Some may call it bribery. I call it motivation.
Initially, the goal (mine, at least) was to get Teen’s college application essays written before the school year started. Despite the 2-session college essay workshop he attended, that didn’t happen. The college counselor came to our home to talk through the process, yet Teen has felt so overwhelmed by this extra layer of life-reorienting paperwork and studying on top of his regular regimen of school, studying, sports and activities, that he couldn’t find the motivation to start, stuck behind the starting line.
Too busy and tired to do much extra Monday through Friday, we’ve focused our attention on weekends. Our conversation on Saturday went something like this…
Me (washing dishes): Teen, how about those college apps?
Teen (watching TV): Nah, it’s the 10-year anniversary of the Croc Hunter’s death. I’m gonna watch reruns on Animal Planet.
Me: Hit “record” on the DVR and watch them later?
Teen: No, thanks.
On the one hand, I get it. Besides his dad and Jesus, Steve Irwin was his first hero. At risk of sounding sacrilegious, Irwin had similar life-changing effect on Teen. He spoke to young Teen’s heart. He shared Teen’s fascination with animals, particularly scary/threatening ones. With his engaging personality and the vehicle of TV, he communicated to the world the beauty and importance of under-appreciated creatures. Still…
Me (an hour later): Teen? College apps?
Teen (watching TV): Mom! I don’t think you understand–when you nag me, it makes me less likely to do anything else!
Me: Deep breath two three…
Me (walking into the next room and leaning down close so I can speak quietly): And I don’t think you understand that when you don’t do what you need to do I get frustrated and feel less like helping you.
Sunday Teen had a proposition.
Teen: Mom, I have an empty tank to fill. Can we go to the reptile store, please?
Me: Why would I buy you a reptile when you’re going to college in a year?
Teen: I’ve been saving money. And I can take it with me to college (despite our repeated words to the contrary he really believes this and won’t be talked out of it).
And slowly, it dawned on me. The kid’s applying to college to study Wildlife Biology in preparation for a PhD in herpetology (the study of reptiles). This could work in my favor…
[Read the story of how I made peace with his passion for reptiles]
Me: Tell you what–you get steps A, B & C done, plus your chores, and tomorrow we can have a conversation about another reptile under our roof.
While Guy and I went out that evening, Teen spent hours working on college apps. He’d gotten way more done than I’d expected, so we took a trip to the reptile store.
Teen was unusually relaxed and talkative on the way there. He shared his favorite things about this school year so far, what he’s learning and enjoying. He confirmed the serious Mom Points I was winning by willingly engaging his interests. Though I usually stick to the frog section of the store (dart frogs are way more my style), I was all his, asking questions about what he liked/didn’t and allowing him to share his generous knowledge.
Hence I saw it one flash of a second after he did: a striking ball python with unique coloration. Teen already has two ball pythons. They are curious, active, beautiful (if you can talk yourself into being willing to admit a snake can be beautiful), bred for genetic diversity and coloration. I recognized my bargaining chip.
He held it, just a baby, and began to fall in love. He held several others, some double the price, and came back to him. I joked he could name the snake “Motivation,” “Mo” for short.
Just about an hour after we got home, he finished a draft of his college essay. The prompt says:
“Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”
Teen wrote about his passion for reptiles. Could their be a more fitting reward for this kid?
Teen named his new pet Orpheus (all his pets have mythological names). Orpheus’ wife, Eurydice, died of a snake bite. He descended to Hades to rescue her, and his gift with the lyre melted Hades’ heart. Hades granted him his wife back under one condition: she would follow Orpheus as he walked to the light. If he turned around to look at her before they had both emerged, he would lose her forever. A few feet short of his goal, Orpheus lost faith and turned, catching glimpse of Eurydice’s shadow as she was whisked away from him.
The carrot (snake) dangling before his sight sent Teen hurtling past the starting line and, now that he’s moving, more movement will come easier. If his motivation lags, I will point him to the tale of Orpheus: you can’t turn back before you fully reach your goal. Don’t lose faith.