Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Losing Our Marbles

Over the winter, Regina and I noticed our kids had blue faces.  It certainly wasn't from the cold -- we couldn't get them to go outside -- it was the light from their tablets, glowing softly on their angelic faces.  So, in an effort to get them breathing fresh air, Regina came up with Marbles.  Not to play, although that would have been an improvement, but as a reward system.  Essentially, the kids earned a marble for completing different chores, and each marble was worth ten minutes of screen time.  For example, if Dylan went outside and shot twenty arrows, she could go inside, collect a marble, and shoot a thousand virtual arrows.  Sound a little hypocritical?  You bet it is, but it also worked.  Sort of.

Dylan treated it like a new, fun game where her goal was to collect as many marbles as possible.  She currently has enough in her jar to watch all ten hours of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and probably have a few marbles left over to catch the first three hours of Titanic.  She saves marbles like they're her personal IRA and she really wants that sweet condo in Boca Raton.  Grady, on the other hand, takes the "If You Got It, Spend It" attitude.  He earns a marble, plucks it from his jar almost immediately, and sits down to ten minutes of The Lego Movie.  He watched the movie, in short chunks, over the course of four months.

Their enthusiasm, and ours, wore off pretty quickly.  The jars of marbles are still around, I know because I knock one over about once a week, but they're no longer a viable form of kid-currency.  But, an amazing thing happened -- when they realized they couldn't play Minecraft (Dylan), or snap a thousand photographs of, say, your shoe (Grady), they started to drift toward their bookshelves and pretty soon they were asking for more time to read, or another trip to the library.  Granted, they've always loved reading (Brag alert: Dylan leads her class in AR points by double), but now they burn through books like ISIS in a Salman Rushdie library.

Did the marbles work?  Absolutely not.  We're back to reminding the kids that their pets need to eat everydamnday and that, yes, they should do their homework before dinner.  But the fact that the local libraries email regularly to inform us of their overdue books, and that I'll probably break a hip one day from slipping on an errant marble, is only a small problem.  I'm calling Marbles, whether they horde or spend, spill or rattle around the dryer, nearly a win.