Because we are not savages: assigning chores and an allowance

About six months ago I started giving Ian an allowance. It actually has saved me money in that he stopped begging me to buy him things at Target, Toys R Us, and online. My answer was always, "You have money now. Save for what you want to buy." 

Every Monday, Ian gets $1 for every year he is old. $5 of those dollars goes into a spending account and then $1 goes into savings and $1 goes into a charity account for him to decide what he wants to do. If you're looking for a great way to keep track of all that stuff, I highly recommend FamZoo. There are many weeks I would have totally forgotten to pay him otherwise.

I had some general things around the house that I wanted him to help me with but there wasn't a check list or a chore chart anywhere. I kinda felt like there are just some things that he needed to do in order to keep the house going. Honestly, I've not had the bandwidth for coming up with some sort of chore system until now.

The last few days I've been pondering how to modify this plan. Since Ian has a lady friend he's taking out for taco burritos* and sodas, he wants to have more money in his wallet. I can respect that. This also means, however, that he's been hounding me the last few days for jobs at home that will earn him money. 

I am in uncharted territory when it comes to all this stuff as I never had an allowance, or a bedtime, or chores, or a curfew, or ... I was raised by wolves. Wonderful, amazing, loving, wolves. 

I started with three levels of expectations. The first section is: Because We Are Not Savages. These are things that you just need to do to separate yourself from dogs. They include:

  • Put on clean clothes
  • Brush your teeth
  • Clean your body
  • Make your bed
  • Put dirty clothes in the hamper
  • Make good choices about food
  • Help prepare meals
  • Clean up after eating 
  • Put dirty dishes in the sink
  • Do your homework 
  • Reduce needless noise in the home (turn off the damn TV!)
  • Listen generously
  • Help bring groceries into the house
  • Put things back when you're done
  • Leave things better than you found them

The "payment" for those things is getting to sleep in a bed, kisses on the head, and moving along the path of becoming a kind, clever, upstanding member of society. Congratulations.

All the essentials on our fridge. 

All the essentials on our fridge. 

The next level includes the things that earn him his base salary of $5 a week. They include:

  • Feed the pets & refill the water bowl daily
  • Clean up toys in your room daily
  • Empty the small trash cans around the house on the night before trash day
  • Bring the empty trash cans in from the curb after trash day
  • Put away your laundry
  • Sweep the kitchen floor
  • Sweep the front porch
  • Sweep the bathroom floors
  • Clean bathroom sinks & mirrors
  • Vacuum downstairs (we have a cordless Dyson that is seven-year-old friendly)
  • Dust the shelves (the dog hair levitates) 

None of those jobs are really a back-breaker. And they're all things that have to happen pretty regularly in order for the house to not look like a sty. If he only did those things and nothing else, I would be satisfied. But the boy wants to make some more money, so I added another level.

He is able to make up to another $10 by performing additional chores for money. Those are:

  • Wipe down the outside of the kitchen trash can and the fridge handles ($0.50)
  • Empty the four litter boxes ($1 each, up to twice a week)
  • Scrub toilets and wipe them down ($1 per toilet, once a week)
  • Wipe down the leather living room furniture ($1, once per week)
  • Wipe down the stove ($0.25 each day)
  • Wipe down the kitchen counters ($0.25 each day)

Shrop felt like the chores involving poop should have a higher pay rate, but I'm gonna see if Ian protests. It's not like anybody was paying me anything to clean cat boxes and there are a lot of cat boxes in this joint. 

And finally, my favorite job. I added a Bonus Adventure Assignment. If Ian chooses to go on an unsupervised adventure of at least 30 minutes and reports on his findings, he earns $3! This adventure can not happen on our street (if I can still hear you playing, you're not adventuring). The report must be written before payment can be received. Photos and video are encouraged. 

The iPhone allows me to stalk my kid's location using Find Friends while still giving him freedom.

The iPhone allows me to stalk my kid's location using Find Friends while still giving him freedom.

Yes, $3 is a lot. But when we got to that section of the document, Ian FLEW off of the sofa, grabbed his phone and his Stryker bag, and was off to the school playground! He was gone for an hour. He called to tell me he finished his report, he called again when he got to our driveway, and he raced straight to the couch to share it with me.

After collecting his $3, he went back to the chart. He swept the front porch, hunted for things to put away in his room, fed the dogs, and swept the kitchen. He just kept saying, "I like helping out around the house, Mommy." I could see him taking pride in what he was doing. 

He took a bath while I read him the next chapter of Harry Potter and then he was out like a light. This anxious, nervous, wayward kid without a rudder just smiled and said, "good night, Mommy." I would pay a lot more than $3 to see this change in him.

Shrop has a theory that kids crave structure. I knew that academically but I wasn't sure how I wanted to implement things in our home. I was also concerned about turning our house into a boot camp or my kid into some asshole who wouldn't be decent unless he was paid to do so. I had a lot of worries (he comes by it honest). It seems Shrop's theory is proving sound so far.

