Last week, no one kvetched.
No one said it was too hot, or too far to walk. No one bellyached about taking a shower or brushing his teeth. No one protested bedtime or his lack of effective Bey Blades. No one engaged in fruitless arguments for play dates with unavailable friends, claimed the apples in the fridge were too cold to eat or whined about being bored.
For seven days, we didn't hear any complaints of any sort, due to my husband's brilliant No-Kvetching Challenge.
Michael set up the week-long No-Kvetching Challenge after telling the boys that he didn’t think they could go one hour without complaining. They took the bait, tempted by an unidentified "special prize."
Now, as I have said before, I am against offering prizes to children for basic civilized behavior and doing what is asked of them. Adults certainly aren't awarded as such, and it's irresponsible to set expectations that workplaces are furnished with dispensaries of Hershey Kisses and LEGO Minifigures that you can access after throwing out your Taco Bell trash or finishing your weekly report.
I put that aside as I realized two things a few hours into the No Kvetching Challenge:
First, holy Moses, my kids complain A LOT. And, more importantly, complaining is poisonous to our relationship.
Like an air horn during my favorite love song, kvetching yanks me from a delightful mood and discards me into a bin of discontent. From there I yell. I seethe. I mutter. I avoid their company.
But without complaints, I felt uninterrupted love for the boys. We held hands. We had conversations instead of arguments. We laughed. I didn't say "no" to a toy request at Target, cheifly because no one complained that we had to go to Target.
I experienced true shalom bayit and it was spectacular.
It didn't stop them from fantasizing about their mystery prize, or bugging me to reveal it. Instead, I asked the kids what they noticed about not complaining.
Maxon: "You are happier."
Ezra: "Yeah, you didn't get mad."
Me: "So what is the real prize?"
Maxon: "When you don't complain, everyone feels better."
Then they asked me again what the prizes were.
After the third day, Michael asked me how it was going.
"It's *$#ing bliss," I said.
"Good. What do you think the prize should be?"
"Wait, you don't have a prize?"
"Nope. What do you think?"
What I thought didn't matter, because there was no way we could live up to the prize in their minds. Ezra thought he was getting a $1,000 shopping spree in Dick's Sporting Goods. Maxon thought he was getting an Iron Man costume – not a Halloween get-up, mind you, but one made of indestructible metal alloys with firepower and rockets that attaches to his body via remote.
Which brings me back to my reward issue. When the week was out and the prizes announced (for Ezra, he could pick something out at Dick's, and Maxon could select something at the comic book store) I couldn't help feeling that the boys thought they had been gypped. To wit: the chronic complaints started up again the very next day. And so did the aggravation. Which caused us to withold their prizes until the kvetching abated.
And I have to give them credit for sticking to it so far.
In fact, Maxon came downstairs Tuesday night with a gripe about Ezra and the SoniCare toothbrush handle they have to share.
"I don't want to sound like I am complaining," he prefaced. Then he took a breath and stated, "I feel frustrated when we brush our teeth. Ezra always goes first, then he takes a long time putting the toothbrush head on, and then he smiles at it, and it bothers me."
Now that was something we could work with. The issue was settled in a minute. Imagine if Maxon hadn't come down to talk to us, if he had instead pulled the toothbrush out of Ezra's hand, shouted for him to cut it out, pushed him. If Ezra started howling, crying out injustice, pushed him back.
Fun for the whole family.
They have a few days left to prove they can communicate in other ways than with complaining. Maybe they'll get that prize at the end of this week. Or maybe we'll stretch it out a third week.
Or maybe that prize will only exist in their minds, bigger and brighter than anything we could give them, and worth the effort of not complaining.