Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Teaching Econ 101 Through Chores


Or: The Great Child Labor Exploitation Experiment



“Mommy! I fed the chickens!” I startled awake. What did he do? What did my 5 year old do? 

He tries to explain and its sounding more and more worrisome. What type of substance did he put where, on or in the chicken coop? Are the dogs out too? Did he let the chickens out? If they combine, that’s the end of my darling little flock. I hadn’t had a chance to “train” Wiley on the chore and he was already attempting it. I struggle out of bed and head to the living room to begin my investigation.

I find my 7 year old sweep/vacuuming very intently. He explains he has just finished the living room and will be getting to the kitchen next.

What is going on?

Oh right! The chore chart. I had posted it in the kitchen the night before. They found it and began earnestly devouring all the chores listed thereon with gusto before 8am on a Sunday.

I continue my soft interrogation of the 5 year old to find out what he fed them. He found the oregano/meal worm chicken treats we sometimes give them and gave them a handful. He let them out to free range after the dogs were safely inside. What a good boy! I explained what he did right, and what entails doing a good job on that chore and that I will show him later if he wants to learn and get the full dollar. I added “Let chickens out” to the chore chart and assign a price that he agrees to.
Yesterday, he asked for dollars. But not in a demanding way. In a way that opened a door for me. I’m very open with my kids about work and paying bills and mortgages and money. He was already negotiating with me. He wanted a job.

Jordan Peterson talks about humans needing to pull a weight to feel content and peaceful. Wiley is my “problem child” – a term I use very loosely. He is a sweet angel compared to other “problem children” but he is very intelligent, very witty, thrives on attention and drama and has some difficulty controlling his emotions at times.

The “pulling a weight” concept immediately came to mind. I made a deal with him.

I said “Wiley, you could really help me out with some big problems here at home, and for that I would pay you some money. But I do really need help and you do have to earn this money.” He was ecstatic about this and was listening intently at this point. “Tonight after you go to bed I will make up a chore chart: a list of chores that you can do with a price for each one. Some of them you may not want to do for that money and that’s OK. Parker might be willing to do them. If neither of you wants to do them, I might have to pay more money. But if the price gets too high, I will do it myself. At the end of the day, I will total up the dollars and cents you earned for each chore and give you that money. Sound good?”

He was thrilled. We went to get Parker and explained the deal to him.

Further rules were specified. You do have to actually do a good job and put forth a valiant effort in order for the money to be earned. And you never get paid to clean your own room. To me, you should take pride in your space and make it nice for yourself. I don’t want that idea to be lost.

I explained to them that this was a real problem they could help solve in our house. I told them I just paid a cleaning lady $100 to do some of these chores and I wasn’t happy about having to do that. She lets the cats out without thinking about it. (They are indoor cats who dart. She props doors open and doesn’t care. She’s not a pet person.) She breaks things. She has vacuumed up (and destroyed) hard-to-replace wires by my bedside more than once. She scrubs our Teflon pans with metal scouring pads. But I say “thank you” to her because overall she does achieve more order in our chaos.

We need to be achieving our own order though.

I was never raised with assigned chores or an allowance in exchange for chores and it was a matter of principle. But the net effect was a messy house AND a stressed out mother. But WHY, if I am willing to pay someone $100 a fortnight, would I not be willing to pay my own progeny a fraction of that and at the same time teach them valuable lessons about economics? And chores and household contributions… and possibly collective bargaining.

By the end of the first day, my 7 year old knocked out many of the high-dollar chores and earned $3.20. Including scooping out the cat box – the DOOZIE in our house. The little one earned a respectable $0.60.

By the second day I had to negotiate who’s turn it was to put away baskets of laundry for 50 cents, the winner being the one getting to do it. (and me, of course.)

This experiment is on-going, but I am thinking it will be concentrated on weekends, when they are in the mood to do chores and earn money. So far on school days, they need their down time. Also prices will have to increase quite a bit as time goes on and skills improve, and I am dying to find out if they will collectively bargain against me… We shall see.

