Order of operations

Having several kids means that a great deal of negotiating and turn-taking is necessary for harmony to prevail over argumentation and disunion, which, as history has proven, are the precursors to dissension and secession. Since secession is out of the question (I hope) and dissension is undesirable, families must develop systems to ensure that everyone’s needs and desires feel heard and represented. It’s a fine balance, to be sure, but if household governance can land on a strategy that functions while still maintaining egalitarianism, a kind of managerial artwork is engendered there.

In our home, we have a few different rotations that occur simultaneously, and though this makes for a lot to remember, it creates an interesting coordination that seems very much like the movement of planets and moons. Here’s how it works: one kid chooses the game we play after dinner and then which audiovisual entertainment they will enjoy on Monday, the second kid selects the game and show on Tuesday, and the third kid makes the choices for Wednesday. They have to choose from a list of parent-approved games to ensure that the duration of play time doesn’t exceed fifteen or so minutes, and the show is always “the next episode” of whichever series they’ve previously chosen and are currently watching (they each have a different program going), and it must be no longer than thirty minutes in length (except on Saturdays). Because there are three children and seven days in a week, this rotation in practice means that when the next Monday rolls around, it’s not the same kid acting as evening cruise director. The Monday following, it’s yet a different kid’s turn to indulge his or her interests. This means that within the span of one week, each kid gets a turn twice–every third day–with Saturday being a special Bonus Day for one of them. On Saturdays, they’re allowed to watch an extra episode of the show slated for that date, depending on which kid’s night it is, bumping the screen time up to almost an hour as a special weekend treat. Each kid gets a Bonus Day on the third Saturday following his or her most recent Bonus Day, meaning that they all have to wait three weeks between times when the double-feature designation falls on their night.

Now add to this rotation a separate rotation: Brian and I take turns reading to the kids before bed, and since there are two of us, this means we have a “one night on, one night off” schedule. These rotations in tandem mean that the parent that reads this Friday won’t read next Friday but will the Friday following. So, because each kid has his or her choice night every third day, and each parent has his or her reading night every second day, every sixth day finds the same kid/parent combo (the common denominator of 1/3 and 1/2 is six, of course). However, since Saturdays have an exceptional rotation all their own, it so happens that the same kid/parent combination doesn’t recur until six weeks later (same common denominator, but this time we’re talking in weeks instead of days).

When I was a teacher and a student would ask, “Why do we have to learn math?” I would half-kiddingly answer, “So you can help your kids with their homework someday.” (This was before Singapore math became common core, obviously.) Now, if faced with the same question, I think my response would be, “So you can carefully calibrate the systems of organization in your future family to ensure a mathematically and logically unassailable method by which each member is judiciously given the power to make choices but also the forbearance to practice patience in proportions that have been deliberately considered and clearly defined in an effort to promote the congruity of togetherness and individuality.”

Calculus, as defined by Brittanica online, is “a branch of mathematics concerned with the calculation of instantaneous rates of change and the summation of infinitely many small factors to determine some whole.” This is basically the same definition of the word “parenting”. So if you want to be a parent when you grow up, kids, keep paying attention in math class. You’ll be doing more calculus than you can ever imagine.

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