We’re charting for piercings over here.

Explanation: We’ve been doing behavior/chore charts. Stars add up to tickets. Tickets add up to…Ear Piercing!!!!!

I run from behavior modification systems.  I resist the structure. I feel confined and suffocated and have only about 3 days of routine in me. After that it’s “Yellow Stars for Everyone! Let’s go get ice cream!”

I  have also always operated under the assumption that we should all do what we are supposed to do. Just do it. If you don’t know what you are supposed to do, ask me, and I will gladly tell you. Outside motivation not necessary. There’s just stuff you should be doing anyways. 

But as Sophia will grudgingly inform  you, “In a family of four kids it’s not just about me.” The system that works for me (assumed understanding and adherence to familial and societal expectations of behavior) does not work for everyone.

The charts have not been without  frustrations (and hazards as I daily scoop yellow stars out of the baby’s mouth) but the benefits have been undeniable.

“They need to know you see them. They need to hear you see them.” These were the words of My Sister the Therapist. We were walking across the campus of James Madison University after seeing our brother graduate. I was trying to figure out what to do with the scene in my house, and baffled by these purple-cloaked graduates who at some point learned to navigate life’s challenges without screaming, stomping and tears. That morning they had picked out their own clothes and gotten dressed. How in the world do you get a child from here to there?

But Ruthie’s words struck me. Some of us need research, or statistics, or peer influence – I need a strong literary metaphor. The idea of seeing weaves through the most indelible scenes in my favorite faith stories:. Les Miserables: To love another person is to see the face of God. Blind Bartimeaus: Rabbi, I want to see. And my favorite name of God still is the one given him by the outcast and abused servant girl, Hagar: “El Roi. The God who sees.” When I feel broken and alone, I pray to The God who Sees.

I needed a way to see my kids. When charts stopped being about rewards and about seeing, I was in. Still not great at it but all in.

We now line up morning and night and go down the chart. Stars are slapped on for making beds, and not whining, and not yelling and encouraging each other. They count stars and then they count tickets and I’m no longer concerned that its modeling a false system for actions that should be character driven. Our charts are about noticing each other.

What has surprised me the most though has been how the charts provide a grid through which to run my own behavioral patterns. When things go south, chances are that I did what I do best: I was inconsistent. I threw out a first time expectation and was rigid about it. I rushed them or yelled. I assumed everyone was following a set of rules that I forgot to post. I did not slow down to see.

I’m beginning to think the chart isn’t even about progressing, as we triumphantly drive over to that Purveyor of FIne Jeweled Goods, The Icing, some time next week to participate in a ritual the Puerto Ricans do at birth. (My mom got newborn earrings for each of my babies. I think they might actually  pierce in utero in the Homeland. ) “We  need to come up with a new goal now,” they say and I start my chart-anxiety-sweating  all over again. “No, no this is stuff you are supposed to be doing anyways” sneaks out of my mouth, once more. I stop.

We do need a new goal, because I need yellow stars a little bit longer to remind me to see and celebrate them, You know, what I should be doing anyways. 

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