Life lessons are sometimes messy …

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By Jennifer R. Carnes

Bribery. That’s such an ugly word. Especially when parents have to use it to get their kids to do well in school when we know they are capable of so much more!

Parents have been bribing their kids for years.

My mom used to bribe us to get good grades. One dollar for every A we brought home on our report card. Oh, she called it a “reward” (not just regular quotes – oh, no imagine using great big honking air quotes around reward).

I’d come home with a report card full of A’s and collect my “reward.” My sister (who really was capable of so much more) brought home the occasional A and the rest B’s and C’s. My mom would pull out the old standby scold: “Why can’t you be more like your sister?” She was, at least, equal in her scolding. She’d ask me the same question, “Why can’t you be more normal like your sister?”

Crazy system, I know, but for her it worked.

I always told myself that I would never have to bribe my children to do well in school. Being my child, he or she would love school and get all his or her homework done without needing to be prodded.

Then I met Lauren.

Oh, she was so innocent in those first couple of years, progressing normally from infancy to toddlerhood and then into preschool. But when kindergarten rolled around, my daughter morphed into a creature I just had no idea could come from my genes.

“I can’t do it!” she’d wail, when the teacher asked her to do the simplest thing. In Laurenspeak, “I can’t do it!” meant “I don’t WANT to do it!”

This lead to our first offense of bribery as parents. We worked out a system where if the teacher felt Lauren cooperated, she’d get a sticker. We supplied the stickers, but the teacher was complicit in the offense.

Those stickers lead to other “rewards” for good grades. I’m ashamed to admit that this year, I hit an all time low in my battle against bribery. Lauren is taking freshmen English this year. She was doing ok in the subject (or so we thought) until one day we received a nasty surprise from the school – it wasn’t pretty. How can your grade be so bad, Lauren? we wailed at her. How was this possible? She’s the daughter of the NEWSPAPER EDITOR and the granddaughter of the former NEWSPAPER EDITOR and the great-granddaughter of the former NEWSPAPER PUBLISHER! She should have writing in her blood.

Her response (which, yes, I will tell you resulted in much gnashing of teeth) was, “Mom, I’m just apathetic.”

APATHETIC? Seriously?

I asked her if she knew what apathetic meant and yes, she knew that it meant she didn’t care.

And thus began the next slide down that slippery slope of bribery.

She had an essay to write.

Out came the bribes.

Get an A on this essay and I’ll use your favorite word somewhere in the paper. Never going to happen, I thought, especially considering the not so great grade she earned on the rough draft.

Guess again, Mom.

She wrote and rewrote the essay. When the final grade came back from her teacher, it was a 91%. Yep, it was an A.

So I have to use her favorite word in the paper.

Here it is – EPIC.

There. I used it.

Oh, by the way, I didn’t tell you the subject of the essay in question.

Why parents make bad teachers.

We’re so screwed.

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