Kid behaviors like fighting, whining, BackTalk (TM my Dad) and neglecting chores clamor for my husband and my attention on a loop.
Too often we fail to recognize all the positive steps and good decisions our boys make. Thanks to an idea from my therapist mom, years ago we began using a tip jar as an incentive for our kids, and a reminder for ourselves to acknowledge their progress.
The tip jar
Caring gestures, good attitudes, generosity, cooperation– any and all of it earns a poker chip in the jar. When they fill the jar (only one jar, as a collaborative effort) they get a small gift. No one ever loses chips. Poor choices might gain other consequences, but they don’t undo better choices already made.
Dirty kitchen, no coffee (pray)
Typically my husband makes sure the boys clean the kitchen and he sets the coffee. Almost always. This morning I woke up to a dirty kitchen and no coffee. Sit with me in that for a moment. Go ahead and grab your rosary.
When the kids were tiny and he traveled constantly, this situation sent me sailing upon the seven hundred seas of resentment. At the time, a clean kitchen and hot coffee served as a tangible clean slate, giving me at least the illusion of control for a brief moment before the grand daily display of diaper explosions, cat accidents, constant spills and meltdowns.
That life lies years in the past. That super fun hair trigger remains. Only today, I own 2.5 more ounces of patience, 105 more ounces sleep, and therefore the wherewithal to make my own better choices. Chip-worthy choices!
So when I told the kids I would not be cooking any more meals–ever again in their youth– if I had to wake up to a kitchen like this, I did so calmly and with conviction. I then made my own damned coffee and went to collect myself on my
fainting couch bed with my smelling salts phone.
By some force of sorcery, my 12 year old claimed his turn to do the dishes. Next, he DID THE DISHES. My 15 year old even chipped in. No complaints, no curses, no nut-jabs.
Not only did I put a chip in the jar, I made downright jubilant pancakes for everyone. I shared with them the lesson I learned as a waitress; the way one handles a problem can deepen a relationship and make the whole interaction better than had a problem never occurred in the first place. They bowed in appreciation of my wisdom as they always do– with earbuds and over the nearest electronic device.
A tip jar for me
Now, I see. I need a chip jar for myself. Yes, for this rare time I didn’t jump into my role of Captain Resentful, Haggard Queen of The Consequence, but also for all the brave steps and good choices I make and don’t recognize as a mom, creative professional, and recovering perfectionist.
This morning I’m giving myself some overdue chips:
- for all the nudging and coaching these kids that made this morning’s miracle possible
- for doing my first audition in twenty years (gak!) and a call-back (double gak!) for an old lady part (GAKITTY GAK GAAAAAK)
- for showing up to learn and memorize and occasionally create material– and for putting myself out there for the consumption of others as a performer speaker and writer
- for trying a little less hard to make everyone else happy, and measure up to a bar I seem to continually raise for myself
- for placing my hand on my heart as a daily meditation to actually believe that me being myself–as I already am–is enough
- for braving an earnest process to love who I am over what I do
- for continuing to bring love light and support to my loved ones, my community, and our world as an act of hopeful resistance
Today, these words serve as my poker chips. I might need an actual tip jar for myself with actual chips. Maybe you do, too.