Tuesday, August 4, 2015

On Gratitude and Kindness

"This is so beautiful, Mom."
I can't tell you how many times I heard this sentence while we were traveling.

As I mentioned before, it was hard to travel alone with three kids for three weeks. Really hard, and really long. However, every time one of my little loves would notice the beauty around them--the mountains, the rivers, the clouds, the art, the rain--my heart sang just a few notes. They became aware of cloud formations and rock formations. They noticed the temperature in a cave in South Dakota and at the top of a mountain in Wyoming. They admired bluebirds in Idaho and butterflies in Colorado. They developed appreciation for the beauty of God's world, and as I saw it through their eyes, my love for it all grew deeper as well.

The other sentence I heard repeatedly from my little ones:
"Thanks, Mom."

Again, two short words, uttered many times daily. "Thanks for bringing us, Mom." "Thanks for buying us dinner, Mom." "Thanks for letting us take extra time in the ball pit, Mom." "Thanks for letting us listen to more Harry Potter, Mom." "Thanks for getting me new shoes when I lost mine, Mom."

Over and over and over. Two words that could soften my heart in an instant, no matter what behavior they had been displaying just moments before. Their gratitude made me more aware of the kindnesses around us--and the unkindnesses, too.

The two were juxtaposed so clearly when we attended "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" in Jackson Hole. We arrived fifteen minutes before showtime, hoping to sit in the lobby and listen to the songs and melodrama the cast presents before the show. The lobby was already full, and a short line was forming outside the theatre. Kids had eaten Thai food for dinner (not their favorite, but I was happy about it), and they were a little rambunctious from behaving and restraining themselves at a nice restaurant. The line was short, and since the theatre is family oriented, the crowd was young and not quiet. My boys began poking each other and discussing Pokemon and ninjas and other boy things while Evie interjected occasionally. A mother and her preteen daughter stood just before us in line, and we mothers made eye contact and exchanged a quick smile. I thought everything was good, until I saw the mother pull her daughter a little closer to her, throw a sideways look at my kids, and whisper in her daughter's ear. The daughter then gave a dirty look at my kids and turned the other direction.  I must be imagining it, I thought.

I wasn't. After settling my kids into their seats, I took Evie out for one more quick bathroom break and to get popcorn. When we returned, our row was completely full, and I had to step over everyone to get to our seats. Who was seated in our row? Yes. That mom and her daughter. As Evie and I carefully made our way across the row, I heard the daughter say, "And of COURSE they have to be sitting in our row!"

What? Are you kidding me? I glanced at the mother, who quickly ducked her head and looked away. I really had heard correctly. And it took everything I had to avoid stomping her toes as I passed.

Thankfully, we were sitting six seats away and didn't have to endure their comments through the show. But I was seething. And a little embarrassed. I replayed our interactions with them in my mind. What had the kids done that had aggravated her so? Nothing that I could think of. Because of this one comment, I was hyper-vigilant of the kids' behavior during the show. If the boys were laughing too loudly, I reminded them to quiet down. If Eve got close to the seat in front of her, I quickly pulled her back. The lady in front of her kept turning around, and my anger was reaching a boiling point. Doesn't she know she's short and can't see the show? I mused.

Finally, it was intermission, and the kids had enjoyed the show even more than I had imagined. The boys left to go use the bathroom, and I was trying to decide if I was going to make a rude comment to the lady and her daughter in our row when I took Eve out for her turn to use the bathroom. Just as we were standing to leave, the lady in front of us turned around. Oh, great. I thought. Here it comes again.

"Can your little girl see the show? My son and I have been trying move out of her way whenever we can so that she can see. I hope we're not too tall for her."

And with that, my anger vanished. That's all it took. My retorts to the lady and her daughter disappeared. Isn't it amazing how quickly a few kind words can work like that? For the rest of the show, all I could see was my children's joy and the kindness of a complete stranger sitting in front of me.

During the rest of the trip, I was quick to notice kindnesses of strangers around me.

The man in the picture below was one of two exceptional volunteers we encountered at Mount Rushmore. He was a retired history teacher, and when he saw the kids using their own money to buy souvenirs, he stopped to talk to them and to give them free prints of the mountain.
It doesn't take extra time to be kind, I learned.

