Over the years, I have developed a sophisticated network of informants in my house consisting of three agents, each of whom keeps diligent tabs on the others — because that’s how these things generally go.
Sometimes I call on this network for intelligence germane to the moment: Who was the last person to use this bathroom? Why is there no more bacon? What is this stuff all over the coffee table? And so on. Usually one of them will come’up with the dirt with a minimum of enticement.
I should mention that these operatives are currently between the ages of 5 and 10, and that after a period of years in my service they have begun to take it upon themselves to offer up information on the others. At first, because I am interested in household justice and also I like to give the impression among my spies that I am aware of every little thing that goes on in my jurisdiction, I welcomed these briefings, however mundane they may have been.
That, friends, was a mistake. Children tattle for many reasons, of course, but as it evolved in our house, tattling has become a means of aggression, a venue for revenge, even a way to alleviate boredom.
I’m not saying it’s not useful — for instance, I would not have known that one agent ate a whole tube of toothpaste last week had it not been for a disgruntled sibling, nor would I have been aware that another child routinely threw his lunch away at school, silverware and all, had it not been for these voluntary reports.
But as it stands, a good portion of my time at home has been overtaken with incidents of one kid ratting out another for grievances that range from not cleaning a room to making a kitten sad.
Frankly, it’s forced me to do more actual parenting than I really want to do.
So I turned to my old friend the internet, where I go whenever I have weird physical symptoms, a question about an old TV show or the desire to see a particular celebrity naked, and plugged in the tattle question. And I was rewarded with a piece of sage advice that my wife and I have instilled as a part of our household rules.
The answer: tattle forms. It’s brilliant, don’t you see? So now, when one of my rogue operatives wants to offer up some unsolicited dirt, I will have a form at the ready requesting the following information:
‘ Date ‘ Name ‘ Age ‘ Address ‘ E-mail (if applicable) ‘ Parents’ phone numbers ‘ Favorite color ‘ Favorite subject (in school) ‘ Least favorite subject (in school) ‘ Have you tattled before? If so, date of last tattle ‘ Person you are tattling on ‘ Reason for tattling (please use the three lines provided. You may not use the back of the paper for extra space) ‘ Did this have a direct affect on you? (answer yes or no, please, without elaboration) ‘ Has this person tattled on you in the last 24 hours? If so, please give a description of the offense in the three lines provided ‘ Suggested punishment It’s a similar piece of bureaucracy to the one we instilled after receiving numerous complaints about everything from dinner-menu options to the frequency with which some of the kids get to ride on the front seat: a household complaint department, which is located in the attic and is only open during regular business hours. That one was a rousing success, and we see no reason why this initiative will not follow suit.
Our mistake, in the past, was to run our household like a utopia where fairness was the order of the day. And then we tried to operate like a non-profit business with the good of all as our primary concern.
Now we see that we need to run our home like the DMV, complete with arbitrary rules, beaucoup paperwork and unsatisfying resolutions.
I don’t know why we didn’t see it before.