The indomitable Gertrude Mueller Nelson gave our family the ritual of Birthday Privileges & Responsibilities. Each birthday our kids receive a scroll of paper festooned with ribbons. Inside, in the fanciest (and hardest to read) script our printer can manage, we have ceremonial language awarding the birthday child his/her next year’s Privilege & Responsibility. We started this on their respective third birthdays, at which time they each received the privilege of using markers in addition to crayons…and the responsibility of washing off any marker that accidently found itself on the craft-table. (I know, how mean is that to withhold markers? But it is so much easier at three than at thirteen months old.)
Over the years, the kids have received coveted age-appropriate privileges and ever-increasing responsibilities—loading and unloading the dishwasher, biking around the block or neighborhood, ear piercing, skateboarding, cleaning the bathroom, Facebook privileges, a cell phone, a driver’s license etc. Sometimes the privileges and responsibilities are linked in some way. Sometimes they are confused. Gertrude Mueller Nelson tells the story of when her little girl once yelled at her brother, “It is MY Privilege to clean the bathroom sink on Saturdays!” In any event, the Birthday Privilege & Responsibility award is a big part of our birthday celebrations.
Our son and daughter learned to read on different schedules. #1 Son enjoyed being read to more than learning to read—it’s hard work, after all. On his 7th birthday he received the privilege of reading in bed, a calculated and somewhat passive-aggressive move on the part of his parents. We’d always read together before bed—that would not change. But we were trying to cultivate a love of independent reading, which had been an uphill battle so far, and we were all a little frayed over it. We were/are pretty strict on sensible-to-early bedtimes. The hook to this privilege was phrased in such a way as to get him in bed by 7:30 with the privilege to read in bed until 8:00. (I admire those parents who have no limits on bedtime reading, but this kid needed lots of sleep and pretty much passed out at 8:00.) We gave him a headlamp to wear in the dark while he was reading, which made the whole thing very cool.
Despite one of the worst cases of stomachflu / Norovirus we have ever had (for 13 days someone in our house threw up in dramatic splattering fashion), the boy’s reading skills sky-rocketed during the first two weeks of his eighth year of life. Any hassles about bedtime vanished—post-supper-time thereafter was all about timing things perfectly so as to be in bed in time to read. It was a terrific success.
#1 Daughter was independent in her reading earlier. She got the reading in bed privilege at five. And she treated it like a responsibility—one she was glad to fulfill, but definitely something that needed to be checked-off in her mind each day. As the second child, she was drug around more at night for sibling events, so she sometimes got to bed later than her understood bedtime. On those nights we would say, “We’ll read a short bit together tonight, but no reading in bed because you need to get to sleep….” To which she would wail, “But it is my Responsibility to read in bed!”
Privilege or Responsibility? Two sides of the same coin, perhaps. We are a household of happy bed-readers, so who cares?