Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Kindness Challenge

We were five days into summer break and I was already sick of the squabbling. After listening to the girls nitpick against each other most of the day, I announced that we were done with this. It was going to be a long summer if all they did was snipe at each other all the time, and I wasn't going to have it.

"If you can't say something nice, you won't say anything at all," I told the three of them as we gathered around the kitchen island. "If the only nice thing you can say is, 'Oldest, I like the way you did your hair today,' then that's what you'll say. If that's the only nice thing you can say, then that's all you'll say." I gave them all hard stares. "If you can't say anything nice, my tape will help keep you from saying not-nice things."

The girls snickered.

"I'm not kidding," I continued. "If the only nice thing you can say is, 'Youngest, your shirt is cute,' then that's what you say. Furthermore, we're going to start a Kindness Challenge."

Their faces lit up.

"You may not nominate yourselves," I announced, watching their expressions fall. "When you see someone else doing something kind, you'll write it down and put it in the jar. For example, I can say that Youngest took the bread out of the bread machine for me without being asked, and that was kind."

"Are you and Dad gonna play? Can Special Edition?"

Special Edition was visiting at the time, and I knew she'd love this news. I grinned and answered the girls anyway. "Of course. It's for the whole family."

The girls really seemed excited, and Middle walked over to the homework station where we keep the Chromebook. "Can we use this pad of paper?"

A happy snowman smiled at us from the right corner. "That's mine, but sure, we can use that."

"Can we use that jar?" Middle pointed on top of the cupboard.

And so began our Kindness Challenge. I toyed with the idea of awarding dimes for every kindness, and filching them back for every meanness, but decided I didn't want kindness to be a currency. I wanted it to be its own reward.

Little folded slips of paper began appearing in the jar.

Well, where all this has been going is that today the squabbling reached a fever pitch again after Hubby went to work. I called them all up to the living room where I'd been folding laundry and talking to Waffle on the phone. "What's going on?" I asked, less interested in the answer and more interested in the next question I planned to ask. I let them spin out the answer and asked a couple of follow-ups just to justify bringing them up.

Then I jumped in. "Oldest, I would like you to tell me something you like about Youngest."

Oldest blinked at me, and then said, "Well, I like how she's creative..."

I stopped her. "That's good. But don't tell me. Tell your sister."

Oldest turned and relayed her compliment directly to the sister she has the most difficulty getting along with. "I really like how creative you are, and how you'll still try to play with me, even when I'm in a bad mood."

I had Oldest repeat the exercise with Middle, and then asked Middle to offer a compliment to Youngest in the same vein.

"I like your wild socks!"

Um, no. "Not something physical," I instructed. "Something deeper than that."

"Dad let us do that," Middle whined.

I gestured up and down along my torso. "Do I look like Dad?" Waffle snorted in my earbud.

Middle found a way to come up with genuine compliments for her sisters, and then it was Youngest's turn.

I studied them for a moment, trying to figure out my next step. "Oldest," I said, "I like your compassion. You care about things. Middle, I like your quick wit. It keeps me on my toes. Youngest, I like your desire to explore and learn. When you didn't know something, you looked to find it out." I looked at each of them. "Now, I want you to say something you like about yourselves."

Middle popped away from the wall. "I like my wordiness. I know lots of words." Her eyes narrowed at me. "But not more than you. I envy you."

I smothered a chuckle and said aside into the microphone on my earbuds, "You should have seen the look I just got."


"I've been talking to Waffle," I explained. "Go on."

With prompting, Youngest told us what she likes about herself.

"Oldest, what do you like about yourself?"


Well. "There's got to be something you like about yourself."

"Hey, Mom, what do you like about yourself?" Middle asked.

"I like my wordiness, too."

"Hey, somebody put your mom down for buying me tea!" Waffle shouted in my ear.

I relayed the message to the girls, and the twins took off giggling, chasing each other, trying to put in the paper slip first.

I chuckled and turned back to the more pressing problem of Oldest and her not having anything to like about herself. We had a good long talk about how other people's opinions shouldn't dictate whether she liked her eyes (which I love; they're the color of melted dark chocolate and they shine) or her skin color or her musical taste or whatever she likes about herself.

And both of the previous stories are really a setup for this one.

That long talk also included a ninja-level of reporting on the post-bedtime activities that were making all three girls sleep in so late (which I'd begun suspecting), so after I wrapped up my conversation with Oldest, promising to address the nocturnal misadventures she'd complained of, I went back to talking with Waffle, and I proceeded to set in motion my plan.

I figured the surest way to know what was happening in the room was to hear it, and I'd recently found the old intercom system we'd used as a baby monitor when the girls were teeny. After much crawling around under the loft beds, I positioned one intercom under Middle's loft bed and locked it in transmit position. I put the other under the loveseat where I usually sit in the living room.

Then I sent the cherubs to bed.

Middle has been using Special Edition's room since last Wednesday, when she had the heart catheterization procedure to get rid of her Wolff-Parkinson-White, because she still feels bruised at the groin and it's been easier to get in and out of Special Edition's bed than her own loft bed. I'd asked Middle to try her own bed tonight but didn't see her do it, so I was surprised to find her in Special Edition's room. Upon confrontation, she went up to her own room...but not her own bed.

Which I did not know.

I turned on the monitor, still talking to Waffle, mind you, because incidents had gone on so long, and then I heard funny sounds in the radio static from the intercom-monitor.


And then, Middle's voice.  "Who are you, strange person? Who's on the other side of this gadget?"

I could not believe it. I grabbed the intercom off the floor, jabbed the Talk button, and growled, "Get back into bed!"

"They found it already?" Waffle asked.

"Yes, they found it already." I hoofed it up the stairs to see what was going on.

Middle had decided she couldn't do her loft bed, and rather than coming down to Special Edition's room, which I'd told her she could stay in, she'd made a bed on the floor under her loft bed...and found the intercom and its glowing buttons.