Back Scratch Fever

I admit this idea is not my own.  It comes from Mrs. W., my brilliant fourth grade teacher, who shall remain anonymous because there is no doubt in my mind that what she did would be means for termination (and possibly jail) today.  However, it remains one of the greatest parenting tricks I’ve ever discovered.

When we had to stay late after school for an activity or if there was down time for some reason, Mrs. W. would offer up a challenge to anyone interested in earning stickers. (This was the 80’s.  If you didn’t have a sticker collection you lived under a rock, so pretty much getting a sticker—especially a scratch ‘n sniff one—was a big deal.)  Of course we’d all raise our hands and line up and commence the challenge:  Who is the best back scratcher?

Looking back, I remember us lined up behind her chair as she graded papers or worked on lesson plans and we’d all take turns scratching this woman’s back.  We’d wait for our turn and then do our very best with none of that lackadaisical one-handed stuff.   And when the line was finished or the free time was over, she’d award one of us with a couple of stickers in exchange for basically a half hour of vigorous back scratching.

It was pure genius.

So it goes without saying that one day when I had an itch I couldn’t scratch, I offered up this same situation to my children.  “Let’s have a contest!  Who wants to win a sticker/candy/big hug?” and of course they all jump up and down in excitement because the real prize is being able to stick your tongue out at your sibling and proclaim the title of BEST BACK SCRATCHER.

This is pathetically wonderful, but I lie on the floor and watch TV while they sit quietly and wait their turn to go to work, barking commands like “higher, lower” and occasionally remind them to clip their nails so that they stop drawing blood. They whine when their turns have ended and sometimes, if they’re really lucky, I’ll actually give them a second turn to redeem themselves.

“And don’t say it was a tie this time, mom,” says the middle child.

The infamous tie is the way we parents of multiple children avoid hurting feelings, but when I was actually called on my wishy-washiness, I had to think out of the box.  With an aching back, I decided to add a second round of competition: the massage round.

Sadly they all line up and wait their turn to give karate chops and rub my back.

With three children now, I had to expand my game in order to be fair, and so was created: the freestyle round, where anything goes.

Depending on the sibling tension of the day, I can easily get an hour of relaxation done for the cost of a few stickers, to the point where I sometimes fall asleep.

Goodnight, Mrs. W., wherever you are.


About Karrie

Karrie is proud to hail from the heart of the Midwest, where she and her family live in a small town that is so friendly it almost makes you sick. Here, where every grocery store aisle brings a new conversation and locals are on a first name basis with city officials, Karrie and her family have shared potato salad with just about everyone. This lack of anonymity has given her super special powers to yell at her kids through looks and small hand motions alone—and yet, all three of her children continue to prosper. “Eleanor” (b. 2001), “Tony” (b. 2003), and “Ally” (b. 2007) eat mostly noodles, constantly have dirty fingernails, and don’t practice the piano as much as their mother wants them to. Other than that, they bring great joy to Karrie, who drinks her own weight in coffee every day just to keep from falling over. Karrie once realized she had 4 seconds of free time and so she teaches preschool and toddler music classes, outdoor nature education, and writes a weekly column in the local paper (just to keep her honest). With the remaining .3 seconds, she blogs at

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