More to come…

In Defense of Screen Time



“Mommy, how do you spell ‘red eyes?’” Parker asks, coming out from behind the WiiU.

I spell it outloud for him and then he asks me to write it down. I add it to a growing list of words on a piece of paper he has asked me how to spell for his MineCraft world. Today he has created a den of pet spiders and has discovered how to give them name tags. This spider’s name is “Red Eyes.”  Parker is 6. He will start first grade in a couple weeks.

I’m seeing more and more articles urging parental alarm at how much screen time our kids are getting. Why, in our day, kids played outside. With real life friends in meat world.  We rode our bikes without helmets and knee pads. We were concussed on the regular and we LIKED it! Built character. Today’s youth are ruining their brains with all this screen time!

I know, I know. Screen time is turning kids’ brains into mush. I hear you, I just have my doubts. Like it or not screens have taught my boys all kinds of things I have no interest in - like Minecraft. All those stupid videos they watch have taught them the ins and outs of this complex and imaginative game. I can’t teach them this! When I first sat down to it I was totally perplexed.... uhhhhh I have no idea what the point of this is. Now my 5 and 6 year olds are explaining it to me!

It reminds me of all the typing classes foisted upon us back in the 80’s and 90’s. Keyboarding. Ugh. Was there ever a more boring class? In the history of ever? I took more than one. In case I became a secretary. (OK, so I did become a press secretary. And I did actually use Ron Paul’s dictaphone. Fascinating technology, that.) But none of my generation REALLY learned to type with any proficiency until AOL Instant Messenger. Then suddenly we were all typing a million words a minute. Never before. No class motivated us like chatting with friends.

Parker is learning how to type and spell because those are useful skills in his game.

We have also taught the boys how to search for Youtube videos using voice recognition. This empowers them beyond their literacy level to explore whatever topics they fancy. There are a million videos they find that way. My 6 year old watches some junk (as do I) but he also loves learning about sink holes, snakes, sharks, tornadoes and minerals. He can do this independently, through the miracle of modern screen technology.

Experts say we need to be worried about the amount of time they spend on their devices. Too much time stunts their development, and thus we need to impose strict limits with stopwatches or special parental controls or wifi routers that automatically kick them off for blocs of time. I’m skeptical.

One thing I know about child/human psychology is that what you limit becomes more precious. I won't impose a limit on my sons’ screen time[1]. I do require educational workbook pages to be done every day. They have to complete 3-5 pages in their workbooks to get their devices back. But after that I allow them to get bored and restless naturally. And they do eventually change activities. Right now they are playing with magnetic silly putty at the dining table. Nice and tactile and sciency. This was at their request. Eventually they will resort to running around the house playing whatever brotherly game they have come up with, at which point I will try to toss them outside to play. They don’t want to sit around in front of screens all day with no breaks any more than I do. I probably get more screen time than they do and I need frequent breaks.

Look at the world around us. Wherever you see people they are staring at their phones. By the derision of this phenomena you’d think they were all watching the Hamster Dance on repeat while drooling uncontrollably. They aren’t. They are engaging and learning and bonding and debating and teasing their brains. That’s the world my boys are growing up in.

Same goes for TV. You should see the kids who visit us who get very limited TV time and a narrow array of content. We have television on almost all the time and occasionally we pay attention. The more strictly limited visiting kids are enraptured by the TV and cannot be bothered to socialize and play while they are with us. It’s actually a little frustrating for my boys who are happy to have a friend over, but SSSSHHHHHH! TV! We're like, yeah? So?

I've had those moms ask me "How do you DO that? How do you get them not to care about TV?" And then I have to get all into economics and supply and demand and pricing and opportunity cost… It comes down to keeping it on all the time, or whenever they want it - which is unacceptable right out the gate. Have it your way.

Still need convincing?

What if you told someone from 20 years in the past that we all have in our pockets the key to all human knowledge ever, at the mere swipes and taps of our fingers -

And we strictly limit our children's access to it.

