If It’s Important Enough To Whine, Cry or Tattle About: Give Me 50 Words

This is self-portrait of a very frustrated child.

He was not “fruted,” he was “frustrated.”

Here he is, satiated, after 10 minutes.

Miraculous, I think.

You know one of those rare peaceful moments that comes along, when all the kids are quiet, and you can actually have a cognizant thought running through your head, and you are able to finish one task from start to finish– like scrubbing a pan? Then, like clockwork, unexpectedly, comes that sound… you know:

“Mom, I just wanted to tell you that when I was trying to eat the pancake you made, he was drumming on my back.”

WHAT are we supposed to do with this information? Breakfast was four hours ago, and apparently, there has been no permanent physical damage – so, I am quite tempted to say, “So What?!”

Like a fool, I let my motherly instincts take over, and I start to worry about empathy, and all sorts of mind-wrenching fates. So, I gently begin to prod and question. I foolishly believe that I will get to the bottom of this and teach someone some valuable lesson about caring and kindness.

My noble pursuit ends up getting me in a tedious, health-defying tizzy. The minute I start the questioning, there is an immediate denial, a counterattack, a change of story, and new evidence brought to the table – all from four children – of which only two were present at the time the drumming took place. Soon, I find that only one child was present during the drumming –

it’s just that he “thought he was going to drum on my back.”

What is the point? I cannot get to the bottom of this — because there is no bottom!!!

We were trying to rake leaves at the lake — and we had no time for this. The fights began to escalate. Grant it – no kid wants to spend the entire weekend at the lake raking leaves, so the fights were inevitable. I was at my wits end. We had no choice but to rake – quickly. Daylight fades fast, and we had exactly one weekend to accomplish the mission – and each boy was determined to fight his way out of raking, by fighting.

I was running out of options, the sun was moving on its path, not about to stop, so I began to pull out paper and pencils, and asked each party to begin writing. As a writer, I’m no stranger to the effects of writing therapy to heal our emotions – so out of desperation, I hoped this would work. Reasoning was getting us nowhere, except insane.

The rules:

  • The severity of the claim or infraction, or the age, or the amount of resistance determined the number of words. I went as low as 25, and as high as 250.
  • You must cover the details about what happened in the incident.
  • Discuss your side of the activity in question
  • Discuss what the other party may have felt because of your action.
  • Explore your feelings right now.
  • Draw a picture to capture the moment.

For about 90 minutes, I did nothing but grab paper, chase kids, read essays and count words. I raked about a total of 10 leaves during these moments. I was getting nowhere.

We went through a lot of paper.

How They Broke The Rules:

  • One essay started out fine, but then quickly moved to “The Revolutionary War started in 1776 because..” Result: essays must be read from start to finish by an older sibling or a parent.
  • One quickly learned this was the fastest way to get out of raking. So, as soon as he finished one essay, he went out to the yard to kick another brother – and then went back inside to leisurely write an essay. Result: His esays jumped to 250 words, and was ordered to transcribe his other brother’s essays.
  • Refusal to participate: Result: Stand still, and let the overpowering presence of Mom overwhelm them.

The results were quite miraculous, and unexpected. After about two hours, I looked around the yard, and saw every boy raking – and there was no fighting. I gasped. I saw a bit of teamwork between two of the boys who were fighting the most. We finished raking before sunset. And no one seemed to feel as if they needed to cry foul on child labor laws.

The rest of day and evening seemed to have a different rhythm – a “cooperative rhythm.”  They even had time, and wanted to,  play football with the neighbors. This is rare. Four boys rarely want to do the same thing at the same time, together.

Just ignore those leaves in the photo– they belong to a neighbor who was absent during the leaf-raking marathon that most have us participated in.


The second a whine came, or a fight broke out, I would simply say, “25 words, and a drawing.”  At this point, they knew, there was no point in resisting – and maybe they were not resisting because this was “therapy.” They felt better when they were done writing – and felt no need to scream, cry or complain anymore.

In the car ride home, I collected more essays about:

  • throwing stuffed animals in the car while someone is driving,
  • yelling while someone is trying to talk on the phone
  • not teasing someone about waterfalls when someone really needs to go to the bathroom.

It’s all a process… it’s all a process.

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