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Got a Complaint? A Penny for Your Thoughts

If a child’s greatest strength is indeed hidden inside his or her worst quality, as Jewish wisdom tells us about the yetzer hara, then I’m determined to find the value of my daughter Sari’s kvetvching.

Like many little girls her age, my seven-year-old has the tendency to complain about everything from the seams in her socks to the way I brush her hair. I try to be sensitive to her sensitivities, and I respect the fact that she is very intuitive and mature for her age. However, Sari’s persistent habit has become an art form in both English and Yiddish.

For example:
“This cockamamy puzzle doesn’t fit together!”
I’m tired of schlepping in the van. I want to go home!”
“This schmata has a stain, and I’m not wearing it!”

I realize that in order for parents to change their child’s behavior, they first must look at themselves in the mirror. In this case, Sari gets her feisty attitude partially from her daddy, who is known to say things like this in front of his impressionable offspring:

“That new restaurant will never make it—the food is garbage.”
“The driver in front of me is moving like an alter kocker. Get goin’ already!”
“Why can’t anyone design a decent vacuum? This piece of junk just pushes dirt around.”

I know, what am I complaining about? At least my husband vacuums.

So in order to reduce the number of negative statements in my household, I invented a fun game called the “complaint container” that I thought would be a creative solution to a common problem. I spontaneously introduce my suggestion one lazy Sunday morning during a playful pillow fight in our king-size bed.

I hesitantly interrupt all the giggles to make my announcement: “Hey everyone, I want to call a family meeting about something that has been on my mind for quite awhile,” I start out, trying to dodge an oversized feather pillow that smacks my face. “I notice that all of us like to complain about stuff, so starting today, I want everyone to put a penny in a pot for every gripe he or she makes and see how many coins we collect at the end of the day. The complaint container is not meant as a punishment, but as a learning experience for all of us.”

To break the silence, which is their reaction to my idea, I quickly add, “Besides, we can use the money we collect to do something fun together as a family.”

Finally, I hear a voice from under the sea of bed sheets. “It takes a lot of pennies to amount to anything. What are we going to do with all the money we collect—split a pack of gum?” mumbles Jack, who is not so much a vocal complainer as a door slammer, which rattles the baseball trophies on his shelves.

My son has a point. I can’t even buy a postage stamp with say, 27 cents. Even though that’s a lot of complaints, it’s not a lot of change. I realize that I have some kinks to work out, but it’s a start. “Okay, let’s make it a nickel, or a dime,” I suggest.

Jack leans on an elbow and counters my offer. “How about $5 for every complaint?”

With that remark, Sari crawls her way out of the velvety soft comforter. “This silly game makes no sense, and I’m not playing!,” she protests, as our toy poodle Luci tugs on her nightgown. “Besides, how can we start when we don’t even have a pot or container or whatever you call it,” she adds, wrapping her arms tighter around her counterpart (her father), who pretends to sleep.

I realize that I must jump on this project quickly before the momentum disappears. At least I have everyone’s attention. Immediately, I begin to take mental notes on complaints throughout the day.

“Chicken stir fry again? Disgusting!” Ching.

“I can’t concentrate on my computer game when my sister is bothering me.” Cha-ching.

“This- boy- in- my- class- was- picking- his- nose- and-spreading-germs-and I- better- not- get- sick- because- then- I- would- miss- my-soccer- game- and-I- would-sooooooo-mad…” Ching, chang, ching, chang…

I feverishly dig through my mismatched Tupperware bottoms and lids and assorted plastic food containers to find the perfect complaint kitty. I discover an empty creamed cheese dish—way too small for as many coins as I expect to collect.

Then I digress…Why do I even save a container so impractical in the first place? I mean, for whatever bit of leftover macaroni and cheese that I’m able to squeeze in there, I might as well just eat the noodles myself or feed the scraps to Luci. Then again, maybe I’ll save it for a school art project, so I toss it in the pile. I find a clear Hummus container, but no matching lid. I throw it in the way back. I start to stack the recycled tops when I come across a 32-ounce vanilla yogurt container.

I attack this craft like an overzealous preschooler with a pair of dull scissors and dried-out glue stick. I cover the container with whatever construction paper I find in the closet. I even decorate the lid and rip a slit to drop in the coins. To make it official, I try to come up with a creative name, like “Pouty Pot” or something cutesy. Instead, I simply label the can:

1 cent

I gleam with pride at the finished product—not bad for a mom who accidentally cut two holes for the head of her daughter’s first Halloween ghost costume. When Sari asks me for change for a nickel out of the decorated yogurt container., I question where this game is headed. At least we can laugh about it. And that beats complaining for now.

“Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Her stories are inspired by the real life of her family, including her
any comments, prayers or recipes to www.mishegasofmotherhood.com.