Friday, April 30, 2010

Bagel's New Obsession

Bagel was obsessed with fire alarms for a while, and then he got obsessed with me, but he gave that up about a year ago to become obsessed with his birthday party. Ever since his 5th birthday party had to be cancelled due to illness, he's been planning for this year's birthday party. Every day for a year he would come to me with his latest set of party plans: themes, activities, foods.

Bagel's supposed to read 15 minutes a day for school. But this week I haven't been able to get him interested in books at all. If I tell him it's reading time, usually he'll bring me a stack of books so high we don't have time to read them all. But this week all he'd bring was the smallest, shortest book he could find. His reading log is due today and he's scarcely read 15 minutes all week. Since this isn't typical, I sat down to think about what was going on. And that's when it hit me: he hasn't spoken about his birthday party all week long.

We've been through obsession changes before with Sonshine. He started off with Thomas the Tank Engine and I had to memorize the entire roster of trains (which thankfully, at that time, was much shorter than it is now) so that I could pass my daily grilling without Sonshine melting down. He later moved on to (in no particular order) Theodore the Tugboat, the Civil War, origami, Legos, Star Wars, and Lego Star Wars. When he switched obsessions, there would be a brief but intense period where it would seem to him like the world was spinning out of control because he didn't know everything there was to know about the new obsession. So when I thought about it, I realized that this went pretty far toward explaining why Bagel had stepped up his hating on me this week. And when I thought about it for a minute, it wasn't hard to figure out what his new obsession is: money.


One of my great failings as a parent is that I have never been able to motivate my kids to do their chores out of altruism. Maybe that's my fault; maybe I just happen to have a bunch of objectivist children. I have to pay them money to get them to do chores. So we have an office in the house called Room Captain. Unlike most of the paid chores, which are on a fee-for-service basis, the Room Captain is a management position. Room Captains are given a job too large for one child to do: clean up a certain room to the point that it can be vacuumed. This is easy enough to do if the room is essentially clean and just needs some tidying, but the initial effort can only be done by a team. When I created this position, I hoped that it would do two things: one, put the kids in a position where they couldn't afford to alienate their siblings; two, make it clear that they could earn a load of money for a little effort by cleaning up all the time. It's a difficult position for them and so it pays commensurately: a dollar for each day that the room remains clean. (This is the market-clearing price, in case anyone's interested: I couldn't get anyone to take the job for less than a dollar a day. Princess won't take it at all because it's chump change compared to what she earns babysitting. Remember, this is the girl who outsourced her chores.)

Well, about a week ago, Bagel comes to me and says he wants to be a Room Captain. I really didn't intend the job to be taken by anyone under the age of 8, but I thought he could give it a try anyway. I assigned him the Augean Stables: the boys' bedroom. What do you know, the child did it! I gave him a few pointers like "You really don't want to yell at Sonshine that you hate him, or he won't help you clean." He spent all day working on his leadership style as well as the bedroom, and by nightfall they had carpet AND it was vacuumed, and Bagel had a dollar burning a hole in his pocket. He's kept the room clean every night for a week, and the kids are getting along better and helping each other tidy their rooms every evening.

This is good, but now he's obsessed with money. He wants to go to the store every day and spend his dollar. He wants to do extra jobs to earn extra money. He wants to save up for the kinds of toys Sonshine gets with his money (Sonshine is Room Captain of the study). He desperately wants that Holy Grail, the elusive $5 bill. He yelled at me yesterday because he kept asking me to set the exchange rate to four $1 bills for a $5 bill and I kept telling him the exchange rate wasn't in my power to fix. He spends all his time scheming how he can get more money.

I don't know if I like this new obsession. At least most of what Sonshine got obsessed with, we could check out of the library. This is costing me a pretty penny. However, it is getting me two rooms of the house with Lego-free vacuumed carpet for less than I'd have to pay a cleaning lady, and the kids are getting along better to boot.