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Brussels sprouts and liver are incentives

Jane Stebbins

Our daughter, like daughters the world over, is a complete slob, which explains why she often heads off to school wearing purple-striped pajama pants and a bright red sweater, complemented with a red and a blue sock and her cross-country ski boots.

She sheds clothing like a dog sheds fur – and it ends up everywhere in the house. Once, I found a sock flapping in the wind on the ceiling fan. Another time, her underwear was hanging from a corner of the mirror.

We used to have an incentive for her to clean her room: an allowance. Granted, it wasn’t the $40 a month most of her friends received, but we figured $2 a week was fair. But soon, even that proved to be too much for us. I never carry cash, and my husband doesn’t make enough of it. So the allowance fell by the wayside.

As did the cleaning of her room.

Being the kind of girl she is, she loves fanciful little-girl stuff. Nail polish, hair ties, necklaces, rings, tiaras – even a grass hula skirt – and these items are spread liberally on the floor of her bedroom. On top of that is a thick layer of clothing, some of which she’s actually worn for a complete hour. Often, there is soured milk in a glass somewhere, and a cookie that crumbled beneath the innocent footfall of someone daring enough to enter the room. On top of that are books, overdue homework, makeup, artwork, photos, birthday cards and more clothes. Hangars look like skeletons in the closet.

It doesn’t matter much to me; that’s why they invented doors. But it matters to our old cat, Bob, who is having trouble walking. He can’t make his way upstairs any more, which leaves him with the choice of the living room (too many people; not enough seats) the kitchen (hard, cold floor), the bathroom (why?) or our daughter’s room. So every day after we carry him to the kitchen to eat, we watch him negotiate his way back to her room. There he encounters piles of clothing – some of which predates George Bush Sr.’s administration – the occasional fork, the slippery clarinet case and reams of paper.

She really should clean her room. But since we don’t have the means to provide an incentive anymore, we’ve decided to go the punitive route.

“Take away some of her privileges,” a co-worker suggested. “Don’t let her have dessert.”

We don’t eat dessert in our family, I said. We’re lucky to have meals.

“Timeout?”

She goes to her room, happy as a clam, and reads.

“Make her do the dishes.”

She already does – willingly.

“Don’t let her watch TV.”

What little she watches is all that educational stuff most parents can’t cram down their kids’ throats. The History Channel. Animal Planet. We’ve got to come up with something different.

We thought about the rack. Or the contraption that pinches your thumb. Or making her lie on a bed of nails. We could tie her wrists behind her back, hang her up from a tall tree and drop her, one foot at a time, to the ground. Jerk, jerk, jerk. We could put her in the stocks and throw dirty clothes at her. (NOTICE TO SOCIAL SERVICES OFFICIALS: Just kidding! We would never put our daughter in the stocks! She’d find some way to enjoy the time outdoors!)

So we’ve come up with the ultimate punishment: Asparagus, rutabaga and Brussels sprouts. And liver. Yeah, liver.

We’ll see that floor again in no time.

Jane Stebbins is a reporter for the Summit Daily News.


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