The best deal I ever made

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 16, 2004

Mary Ann Fitzmorris FAMILY TIES

My son gave me a fabulous gift for Christmas, and it cost him plenty. He gave me a rotten report card from school.

It seems bizarre that I would consider bad grades a gift, but it is. Because of these grades, I have received something that I have only dreamed about for a long time: his room without a computer in it.

This situation has been brewing for some time. The boy views school as a distraction, an annoyance that can be pushed aside for more important things. Like . . . anything else.

This has always been his take on school. We know it, and all his teachers know it. They also know his M.O., which is to goof off and, at the end, go for “extra points” any teacher may be merciful enough to give.

But his current school isn’t known for its mercy. Or stupidity. When he asked for extra points, one teacher replied kindly, “Mr. Fitzmorris, you want extra points?” He shook his head affirmatively. “Then do your homework!” she shouted.

He tried another. “Mr. Fitzmorris, did you say you were looking for extra points?” Again the prodigal student seemed hopeful. “Did you keep the papers I gave at the beginning of the school year regarding class policy?” asked the teacher.

“Yes,” my son responded.

“Great! Would you get them and come to the front of the class and read the last line of the second page for us all? It’s the one in bold letters.”

The sacrificial lamb approached the podium for the slaughter. He read “THERE WILL BE NO EXTRA POINTS GIVEN FOR ANYTHING IN THIS CLASS.”

That’s when the boy realized that pulling it out was not going to be as easy as it had been. Still, he wasn’t too worried. Family precedent allows that Mom never follows through on any threat.

But this time was different. Ever since the Devil-In-The-Box arrived in his room it has been like a biblical cause of mine to slay it.

On the surface, there is no problem. He does not download anything inappropriate. There have been no secret meetings with cyber-roving pedophiles. He doesn’t even play video games.And Sony isn’t after us.

My objection to this evil machine is simple: it ate his life.

It wouldn’t be fair to say he is on it 24/7. He does sleep, go to the bathroom, and eat. All remaining minutes of the day are spent basking in the glow of Devil-In-A-Box.

So when I realized that the new school was not responding to his previously successful M.O., I saw an opportunity. After the first quarter grades, he set his own goals with his father. “But if these promises are not met, I get to come in and rip it out,” I announced, trying to control my glee.

Rarely have I made such a brilliant tactical maneuver. It was a win-win situation. If the grades improved, great! If they didn’t, great!

“You’ll never go through with it,” my daughter predicted.

My son was counting on that. He made no serious effort to improve his grades until the last week or two of the quarter, when it became obvious that he would not meet his goals. “You may as well take it now,” he muttered with pathetic resignation.

Yanking it away made me feel like a doctor cutting off life support. “This is preposterous. I won’t make it,” he wailed. Even his sister started to feel sorry for him.

Since his entire social life is connected to the computer via instant messaging, he felt like he had been put in solitary confinement. “You’re going to have to beef up my cell phone plan,” he informed us. “Text messaging is now essential.”

“Do you know what leverage is?” I asked him. “What happens to a guy playing poker when someone else has all the cards? How do you negotiate when you come to the table empty-handed?” I continued, trying to suppress a chuckle.

“I get it,” he said, staring hard.

The computer sits idle in its new home. He is finding other things to do, and even working a little harder at school. It’s been easier since most of his friends are also banned from instant messaging.

Yep, the new program is really working out well. Unless someone needs to use the phone.