chore chart, laminated, whiteboards, Staples

Calling an audible, Part 3.

Jeff has the annoying/misguided good-husband habit of letting me sleep in on days he knows I am not working, per se, and the kids have no place to be for the day, except with me. The result is that the kids tend to go straight to TV or the computer or video games, or all of the above, the second they get out of bed, and by the time I appear an hour or so later, they are over-stimulated, cranky, hungry, and, in Lance’s case, suffering from a headache that’s the direct result of neglecting to put on his eyeglasses before engaging in activities that require them.

And when I try to, say, feed them, they give me all sorts of grumpy push-back.

Emboldended by the cancelled camping trip, I shut them down one recent morning—after they’d grumped at me about stopping a video game for a breakfast that wasn’t to their liking, and then offered all sorts of attitude and eye-rolling in response to my announcement that they needed to help with the laundry.

Seth, fresh from being the center of the camping trip controversy, snapped to rather quickly, getting the plastic FlipFold gizmo I’d ordered from the Tee Vee, out of the closet. Lance explained that he is no good at folding, and will never be, so why bother? I rejoined with my “we wouldn’t expect more if you couldn’t do more,” speech, and suggested he ask me, nicely, for help learning how to fold well.

Here’s what he learned:

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Laundry done, we set about making lunch. I explained that there were new rules.

To wit:

In the morning, no games of any type, no TV, no computer, no nuthin’…until breakfast is made and eaten, beds are made, teeth are brushed, clothes are worn.

Each child has a checklist, which I figured I could download from another, more-organized-than-I-will-ever-be-mom’s blog. They have to complete the checklist, whether I’m awake or not, and then they are allowed access to TV, computers, gaming or whatever they want.

I asked the kids to help me make the charts (buy in!) and then made a big show of going to Staples to buy laminating sheets (no machine required) and some white boards. I created “command centers” in the kids’ rooms. You know, to make it official.

chore chart, laminated, whiteboards, Staples

Each week, I write a basic schedule on Lance’s white-board, so he has an idea of what to expect each day. It helps.

Here’s when I realized the drilling-in of consequences had taken hold. I hadn’t so much as web-searched “chores list” to get my game on, when I found myself waking in my bed—THE VERY NEXT DAY— to the sounds of my sons happily cooperating making their morning toaster waffles. I thought about getting up, but I knew—I knew it would wreck the moment. I lay there, while they negotiated who would pour the OJ, who would get the place mats, and which plates they would use. All I could think was, “It’s WORKING!!!” That, and “Don’t get up. It will ruin the WHOLE THING.”

I carefully, quietly, slid out of bed, tiptoeing the six or eight steps to my master bath. I showered. Dressed. Presented myself.

“Look mom!” They were a chorus of pride.

“We made our beds, we got dressed, we made breakfast—“

“Lance made breakfast, I helped!”

“When we finish, we will put the dishes in the dishwasher and go brush our teeth and wash our faces,” Lance announced.

“THEN, can we watch TV????” Seth’s voice formed a hopeful plea.

I didn’t have to consider my answer—I had a ton of work to do. Being able to allow them to watch TV was a gift. They had no idea what manna they had offered me.

“Yes. Absolutely. Yes.”

I gave nary a second thought to the fact that it was a gorgeous day outside (again) and I was letting them while it away indoors. I just enjoyed the fact that I could.

chore chart, laminated, whiteboards, Staples

Seth prefers to use his board as a means of self-expression. It’s all good. Also, I drew pictures of each chore on top of the words. As he learns to read, I’ll erase the pictures.

Calling an audible—Part 2

We drove in semi-silence. The kids and I were in my car. Jeff was driving the motor home to storage. He called me on my cell, interrupting a rant I’d been administering in ill-controlled bursts. If you must know, I sounded like that guy Fred Armisen plays, Nicholas Fehn—the Weekend Update guest who’s so riled up about the political injustices he’s tracking in the newspaper, he can’t complete a sentence of the commentary he’s supposed to provide. And so, he sputters half-declarations that rail against the injustice of it all.

