canoe should never be stored outside," Robert read. "And that it should be stored right side up with the tarp suspended above so it doesn't touch the shell."

Thanks a lot REI.

I don't think I'll ever get my car in the garage now.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

My Problem with Programs

The end of Summer vacation is right around the corner and happily, the days of counting down the hours until the first day of school are behind me. My boys are independent and fun to be around (most of the time) and I enjoy doing things with them. There is less fighting and more cooperation; less whining and more thank-you-moms.

And with the oldest six months from 16 and less inclined to find his younger brothers and his parents interesting, I dare say our days of willingly hanging out as a family are coming to an end. I knew the window would be small and feel like I've made the most of our time. No regrets there.

With the commencement of any big life shift, there is a tendency to make sweeping changes to "make life better." To be more efficient, healthier, smarter, better prepared, etc. And so it is, with great trepidation, that I attempt household reform for the school year.

Just a word about my track record with household reform: For the most part, I've been a failure.

Any chore program, homework program, screen restriction program, life improvement program or dinner menu program I've tried to implement has worked for precisely two weeks before falling apart. Two weeks. Not "approximately" two weeks. Exactly two weeks.

I think I know what it is about those 14 days that ultimately spell doom for everything I try. We start off strong, committed and excited. The kids are motivated by whatever harebrained reward scheme I've come up with that will suddenly Change Everything. But after about 7 days, the rewards seem to lose their motivational power.

It then falls to me to be the motivator--the one to keep the Program alive. And I do. But it's exhausting. I'm a mom, not a police officer. I can't keep track of every little thing that is, or is not done by three boys. I have a life. Does the mediocre kitchen clean up job "count," or do I monitor the re-doing of the job to my standards? I nag, kids whine. Everyone is miserable. Why are we doing this?

I'm done.

Fourteen days.

I'm no idiot. I can spot the trend. I would be insane to try and implement another program that will Change Everything.

So here's the new Start of School program that will Change Everything:

Old Method
No television, video games, computer games, handheld games during the week. Period. If it has a screen, it is off limits. (Exceptions: family movie night or game night that might include playing Wii, occasional stay-late at friends house). Saturday is a "knock yourself out" day. Do as much screen as you want between the hours of 9am and 8pm.

Problems with Old Method
1. 15 year old who thinks rules don't apply to him and plays Minecraft and Spiral Knights constantly when he is home, under the guise of "working on my writing skills."
2. Saturday hours of screen time have extended during the summer to something more like 7am to 11pm.
3. The Mom Idea that kids will not want to stay inside on a sunny day was wrong.
4. Fighting over computer time has reached epically annoying proportions.
5. Opportunities for fun Saturday outings are rejected because "I don't want to waste my screen time."
6. The disturbing "watching TV and playing the computer at the same time" trend.

New Method Proposal
No screen during the week and you must earn your time for Saturday. Time can be earned by doing homework directly after school. Extra time earned for reading. (One minute study/homework/reading equals one minute screen). Time will be earned for doing chores in a timely manner and taken away for not doing them in a timely manner.

I can't think of any other ways to earn time right now, but I don't want to make it too complicated (see "track record" above).

Probable New Method Pitfalls
1. Me having to keep track of earned time during the week.
2. Me having to monitor the kids on Saturday to see that they don't exceed their earned time.

So, there it is. I'm throwing my hat back in the Program ring.

Can I buckle down and make it work this time? Will I give up at the first sign of the endless nag/whine cycle? Or will I be a disciplinarian, lovingly but firmly guiding my children to learn and implement the skills of self-mastery they will need to be the successful, community-contributing super-stars I hope them to be?

p.s. track record!