Oh! The Things Our Kids Learn at School!

Over the next few weeks, I'll writing a small, hopefully funny series regarding the challenges of having a child who is starting kindergarten. For those of you with older children, please chime in and comment with any advice or encouragement for us, the parents of new kindergarteners. For those of you with younger children-- well, snicker away friends, your time will come too...mwah ha ha! 

Yesterday afternoon was a pleasant one. The walk home from school was delightful;  we were approached by friendly cats and Kiddo polished off his requested seaweed snack quite quickly and happily. The rest of the afternoon was a dance which required both mental presence and thoughtful observation, knowing when to noodge Kiddo onward a little more and knowing when to pull back, reconnect, and then to start again. Homework got done, I folded laundry  while we watched a documentary on the Afro-Cuban All Stars out of the corners of our eyes; Kiddo sat at his table, cutting, taping and creating with some old greeting card boxes. He wanted to make a 'flying urinal' and asked me how to do this; I answered this request with a shrug and tried not to visualize the true atrocity of this idea in real life.  Sometimes, it's a good thing not to take their every idea too, too seriously.

This morning, amidst some complaining, Kiddo asked me why he had to go to school and 'do so much stuff' that he doesn't always enjoy. I reminded him that we do this now because we are learning to be responsible for ourselves. We go to school so we can learn because one day, he will want to have a job and his own family. "If you do not learn these things, it will be very hard for you as a grown-up, when you want to be able to take care of yourself well."  In any case, we made it to school on time,  put the coat in the backpack and the pack in the locker and then...

... and then, I found a challenge to my family values, right there at my son's place at the Oval Table. There, in the form of an early reading magazine called "Tessy And Tab", which focuses on two animal kids, a duck named Tessy and a kangaroo named Tab, was a message which could potentially confound the good values I am trying to teach.  I am long familiar with this inter-species family and have no problems with it for the most part....

But today, today-- Tessy and Tab were about to teach my child some seriously bad shit. Today, "Tessy and Tab Earn Allowance" flew right in the face of the family values which we have at home. 

First of all, the fact that Tessy and Tab earn an allowance in and of itself is not a bad thing. It was how they earned the allowance which bothered me. If you can read, and if you care to look at details, you see that every time Tessy or Tab do a task, they check it off on a job chart, which also assigns a monetary amount for the task. The problem for me is that the jobs Tessy and Tab are getting paid to do are things  which they should be expected to do anyway, because they are being raised with self-respect and dignity. We watch as Tessy brushes her teeth and 'earns' a whole freakin' quarter for this.  Tab puts on his pajamas-- such a strenuous, hard task!-- and 'earns' a quarter for clothing himself before bed. At the end of a week of cleaning up their rooms and dressing themselves and doing things which usually fall into the category of 'reasonable expectations for care of one's self and one's space' , Tessy and Tab get $6 and $5.75, respectively. 

I had to wonder what the going rate for eating breakfast and bothering to breathe was for that family. Holy crap.

Needless to say, by the time I was done reading the mini-magazine, I wanted to spit. Here's Kiddo, who gets one whopping dollar a week of allowance so he can learn how to be responsible with money. It isn't connected to completing his responsibilities; those have natural, not financial, consequences, and he can do 'extras' for more money... and now, the duck and the kangaroo are introducing the idea that in some families, the basics are 'extra'. Considering Kiddo earned 'extra' money last weekend by vacuuming the bathroom (worth every one of those twenty-five cents in my book!), Tessy and Tab are making me look bad. "Tab has saved up $57".  Well, that's because Tab has learned how to save, but that's not mentioned. Instead, Kiddo sees that Tab has lots of money and he gets paid for doing the expected, not for going above and beyond. 

I am sure other families follow the Tessy and Tab method of allowance. And I won't quibble with that, really. That's their deal. We thought long and hard about why we do allowance the way we do, and I don't feel threatened by the fact that someone else is doing it differently.

But for Kiddo, let's face it: either the story went in one ear and out the other, or it's going to be a little like hearing that the other kids get donuts with syrup on them for breakfast when he's being served oatmeal. Perhaps I'm going off on a tangent here, but I think we as (perhaps too-touchy-feely parents?) are beginning to normalize some ideas which really aren't normal or usual. Can you imagine a farm kid in the 1940s asking Pa how much he's going to get paid for milking the cows? Pshaw! I can't begin to imagine, even a generation (or  two) ago, asking my parents 'what will you give me' for brushing my teeth, and I know in a heartbeat exactly what the response would be:

"Nothing. But if you don't do it, you can get a spanking." 

So perhaps we as American parents have gotten a bit off track, no sticks now, but waaaay too many carrots. I don't mind offering Kiddo 'extras', jobs he can do to earn extra money. I think it's great if he wants to go above and beyond. And this is exactly the problem I have with the thinking that contributing to one's own health and care and contribution to the family is 'extra'. It is not. If we were grading, doing this bare minimum would get you a "C" grade, maybe a "B" if your attitude was extra-helpful or a "D" if you made it misery for others. But the "A" requires more effort. It requires that you extend yourself a little bit more beyond the minimum and grow a little as a person. 

No wonder so many teachers have helicopter parents in their classrooms, demanding the child's grades be raised just for showing up. Sounds like they laid the groundwork for that one at home. 

Just one of many challenges to our family culture which I am sure will be coming at me in the years to come....and now I have to wonder what more lies in store for us.


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