Like lots of moms, I struggle in the summer with setting limits on video game time. My boys would happily spend their entire vacation with Mario and Lego Indiana Jones.
“Time's up!” I holler downstairs. I’m not surprised when ten minutes later I descend to find them still roaming the galaxy.
“Turn it off. I mean it!” But no one is listening to me. Completely exasperated, I flick off the TV and turn on my Commander Mom voice:
“You’ve. Been. Sentenced.”
Eyes glazed over from too much game time now register a look of horror. Then the wailing begins.
"I just wanted to finish this level."
"John gets to play all day if he wants to."
"You never let us play."
I've heard it all before and I'm calloused. I pry the remotes from their hands. "You need exercise. Sunshine. Your brains are turning to mush."
“No Mom, this IS exercise,” insists my seven-year-old, completely serious. He wiggles his fingers for me. “Look how fast and strong they are!”
That does it. I’m the parent here, and I have to follow through on my threat. I drag them to opposite ends of the kitchen table and place pieces of paper and pencils in front of them. At the top I write “I will listen to my wise and wonderful mother.” Then I number from 1-10. “Don’t get up until you’re finished. And if I can’t read your sentences, you’ll have to write them again.”
A multi-tasker by necessity, I congratulate myself on providing discipline, penmanship practice, and brainwashing all at the same time. At first blush, I know this seems like a terrible idea. Who wants their kids to associate writing with punishment? But experience has shown me that if I get my kids to pick up a pencil for any reason, wonderful things sometimes happen.
I leave them sulking over their pages. I haven’t even finished unloading the dishwasher before I hear the giggling start. Glancing back, I see them sitting side-by-side now, scribbling in the margins. They are engaging in their own form of storytelling, drawing rockets and monsters and laser guns shooting down imaginary planets. They send me rebellious glances from time to time as they continue their conspiratorial creativity.
“Let’s not spend all day,” I say, egging them on.
It takes them two hours to finish their sentences, and by that time most of the paper in the notebook has been used up. They can’t wait to show me the intergalactic war that has just been waged by characters of their own creation. As budding storytellers, they have it all: setting, plot, and darn good sound effects.
I send them outside, and then tuck their pages in a special file. Someday after they’ve won a Pulitzer or the Newbery, I’ll want to remind them what a wise and wonderful mother they have.