Monday, September 13, 2010

Positive Reinforcement

Last year, when Zoe was in kindergarten, having a couple hours of freedom each morning seemed like the ultimate luxury. I would hurriedly run errands, put groceries away and occasionally get a workout in without having to worry about the shortest member of the family getting bored, hungry, thirsty, angry, lost or having to pee, and I loved it. Now that she is in first grade, though, this means that, for the first time ever, all of my kids are in school full-time, and I can't stop smiling. And even though my days of solitude aren't as long as I thought they'd be -- the boys start and end their school day an hour and a half before Zoe's school -- life is good.

Now, after having a week to adjust to this newfound freedom, there are a couple things I've noticed:
  1. For the first time in fourteen years, I'm not responsible for getting lunch for anyone besides myself. Well, not responsible after I have made sure that whoever is planning on bringing home lunch on the day that a fish sandwich is on the school menu remembers to actually bring the lunch that I have made. Or making sure that there is money in the lunch accounts. And usually making a lunch for Doug. After all of that, I'm not responsible.
  2. Everyone, and I mean everyone, asks me "So what are you doing with all your free time?" and "When are you going back to work?"
  3. I've never in the past, and I never will, drink beer with the people that have the balls to ask me these questions.
  4. Being able to pee without someone talking to me through the door isn't as luxurious as I thought it would be.
  5. The volume on my stereo can be turned up pretty high.
  6. For a person that has spent the last few months having kids around them all the time, an hour of solitude is the equivalent of one month in therapy.
So now that I'm not spending my days being constantly pestered with questions or breaking up arguments or hearing pleas of "can I have a ride to ___?", I'm hoping that, when the kids walk in the door after school, I'm a more patient, empathetic and nurturing parent, ready to listen and offer up supportive, nonjudgmental words instead of the usual "what the hell were you thinking?"

As if on cue, I came across a list of phrases that could be used to praise and encourage a child. After all, every kid likes to hear how awesome they are but overworked, stressed out parents don't always know how to express themselves without rolling their eyes, throwing their hands in the air and/or yelling. Now I just need to figure out when to use them:

Scenario: Kid returns home and announces that they forgot a lunchbox at school.
Phrase: Hurray for you!

Scenario: It's 9:30pm, and kid realizes that four pages of homework aren't completed, because they were left at school.
Phrase: Outstanding performance!

Scenario: It's a relaxing Sunday night, until kid pulls a note out of their backpack that says "please send a can of frosting, three pieces of blue felt and a bag of gumdrops to school, by Monday morning."
Phrase: You're on top of it!

Scenario: On the way to piano lessons, kid realizes that they forgot to do three pages of theory.
Phrase: Hip, hip hooray!

Scenario: After walking in the door from tennis, kid puts everything away, except their water bottle, because it's still at the club.
Phrase: I'm glad you are my kid!

Scenario: Enjoying a couple hours of free time by playing Xbox, kid becomes so relaxed that they don't realize it when the phone rings/UPS man arrives/mom is talking to them.
Phrase: You're a real trooper!

Scenario: After being asked to take out the garbage, kid slowly gets up, goes to the bathroom, and promptly forgets to take out the garbage.
Phrase: I appreciate your help! Magnificent!

Scenario: Kid oversleeps after failing to turn on an alarm clock. Again.
Phrase: I'm impressed! Outstanding!

Scenario: On Friday afternoon, husband says "It's been a long week and we're both about to go insane. Let's go to the bar."
Phrase: Wow, you're smart! I like you!

I would have said "Hell yeah I'll go to the bar, even though it's a little too late because I'm already insane," but that phrase wasn't on the list.

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