Honestly. One of the most difficult aspects of being a parent, at least in my house, is coming up with consequences as creative as the trouble my children get themselves into.
Last Friday morning began as any other morning: a mad dash to get everyone dressed, fed and out the door in a timely fashion. I try to have all the beds made before I head downstairs for coffee (yes, I bribe myself with coffee to get the chores done more quickly; it works), so I went to make the kids’ beds (yes, I know, they should make their own beds – that post will have to wait; in the meantime, feel free to judge me as harshly as you’d like), and from behind the 9yo’s pillow I pulled…
My copy of “Twilight.” With her bookmark at page 46.*
I’ll pause to let you imagine the sound I made…
You see, we’d had this conversation about when she could read “Twilight” so many times, I’d lost count. She’d even asked on Thursday morning, the very DAY of the TRANSGRESSION, and my answer was the same as always: “Since Bella’s in high school, you can wait until you are in high school.” I realize this is a flimsy argument, and someday soon she will point out that I’m a hypocrite and have let her read many books with older characters – “Treasure Island,” “Harry Potter,” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” all come to mind. After I praise her for using the word hypocrite properly in a sentence, I will explain that I simply don’t think she is old enough to read these books yet. She will argue (as she already has) that “her entire class” has read “Twilight,” (well, I only know of one child). And I will simply respond that different families have different rules. The point remains…
That it took me until 3pm to STOP FUMING and realize that the book itself was IRRELEVANT. I’d said she couldn’t, and she did anyway. It could’ve been anything: don’t eat that candy, don’t touch my iPad, don’t drink the glass of wine I left sitting on the dining room table so I could help your brother who is screaming his dang head off in frustration because the Lego pieces aren’t going together properly.
Life is full of temptations.
And they’ll eventually be more dangerous than reading a book I don’t think she’s ready to read.
Hence, the need for creative, natural consequences to help her learn to control her desire to eat candy, touch my iPad, drink my wine, read a book that’s not allowed, or generally do anything that she knows she shouldn’t do.
It took me the rest of the night to come up with a punishment to fit the crime. I thought briefly of treating her like the high schooler she wanted to be: give her a minimum of twenty chores day, ten times the amount of homework, no time for cartoons… But I realized the lesson that I wanted her to learn wasn’t To Not Want to be a Teenager… I didn’t even want her to learn To Not Want to Read “Twilight”; I don’t care if she reads it when she’s older. No, what I wanted her to learn was To Not Do What She Knows She Should Not Do – to not yield to temptation.
So, the next morning (after she had the whole night to fret once she realized the book was missing from behind her pillow), I sat the now-very-nervous-wreck-of-a-child down for a talking to, and explained that she would be spending the entire weekend writing lists designed to reinforce the importance of following the rules (for example: 5 reasons why rules are important, 5 reasons why I should NOT read “Twilight” at age 9, 5 things that are really great about being age 9, 5 reasons why family is important, 5 reasons why I don’t like getting in trouble, 5 people who look up to me as an example of what to do and how to behave, 5 ways I know my parents love me, 5 ways I show my parents that I love them, etc). I was originally going to create one list per book page read (46 pages), but I knew she’d never be able to do that many, so I divided it by two (23 lists) and explained that if there was a next time (and there better not be!) it would be two lists per page (92 lists). I also explained that any complaining or whining about the lists meant that she’d get another list. All the lists needed to be different – she couldn’t repeat lists or explanations she’d written before – and all the lists needed to be spelled properly, using a dictionary to check her work (as she doesn’t care a jot about spelling, I was pretty sure this requirement was going to be the real slow down). I also explained that the lists needed to be done by Sunday night, or she wouldn’t be able to go to her All Night Roller Derby Skate Party. I confess, having that kind of incentive was hugely helpful in making this lesson work. Otherwise, we’d probably still be writing lists.
The first of many lists: 5 reasons why lying is wrong
It did indeed take her all weekend to finish. I only added three more lists due to whining. Every time she did get upset, I reminded her that I didn’t ask her to break the rules, and that she was responsibile for breaking the rules; it wasn’t fair to get mad at me. She completed her last sentence about two hours before leaving for her skate party. (At which point I let out a HUGE sigh of relief!)
I felt rather proud of myself that I’d come up with such a creative consequence. I honestly felt that the lesson had been learned. And then…
And then… And then, yesterday, while over at a friend’s house, she ate a piece of candy without permission, knowing full well that I would have said no.
My eye is still twitching.
Fine, it was a jawbreaker and not a cigarette or a shot of whiskey, but still! I was so bummed out.
But that night, when I tucked the little urchin into bed, I saw that maybe, just maybe… Hmm. “So, what do you think we should do about you eating that candy without permission? More lists?” I could tell she’d been thinking about this, and I was impressed by how calmly she replied, “Well, since it was candy, how about no dessert?” I asked her for how long, and she thought just one night, and we both laughed, and I suggested she think again, and, a bit panicky, she thought that 50 nights without dessert would be a bit too much (!!), and I agreed and mentioned that somewhere between one and 50 might do, but hurriedly added, “And don’t say two.” In quick fashion, we decided that one month without deserts would be fair (we don’t have dessert every night), and after finalizing details about any upcoming birthday parties or other dessert-centric celebrations, I ended the negotiations with a hug…
And the optimistic hope that the children just might be as creative in coming up with their own natural consequences as they are about the trouble they’re going to get into. On a daily basis. For years to come. Because let’s face it: they’re kids. And making trouble is their job.
*Go ahead, judge me again. I have read, and totally enjoyed, all the “Twilight” books. What can I say? I love books, all books, low-brow genre pieces as well as literary classics. Stephenie Meyer shares book shelf space with Stieg Larsson, André Malraux, Garbriel García Marquez, Yann Martel, Steve Martin, Peter Matthiessen, Cormac McCarthy, Ian McEwan, Larry McMurtry, Toni Morrison, Vladimir Nabakov and Abd al-Hakim Qasim. And yes, I know the last book is misshelved. But my literary promiscuity and OCD behavior is beside the point…