How would that feel coming out of your mouth?


[1] Now, we must have frank conversations with our kids about engaging with people online and the various ugly things and people that are out there. Absolutely. But my larger goal is not sheltering my kids as much as preparing my kids. Right now Youtube Kids provides a fairly safe environment for them to explore. We will deal with the special challenges growing up in an internet age brings as they come.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Teaching my kids to be good

My concept of parenting, before I had kids, was a lot of screaming at them not to do stuff. Don't fight. Don't hit your brother! Stop taking his toys! Don't bite him! Will you stop touching him! To be sure there IS a lot of that. But I approached this with the idea that there could be much more to it than simply eliminating bad behavior. And in fact, the best way to eliminate bad behavior would be to replace it with good behavior.

Coupled with that idea was the concept that children tend to live up (or down) to your expectations. I had this vague observation that the types of people who assumed that children, their children, were innately entitled, selfish, mean-spirited little trolls in need of constant discipline tended to have children that turned out that way. Mean-spirited, selfish trolls that were constantly being screamed at and corrected. Sometimes it seems like that's the only attention some kids get. "Stop that!"

If children live up to our expectations, let's expect something else.

So instead I operate with the assumption that my boys are lovable, loving, good-natured, sweet, generous, compassionate, friendly, smart little men who are just searching for a way to communicate those things to the outside world. My job is to help them make friends and be friends, to make others laugh and smile, to learn how to love and express love, how to interact with the world in ways that communicate those intentions to others. This is a different approach than drilling them to pedantically recite please and thank you and I'm sorry where socially required. And in our case, it shines through.

They love the little dialogue of "Tenk ooo" "You're welcome" that they get to have with adults and relatives, and even each other. They get such positive reactions from saying these polite things that they do it as often as possible. When I tell them "Say thank you" its not a lecture, its a reminder that this is an opportunity to play that little game they love. And they almost always do.

But its deeper than please and thank you.

As I was sitting here writing this, they were playing with each other and the younger one got upset about something, probably a stolen toy. His brother saw his tears and that he was upset and shifted gears. He actually hugged and kissed his brother and said "It's OK, Wiley." Wiley stopped crying. I taught him that. Not by lecturing him not to be bad and mean, but by showing him how to express love and concern for his brother.

They are certainly not perfect - that is not what this blog is about. Of course they fight, they steal toys, they hit and all those normal toddler things. But they also know how to make up, and even how to negotiate. I've taught them that instead of simply taking a toy from someone, they should offer a trade. They like this tactic and use it often. Not always successfully and then we're back to just taking it, but it warms my little capitalist heart to see Parker go find a train to offer Wiley for a truck he has. And if the train doesn't work, he knows to up the ante. I've even seen Parker offer a toy for nothing in return when a shy kid arrives at the Barnes & Noble train table. Just as a way to make a friend. That concept is incredibly valuable and will serve him well in life. The power of simple kindness.

But on our good days when people see my boys interacting this way with others and with each other, sometimes they wonder how I do it. I think it has a lot to do with this underlying philosophy.

Just expect that your kids are warm, loving little fuzzballs that want to love and be loved by the world and you will see your job as a parent in a very different light.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Just sent to my NC legislator, re: H155 to decrim lay midwives

Dear Ms. Avila,

I am your constituent at xxxxx, Raleigh NC and I attempted a home birth in Virginia when I lived there 2 years ago. I was attended by CPMs who I thought were good caregivers and knew when transfer was appropriate and we are all OK now, but I have become very disillusioned with homebirth through my experience, which ended in emergency transport and c-section. I consider it an extremely close call and we were very lucky.

Come to find out, according to the British Medical Journal Birthplace study, transfer rates for first time moms at a home birth can be upwards of 45%. This information was not available to me in 2010 when I gave birth. If I had known my odds of transfer were close to 50/50 I'm sure I would not have done it. My midwives charged an arm and a leg and none of it was refunded or reimbursed by insurance even though I was led to believe it would be.

