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Eleven years ago today…

Eleven years ago today…

I walked out the front door to go to work an hour away, leaving behind my wife who had just entered early labor. Thinking that it was probably a false alarm, I told her to call me if anything changed. Right as I walked into the office, I got the call, and had to drive all the way back. By 6:30 that evening, I was a new father. Happiest day of my life.

Cecelia was born via emergency C-section. In the O.R., I had hunkered down at Louise’s head behind the sheet that obstructed our view of the operation. After a few minutes, the doctor announced that the baby was about to come out, and asked if I wanted to watch. I started to stand, but Louise, afraid I’d pass out, urged me to stay down. In the next half second I thought, “Are you kidding? I wouldn’t miss this for the world!”, and I stood up just in time to see her emerge. It was glorious.

And just in time for her birthday today, “Happy Birthday” is now in the public domain.

Cece Dollar Crisis

Cece Dollar Crisis

Screen time prices reach record heights.
Screen time prices reach record heights.

We face a serious economic crisis. Inflation runs rampant. Investor confidence in the future has dipped to all-time lows. The bankers have begun to demand austerity and greater discipline. The population stands on the brink of full-scale revolt.

No, I don’t refer to the Greek financial crisis. I speak instead about the Cece Dollar System we implemented almost two years ago. If you’re new to this and want to know more about the Cece dollar, click here.

As our friends know, our daughter spent a week at Girl Scout camp last week, which provided a much needed break for her parents and, we hoped, for her as well. Those who know us see us often rolling our eyes when someone asks us about our child, and like many stressed parents, we make tongue-in-cheek remarks about the level of her behavior — around her parents.

After we picked her up from camp and started back home, she literally went from zero to bitch in under five minutes. Apparently all her friends have iPhone 6’s, better houses and cars, and go more places. Within a span of two minutes, the kid covered all that ground (again) and more.

Things calmed down for most of the rest of the trip home, but it became clear that the attitude adjustment of our fantasies didn’t occur.

The next day, yesterday, all returned to the old normal as we began the hunt for school supplies.

Keep in mind that in many ways, we understand that our daughter is a fairly typical 10-year-old on the brink of puberty, and that outbursts and difficulties come with the territory.

However, from our perspective, the situation has careened out of control. We too-often cannot have a simple conversation with her that does not turn into an argument. She barely allows us to finish a sentence. We constantly fend off demands — not polite requests — for all manner of goods and services.

The impulsive disrespect to our authority and experience would have left me black and blue had I pulled that shit on my own mother at that age. In fact, every time I open my mouth to tell the kid to do something, I hear my late mother having a really good laugh.

Yesterday, on a trip to Staples to pick up ONE thing, the breaking point came. One thing became five things, which led to negotiations, which devolved into arguments in the aisle.

We left with nothing but a load of aggravation.

On the car ride back to the house, I told her as calmly as I could “Be prepared for a major announcement when we get home.”

This, of course, meant that I had to have such an announcement prepared, but the rational side of me knew that it had to be measured and over a long run, sustainable. I knew that whatever repercussion we imposed, we had to stick to it. And yes, fellow parents, what I really wanted to do was smack the kid into submission. I thought better of it. A grown man hitting a little girl never looks good (or works, so I’m told).

My first thought was to ban screen time entirely for the rest of the month, but because we had the Cece Dollar system in place, I felt strongly that we needed to stay within that framework. An outright ban meant that the system ultimately meant nothing. I don’t believe in arbitrary punishment.

We then announced to her that her screen time would now cost her 100 Cece dollars per hour, and that she would lose all her stuffed animals. She could buy them back, one animal, one day at a time for 10 Cece Dollars each.

The sudden jump from 10 to 100 may seem arbitrary, but I considered two things: First that we have entered a crisis situation, and second, had we strictly adhered to the system over the last year, her prices would push well above 200 Ceces for an hour of screen time. We give her lots of slack. She can still earn the money for screen time, but she’ll have to work harder for it.

We have long described our child in such polite terms as “willful”, “headstrong”, and “a challenge”, when what we really want to say is that too often becomes a stark, raving bitch. I’ve dated women like her, and I got out within an inch of my self-esteem. I finally figured out that the rare moments of bliss did not make the extended periods of mental hell worth it. Unfortunately in this case, there’s no exit.