Traveling and constantly eating out with kids is exhausting. When Heidi, Sam, and I had all six of the kids at McDonald's for dinner, an older man with a twinkle in his eye and coffee in his hand watched as we wrestled kids, filled drinks, opened ketchup packets, and tried to keep the commotion to a minimum. As he got up to leave, he commented how he used to bring his kids to McDonald's when they were young. "If you can't train 'em at McDonald's, then where else can you go? In those days, we only could afford to take them out to dinner once a year."
After shopping at Wall Drug in South Dakota, the four of us hit Dairy Queen for lunch. It was a madhouse in there--not nearly enough staff or seats for all the customers there that day. As we were finishing our lunch, another older gentleman approached our table. "Are these your children?" When I answered yes, he continued. "It is nuts in here, and your kids are the best behaved ones. Thanks for that." After he left, I proudly told the kids what he'd said. Hyrum joked, "I try to be bad all day, and that guy is ruining my reputation!"

Not even two minutes later, the boys were waiting in line to use the bathroom when I rounded the corner to see Hyrum in Micah's headlock. Another man, not as impressed as the first, asked me if the boys were going to kill each other. "No. Just Hyrum preserving his reputation." Guess I can't win them all.

On more than one occasion while traveling, a child would slip their hand in mine and quietly tell me, "I love going places with my family." And for the most part, so did I. I explained our money system to a few people when they would see a child reluctantly hand me a dime, and when I was explaining it to my sisters--how they got $5 every day and they got to keep whatever was left, Hyrum piped in, "But keeping them all is nearly IMPOSSIBLE!"
All of these experiences made me more mindful of how I treated my children and how I reacted to others when we interacted. I tried to extend kindness even when faced with rudeness, and to my surprise, I found that most people I ran across were truly kind.

This world really is a good place to be.

Monday, August 3, 2015

On Dimes and Discipline

I was visiting my roommate Robin, sharing my plans for our trip. She traveled the country extensively with her two children when they were younger, and I thought she’d have good ideas of what sites couldn’t be missed. One small comment nestled into an hour-long conversation changed the trajectory of my approach to disciplining my children on our three-week journey. “When my kids were younger, I used to give them a roll of dimes every day and say this was their spending money for the day. Whatever they wanted to buy while we were gone, if they had the money, they could buy it. However, every time I needed to discipline them, I would ask them to give me a dime. You should try it.”

Questions flooded my mind. $5/day, every day? That’s a lot of money for little kids. Then I thought about it a little more. Over the course of 22 days, that would be $110 per kid. Think of all the gas station stops where they beg for Skittles. What if they want an ice cream cone? That’s a couple bucks. And there will be souvenir stops and cool things to buy all along the way. T shirts cost $15-20. . . . Hmmm.

I also had a flash of reality. My kids need a lot of correction every day. How would I determine what would cost a dime? I decided any infraction that required my intervention would cost them a dime—whining, complaining, fighting, disobeying. But then . . . They may not have any money to spend on the trip! Was I ready to enforce discipline to the point where they could potentially be penniless? I decided that I was.

How would they keep track of a zillion dimes? Wouldn’t that be a pain? Amazon had the perfect solution. 
I don’t know if you’ve noticed in all of the pictures I’ve already posted, but each of the kids wore their own fanny pack every day.  They were responsible for all of their own money, and if they ever forgot to clip it on when they got out of the car, I would not loan them money to buy anything. (They forgot their packs once or twice. I did, however, keep careful track of how many dimes they owed me if they didn't bring it with them.)

That was the start. After I received their fanny packs, I gathered everything I needed: small bills and rolls of dimes from the bank (if I were to do this again, I would only get two rolls per child), a zippered pouch to isolate the kids’ money from mine (I kept it in one of my handy drawers), a container to collect dimes, and determination to make this work.

(I love Heidi and Jonah in the background of this picture!)

How did it work?

Like magical fairy dust. I’m not kidding.

With great ceremony, I sat the three of them down, brand new fanny packs in hand. I explained the system we were going to use and the four of us agreed on the parameters.

