Desire

September 20,2010
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

DSCF6119 We have a reward system in place at home, a variation of one we've had for some time now. This one involves glass beads, and an empty jar. I got the idea from T.'s first grade teacher, who uses a similar reward system in her class. When the glass jar is full of beads, the kids get a special treat: a popcorn party, for instance, or popsicles on the playground. We've used reward charts with T. in the past, with success. She's an easy kid to motivate, and she gets pleasure out of doing her household responsibilities, and seeing that chart, or the glass jar, fill up slowly but surely with sparkling beads. (We use a different reward system for L., so he won't have to see his jar sitting, sadly half-empty, for so much longer than T.'s jar.) The last time T.'s jar filled up, I took her to her favorite store and let her combine some of her own money with mine to buy a baby doll, the kind that's motion activated and makes little grunts and coos every time you touch it. She'd been coveting the doll for weeks and weeks. Every time we happened to be in her favorite store she'd linger by the shelf of dolls, setting them all off until the whole aisle was filled with artificial baby sounds. When she finally got her hands on her own doll, she played with it the whole car ride home, and then for about thirty minutes at home, before she turned the doll's switch firmly to the "off" position, and buried it under another pile of doll and toys in her room. "I thought you wanted the doll," I said this weekend, when we were talking about what to do when her jar filled up again. She made a face. "I don't like the sounds it makes," she said. "I guess I made a bad choice." We talked for awhile about why she thought she'd made a bad choice. Sometimes my kids want things because wanting them is like having an itch, one that drives them crazy and needs to be scratched. L. has the worst time with this; he perseverates and perseverates on something he wants, or thinks he wants, until not owning this thing becomes completely unbearable to him. We haven't figured out the perfect way to help him when the "itch" strikes, because for him the desire for something becomes about much more than just wanting the thing; it's about control, and about giving his mind something to work around, and around, and around, like a car stuck on the same impossible, but oddly comforting, track. On Sunday we were in the car together, the three of us (Scott was out-of-town this weekend), and L. was talking about computers--where he could get one, and how he could get one, and T. piped up with this comment: "Sometimes you want something, but you really don't WANT it," she told L. "You just think you do." He wasn't convinced, and told her so in no uncertain terms. But I felt happy inside that my kids were talking about this together, and that T. was learning, in her own way, about all of this; I felt proud of my big little girl, who is often so astonishingly wise for her years. ************ One of the bonuses of the glass jar reward system is that it's easy to find jars and jars of glass beads at thrift stores, or on sale at craft shops. Not only can you use the beads to fill reward jars (set on a window sill they look oh so much more pleasing than a reward chart tacked to the wall), but you can invite your neighbor/friend and her two kids over to make stepping stones. We found the kits for just $4/piece at a discount store, much less expensive than other mosaic stepping stone kits. These didn't come with the glass beads for the patterns, but the kids had the best time using our own beads, leftover sea shells from summer trips, dried macaroni noodles, and sequins to decorate their stones. DSCF6127 DSCF6125 T.'s stone--like T. herself, come to think of it, reminds me of the sand by the edge of the sea, after a wave comes in and pulls out again, leaving a wake of unexpected treasures at your feet.