The birthday present of doom

We don’t give out much in the way of allowances in our house. We give some, but not much. So when birthdays roll around, the kids typically go out with me or their mother so we can buy what they pick out.

For my youngest son’s 11th birthday this past June, his older brother told me he didn’t want to do that.

“I have something better planned,” he said.

“Are you sure?”


I followed up with him several times, but he stayed firm. Finally, the day before the birthday, I couldn’t take it any more. I went into his room where he was reading.

“Okay,” I said. “You just have to tell me. What are you giving him?”

“Oh!” he said, jumping out of bed. “Thanks for reminding me. I have to make it!”

“You haven’t made it yet? You can’t be serious.”

“I just need index cards,” he said. “Do you have any index cards?”

“Sure.” Wondering what he was up to, I ran upstairs, grabbed a stack of index cards, and brought them down to him.

He sat on his bed and wrote on the first one 10 movie choices.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Making coupons,” he said. “I’m going to give these to him, and then he can use them throughout the year.”

On the next card, he wrote One day of me doing your chores.

While I watched, he wrote out 11 cards, one for each year of his brother’s age. “Um,” I said, “wow.”

The cards covered all the day-to-day unpleasantness that the boys go through (doing chores, feeding pets, mowing, etc.) as well as common arguments (who gets to choose the movie) and even toys that were sources of contention.

“Do you think he’s going to like it?” he asked, suddenly hesitant.

“Yeah,” I said. “I’m pretty sure he will.”

The next day, the birthday boy was absolutely blown away by the gift. He flipped through the cards, reading them out loud, and saying “thank you” over and over again.

It was one of the most successful birthday presents I’ve ever seen.

…until they started getting used.

A few weeks ago, as the boys and I returned home from a truly exhausting morning adventure, I realized that none of our chores had been done. “Sorry guys,” I said. “But we have to get to work.”

“Can we watch a movie if we get done in time?” my oldest asked.


“Kapow!” his little brother shouted, producing one of the coupons. “No chores for me.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. “Okay,” I said. “Looks like you’re off the hook. What are you going to do?”

“I’m thinking Roller Coaster Tycoon.”

“Da-ad!” my oldest said.

“I know, I know,” I said. “When we’re done, you can do that instead of the movie.” Our rule for video games is no more than 20 minutes a day, and if one of them uses their 20, we generally let the other one do the samel.

“Kapow!” my youngest son shouted, producing a get my computer time coupon. “Forty minutes for me!”

Now the little guy was going to get forty minutes of computer gaming while we worked. After which, he would be able to watch the movie with us. “Really?” I said.

He laughed.

“At least I still get to watch a movie,” his brother said. “Avengers?”

My youngest held up his 10 free movie choices coupon and waved it menacingly.

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