People, that’s where I was. I was this guy:

I may have looked exactly like this while I was talking


Jeff’s call saved the three of us from hearing more of my sputtery sputtering.

“You know, I didn’t do this just because we were only 20 minutes from home,” he said. “I would have driven seven hours home if we’d been in Yellowstone.”

I knew he was right. The camping trip was probably doomed before it started—a cocktail of exhaustion and anticipation had rippled through our five year old’s body all week. Jeff pulled the plug when Seth had acted out, then ignored my entreaties to reel it in, then followed up with a little maraschino cheery on the disrespect sundae.

As I hung up the phone, I was about to re-launch my rant. We’d need to cancel a raft of play dates I’d set up—beach picnics, paddle boarding, barbecues—with families from Seth’s preschool. I needed Seth to feel the overwhelming consequence.

Before I could, Lance apologized. “I’m sorry I complained and was grumpy eariler,” he said. “It didn’t help things.”

“You’re right, Lance, Thank you,” I said. “But you would have corrected course quickly. Your brother made a bunch of choices not to listen, and we have to live with that.” Now, I played the cancelled playmate card, verbally tossing it into the pile, face-up, so Seth could inspect it.

Things began to sink in.

“We’re going home for a minute. I have to unload some things, I have to feed the dogs. You two are to go upstairs and eat a Z Bar and a yogurt each, and you will drink a glass of water, each,” I explained. “We won’t be able to eat dinner until after we pick up dad at the RV storage unit. No arguments. If you do anything except what I just told you, you will lose another privilege. Like being in the parade on Wednesday.”

I got compliance. We drove down to Salt Lake City to pick up Jeff.

“You know, guys, if we didn’t think you could do better, we would not expect better from you,” I said. “I’d just let you act any which way. But you can, and I won’t.”

“Yes, Mom,” came from the back seat.

We let Lance choose the restaurant. Cheesecake Factory. We let him order dessert. Seth was not allowed to partake in the cheesecake. We talked about consequences.

“You know, guys, if we didn’t think you could do better…” Jeff began.

“Mom covered that, already dad,” Lance said. “We can do better. Right Seth?”

“Right, Lance.” A beat. Then: “Mom and Dad, I’m sorry I was disrespectful.”

A look passed between Jeff and me. We dared not mess with the moment.

I began to wonder if we might be on to something? Now, your turn: When’s the last time you enforced a consequence and were rewarded with the glimmer of a result?

Calling an audible, Part 1.

“Where are the suitcases?”

Jeff’s voice wasn’t quiet, but he wasn’t yelling. There was an eerie calm where, moments ago, there had been chaos. Seth had been jumping around the living/dining kitchen space of our motor home. And while it’s a large motor home, there’s not a surplus of space for jumping around. Apart from being annoying, it’s dangerous.

The scene of the crimes

He’d ignored my warnings not to jump. And now, he had a sucker in his mouth, the stick and its candy orb looking less like the diversion I’d just intended and more like an injury maker. I realized this in the same split-second his head came just millimeters away from striking the edge of the galley counter top.

“STOP!” I yelled.

And then, he crossed a line. No child should ever read his mom’s blog and be forced to relive a childhood transgression, so I’ll leave it at that.

And before I could respond (which I did, poorly, without a lot of pause and deliberation—any, really), Jeff was asking where the suitcases were.

It seemed like a stupid question to me, in that moment, even as I knelt on the floor next to Seth, trying to calm us both down while explaining the inherent danger in his previous activity, and explaining that disrespectful behavior wouldn’t fly…

I felt stupid, ineffectual and useless. Still, I pressed on, arguing my point to a 5 year-old judge. Not in an inside voice.

I brought the voice down a bit and told Jeff the suitcases were in the car. As I looked up, I had a view into the bedroom at the back of the rig, where my husband was swiftly emptying drawers of clothes I’d placed in them just that morning, .

We’d been at the campsite an hour. Jeff called an audible.

“We. Are. Leaving,” he said, clearly and firmly. “I’m not spending a week like this, and Seth is not going to act out in order to get his way.”

