Choice and power

I used to ask my preschool sons if they wanted "hot supper" or "cold supper". Sometimes I offered them a choice between "yellow supper" (mac & cheese, Jiffy cornbread, carrot sticks, and canned peach halves) and "red supper" (pasta with Ragu, cherry juice, and the ever-popular Gerber baby plums). I empowered them to choose between a nap and a cessation of sibling bickering. My oldest didn't care what he wore, but I gave his brothers choices between their Ghostbuster jumpsuits and their spaceman sweatsuits. They could pick whether to take a GI Joe in the car, or a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. At the grocery store I let them choose the yogurt flavors. At the library I gave them free reign to pick two picture books. When they got older they could choose which two extracurricular activities to join.

It blows my Big Mama Sandbar brain to hear about my students choosing where their families will vacation--Banff or Wales, Cancun or Disneyworld. Many of them can choose whether to settle down and go to sleep in their bedroom at a reasonable hour or to watch heaven knows what on their own television until who knows when.

When I was little I knew I had the choice to behave myself in a manner appropriate to the occasion and setting, OR to go home immediately. One of my most humiliating memories is of being sent home from the next door neighbors' house because we kids were jumping on the sofa with our shoes off. I had to go home with my shoes untied because the mom of the house would not tie the shoes of the sofa-jumping transgressors.

In the Sixties we knew that if we could become sufficiently well-mannered we would enjoy privileges of going out to dinner or seeing a movie. My students know that they will have to be incredibly badly behaved before they might possibly lose their nearly guaranteed dinner out and movie. They have no incentives to improve their behavior. They already have control and power over their parents.

Today I made a "green supper"--a concoction of spinach noodles, edamame, zuchini, celery, Spanish olives, green peppers, and Italian dressing. I'm feeling empowered to choose between deli turkey pieces or tuna in the green salad supper. Plus, I tied my own shoes.

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