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2009-11-05 digital edition

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2009-11-05 / Community News

Magic Numbers

Do you know that every child has been programmed with a set of numbers? It's a sort of code. Everyone who's in contact with these children must decipher the numbers: Parents, siblings, grandparents, teachers, day care providers, and if their numbers are really high; parole officers.

The numbers are tricky, though, and they might change with any given day. This is why kids don't come with a manual: We have not invented a manual that could detect when it needed to recalculate the numbers.

The numbers are how many times one has to be told to rinse the noodles off the plate before placing it in the dishwasher. My daughter's number was 37. She is ten years old and, provided that she receives regular booster shots, she is now cured. My son is a year older, but I have not yet determined his number, although we are up to 146 so far. So age is apparently not a factor here.

However, his number for cleaning his bedroom without being told is only 3. We're up to 362 for my daughter (and counting). Clearly, the "not asking" part is moot after you reach the double digits.

You see, if we parents knew what their numbers were in advance, there would be no need to get frustrated or go around slamming cupboard doors or kicking the cat. You'd think, "Well, that's the 68th time I've told him that. We only have 45 more to go."

What makes it even more challenging is the fact that the number is different for each activity and each child.

For example:

My son's number is 84 for "Don't wipe your hands on your shirt while you're eating strawberries!" My daughter's number is up to 188 so far and the youngest has no shirts without strawberry stains on them.

For "Take your shoes outside to shake out the mulch from the playground!", my son's number was one. (He doesn't like mulch in his shoes.) My daughter's number was zero. (She won't wear her shoes on the playground.) The youngest apparently likes mulch in his shoes…unless he is in my kitchen. I lost track of his number after we reached 1,127. When he grows up and marries, I'll simply warn his wife to have their kitchen floor done in mulch.

Sometimes parents have some control over the numbers. We can make them smaller with a little ingenuity. After herding everyone into the car, I used to sit behind the wheel, without turning on the car, until they remembered to fasten their seat belts. In this way, their numbers were lower, but we were late for many events. Also, if you have just one child that is oblivious to the hint, you still have to tell him. Which, I think, brings up the question as to whether you need to add that number to just the one child's tally or to all of them.

It's all very confusing, but I have found that an Excel spreadsheet is helpful when you get into the higher numbers. The problem is, if you don't know what their number for any particular activity is supposed to be, how will you know when you're supposed to blow a gasket?

Parents will wrongly assume that they should take their own numbers and their spouse's numbers and average the two to find out what their children's should be. Obviously, that kind of thinking could put us all in the loony bin. "His number should be 22! Why are we on number 347?"

Parents have, out of necessity, come up with a way to deal with this mind-boggling number system by assigning an arbitrary number to every child and determining that number to be our breaking point.

Haven't we all heard ourselves say, "If I've told you once, I've told you a hundred times: Pee in the toilet, not in the general vicinity!" So, that means the number would be 100 for each child and it could also be the same number for activities other than using the bathroom. If you tend to have a shorter fuse, the arbitrary number will, of course, be smaller.

This system isn't perfect, but…well…it's all we've got.

You can reach Laura at lsnyder@lauraonlife.com

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