Picking The Prize
The first drawing would show a boy, Goofus, doing something terribly rude, crude or socially unacceptable. For example, a grimacing, slovenly Goofus might be reaching across the dinner table to snag the largest piece of chicken off the platter. The caption below subtly helped ensure that other young hooligans would comprehend the illustrated infraction, stating that “Goofus eats like a pig.”
In the second picture, another boy, Gallant, depicted a more thoughtful and courteous response to the same situation. In the example above, Gallant might hold the platter, beaming pleasantly as he served the rest of his family before helping himself to a modest wing or drumstick. The caption would read “Gallant waits until everyone else has been served.”
If you ask me, Gallant probably just hated chicken. But you got the idea, by comparing the shocked faces of Goofus’ parents with the adoring smiles that Gallant’s behavior garnered, that it was preferable to conduct yourself more like Gallant than Goofus.
I often feel like the “Goofus” of parenthood. In my last column, I showed (from firsthand example) how not to introduce your children to the library. This week I can tell you how not to reward your children for their reading efforts.
As described previously, my family was embroiled in a summer reading program where my daughters could earn a prize at our library by reading ten books. I was the designated reader for my pre-literate preschoolers. We worked our way through stories of hiccupping hippos, defunct dinosaurs, and my favorite: If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.
With nine books completed and a hysterical dread that the prizes would all be gone by the time we got through the tenth tome, I gave in to the escalating panic. We drove to the library and bee-lined for the kids’ section, where I found a one-word-per-page book. I sped read it to my daughters, then produced a pen and entered the title in the coveted tenth line of their book list forms. Before the ink dried, the girls were presenting the lists to the librarian, eagerly awaiting their bounty.
The librarian brought out a display which included a shiny pinwheel, a plastic paratrooper, and the bright orange sunglasses that Madison had previously set her heart on winning.
“Did you already collect a prize?” The allotment was one toy per child for the summer, and the librarian scrutinized us from behind her horn-rimmed glasses, apparently debating whether we looked the type to defraud the library. As if we might be on our third or fourth list of books. Get real.
“Yes,” Madison chirped happily. She’d say yes to anything to get her prize. The librarian recoiled, snatching the prize board away.
“No!” I corrected. The prizes came back begrudgingly, to the girls’ great relief. Madison studied the display and at length selected the pinwheel. Emily did likewise. Not the sunglasses?
“Are you sure?” I asked, and then added as nonchalantly as a shark in a swimming pool, “because once you choose, you can’t change your mind.” Was I setting myself up or what?
“Yes, I’m sure.” The split-second the pinwheels reached their hands, Madison wailed, “Mommy, I don’t like this.”
The librarian shot me one of those looks that Goofus was probably accustomed to receiving.
“You picked it, you’d better like it,” I muttered between clenched teeth, making matters decidedly worse. Belatedly I tried psychology. “I think it looks like a magic wand.”
Madison’s pout continued.
We piled glumly into the truck and headed home. Borrowing Emily’s pinwheel, I blew mightily, setting it into a sparkling blur of motion. Emily tried too, delighted with the results. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched Madison’s discreet attempt. Nothing.
“Hold it farther away,” I said softly, staring straight ahead. Momentarily a rustle from the far side of the truck let me know it had worked.
Soon Madison was humming a happy tune, as she and Emily took turns making their pinwheels spin. “You know,” Madison casually observed, “these kind of look like magic wands.”
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