The first day of driving (our longest at 11 hours), I received about $3 in dimes—from all three kids combined. From there on out, all it took from me to correct their behavior was to say, “I need a dime,” or hold out my hand. They would reluctantly unzip their pack and hand me a dime. If behavior continued, I quietly asked for another dime. Rarely would I have to ask for a second dime, and I can only remember two occasions where power struggles escalated to multiple requests to pay up (behavior finally stopped around $1.50).  Most days, each kid would lose between 5-10 dimes.
Aside from a quiet way to correct their behavior, there were a few other fantastic lessons learned from having their own money to manage on the trip.

They wanted to stop in every store and shop and gas station to see what they could buy with their money. It got old, but I let them look whenever they wanted to. They knew about how much money they had and would know if they could afford _____ or not. I didn’t have to listen to them beg and whine for me to buy things for them. They bought things they wanted (a couple of t shirts and random treats), and I interfered as little as possible. (In hindsight, I wish I’d let them have even more control over their decisions.)

My hope before the trip started was that the kids would use their money to buy one big souvenir from the trip that would bring back memories for a long time. Evie fell in love with a pair of cowboy boots in Jackson Hole. She tried them on and twirled in them and clomped in them, and then she looked at the price tag. $52.95. That is way more than I would ever spend on cowboy boots for a five year old. Micah helped her count her money, and she had just over $55. She could afford them, but would she want to be without any money at all for the rest of the day (she had to keep 5 dimes at all times), and then have to wait to buy anything else? She decided she wanted the boots more than anything else in the world, and she bought them (I didn’t tell her that I covered the additional few dollars of tax—shh.)

She wore those boots EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. the rest of the trip. She never once regretted buying them, and she absolutely loves them. Lesson learned—let them choose what they love, even if you would never buy it for them.

Micah’s focus on this trip was getting to Mount Rushmore, and he wanted to BUY something at Mount Rushmore. He had about $60 at this point, because he’d been saving his money, but he couldn’t make himself spend $40 on a small stone replica of the mountain because it cost too much. When we were nearing the end of the trip and he had $50 or so left, he asked what I was going to do with the money when we got home. I told him it was his, and he decided he wanted to keep it and buy Nike Elite socks for school, because I would never do that. Lesson learned—weighing options and knowing the worth of even a dime extends past what's in front of you right now.

Hyrum’s money would always burn a hole in his pocket. He wanted to buy at least something everywhere we stopped. He bought three stuffed animals (named Wolfy, Foxy, and Hooty—see if you can guess what he got), and wanted arrowheads, marbles, anything and everything. While waiting for the train in Durango, he used his last $13 to buy a pair of binoculars. On the bus ride up, Eve kept asking to look through them. Every time she did, it cost her a dime. About halfway through the bus ride, Hyrum turned to me and said, “I now know what Dad means by you need to spend money to make money.” 

That would have been enough of a lesson learned there, but it got better. While in Silverton, Hyrum was burdened with the binoculars and an empty fanny pack. While Micah and Eve had the freedom to entertain choices of what to buy, Hyrum couldn’t buy anything. And it almost killed him. On more than one occasion, he tried to pawn his binoculars off—“Will you buy them for $9? $5?” He was stuck with his decision, which was especially painful when Micah bought a really cool wood sword. Lesson learned—the pain that comes from spending without considering what may be ahead.

I was afraid that the dime threat wouldn’t work very well on our final day driving home, since there were no more stops and shops, but I told them when the day started that if their seat area was clean when we got in the garage at home, they could earn a bonus $5, but the key is that I wouldn’t remind them even one more time. It worked well. Two earned it. Two didn’t. Win in my book.
Hyrum helping Evie with the bracelet she bought.

My only regret with this system is that I wish I could find a way to implement it daily at home and not have it break me. It was fantastic. It was quiet. It was easy. It gave them control over what they brought home, and I didn’t calculate it all up, but I bet it ended up costing me less in the long run. And now—Eve has great boots (I’m such a proud mama), Micah has cool socks for school and a frame for his Mount Rushmore picture, and Hyrum has a menagerie of stuffed animals to look at through his binoculars.

I would do this again on an extended trip.

Thanks, Robin. It was genius.