MICROBES

An unseen entity is adversely affecting my world. Unlike the brash blackberry that infests my yard, this cowardly cad cannot be seen by the naked eye, or hacked with a garden hoe.

It is streptococcus, and this bacterial brat has sickened my daughter Tigger four, count ‘em, four times in the last few months.

Now, Tigger is not nearly as distressed by this serial sickness as I am. That’s because when she’s ill she spends the day ensconced in my bed, watching cartoons via Comcast “On Demand,” and being served juice by her devoted mother. A bout of bacteria is even better because it means antibiotics, which implies a twice-daily dose of ice cream with a little pill hidden inside.

Bacteria are not the only invisible instigators. As any woman over the age of 12 knows, hormones rule your life. Between the monthly rollercoaster ride known as the Estrogen Express and the unavoidable interactions with men riding the Testosterone Tornado, we all careen through life with a perpetual case of vertigo.

I don’t like it.

By training and inclination, I’m a Behaviorist of the B.F. Skinner variety. The theory is simple… for every action there is a consequence. If the consequence is enjoyable (reinforcing), it increases the probability the action will be performed again. If the consequence is unpleasant (punishing), it decreases the likelihood you’ll do the same thing next time.

When I’m feeling charitable towards the human race, I’m a Cognitive Behaviorist, but mostly I think the principle operates on the primitive, reptilian part of our brains.

It’s a clean, understandable, and best of all, observable phenomenon. It explains the inexplicable behavior of our children and other members of the species, including ourselves. It explains why Tigger likes to be sick. Cartoons + juice = heavy reinforcement.

A wise man once told me, “We are all products of our reinforcement histories.”

And so we are. Plus our hormones and our bacterial buddies.

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12 thoughts on “

  1. In a sick way I kind of like it when my kids are sick because it’s my excuse to let everything around me go to hell.  As if I had a choice.  But the difference is that I’m at peace with it because I expect things to go to hell then; it’s the natural order of things.  If only I could be that enlightened and Zen-like when everybody’s not throwing up.  I like your behaviorist theory, though.  It’s a lot better than my theory, which is that the universe is conspiring against me.
    Hope Tigger is up and bouncing soon.

  2. When we first start blogging, we have a vague idea what we want to do.  We start posting entries.  Some get a bunch of comments.  Some get very few or none.  Some get particularly interesting comments.  Some result in subscribers.  And so we modify our entries over time and our blog begins to take shape.  (And if we’re a cognitive behaviorist, our own ideas about our blog, our purpose for blogging and our values mediate our response to the reinforcement paradigm).  “We are all products of our reinforcement histories.” 

  3. I was a much meaner mom than you. When my kids were sick, they had to stay in their own beds, no TV, and while I took them food and beverage, I didn’t make it a pleasure cruise they would want to repeat. Anyway, you’re much kinder than I am. But I do think as you do, that we are all products of our reinforcement history except when the reptilian brain wants something. That hierarchy of needs comes into play, too. Hope Tigger beats the bug permenantly this time.

  4. My daughter went through a phase like that, and every time we had to argue with the grents about tonsils.  When their kids were her age, of course, tonsils were yanked out at the first opportunity.  She did get through it, eventually, tonsils intact.

  5. I like your theory. unfortunately, it is not flawless. I have certain behaviors that occur only because my OCD causes them to thrive. Sure, there is some pleasurable reinforcement involved, but also there are morality issues against them.  If I could eliminate them, I would. Unfortunately, I have been doing them for far too long to stop now. They hurt no one but myself, so I guess as long as it remains at that level, there is nothing to worry about.

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