There are monied interests behind home birth and it is an industry as much as anything.

I believe home birth is dangerous. Very dangerous. But our black market here in NC makes it even more dangerous. That's why I am in favor of H155 - but I think it needs something very important - an outcomes reporting requirement.

Did you know that the Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA) has a huge statistical database of over 27,000 homebirths with outcomes but refuses to share that data? They claim home birth is so safe, yet they refuse to prove it by showing us the numbers. Could it possibly be that the numbers actually disprove their claims of safety?

I would love to see NC legislators demand to see MANA's data on safety before moving forward with this bill, and also adding a requirement that direct entry midwives report how many women they take on as clients every year and how many deaths or injuries their clients and babies experience. Colorado and Oregon have requirements like this and it gives the true picture of homebirth safety, despite the claims. THAT is the best protection for NC women, in my opinion. http://www.skepticalob.com/2012/06/no-wonder-colorado-homebirth-midwives.html

Make it legal, but also make it transparent. Women should know the truth.

Thank you!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Bird Feeder

I looked out my window at my empty bird feeder as I was feeding my baby this morning.  No birds.  No birdseed, no birds.  My once teeming and colorful porch was bereft of life and feathers.  Its not that I had nothing to offer them.  I did.  There is a whole box full of seeds downstairs.  I just have to put them out there.

But I am stuck on the couch with this baby.  And as we know, babies don't keep.

I know this.  Once I have a moment, I will put what I have out there and they will find their way back to me. I'll get my birds back.

I just have to put myself out there.  I have much to offer.  But I need this time with my baby, and its OK.  I'm not gone, I've not disappeared.  I'll be back.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Confessions of an Ex-Minion

I guess its a sign of the times when you get all emotionally fraught about leaving a Facebook group... but I do.  And I always feel so weird about feeling so sad about it.  It's just a Facebook group.  But they can become addictive and cliquish.  They can be a great way to connect and bond with people over an interest.

Or they can suck you into pointless arguments and show you the worst side of people you thought you respected.

Meh...

I had to leave Dr Amy's Fed Up group that I've been with for... awhile.  Nearly two years I guess.  I'm done giving birth though (I'm pretty sure) and I think I'm done hearing about dead home birth babies.  I feel the need to move on anyway.  But I just can't stomach the pro-circumcision voices in that group, including Dr. Amy herself.  She recently lauded the AAP statement in disgustingly hyperbolic terms, making claims about circumcision far beyond what the AAP was even willing to say.  It's NOT some simple, safe, or effective miracle cure or prevention for anything.  The AAP made the most minimally positive statement about it that they could in order to encourage insurance providers to keep paying or resume paying pediatricians to perform circumcisions.  That's about it.  Their member pediatricians were having trouble getting reimbursed for something classified as wholly cosmetic and non-therapeutic by this organization, so they tried to back peddle JUUUST enough to get the money to flow again.  They had to really grasp at straws and junk science to do so.  Dr. Amy made much more out of the statement than was really there, and admitted she takes a lot of flak for her position on circumcision.  She just loves it, apparently.  Loves it.  It prevents AIDS and cancer and UTIs and the whole rank and file of usual suspects.  She didn't mention paralysis or masturbation or epilepsy or any of the old school things it used to cure/prevent.

I think I know where she's coming from.  As an OB she almost certainly performed them.  As a softie for babies she had to know the pain she was causing and she had to make herself believe it was for the greater good.  As a mother, she likely had son(s)? circumcised.  As a human being, she is now only seeking out confirming information, so this revision from the AAP was a wonderful relief to hear.  She was not harming babies after all.  Maybe some doubts had crept in from time to time, but we can sweep all that aside, its official.  The AAP is wildly in favor of circumcision; the question of harm/benefit is therefore settled.  We can't pick and choose what stances of an esteemed scientific body we agree with or don't.  It's science.