After his reasonable run in with the cops this weekend and his obvious delight today, I'm feeling better about all of this. And so is Ian.

Adventure report filed. $3 in hand! He gave himself an 8/10 score because of his handwriting.

Adventure report filed. $3 in hand! He gave himself an 8/10 score because of his handwriting.

* I love listening to kids explain things. When Ian and Maylee returned from Taco Bell they talked about what a great deal the taco burrito was "because it's actually a taco *and* a burrito so you get two things in the same paper for $1.59 and that's a real bargain."

Between effort and ease

I mentioned before that Ian has been somewhat attached to me since his father died. He also is not a fan of being alone in the house (like if I walk to a neighbor's house or leave for work five minutes before he leaves for school). It's understandable given all that's happened, but I do feel like I have to peel him off of me at times. It also keeps him from getting out into the world/neighborhood because of his own fear.

We spent Friday night at Shrop's house in the beautiful L&J Gardens neighborhood. Ian wanted to make more progress in Harry Potter before bed. We were in Chapter Nine where Malfoy challenges Harry to a midnight duel. The children were sneaking to the trophy room when they discovered Neville, curled up outside the door to their common room. Neville couldn't remember the password to get in so was stuck out in the hall alone. 

Ian immediately commented that he felt bad for Neville. After a few more sentences, Ian's face went sour and he said that if he were Neville, he would have been scared and felt awful to be all alone too. A few more sentences and he was sobbing, begging me to stop reading. I assured him Neville was with his friends now and fine and we could keep going but he was not having it. We closed the book and I sang him a song until he fell asleep with tear-stained cheeks. 

Ian slept poorly all night, waking up repeatedly to tell me that he was scared and needed me. I also slept poorly because of all this. Saturday morning came way too soon and we decided to drive around the corner to our favorite local diner Rooster's for breakfast. The day was looking up at this point. I commented that I was going to my yoga class and that even if I had to rush off and leave, Ian and Shrop could walk home, it was so close. I did give them a ride home before heading to the Jewish Community Center for my dose of namaste. 

I returned refreshed and found Ian was playing outside with Maylee, a girl only a few months older than him from the neighborhood. They were doing really well and virtually self-sufficient. I spent the morning in the driveway with Shrop, helping him align his Jeep and trade out the risers on his motorcycle handlebars. It was as if we were childless. 

A little after noon, I decided to get some groceries, figuring the children would get hungry soon. As I left, Ian and Maylee had declared they were going to go on an adventure, perhaps as far as the lake a few hundred yards away. Ok, great. 

They had several false starts as they ruminated over what essential items had to come with them on this adventure. Ian ended up carrying not only his father's shoulder bag but his overnight bag full of God knows what. I shook my head as they walked away, noting that he looked like he was heading for a weekend adventure versus a lunchtime one. Whatever, kid. 

When I returned from the grocery store, Shrop informed me that the children planned on going to the fishing store which is next door to Rooster's for their adventure. Shrop was on the fence about that being a reasonable place for them to walk to, but was damned if he was going to show any concern after Ian's hesitation to be out of our sight for more than a minute. Ian was pumped about this adventure and Shrop sure as hell wasn't going to stop him. 

I sat and had my lunch with Shrop at the house. After an hour, I noted that the kids weren't back yet, but I wasn't concerned. Not 10 minutes later, my phone rang from an unknown caller ID. I clicked ignore, assuming it was a robo call. Two minutes later, it called again and I decided to answer it. 

It was Officer Hatch of Virginia Beach police. He wanted to know if my son and daughter were lost. I told him no, they were roaming the neighborhood. He said, "Well, they're up here at Rooster's and the manager was concerned they may be lost so she called us."

"Are they being a bother?"
"No, they're totally fine. She just reported two kids about 7 and 9 who looked lost. If you claim them and you're fine with them being here I'm fine with that too. Like I said, I'm just checking in because the manager was concerned."
"Ah, well, I appreciate it but we're actually happy they ventured that far. We're about half a mile away in L&J Gardens. If they're acting up, you can send them home."
"Nope, they're good. I appreciate your time, ma'am."

I always wondered when I would get a call from the cops about my kid. I figured it was only a matter of time, I just thought I had a few more years until he was at least double digit age. 

As I hung up, Shrop called Rooster's to talk to the manager. "Hi, this is Shrop. I'm the black guy on the Harley that's there all the time. Our kids are up there. Are they acting right?"

The manager said the kids were acting just fine but she was just concerned because they didn't have an adult with them and they looked lost. I later realized that since Ian literally had two overnight bags with him, he did look a little homeless. She apologized for bothering us and said the kids were very polite. She had fed them grilled cheese and fries for no charge but the kids decided to take them to go. Shrop said they would most likely be back again another day and they should be expected to pay for their food and tip the server. 

About 30 minutes later, I noticed Ian and Maylee coming back down the street with doggie bags in hand. They turned towards Maylee's house and I left them alone. 

