Last summer, a highly anticipated birthday part at the pool was canceled. My husband, stranded with two volatile terrorists under six, did what any rational parent in his situation would: He diffused the situation with ice cream. They arrived home, an hour earlier than expected, in dry bathing suits but boasting sticky cheeks. “We went to Charmingtons!” they said, referring to the hipster $6/cone store one neighborhood over. My husband congratulated himself on the quick save.
And then, a week later, it happened again. This time, lightning closed the pool right as they were arriving. Meltdowns were imminent. Again, they returned home smacking the dried strawberry ice cream from their lips. This time, I rolled my eyes. Seriously? Again with the ice cream? I pictured my daughters two decades in the future, nursing a break up with a bottomless gallon of Breyers.
A month ago, I was excited when my husband struck up the idea to have a reward chart for good bedtime and wakeup behavior, since our children are generally horrible human beings at those times of day…And then I realized this was, in fact, a ‘Charmery checkmark’ system, which, if earned, was essentially institutionalizing a weekly trip to the ice cream shop. At this point, I secretly wondered if my husband himself had some weird childhood associations with ice cream. (Or there was a particularly pretty ice cream scooper at this place that I should be worried about.)
But then, earlier today, when my daughter ‘graduated’ from Kindergarten, I found myself brainstorming special treat destinations that all included chocolate. That’s when I realized, I’m actually just as bad. The other night, when my husband had to work late and I was bribing the kids to walk the dog with me? Potbelly milkshakes. Bored? We make chocolate chip banana bread. My kids are going to have juvenile diabetes or some deep-seated relationships with sweets if we don’t seriously change the formula here. Luckily, I stopped myself before making any suggestions out loud to the newly minted first-grader, and instead offered to walk with her to the bookstore to get a book. She was psyched, and instead of spending $6 on a cone, we spent it on a story.
Last night, instead of a Charmery check marks, my husband offered our four-year-old a Frozen sticker if she successfully brushed her teeth and went to the bathroom without ruining everyone else’s night. This morning, it was all she could talk about. Tonight, she was going to have TWO Frozen stickers. SUCCESS! I couldn’t believe that some tiny sticker could rival the Great Ice Cream Incentive. I was pretty proud of our parenting that we’d found a non-caloric alternative to rewards. (Until I found out that enough stickers get them a slurpee at 7eleven.) Oh well, at least it’s not the Charmery. Baby steps…