Except that in the post RIGHT BEFORE she calls out the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for bad recommendations on midwifery and she claims its all about money.  Basically the same reasons I rail against the AAP for their stance on circ.  Check the bullet points.  Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes those are all very similar to the complaints lodged against the AAP this week by intactivists so no complaining about picking and choosing.  Any skeptic would and should question authority, even medical authorities... who are actually really trade associations when you come right down to it, and sometimes they act that way.

I interact well with lots of people who disagree with me on circumcision.  We can agree to disagree and we can simply not discuss it, or if we do, we can discuss the issue and not resort to name calling nonsense and personal attacks.  I hit hard on the issue of circumcision.  The practice insults my soul.  But I attack the practice and the ideas behind it, not the people.  Well, except for the advocates of it.  But - I think mothers who have done it to their babies and many doctors who've performed it for various reasons can be victims of the practice as much as the boys are.

And if you really think about it, circumcision probably causes much more harm than home birth and natural birth advocacy.  Home birth is a fringe-y extremist thing to do.  A fraction of a percent, a handful of deaths.  Circumcision is still suffered by some 50% of American baby boys, killing as many or more baby boys as SIDS in the time frame that they are at greatest risk.  But just as home birth deaths are under reported and misreported, circumcision deaths are almost always attributed to things not called "circumcision" on a death certificate.  Like septic shock and hemorrhage.  Not to mention the men suffering in silence from shameful complications.  Some are not so silent anymore.

I can deal with people who disagree with me.  I don't think I can deal with an advocate.  Especially an advocate who purports to be a skeptic and scientifically minded.  She of all people should know better.  She can spot junk science when she sees it - and when it recommends home birth.  But rather than accepting a little cognitive dissonance and admitting circumcision is actually wrong after all in spite of what she believed in the past, she has doubled down.  I can't respect that.  I understand it, but I don't respect it.     

So I left the group.  If you see circumcision the way I do, its just not something a nice person would want to associate themselves with.

PS: It may or may not be material that Dr. Amy is Jewish. But she was curiously silent when I tried to establish common ground that we could at least oppose circumcision by laypeople in non-medical environments on the same grounds we oppose home birth by CPMs. In other words, the obviously unsafe practice of mohels performing circumcisions in homes and temples. Many Jews now have it done in hospitals by doctors who are also mohels. I thought we could at least agree on that. Nope.

Friday, August 24, 2012

My thoughts ahead of the AAP statement


If the AAP changes their stance to recommend circumcision in whole or in part based on the African trials and STD risk, they are going to have massive amounts of egg of their face as the stats come in that the circ campaign over there is having the opposite effect and is in fact largely to blame for an increase in HIV rates. Why? Its obvious. Circumcision does not in any way protect against HIV. However, the impression the campaign is giving, rightly or wrongly, is that it is an AIDS vaccine. The men who hear *that* message are the ones getting cut. The ones who listen more closely and realize that you still need to use condoms whether or not you are cut are *not* the ones getting cut - because what's the point? So you have an encouragement of risk behaviors. Not only that, but a not insignificant source of HIV infection in Africa is iatrogenic from improperly sterilized equipment. Many men will get HIV simply from the procedure itself, as any procedure involving needles in Africa involves risk.

So if the AAP softens their stance, they will quickly need another revision. It will be short-lived.

The truth is this is an emotionally fraught issue with a lot of people with a lot at stake in legitimizing circumcision because the alternative is inconceivable and unacceptable. It would mean that they have engaged in genital mutilation (YES I USE THAT WORD) for absolutely no good reason and it makes them terribly uncomfortable.

Which is why I just think everyone who's done it in the past, sincerely believing that it was for the child's own good should get a pass. Fine. You did what you thought was best. It's fine. Let it go. Forget about it. But moving forward, the people who should know better, have all the information right there at their fingertips and refuse to *see* it, at the expense of future children... well, you don't get a pass. You should be willing to go through a little emotional discomfort in order to save a child from physical torture.