Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Spoonful of Sugar Makes My Life a Little Easier

When I was in high school, my friends and I worked at a summer day camp. It was basically glorified babysitting, but it was the perfect job: We got to swim, play soccer, hang out with our friends, go to the beach, AND we got paid for it. (Although now that I'm a mom, I wonder - what the HELL were these parents thinking, letting a bunch of teenagers take their kids to the freakin' beach? The only "adults" in the group were like 21. And they bought us wine coolers on the weekends. Yes, wine coolers. Shut up. It was the 80s. Bartles and James were huge then.) One of the running jokes among the so-called "counselors" was that the kids would do anything for a handful of jelly beans. Clean up the playground? Throw away all the trash after lunch? Gather 2,394 sequins off the floor after craft time? Pick up toilet paper left on the bathroom floor? Give 'em a little candy, and they were all over it. We were amazed, but we totally sugared those kids into submission.

Later, about six years into my teaching career, I did a two-year stint in middle school. Faced with 32 sixth graders in an after-lunch slump, I did what any self-respecting science teacher would: I broke out the Jolly Ranchers and started asking comprehension questions. You'd be amazed how a little bit of watermelon-flavored sugar motivates a room full of slackers, even if they are only 11.

Now that I'm a mom, I abhore the thought of using food as a reward. I don't want my daughters to grow up with eating disorders. I don't want them to use Twinkies to drown their sorrows (at least wine is more socially acceptable, right?), and I don't want them thinking there are "good" and "bad" foods. I want my girls to enjoy a piece of cake at a birthday party without feeling guilty, to eat a wide variety of foods in moderation, to enjoy meals with family and friends without any weird hang-ups.

But I also understand the power of a single piece of candy. Mary Poppins was on to something: One Skittle makes that nasty amoxicillin go down easier, after all. Everyone had a good report card? Let's get ice cream! And why not celebrate learning to poop on the potty with a big ol' lollipop?

Slacker Mom Says...what's wrong with a little celebratory sugar now and then? I'm not advocating bribing kids to get them to do their chores, much as my kids might like it, just offering a little incentive now and then to make an unpleasant task a little more palatable. No one likes cleaning the playroom, but if I say, "Cookies and milk when we're done!" suddenly everyone's tripping over themselves to help. Think about it - doesn't a catered lunch make a boring meeting a little more tolerable? Even the PTA provides donuts and juice at our annual Volunteer Orientation, where the principal basically reads us a handbook written on a fifth-grade reading level. Could've read it myself at home, but hey, free Krispy Kremes! I'm in.

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