The Law of Zero Sum Progress
A Science-Like Paper
By Kelly Anne Morrison
The behaviour of young children is ruled by The Law of Zero Sum Progress. No matter how much time you spend preparing to leave the house, you’ll always be ten minutes away from leaving. Spend another ten minutes getting ready and find you still need ten more minutes to get ready – Zero Sum Progress.
A CASE STUDY:
I’m about ten minutes away from leaving the house. Breakfast has been eaten (mostly,) teeth have been brushed, myself and one out of my two children are dressed. All that needs to be done is get the remaining child dressed, put on our shoes, and walk out the door. Ten minutes, right? Wrong!
As soon as I get the pajamas off my one year old daughter, she runs off buck naked! I chase her all the way to the stairs and when I look up, I notice my three year old son has taken off his beloved spiderman shirt and his attempting to stuff it down an air vent. I abandon my daughter and run up the stairs. “Desmond, put your shirt back on!” “No, it’s wet.” “Fine then, pick out another shirt.”
I point my son towards his room and take back the spiderman shirt. I turn back down stairs, with the intent of dressing my daughter, when I spot her peeing on the floor. I run down the stairs, pick her up, ran back up the stairs, and drop her in the bathtub. I rinse off my daughter while she cries. Pretty much everything makes her cry. (See: The Can’t Win Paradox.)
After I pull her out of the tub, I walk by my son’s room and see he’s pulled every shirt he owns out of his drawer and onto the floor, but he remains shirtless. “Desmond, pick a shirt!” I run back downstairs with my crying baby, sit her down (crying) on the floor. I quickly soak up the pee and run a mop over the spot on the floor while she cries. I stand my daughter up and manage to get her shirt on when I hear a strange repetitive noise coming from my son’s room (See: The “What’s that sound?” Ripple Effect.)
I leave my daughter (naked from the waist down) and run back up the stairs. My son has now pulled out all his pants as well as his shirts out of his dresser and has stuffed a bunch of them in his hanging wall organizer that looks like a frog. Now he’s twisting the frog so it releases and slams against the wall then he twists it again. He is also still shirtless. “Desmond, I told you to pick a shirt!...Wait... Did you poop?” “I no have poop. I need go potty.” “It smells like you already went. Now pick a shirt already and follow me!” He picks up a random shirt and follows me halfway down the stairs then he sits down and starts chanting “Mommy mommy mommy mommy...”
Okay, so I just have to get my daughter’s bottom half dressed and my son’s top half dressed and change his diaper then we’ll put on our shoes and be out the door. Ten minutes, right? I put on my daughter’s diaper (while she’s sitting on my lap, my own fault for kneeling and forming a lap, it’s very hard to put on the diaper this way) while my son repeats “Mommy mommy mommy...” “Desmond, come down right now or you’re getting a time out!” (This is what is known as The Time Out Empty Threat. Giving him a time out would actually cost you more time so you hope they won’t call your bluff.)
My son slides down to the bottom stair where he discovers his spiderman shirt from earlier. He picks it up and dangles it between the railing gaps in the stairs, threatening to drop it all the way down to the basement. “Desmond, if you drop that, it’s a time out! Now come down here!” My son steps off the stairs and slides his toes around in the wet spot where the pee used to be.
“Come all the way here! Over to the couch!” I grab his hand and pull him into the living room so I can sit on the couch while I change his poopy diaper. This is when my daughter decides she desperately needs a hug from me. She tries to approach me, my son pushes her away. In the process he moves too far for me to reach him while I’m wiping him. “Desmond, get back here!” He returns, but at this point my daughter finds my son’s abandoned toothbrush sitting on the coffee table and goes to stick it in her mouth. This wouldn’t be a big deal if it weren’t for my son’s severe food allergies. For this reason I keep their toothbrushes separate. Before she can get it in her mouth, I snatch it away and hand it to my son. He hands it right back to his sister. I snatch it away a second time, get up (mid-diaper change) and jog over to the counter to put it out of reach.
My daughter is crying, but I get the old diaper off my son and the new one on. I put on my sandals so I can hop out the back door and throw the used diaper in the garbage can. I run back to the living room and put on my son’s shirt that is wildly inappropriate for the weather but who cares at this point? (See: The “Screw It” Compromise.)
I announce it’s time for shoes...er... I mean sandals. If I say shoes my son will expect shoes and reject sandals. (See: The Literal Mind.) My son cheers and gets to work putting on the sandals I throw to him. I grab my daughter’s sandals and kneel on the floor, forming a lap. She immediately comes and sits on my lap. She cries as I put on her sandals and cries harder when I place her back on her own feet and run into the kitchen to grab my purse and my son’s hat.
“Desmond, hat! Desmond!” My son comes running with one sandal on and one off. I plop his hat on his head and kneel to put on his other sandal. “No! I do it!” I step back and he manages to get it. “Good job!” I stick my ipod in my pocket and I’m about to head to the front door when I hear, “I want bacon!” My son has discovered his uneaten bacon from breakfast. “Fine!” This is an easy one. I grab a Ziploc bag from the kitchen and help him put it in.
I try to walk to the front door, but in my path is my daughter who has discovered her juice cup (the one I offered her five times before and she refused.) Now she’s sucked down the juice and is crying for more. “Fine!” I refill her cup and hand it to her.
I unlock the front door, run out to car and throw my bags in the front seat. I jog back and hold the door open for my son. Then I pick up my daughter and hold her while I lock the front door. I put my daughter in her car seat while she drinks her juice. My son stands in the driveway, devouring his bacon. When I turn to him, he’s eaten the whole piece. “More bacon please, mum!” We’ve eaten all the cooked bacon. Fulfilling this request would involve us all going back inside and me cooking more bacon. (See: The Point of No Return a.k.a. The Locked Door.) “We don’t have any more bacon, sweetie.” To my relief my son accepts this and climbs into the car.
END OF CASE STUDY
The only loophole in The Law of Zero Sum Progress is the “Screw It” Compromise where you go back and redefine your definition of “ready.” In the above case study, I let my son wear a long sleeved shirt on a summer day. Your definition of “ready” can range from “I don’t need to brush my teeth and put on makeup” to “the kids can wear their pajamas to school and eat breakfast in the car.”
The Law of Zero Sum Progress is based on two children. With more children, I image their behaviour would be ruled by a Law with Negative Sum Progress where the more you do to get the kids ready, the less ready they are.