Break-Through Family Meeting!

Wow, that was pretty awesome. Must blog while it's fresh, even though I have swimsuits to rinse and laundry to start and toys to tidy. Because tonight's family meeting was something else. On a small scale, you understand. But something else nevertheless.
It started off with the kids asking when the meeting could start (hint, hint: ice cream snack!). But their enthusiasm went deeper than that. Once we'd established who would be secretary (AppleApple), and that everyone else who wanted to could draw pictures during the meeting (Fooey was disappointed that her inability to write prevented her from being the secretary), the kids leapt right in: Why were we writing things down and then not really talking about them?
So. First item on the minutes: family meetings.
As the kids started talking over each other, I suddenly saw the point of the talking stick. I grabbed a crayon. "This can be our talking stick." The kids LOVED it. No, seriously. They loved it. Whoever held the talking crayon was listened to with complete seriousness. And there was something about holding the talking crayon that made people think more about what they wanted to say.
AppleApple held the crayon and said she thought we should spend at least one minute on every item. Albus agreed, and added that everyone should get a chance to talk about it.
Huh. I guess as chairperson I'd been doing a lot of talking and whipping through items. So we passed the crayon, and everyone had a chance to say something, and then I decided to go all out. Have I mentioned that I'm not a committee person? Well, I've reformed. I asked for a show of hands to pass the item. It was unanimous. Apparently all they wanted was an equal voice for everyone, and ample discussion time.
For the next item, we opened the floor, and Albus took the crayon. "Lego!" he announced. AppleApple wrote it down, and we passed the crayon. No one had much to say, though Albus got the chance to tell us a fact about a Star Wars Lego ship. Item passed.
Next item was my baby. This came about following Monday's yoga distress. I was suddenly completely done with stepping in and solving my children's conflicts for them. It occurred to me like a whack to the head that this was just another form of triangulation; I really don't want to use it as a form of communication in my adult relationships, and try not to--and yet here I was doing it every single day--not every single time that a conflict arose, but definitely anytime someone shrieked loudly enough (usually the smaller of the two children involved).
How to throw such a turnaround at the children? Well, I started by just trying it out on Tuesday morning. With mixed results. And a fair bit of resistance. And a lot of: "It's not fair!"
So my item was: conflict resolution. Started by defining "conflict," and "resolution." Then I put it to them: "When you are having an argument with someone else, I want you to work to resolve it yourselves."
Albus took the crayon, and pointed out that when we'd tried this yesterday morning, Fooey had refused to answer him and then he had to leave for school--and he felt that she'd "won" and that it wasn't fair. Well, it wasn't fair, was it? So I said, "Maybe we need some rules for this to work." Everyone agreed. AppleApple took the floor. Rule number one, she suggested, would be that everyone had to answer each other. This was generally agreed upon, but then Albus asked for the talking crayon. "I think the person shouldn't always have to ..." and then he trailed off as his idea sank in for him. "No," he said. "I changed my mind. The person should always have to answer."
So rule number one had unanimous agreement, even from Fooey (who I must remind myself is only four, and who will be more challenged by this experiment than the older kids, I think). Kevin added the rule that there be no yelling. And I said that if they needed help, Kevin and I would be happy to make suggestions about what they could say to or ask each other to work toward a solution. "That actually makes sense," Albus said, sounding slightly surprised by the fact that he kind of liked the idea. We passed this item with an agreement to revisit it next week and talk about how it had worked and what we might want to change or add.
This sounds almost like a family utopia as I write it down, but I swear, I'm not making this up, this really happened! I should add that this was our fourth meeting. The first was quite informal, during supper. We started with minutes and ice cream at our second meeting. Talking stick by the fourth. So we're evolving.
Next item was Kevin's suggestion: ice cream flavour suggestions for the next meeting. By this point, Fooey was willingly taking the talking crayon and adding her two cents. Which was adding up to about five or six cents.
Last item: Family Day. Brainstorming possible ideas for activities. The three oldest kids wanted to go to the Children's Museum "because they have a dead body there." I think this is actually true--one (or more) of those preserved bodies that show the human muscular system, internal organs, and etc.
At this point, Fooey got hold of the crayon and started making points about what she'd like to do for her birthday (a favourite subject all day today--her birthday is in August--and she was especially keen to "sleep in," and "eat breakfast in bed"). That was the point at which I reminded myself that Fooey is only four. Albus got the talking crayon back and said he could see the point of keeping the meetings short.
Kevin and I exchanged a grin.
(And if need be, we could put a time limit on how long any one person can hold the talking crayon; though I hope not to have to.) We finished with an evaluation of the penny jars, and handed out allowances. By that point, everyone was happy to put the meeting to bed, and it felt like we'd really accomplished something. It really did.