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i called my family to the dinner table on a saturday afternoon. once assembled i told them—the children—that the consumptive model we've been living until now had to change. i elaborated saying that thus far they have largely been consumers in our home; taking time from amazing computers and scrumptious food from a bottomless fridge and clean, folded clothes from their magical, re-populating drawers and an infinite supply of clean, heated water from our shower, and on and on and on. i explained that starting now they would have to begin giving back to the home that has materially loved them so unconditionally. i explained that starting this weekend, and subsequent weekends, we would have a thirty minute improvement window. during this thirty minutes everyone had to find something to make better in the house. they get to choose what to make better--they can pick up their room, straighten a bookshelf, clean their bike--i didn't care, it just had to be something, something demonstrable, that made our home more organized or better off than when the thirty minutes began.

to this i shouldered the usual sorts of feedback like i'm going to make the air better by breathing slower (anthony, 6) or i'll sit quiet and not make any noise thus reducing noise pollution (alex, 10). i explained that their improvement had to be visually apparent as determined by myself or their mother. i saw their creative minds continue to scan the horizon for possible loopholes but they're bright enough to save subsequent ploys for the first real "improvement" session.

then, i said that the spirit of this new model dealt with more than just messy rooms and bookshelves. i told them how bella had asked for us to go to ted drewes, a local ice creamery, this weekend and i think that's a fine idea but before deciding wether or not we'll go, i had a test for them to take. here i passed out sheets of paper and pencils to the table. once situated, i said if two of four of them could answer the following question, we would go to ted drewes. eyes brightened and pencils raised. in my best game show voice i said, "please write down the phrase as closely as possible that is taped to the bottom of the bathroom mirror."

back story. a year or two ago with a new label maker, i quietly printed and posted the following saying on the bottom of our bathroom mirror: LIFE HAS BUMPS. WHAT MATTERS IS HOW YOU RESPOND TO THOSE BUMPS. i never mentioned this addition nor did anyone ever bring its mysterious appearance up. it just materialized one day and has quietly existed in that highly focal bit of our home's real estate since.

a second after asking the question marty's head was down and writing. competitive as ever bella's hand was eager to scrawl something, anything, as well. alex who will not be rushed, even for an oreo concrete, more slowly and methodically began his writing. anthony took all of this in and then threw his arms in the air and said with frustration, "Dad! this isn't fair. i can't even read ... or write ... how am i supposed to do this? and now i can't get ice cream." unable to not laugh at his animated, and legitimate, claim, i told him his point was most valid and he was excused from the exercise. while he continued asking what 'excused' meant and how could he get ice cream and only the meanest fathers ask their children do things they don't know how to do for ice cream, the paper slips began getting tossed my way. i scanned the responses. i was partially prepared to hear things like: "what sticker?", "there's a prhase taped up in the bathroom? where at?". but all three of my writing players knew of it and penned enough to indicate they'd read it, even if we'd never previously talked about it.

i concluded the exercise by saying this day marked the end of our consumption-only lifestyle and now before we get, we have to give. anthony ended the family meeting by asking, frustrated as ever, "so do i get ice cream or don't i get ice cream?"




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