Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bench Captains

Bicker, bicker, bicker. And them some more bickering.

I was getting in the van a couple of Sundays ago and the kids were bickering about who should sit where. For some reason, when we hop in the car with four or fewer kids, there never seems to be a problem. But when all seven are there, things often don’t go well.

Tired of these frequent life-is-unfair-if-I-have-to-sit-here events, I spent that drive trying to come up with a new “system for success.” (One of my favorite things to do as a father of a big family is to try to come up with a “system for success” that makes a problem go away. You may recall the shoe bins, for example.)

After hearing the kids voice their preferences/complaints, the “system for success” struck me – bench captains. Here are the new rules for engagement for child van loading.

The three oldest kids are bench captains who are in charge of the bench that they are currently sitting in. Each bench captain has assigned to them one younger child who is a permanent part of their team. Every time we get into the van, the teams rotate benches. If a younger child has an issue/question about where someone is sitting, they may only talk to their bench captain about it. The bench captains can confer about things as needed, but the only time an issue goes to the car captain (a.k.a. Dad) is when the bench captains can’t agree. (I am happy to report that no appeals have been made to the car captain yet.)

This is the gist of it, although there are several other minor rules such as “If you arrive at the van and think that someone is in your seat, don’t get in the van and tell them. Rather, wait for your bench captain to arrive and make your appeal to them.” Or, on the more technical side, there is this beauty of a rule: “Due to the fact that Anna sits in a car seat in the middle bench making things a little tight, any small child whose current turn is the middle bench can exercise their option to sit in the back bench instead. Exercising this option does not count as their ‘turn’ in the back, and therefore will result in them sitting in the back bench twice in a row.”

Last Sunday we all got in the car and I turned to CrazyMom and said, “Did you notice that?”

“Notice what?” she asked.

“We just got in the car and there was not a single comment about where anybody was sitting.”

Needless to say, I am in love with my bench captains.

P.S. Now, for all of you who think that we are short circuiting the learning process by putting in place rules to follow rather than teaching our kids how to act upon underlying principles such as thinking of others before thinking of yourself, you are right. However, in my defense I would like to point out that with seven kids in my home, I have approximately 253 other opportunities per day to teach principle-based conduct. Besides, I think the only lesson that they were learning from my “teaching” before was “Gee, Dad can get mad really fast when we are getting in the car.”

Friday, June 3, 2011

Camping Memories

The launch to our trip was just as stressful as the "pre-camping memories" with the chainsaw and the blocked traffic.  When we set off, I quickly realized that the trailer brakes were not working.  Stopping on a hot blacktop parking lot, I tried to fix them, but to no avail.  Since we had sturdy brakes on the van, we decided to press on.  About every 20 minutes or so I would have another idea of what could be wrong with the brakes and I would pull over and try something else.  My roadside trouble shooting came to an end, however, when I shorted out the lights on the trailer.  I realized that if I did not stop trying to fix the brakes soon, I was likely to set the thing on fire - possibly on purpose.  Luckily we were close to the campsite by this point and were able to make it there safely.  A trip to Advanced Auto Parts and a new fuse #17 saved the day and the rest of the trip was great.