Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Game Masters of the House

Summer unstructured time had gotten out of hand. Kids would get up and begin foraging immediately in the morning for ice cream, turn on the computer or the Nintendo and promptly become utterly inert except for the twitching of their thumbs. Occasionally, I had been able to bribe/coax/threaten them into engaging in summer reading or going swimming or even, (gasp) picking up their clothing, but the general rhythm of the day was sloth, followed by furious bouts of eating, followed by more sloth and occasional sojourns into fighting. Radical discipline and creative parenting was required to reign in these children that had become wild in the weeks between the end of school and summer camp.

Day One Intervention: Discipline by setting limits. “You may stare at any screen for an hour each day. But only for one hour.” Gaming the system was rampant…I was walking by…I’m not watching, I’m holding the baby…I got up during commercials so I still have fifteen minutes…I traded with my brother for making his bed so I get another hour. By the end of the day, while actual viewing time had been reduced measurably from non-stop to still wretchedly excessive, I felt exhausted from the effort. There had to be an easier way.

Day Two Intervention: Carrot and Stick. I took away the remotes, the cable connectors and changed the passwords on the computers. “If you want these things, the following things must occur.” I had thoughtfully written out index cards with 3-5 things depending upon child and level of competency. Passing them out, I instructed, “You must have me inspect or verify that each item on the list has been done.” Here, speed became the incentive, and as such, the children raced through two pages of math, made their beds and each did their individual chore and practiced their trombone/piano/saxophone the allotted amount of time. I should have felt euphoric, but at ten in the morning, the kids were all again parked at machines and I felt like if I fussed, it would seem I was reneging on the deal. The house looked great but the kids were tuned out. They were missing summer. The method needed refinement. I made the addendum of no trading, commercials counted, and ”if you were caught watching, it counted!” to the next day’s index cards.

Day Three: Now I had them. I could play crafty too. I had collected all electronic devices, demanded the one hour limit and included in each card “Play a game with your siblings that does not involve a screen.” The subsequent number of times I had to take on the role of Judge Mom to manage the competitive and vaguely hostile Monopoly game meant that this too, was as of yet, an unperfected means to my desired end, children entertaining themselves with something other than a computer, Nintendo or gaming system.

Day Four: Feeling tired, I had become sarcastic. I summoned the top five children, the main culprits and gamers of my attempt at a system. I had them sit at the table. I set the timer.

“Everyone will punch their fingers on the table for the next five minutes. Punch as hard as you like. Punch as often as you can. You may alternate fingers and hands but must not stop. Go.”

“This is hard Mom.”
“My hands are cramping up.”
“This is boring!”
“Why are we doing this?”

“No! No. No. Keep going. Five minutes is all I’m asking. This should be easy. Everyone, start cheering for each other to keep at it.”

I got a few half hearted Mom-is-nuts cheers before the questions started up again.
“Come on guys, you do this all the time. Your thumbs must be up to the challenge now.”

“Mom. What are we doing?”

“Virtual gaming. See, this way, each of you can play the game you want. Each of you has a controller and is in charge. It’s just like playing the actual game right?”

Disgust does not begin to describe the looks I got, but it did make each child feel modestly sheepish when they sat down to play gamecube.

Day 5: The Power went out from a thunderstorm. “God is on my side. See?” I pointed to the lifeless screens that now seemed only to take up space. I passed out flashlights and summer reading books. Not seeing an alternative, they grudgingly marched away with tomes I just knew would capture their imaginations and delight their brains. I felt so potent as a parent at moment, I went around unplugging every device that might accidentally give away when the power was restored, just in case it happened too soon.

Day 6: Rapture. Power is still out. The kids are reading their books and the oldest comes to me to ask if they can go on a group bike ride. Joyous at the creative leadership being exercised by my son, I agree. He makes sure everyone has helmets that fit, that they all have water bottles and that he has his cell phone. They are going to ride to a friend’s house that is about a mile away. Feeling like a supermom as I watch them ride off. The phone rings.

“Do you need me to store anything like milk or eggs? If so, send them with your kids. We still have power. They’re coming over because Ben and Jake just got a Wii and can’t wait to show it off.”

Victory this time around, was theirs…it’s going to be a long summer.


jacobusmaximus said...

Sherry, very funny....saw it coming at the end. A bike ride to a friends house a mile away when there is no power at home? You must have been whoosy from the lack of a "cold" diet coke.

JimmyV said...

Nice. I went to my friend's in the summer since he had a pool, and a SNES.

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