In my job, you spend a lot of time on the phone.
A number I regularly dial is that of my good friend Stephen Conroy. The main topics: politics and sport.
One such call took place on our respective speaker-phones, as we each performed our second jobs --unpaid chauffeur for our kids. As Stephen ferried Bella Benson-Conroy through suburban Melbourne, and I taxied Bella Marles around Geelong, an accidental meeting of minds ensued.
The two Bellas were about to perform a shake down.
Just as I began to speak, Stephen interjected: "Before you start, Bella has something to say."
Bella Benson-Conroy declared: "Dad and I have a deal that every time he or his friends swear on the phone I get a Freddo frog."
"So Richard," followed Steve, "you better watch your Ps and Qs."
The revelation of this family arrangement fairly crackled through the airwaves from Bella Benson-Conroy's mouth to Bella Marles' ears. The gasp of excitement in my car was audible in Steve's. I continued the discussion with the decorum of a monk, but make no mistake, in this brief call the devil had gone to work.
As soon as I had hastily ended the call, Bella was on to me like a heat-seeking missile. "Oh we are so doing that Dad," she declared.
Is 'crap' really a swear word?
It was not a request. It was not a negotiation. It was an edict. I instantly knew I would be spending more time in the supermarket confectionary aisle.
Arriving at home, my wife Rachel stared at me with that familiar "what have you done now" look. So I explained the arrangement, and Rachel quickly did the maths in her head. She was not impressed.
Before long the frogs started flowing. An f-bomb was inadvertently dropped in their presence, and rather than bearing the pained expression of the innocent wronged, the kids had the delighted look of prize winners at the Geelong Show. The philosophy which underpinned this arrangement was looking pretty shaky.
Soon enough, I was bargaining with them. Long debates were had as to which words actually counted for a frog as the kids engaged in outrageous Freddo-creep. Is 'crap' really a swear word?
I tried to limit the frog compensation to only those who'd heard the offending word. But this was howled down as being deeply unfair, so a frog for one became a frog for all.
As I started to purchase Freddos in bulk to save money while desperately trying to clean up my language (and imploring my colleagues to do the same), I realised that a new economy had taken root in our family. This was Frogonomics at work.
And Frogonomics was everywhere. I even caught Bella doing a deal with my staff to have them intentionally swear on the basis of a frog kick-back arrangement (a piece of genius such that I didn't know whether to be horrified or impressed).
But recently the frog issue came to a head.
I had no choice but to make an urgent call to a constituent with the kids in the car. He was angry, and I knew him to be fairly loose with the Queen's English.
An f-bomb was inadvertently dropped in their presence, and rather than bearing the pained expression of the innocent wronged, the kids had the delighted look of prize winners at the Geelong Show.
Before I rang I offered to frog-hedge the call by proposing ten Freddos each on the basis that this would cover the conversation no matter how many expletives were used.
The younger kids, Harvey and Georgia, were prepared to accept the frog ceiling. Bella was immediately suspicious and quickly sunk the deal.
Five minutes into the call, an angry tirade had let loose, and a pair of hands was no longer sufficient to record the loot. Ten minutes in, the kids looked like they'd just won the jackpot and I was wondering how to refinance the mortgage. As I ended the call, I was totally broke and the kids were candidates for early onset diabetes.
Frogonomics was out of control. The Marles family was in dire need of some drastic microfrogonomic reform.
While there had been a blowout in frog expenditure, what we needed was some revenue. So we enacted a new law: each child was required to perform set chores around the house, and for each chore not performed, a frog tax would be imposed. If frogs were now the family currency, they could at least start to drive some positive behaviour.
Harvey and Georgia have swallowed it. But for Bella, the frogs have gone to the dogs.
Still, the early signs are promising. Home tidiness is up and frog outlays are down. The Freddo bubble has finally burst. And I'm pleased to say my phone conversations now contain only the most polite language -- at least when the kids are in earshot.
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