She tests our patience in ways that I had long feared in my years before having kids. I’ve always wanted kids, but I’ve also feared the demon seed — that kid you’ve seen in restaurants or visiting friends or in the movies that no one could seem to control. I don’t want to think that nightmare has come true, and that hopefully, she’s only going through a phase (that started when she turned three).

And to the parents of grown children: YES. I KNOW, THAT SHE’S NOT EVEN A TEENAGER YET. Yes, thank you. I KNOW. Yeah, ha ha, real funny.

It’s not all drama. We can consider ourselves fortunate that she does very well in school, she has her friends, and other parents and her teachers report that she’s a complete angel in their midst. She has a keen sense of humor and a curious nature, but on too many days she acts like she was planted here by someone seeking revenge on my wife and me.

Tune in next month, and after a week in the woods and another week when she’s off with her cousins, we’ll have a better idea of the effect of this latest plan.

The Cece Dollar Economy

The Cece Dollar Economy

We are approaching year three of the Cece Dollar economy. For those who don’t remember, Louise and I implemented Cece Dollar system as a form of behavioral modification two summers ago, and it springs from a very simple idea: Various behaviors have their worth, positive and negative. Do something good and earn Cece dollars to pay for fun things. Do something bad, and the fun things become more expensive. Basically, this is nothing more than a point system, but with currency that has her picture on it. 

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Cece Dollar Update

Cece Dollar Update

20130914-141355.jpgIn case you were wondering, we continue to use the Cece dollar at the Garbin homestead. Despite some protestations, Cecelia has so far submitted to the plan. In the two months or so since starting it, prices for privileges have fluctuated. One hour of screen time started at one Cece dollar and peaked at five. Currently, it stands at three.

As a tool for behavioral modification, we can’t claim complete success, but we have used it to positive effect. The mere mention of price hike is usually enough to stem a problem situation. On the other hand, she only seems to part with her “wealth” on screen time, and she rarely takes advantage of opportunities to earn extra dollars beyond her five-dollar a week “salary”.

So, by and large, so far, so good, and so the experiment continues.

The Cece Dollar

The Cece Dollar

Behold the Cece Dollar. This is our latest attempt at behavior modification for our daughter.

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She starts with $20.

One hour on the TV or iPad costs $1
Special family fun event: $10
Etc.

She earns dollars by minding her manners, helping out, and generally being agreeable.

She earns $2 if she goes through the day without watching TV or iPad.

Prices rise when she gets whiny and difficult.

Home Theater

Home Theater

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She as a propensity for carving out her own spaces in our tiny house. She’s made whole worlds inside her closets; she’s built a library under a table; she’s architected sprawling structures from chairs, umbrellas, and blankets; and now she’s created her own home theater.

I wonder which one of her proclivities will lead to a career. My daughter the architect has a nice ring to it, though I continue to harbor the hope that she’ll become baseball’s first woman general manager.

Teacher Conference

Teacher Conference

We met today with Cecelia’s teacher for the second of the twice-yearly parent-teacher’s conference. I’m happy to report that we have nothing bad to report. Without resorting to annoying parental bragging, Cecelia’s academic performance review gave us nothing to worry about. At least that’s one thing that won’t keep us up at night.

As we did last year, we discussed her behavior in class. Last year, her teacher described Cecelia as her “buddy,” who always helped out in class and was, by most measures, a little angel. At this point, I had to stop her and ask, “Are you talking about our Cecelia?”

Her teacher and others since have assured us that kids tend to act out more around their own parents. I rack my brain trying to remember if I did the same at that age to no avail. I must consider myself lucky if indeed she acts more civilized around others, but once in a while, I wish she’d at least pretend she didn’t know us.

At today’s conference, no behavioral issues came up so I had to ask. Again, no problems there. Yes, I know we should be grateful, but almost daily Cecelia and I lock horns over something. If only we could have a stretch of a few days where everyone just got along.

A few years ago, I asked a co-worker who had older daughters, “At what point can you go out and do something with your girl that doesn’t involve a lot of yelling and screaming?”

He thought about it for a while, and said, “Twelve years old.”

Ugh. Four more years.

But then, the teen years set in…