My brother recently told me the reason gambling is such an addictive behavior is that there is a constant potential for a random positive reward. According to him, that is the best way people learn, and that’s why it’s easy to “learn” to (become addicted to) gambling. I found the idea fascinating, and even though I’d never heard this until a few days ago, I now realize we have a constant potential of random reward thing going in my house. And I have actually found that my children operate well with that system. It doesn’t mean they don’t misbehave ever (the only systems that guarantee that result are authoritarian ones and there is a huge price to pay for those). It means we have more fun getting along in the house and every reward is a fun experience, not one the kids get to hound me about or expect.
We also have a constant system I do even better at, called you never know when Mama is going to lose it. Like today, as my son is on a two-day streak of bad behavior and by 11 AM this morning, I’m still doing well dealing with it. One small example of his particular mood of late: as I bring the kids to register Sophie for kindergarten today (lovely, clean and seemingly well-organized new buildings with cheerful staff a few blocks away – yay!) Nels decides he is upset I won’t let him play outside and makes the meanest, loudest yell I have ever heard. He stomps repeatedly and yells at me over and over right in front of the door we are about to pass through. Still, I patiently crouch down, ask him not to yell at Mama, pat his head, and lead him in. I really am a good Mama. The rest of our morning goes this way: he is unreasonable and pissed and says things like, “You don’t do that, Mama!” in a “big” voice and either yells or complains at most decisions I make. Finally we make it home and I am getting food out of the kitchen to make lunch (cheese quesadillas and salad w/romaine, carrots, baby corn, olives, cherry tomatoes, and Annie’s Goddess Dressing) and he is tagging right next to me in the fridge trying to paw rice milk out and loudly grousing when suddenly I cannot handle the near two-day complaints and I grab him up, whack him on the shoulder, and set him on his back three feet away in the living room, telling him “I’m going to cook lunch now. You must stay out of the kitchen.” He starts crying in earnest and writhes on the floor. I am instantly full of repentance but I take him up and bring him to his bed, gently. Then close the door and return to the kitchen. Sophie comes in, tearful, and says, “You are being mean to us all the time.” (not even remotely true; she has been teary and fearful since she got wind she is due for three shots before school next fall) and I say in a level but multilayered Crazy Voice, “Go to your room.” She runs off, crying as well. Great! Two for two.
But by some odd form of miracle they stay in their separate rooms quietly while I finish cooking and set the table. I call out, “Children, time for lunch! Please wash your hands.” and by God, they do, and cheerfully.
So I guess the Random, Crazy-Assed Mama Tirade works well enough, too. P.S. Use sparingly.
Tangentially: I owe my husband an apology. Recently at a movie while we watched the trailer for Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (in which I am inordinately pleased at how large the Surfer’s smooth and gleaming package is) I lean over to Ralph and whisper, “I thought the Silver Surfer was a good guy?” to which Ralph responds, “No, he was originally sent to destroy earth by Galactis.” Then I snort and say derisively, “No, Galactis was from Transformers,”* There was a confused silence as my husband thought that over, obviously questioning his Marvel ‘verse knowledge, and I smugly patted myself on the back for knowing more comic / action series lore than my husband. But today I see was, in fact, correct. It was Galactis (P.S. read, “This page is currently protected…” wikidendum for a good laugh).
* Turns out I was confused with Unicron.