It has come down to bribery. My children are loud and they are on the move. If I want quiet or stillness, I have to make it worth their while. Sometimes there’s no possible way to make it worth their while. Sometimes they are just kids.
Tonight was Dan’s community band concert. Around 40 adults from the community spend the year practicing and rehearsing classical music and then they put on a free show at the Junior High. It’s pretty awesome to hear all the different ages, backgrounds and experience levels come together like that. It’s pretty awesome to hear if you’re not a five-year-old boy.
If you’re five years old, a community band concert is a torture chamber second in agony only to an hour-long church service. A community band concert drains all the liquid from your body, rendering you unbearably parched. This condition is aggravated if the school cafeteria where you’re watching the performance has a lighted beverage fridge in full view.
You will beg for a Gatorade or a Snapple, only to be ruthlessly shushed by your wicked witch of a mother. She will also ask you to stop clanging your metal chair up and down, sanding the floor with the rough side of your mitten, and using the bottom of the occupied chair in front of you as a gong. In retaliation, you will shake your plastic necklace like a rattlesnake tail and breathe very loudly while repeatedly trying to claw your way onto her lap full of recording devices.
Magoo is not yet ready to appreciate a cultural event of this nature. If I’d known that in advance, I’d have bribed him, just like I do in church.
The kids have been getting increasingly crazy in church since Wanda joined our family a year ago. She is fun and distracting and I think they’ve decided that as long as they’re not as crazy as the toddler, they’re doing FINE. They are wrong.
This past week when they became actually louder and more squirrely than the baby, I kind of lost it right there in church. It. Lost. I’d tried invitations to be reverent, explanations about why we’re reverent, threats, punishments, reverence practices at home (which is just a fancy name for punishments) and nothing worked consistently.
Technically I know they’re not old enough to sit and worship for an hour and have a meaningful experience but I do think they should be capable of faking it so people around us can enjoy being there.
So, not a huge fan of bribes or reward systems, I switched to my last resort.
“You guys. Whoever can sit quietly and listen to the speaker the longest wins a prize.”
Did I know what the prize was? No. Did they know that? No. And they didn’t even ask. Suddenly my kids who had been completely incapable of quiet, fully vibrating with energy, were as still as statues. After 15 minutes of no movement, when I was beginning to wonder if they had perished from an ecclesiastical overdose, Magoo leaned over to ask me a question.
“Laylee wins,” I whispered.
“No FAIR! Can we try it again?”
“Okay,” I grinned, “Let’s do another round.”
After 15 more minutes I declared them both winners and we moved on to round three. I cannot remember a more peaceful Sunday service. The transformation was amazing but I was left with the question – What should I give them for a prize and then what about next week? Was there any way to make this sustainable?
I think I’ve found it. So on the way home, I told them they could each have a few little prizes or they could trade in all their prizes and I’d buy each of them a new watch with a stopwatch function. The new watches will be used next Sunday as they time themselves to see how long they can sit quietly and listen.
Every time they get disruptive they have to start the timer over again. The reward, besides a soul-restoring, peace-giving feeling of wholeness, will be that for every minute on their stopwatch at the end of the meeting, Dan or I will spend a minute that afternoon one-on-one doing any Sabbath-approved activity they choose. We can give a scalp massage or read stories, make cookies, go for a walk or play games. They will have complete control over the schedule and complete monopolization of one parent.
They like this idea. They love it, in fact. I love it too. I’m actually really looking forward to spending the time with them and hopefully the time they spend sitting quietly in church will teach them some self-mastery. They might even listen and learn something. At the very least there will be cookies pretty much every week. I think that’s a given.