The fact is, the thing he’d been mad about was that I’d stopped his game, chasing a balloon, which I had (stupid me) blown up in an attempt to entertain him. (“What did you think he was going to do with the balloon? Cuddle it?!” I admonished myself, silently.)

“Um, I’ll get the bags. They’re in the car, I’ll be right back.”

He’s not faking, I thought. He’s serious.

I stomped out the door. I slammed it as best I could, which is to say, pushed hard against the self-regulating hydraulic hinges. I stalked across the grass to the car, popping the trunk with my key fob—the subtlety of the motion mocking me as I fumed. I heard the RV door open and shut. Footsteps. Jeff’s voice.

“Hey! Hey!” He called out to me—I thought his tone would be angrier. I hadn’t parented very thoughtfully back there. Instead, his tone was buddy-like, almost conspiratorial, vaguely apologetic. We’ve been married a long time, so I can tell how much emotion he packs into two syllables. I felt like I deserved some reproach. My overreaction had fueled the situation, I thought. He crossed the lawn and caught up to me. Touched my arm.

“I know you’re mad. I’m sorry. But I had to do it.”

“I’m not mad. At you,” I said. “I’m pissed as hell at Seth—and myself. But you did the exact right thing. I’m glad one of us had the presence of mind to do the right thing.” We’d been counting minutes until this motor home trip all summer. When we’re all in sync, being in the motor home is the way we operate best—close quarters, few distractions, intimate family time. Or, what I fondly refer to as “being pod people.”

The kids call it our “house on wheels”

The thought of trashing a whole, precious long weekend of pod-people existence, before we could even start—I wondered, on the periphery of my brain, if we’d actually do a better job parenting if we worked through the issues and showed them that we could come together after all. Then, I recalled how many times we’d tried that—and, importantly, he’d already gone out and said, “we’re leaving.” If we reversed the decision, we’d have zero authority to address consequences—on that trip, or in any other context. It’s not lost on me that we are only getting the hang of consequence-rendering now that our children are school-aged. Jeff, hearing my thoughts without benefit of speech, made it clear we were on the same page.

“I’m determined to show him consequences, you have to trust me,” he said. “If we do this, I can almost guarantee it won’t happen again. We’ll wait it out a week or two and we’ll go camping—a bunch. All summer. But it won’t be a war every time. I won’t let it.”

“You’re 100 percent right,” I said. “I’m proud of you, and grateful.”

Let my love open the door

Truthfully, I was mad—at myself. For both engaging in the fight with Seth, and for  letting things escalate, and  for not being smart enough in the moment to think of it myself. That feeling passed in a flash—all I felt was grateful and relieved, that one of us had the presence of mind to actually be the parent in the room, the person who could guide and teach, rather than react. Behold, partnership.

Restless RV wishes

I’m not sure which of us got the wild hare one day in late Spring. Or as the weather folks were trying to call it, “Sprinter” As in: Spring + Winter = Sprinter. But I suggested it might not be a bad plan to scope out areas within 60 miles of home to see if we could find RV destinations that wouldn’t break the bank in gas money. As in: Hey, kids, let’s see what happens when we keep driving West on I-80, and check out some of those towns we’ve only heard about on the local news.

So, we headed for the Salt Flats, driving on a road that is, more or less, built on the Great Salt Lake, and then doubling back to see what the towns on the other side of the mountain ridges to the west of Salt Lake City had to offer. Turns out, it was Denny’s. But I digress.

The drive was rather chill. The kids watched a movie in my Mom Mobile, which they like to say, “has a movie theater.” And they played various personal video consoles. But they also looked out the window as wildlife spotters. And cool-stuff spotters. Which is how we happened to notice this cool hotel.

No Tell Motel

And stopped to take some pics.

The Wide West

After which, we needed refreshment:

Chocolate Twizzlers=official road warrior cuisine

Then we cruised around the area looking for campgrounds. I considered it a scouting venture to see if we could find places to go in the RV on less than a tank of gas. Hmmm….Well, there’s always Miller Motorsports Park, which allows camping on site.