So how do you solve a problem like Andy? Yelling at him until my throat is sore doesn't seem to be working, and sometimes even the best of moms get tired of screaming so much. Chris is a big proponent of threats and will threaten to banish all happiness from Andy's life unless he, say, takes one more bite of dinner. "You'd better eat those noodles," Chris might say, "Otherwise you're going to end up alone and unloved and standing in the express line at Jewel with only frozen waffles, cheap beer, and cat food in your cart." Surprisingly, the image of becoming "Crazy Drunken Cat Man With Waffles" has done little to deter Andy from not finishing his meals.
And so I decided to try the reward system. Using the straight edge of my boxed wine, I drew up the following chart which contains 130 squares (do you think that's too many?) and told Andy that from now on, I was going to give him a star every time he behaved correctly, with good manners. Oh sure, the premise is a little vague here, I'll admit. But basically, if he behaves in a way I deem as sweet or polite, I'll pencil in a star. I did not have any star stickers lying around. I almost decided to use the return address labels the PAWS people sent to Jackie Judge (having gathered this was my name after the one time I donated money to some organization and listed myself as a federal judge as to boost my self esteem a tad), but then I reminded myself that I'm not trying to impress anyone here, I'm just looking to make my kid less crappy.
The prize at the end of the good manners chart is a new toy airplane, which Andy decided upon himself. I am very lucky Andy did not choose a puppy or a trip to the North Pole as his prize. He really aims too low.
My chart had been working well, with Andy eagerly earning stars, until Chris decided that the format of the system needed retooling. I went downstairs one morning to find that one of my penciled in stars was crossed out with a big X. Apparently Andy had colored on the coffee table and UN-earned a star, thus tearfully learning the following important life lesson: What Mommy giveth, Daddy shall taketh away.
Obviously, Mommy and Daddy are at odds on how this chart should work. Clearly, I believe that once a star is given, it can't be taken back. Chris has a more flexible view of the chart and thinks that we should be marking it up and down and adding and subtracting all ding dong day based on the terrific-ness and terrible-ness of Andy's actions. Obviously, I'm right, and I have finally told Chris to take his hands off my chart and perhaps start his own chart: a bad behavior chart where Andy earns 130 X's with the end prize being the kind of spanking that makes him wish he had never been born.
Don't worry, Chris doesn't have the follow through to draw up his own chart.
And so, Andy and I are back using his chart, and it's back to going okay. But the other day, I was reminded of what truly motivates this kid (and, spoiler alert, it's shockingly not pudding.) It's me, the mommy that he is so quick to unlove during a scolding. (Just so we're clear, my response to not being loved by my own son is to gently reply that I know that's not true, and I will always love him no matter what. I am not a total jerk.)
We were at the gym when Andy and another child were fighting over a toy. Andy was being particularly bratty about not sharing, and finally I said, "Andy, why don't you let her have it and you and I will play tag." Immediately, Andy's face lit up, he ran the toy over to the girl, turned to me and said, "Okay, I'm sorry I wasn't sharing before, but I love you, let's play running tag!" And we chased after each other with merriment and joy (mostly on his part) and a distinct lack of even breathing (mostly on my part). At one point, while Andy was It, I glanced back over my shoulder to see that not only was he chasing me but so were two other kids. Crap! But then I remembered.
Little kids love playing with adults, and that's all they really want to do.
So I'm still using my star chart, but I'm also trying to keep in mind that if I give Andy the kind of attention that a little kid craves from his super fun mommy (that's me) and partially fun daddy (Chris), then perhaps the behavior problem will just automatically lessen, at least a little.
Now, where do you think is the best place to buy a toy airplane? And an asthma inhaler?