Once they did come back to the house we pieced together the rest of the story. They had gone to the fishing store and Ian had bought Maylee a Pepsi with the money from his wallet. After she drank that, they decided to rest and cool off before walking back. They went into Rooster's (where Ian had been not four hours earlier) and ordered two waters.

The manager asked them if they were hungry and wanted grilled cheese and fries. They accepted. I mean, it would be rude not to, and it was lunch time. This would also save them the trouble of walking home for me to make them sandwiches. That's when the cop showed up and asked them where they lived and if Ian could call his mom. Ian said his tablet didn't have wifi so he couldn't FaceTime me, but he did know my number for the cop to call. And that's how I got the phone call. 

Ian was concerned I would have been mad the cops called me but we were all fine. I'm so grateful that the cop was reasonable and didn't give either my kid or me a hard time. And I'm perfectly happy that the Rooster's staff wanted to make sure my pack mule child was not actually trying to run away from home. 

To add to their adventures today, I took Ian and Maylee with me to collect stones with Brigit and Reid behind the granite countertop building. We were filthy after that, covered in dust and grime. So of course we all three headed to Chick-fil-a for dinner. There were more cops in line getting their own meals while we ate ours at a table. Maylee wondered if they would give us a hard time but figured that my presence made them safe. I told her that we were all dirty enough, the cops may actually think we all had run away from home, myself included. 

While I was at yoga this morning, the instructor repeated that we should all be "finding the point between effort and ease." We should be putting forth effort for the pose but not doing so much that our hearts were racing. She also reminded us that the point is different for each person on any given day. Yesterday, Ian couldn't even hear about a child being alone in a book. Today, he set off to buy a soda for his lady friend and ended up having a lovely chat with Virginia Beach police and a free lunch. 

I'm so grateful he found his point between effort and ease today when it came to being out of my sight. Tomorrow, they will have another adventure. Maylee's suggestion was to go deliver a tip for their server from today. 

Ian and Maylee digging through the trash at the end of an exciting day.

Ian and Maylee digging through the trash at the end of an exciting day.

Single parent status

Hey gang, checking in.

Ian is now registered for summer camp at Norfolk Academy (space camp, chess/3D printing camp, soccer, and swimming every afternoon) for June and July. He's also registered at the Jewish Community Center for camp in August (also with swimming twice a day). I was able to pay those in full (which included a discount for doing so) because of your generous donations.

Ian is seeing a counselor every other week, at his request. So far that's going really well. We spent Spring Break in Tampa with friends where we played in the pool, saw wild animals, and went kayaking.

We celebrated Ian making A's honor roll last week for the third quarter. His certificate is on the fridge and he was delighted to see both Shrop and me in attendance. He also used his own money at the book fair last week to buy a journal *with a lock*, a Minecraft book, and a giant 15" long pencil. We're back to reading Harry Potter again before bed. He just met Professor Snape in the potions class. 

He's spending the afternoons with my parents down the street as he's not very comfortable with the house being empty now. We just got two kayaks with a lightweight trailer and have already been on the water a few miles from home. As my mom said, we're not letting grass grow under our feet.

Once I finally got an appointment, the Social Security office visit was painless. Direct deposit for Ian's death benefit is already set up and will start June 1. I must say having that behind me is a relief.

I'm not sleeping 10-12 hours a day anymore, which is a welcome change. I am back on the wagon of getting massages regularly so that I can turn my head to the left *and* the right. And I can't rave enough about my witch doctor (chiropractor and applied kinesiologist) for clearing up my head, my muscles, and my heart. Anyone local to Tidewater should go to Applied Health Chiropractic and make an appointment with Dr. C. Honestly, it's worth a long drive or a flight to see her. 

I'm doing a keto (high fat low carb) diet to manage my anxiety and my blood sugars and that is working well right now. I put heavy whipping cream in my coffee, I buy eggs from Costco in five dozen packages, there are three different types of shredded cheese in my fridge, and I cook lamb at least once a week. I do miss sweet potatoes but not bread. (I may have an occasional small sweet potato.)

Shrop has finished his senior project as of last week and will graduate this spring with a mechanical engineering degree (in addition to his previous BS in Psych and MBA). Commencement is May 6th and we're celebrating with friends. Shortly after that, he leaves for Mount Everest for two and a half weeks where he will hike 38 miles to base camp (and the same 38 miles back down) with his besties. I'm excited for him and very happy that I'm not also going on that adventure right now. 

I'm pleased to say that I'm doing better than just surviving. I'm thriving. When I went to renew our membership at the JCC so Ian could go to camp (and I can lift weights and do yoga) the front desk attendant's computer blurted out the first six notes of the "Always Sunny in Philadelphia" theme song as he accidentally clicked on a link someone sent him. I had assumed hearing that song after it played in our living room non-stop for a year would make me cringe, but I actually smiled. I checked the box on the form for "single parent" and will assume that song was Rich's participation in the whole process. 

Hammock season has begun

Hammock season has begun