Saturday, 3 February 2007

Making an effort

By 9.30 in the morning, Shark has cracked the system. She gets 20p today for kind words, helpful deeds, and a sunny disposition. And she's using all her skills and strategies. 'You look nice!' she beams with a big broad smile when I appear wearing a battered old beige tee-shirt with a frayed hem and a hole in the side. 20p goes in her tin. 'Can I clear up?' she asks after breakfast. 20p. 'Can I load the washing machine?' she sings. 20p. 'Can I sweep the floor?' 20p. 'Can I help make lunch?' 20p. By midday 'Can I help you?' has rung out minute by minute to both her sisters, all in earshot. 'Have you got any 20ps left?' she asks, sweetly, at lunchtime, eyeing my purse.

But I can forgive her. This is an exercise in consciousness-raising and is giving me the chance to talk about how our behaviour impacts on each other, and how we are all responsible for creating a happy environment, and how we can stop to think everyday and choose our response to slights and insults, and consider whether they are given intentionally or not. I go further on that one and lie, and say there is a law about taking unnecessary offence. I think there should be anyway.

In fact I've been sounding like some moral crusader all morning. I really want those season park tickets. Which is where all our 20ps are destined for. We're each to have season tickets for the local theme park from April. I can see myself already, sitting on the 'Parents wait here' bench with the newspaper while the kids throw themselves about in the bouncy cave.

Shark, motivated by money in her tin, is lapping up today's reward and punish system. By lunchtime she's quids in, and still working hard. Secretly I'm getting a bit worn out with it all and consider going into the office and swearing a bit and kicking the recycling bin as a safeguard against becoming too nice. Instead I give everyone a 50p piece just for listening to me. Or in Tiger's case, appearing to.

Squirrel's a bit overwhelmed by Shark's niceness. And probably a bit suspicious. She gets an early fine of 5p for scowling, but then makes steady financial progress. She puts in some effort to stop the scowling, which leads to some face contorting, but puts her in credit at a rate of 5p every scowl-turned-smile. Mostly, she keeps out the way, turns up to the moral lessons to listen politely and heaves a lot of volume into shouting 'Please' and 'Thank you' even when it's not necessary, like just at the moment I'm wagging one finger to pronounce about the way we need to exercise self-control so we don't blurt out whatever we're thinking at that moment.

Tiger at least provides some welcome relief to my moral agenda. She's sulky from the off (fine 5p) and says she doesn't want to do this (fine 5p) sticks out her bottom lip (fine 5p) and pushes her cereal bowl around the table (fine 10p) but then she says she will do it (reward 20p) but she still doesn't expect to get anything in her tin for her theme park season ticket (fine 20p for being irritating and complaining, going on and on about it, instead of shutting up and humouring me and just doing it like everyone else) but then she promises to try (reward 20p for trying).

I'm determined to keep this up for 24 hours. In spite of Dig, who wanders in and out of the kitchen, where the exchequor is located, and half-heartedly adding 5p to the tallies when he thinks he's being watched. I consider putting him on today's reward system if he doesn't smile once in a while.

Soon we can all relax, Shark can say rude things, Tiger can pull hair, Squirrel can assault someone with the puffin, and I can shout 'Stop shouting!' on the stairs. But at least we'll have some cash in the bank for the season ticket to the theme park.

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