Monday, March 18, 2013

Happiness in three random steps

I love Spring. First of all, the mosquitoes are not out yet!!! Second of all, the climate here is perfect for sitting out in the yard, pulling weeds.

Of course, this is what got me into poison oak trouble last week, but I'm clearing up thanks to steroids that are probably going to give me unwanted facial hair (scratch myself to death or shave my face forever...), but even still, I love the spring.

I'm in a happy mood today (I'm writing this on a Saturday night), and I wanted to share three things we are doing that are making me so happy.

First: Sunday-night-read-a-thon

Why we are calling it this, I don't know. All we do is throw blankets on the floor with a bazillion stuffed animals and pillows. Then I read aloud. This did not work when we tried it last Sunday—at first it was quite terrible. Only one child was listening to me read and the rest were talking, giggling, and fighting. I nearly gave the whole thing up in a very self-righteous, wounded way.

But then I checked the time.

It was bedtime.

"Only those who are completely silent may stay up to listen to this story," I said. "Because it is bedtime. Staying up late is a reward only for the silent."

Silence. (Except for Flannery, who was very tired and wanted to go to bed. So we let her.)

We immediately lost ourselves in the story (I was reading a Great Brain adventure), and everyone wanted to read more the next night. This didn't happen, because we were all going in different directions, but we decided to make it a Sunday night regular. Sunday-night-read-a-thons are awesome.

Second: Dinner nights

We are on week four of kids-making-dinner nights. On Sunday of each week, all five kids choose a recipe from the internet, then give me a list of ingredients they need. Everyone can do this completely on their own, except for Flannery (who can't read ingredients), and I do not help. I buy the ingredients on Monday. They make their dinners on their assigned night.

I know, I know, revolutionary, but the revolutionary thing is, the oldest three are doing their dinners, COMPLETELY ON THEIR OWN. Not only that, but we are getting some serious variety in our meals, and everyone is so anxious about their own meals being well-received, they are nice about each others' meals, even when they don't like them. They are willing to be more adventurous in trying food because it is not me who is forcing it. So many good things.

Last Thursday, it was Lucy's turn to make dinner. Most things are very easy for Lucy, so when things do get hard (the least bit hard), she tends to fall apart. Cooking is one of those hard things, and this week she chose a recipe that had no set ingredient amounts. (A little bit of this and a little bit of that.)

"How many carrots do you think I should cut up, Mom?" Lucy said through tears and shouts of rage.

"Arrrgghhhhhhhh!" Lucy screamed.

(I was hiding upstairs in my room at this time. When it is their night to cook, I do not set foot in the kitchen). "I'm not going to tell you," I said. "It doesn't matter. You can decide. There is no right and wrong here."

"How do I get the chicken breasts out of the boiling hot water?" Lucy said through wails.

"There are lots of ways to do it, Lucy. You decide."

"Arrrgghhhhhhhh!" Lucy screamed.

"Should I mix the lettuce in before or after?"

"If the recipe doesn't say, it probably doesn't matter. You decide."

"Arrrgghhhhhhhh!" Lucy screamed.

Oh, there was a lot of rage coursing through my ridiculously skinny ten-year-old's body. I finally asked her what was the worst thing that could happen.

"That nothing will work and dinner will be ruined!!!!!" she shouted.

"Then you can whip up some spaghetti," I said. "I want this dinner to be completely yours, so that when someone compliments you on a job well done, you won't secretly think Mom really did it. Or when it fails, you won't have anyone else to blame for what happened and you will know what not to do next time."

"Arrrgghhhhhhhh!" Lucy screamed.

Boy, it did not seem like this would work (at one point she stomped in her room and refused to continue), but that girl of mine finally did it, completely by herself, and an hour or so later, she had completed a delicious version of this:

And she was so proud of herself, she glowed the entire meal. All that shouting and crying really as worth it.

Third: Kid Gardeners.

I believe there are right ways to motivate people and not so good ways. I'm working on implementing the right ways into our family's life so that ultimately everything I want my kids to do, they want to do too. Intrinsic motivation. He he. Not an easy task, you say?

I definitely believe in explaining to our kids why we want them to do things, but for them to get a testimony of the importance of certain things for themselves, there has to be more than just talk. There has to be experience.

If you have time, watch this GREAT RSAnimate about motivation (it's ten minutes long):

If you don't have time, Daniel Pink, the economist says there are three things that motivate people to do great work: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Well, I'm doing my own little experiment with this idea in our yard, and, despite poison oak, I am really excited about it. I sat the kids down several weeks ago and explained that I was tired of our yard looking like something that crawled out of the slimey streets of Oliver! The Musical. We weren't being good neighbors, we weren't attracting important things like birds and butterflies and bees to our yard, and flowers can be so beautiful! We were missing out on that beauty, which sometimes does need to be cultivated.

Everyone seemed to get this. This was my attempt at the PURPOSE part of the motivation equation.

We got on the web to explore perennials, and we figured out what kind of perennial plants we wanted to buy. Low-maintenance, low-water plants that bloomed at different times of the year. Then I let everyone pick a certain number based on their ages. For example, Mary chose seven, Flannery, three. They were so excited to make their own choices, and other than insisting the plants fit our definition of low-maintenance and meet our soil requirements, I DIDN'T INTERFERE AT ALL IN THEIR CHOICES.

This was very hard for me. (That's the AUTONOMY part of the motivation equation.)

Since then, before the plants arrive, we've been working hard to get our weed-ridden, poison-oak covered, ugliness cleaned up. We now have lots of bare earth to deal with. I've told them they get to choose where to plant their plants (as long as they give their plants enough room to grow), but they have to prepare the soil themselves. Lucy and Shaemus have been working hardest on the clean-up. This is no surprise, but the surprise is that Calvin and Mary and even Flannery have been willingly—voluntarily—helping too. Those three avowedly hate yard work, and yet, there they were, helping without being forced.

I have great plans for this. There will be no monetary rewards for work done (AUTONOMY). There will be no scolding from me (AUTONOMY). There will be no reminding them to weed or water their chosen plants (AUTONOMY again!). But I will take pictures of these plants and post them on our kitchen wall. We'll do before pictures (I'm going to encourage them to give their plants names, and we'll put those under the pictures), right-after-they-are-planted pictures, and we'll take pictures as they grow. Sort of like those picture displays of children at age 3, 5, 8, 12, etc... I want them to take pride in what they do. I want them to have a real interest in helping something grow. I want them to have a feeling for these plants, like they are depending on them. I want them to feel like they are doing something great, which they are! I want some of their plants to die. I want them to help each other figure out what works and what doesn't work, and be okay with failure (that's the MASTERY part of the motivation equation).

Of course, this is just the beginning, but if, by the end of the summer, I have five little gardeners, each doing their own thing to take care of the plants they have chosen, I don't care what our yard looks like. (I haven't really cared for the past five years anyway, so there's no big leap there.)

Tomorrow, I may be regretting ever starting this (I really might, we ripped out a ton of stuff and now our house looks very exposed and naked, and I have little kids who like to run around the house naked in front of open windows...), but today, I'm very, very happy.

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