My kid is part of a loosely defined cabal of troublemakers in his pre-k class. According to the teacher, he’s something of a ringleader. The gang’s behavior includes wrestling, flailing, not being able to sit still and generally making a mockery of story time. His best friend is also apparently a major player in this underground network of disruption and I (along with the parents of every boy in the class, except for the real puds and wimps) have been spoken to by the teacher to see if we can’t put up a united front to somehow combat this reckless and insurgent horseplay.
So, I made a star chart. It’s pretty simple. Essentially, it’s got pictures of all the shit my kid has to do throughout the day on one side and a row for star stickers next to it that he gets to apply whenever he achieves his goals. These aren’t lofty or ambitious tasks, as he’s only three. There’s one for brushing his teeth in the morning and another for brushing his teeth at night. There’s one for putting on his clothes without throwing a shitty tantrum. He gets a star simply for going a whole day without beating the shit out of his sister. The star chart is extremely simple and as of right now, it seems to be creating good behavioral leverage.
In fact, since the introduction of this chart, my kid’s entire mood has really improved overall. He’s more smiley and nice to his friends and sister. Tantrums are down 85-90% and he’s not getting in trouble at school anymore (although when I recently notified his teacher that he would be out all of next week she was almost, but not quite, able to conceal her rapturous delight at the prospect of having a week without him in class, but whatever. She’s an old crone).
I credit all of this to the star chart, and to zoom out a bit, to the general and universal necessity in the human psyche to hold a sense of purpose. For a three year old, a star chart is a concrete manifestation of working towards a life goal (in our case that life goal involves a brand new dinosaur toy) and a directive to live your life in total dedication to said goal.
This is something that I definitely can relate to. At times, I’m so busy with various projects that I can barely breathe (a few summers ago, I was so stressed out while filming this movie I did that I was waking up with panic attacks in the middle of the night and was reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road to take my mind off my various worries) but generally, being in a position where things are on the line and things are moving at a rapid pace and difficult to achieve and a lot of improvising and quick compromise are necessary is where I do my best work. I’m not much of a planner and I’m TERRIBLE at having no direction. I become extremely morose when confronted with long stretches of nothingness on the horizon. When shit’s going on and I have a sense of purpose, the entire 360 degrees of my being improve dramatically. Hell, when my kid was first born, I was so anchorless and purposeless that I started this very blog in order to try and implant some sort of rudder into my existence (and look at how completely spectacularly that’s turned out. You people, you very strange people are the very best Dogs of War this overlord could ever ask for, but that’s a whole other topic).
Anyway, we JUST counted the stars on the chart (between the last paragraph and this one) and it turns out there are 41 stars, SO today we’re gonna go to the toy store and get a dinosaur and then continue the party at Chuck E Cheese. I used to go to Chuck E Cheese a lot as a kid, and also to the vastly cooler Showbiz pizza, which had an awesome band of robot animals and a pretty sweet, dimly lit arcade.
In fact, to switch gears a little bit, the biggest tragedy of the modern era is the death of the arcade. Home gaming is so insanely satisfying that the arcade has been marginalized to a terrifying degree. Arcades are bars for adolescent boys. They’re dark, they’re full of awesome things and seedy people and sometimes girls are in arcades. Parents are somewhere else in the mall or eating lunch across the street and you’ve got a handful of gold coins and everything’s plinking and flashing there in the dark like you’re in a casino on pleasure island. Some kid with a really shitty mustache has a fucking Real Live Cigarette behind his ear and is playing a shooting game. There’s a greasy old greek dude with a waxed mustache behind a teller window who seems vaguely menacing. You get the idea. Arcades were fucking awesome because they provided a (mostly) safe version of the Dark Grownup World at large, and now they’re gone. What are my kids gonna do for cheap thrills before they inevitably start getting into actual trouble? It’s a damn shame.
In summary, I’m going to Chuck E Cheese today with two toddlers, and I’m prepared to be severely disappointed by the lack of seediness of the facilities. They still serve beer there, right?
Have a good weekend. I’m going to Colorado tomorrow and I’ll be there all week. I’ll also be playing a show at Surfside in Ft. Collins on the 23rd and at Illegal Petes in Denver on the 24th. If you live out there, come out and bear witness to the puppet show that is my live “performance”.