Why can’t I play it all the time, if it’s my iPad that I buy with my own money?
The question came with a whine from my daughter, who turns 9 in a few days. She has an elaborate plan to save enough money to buy herself an iPad. She’s been forming, if not exactly acting upon, this plan for a few months. It came as a surprise to her that even as outright owner of an iPad, screen time rules would still apply.
At nearly 9 she still views me as enough of an authority figure so that when I gave her one of those “because I’m the mommy and I said so” type answers, she acquiesced, but settled into one of those “life is so completely unfair” pouts. I felt dissatisfied with whatever line I fed her—I knew that I was right, but I couldn’t fathom why.
I like the idea that there’s something she really wants and she understands she must save up for it. She’s seen my son save enough money to buy his very own DS (it didn’t make things any easier for her pout when he pointed out he bought the DS and he doesn’t get to play it every minute of every day). Mostly, she’s spendthrift, and not simply with her own money. If she perceives that she doesn’t have enough money for something she wants, she will not hesitate to ask one of her parents to buy it for her. I don’t really think she expects us to say yes all the time, but she certainly knows how to swing her head and look disappointed when we say no.
Both children receive a weekly allowance, and both are required to save money toward purchasing birthday and Christmas gifts. We stop at the bank some Saturdays so they can make deposits in their savings accounts. They kept their earnings from our yard sales. I expect chores to be done because they are members of the family (“remember, I tell them, you expect there to be food at regular intervals—it’s the same idea”), but there are a few jobs for which I will pay. My son is compensated for cleaning the kitty litter. And occasionally, for example before a trip for which I want them to have their own spending money, I will offer them money to clean up the basement where their toys are most often strewn from wall to wall.
On our recent visit to Florida, there wasn’t much time for shopping as we flitted from one family gathering to another. One evening we poked around the dusty shelves of a tee-shirt shop near the ocean. Outside the beach scene was in full swing—women in bathing suits that were never meant to get wet, their hair shimmering, paraded by in high, high heels. An endless jam of cars raced their engines over the sounds of the waves. Motorcycles threaded between the cars, brightening the night with their neon running lights. The wind blew and the heat from the sun lingered, even an hour after sunset.
My daughter wore on one of her fingers a circle of light blue rhinestones. I had, earlier that day, dissuaded her from purchasing two necklaces at the Science Museum gift shop, because they seemed over-priced to me. Here was something I felt sure would be an incidental price. But like so much else in the store, the rings were not priced. The woman who had been chatting with us, when asked the price, had to ask her coworker. “$2.99” came the reply. I asked my daughter, “Would you like the ring?” She nodded and then did as she always does, flipping open her wallet and beginning to root around in her money before the sale had even been rung up.
But there was no cash register action. Instead, the first woman, who I was beginning to think of as the good cop, said to the other, “Would you ring this girl up?” And the bad cop just tilted her head and thought for a moment, “$3.50, with everything.”
Sometimes my math brain doesn’t work very fast and sometimes my mommy brain doesn’t either. I knew that the number was inflated—now I have figured the price included a whopping 12 percent, what?, handling fee plus sales tax—and I knew that my daughter really wanted the ring. She had two singles and a twenty in her wallet and I was certain I didn’t want her to hand over the twenty and trust these women to make fair change. So I reached into my wallet and gave her a one and asked if she had 50¢.
The money paid, the ring on her finger, we walked to the door of the store where she hesitated, “$3.50 is a lot for this ring.” I was already feeling chagrined for not challenging the bad cop. Now I wanted my daughter not to have buyer’s remorse: “Can you still enjoy it?” “Yes,” she affirmed, and out the door we walked.
I won’t worry about the ring, but I definitely worry about the slew of messages that did and did not get transmitted in that moment. The ring can go to school, could get broken or even lost without too much concern. There’s no way my daughter knew I was bridling at the handling we received or that I considered but opted not to challenge the sales women. I gave her a dollar I won’t ask for back, but usually if I spend money on the children’s behalf I insist on accounting to the penny. I encouraged the spending of her money on a cheap ring but wouldn’t let her spend her money on an inexpensive necklace. The inconsistent messages caused me to question the full financial picture. Should I let them buy whatever they want? What if it’s candy, something so far neither of them have felt free to purchase. What if she does save all her money and buy an iPad. Why can’t she eat any candy she buys and play on the iPad at any time of day or night?
The answer came from my own mother. She made the connection for me: “You can go out and purchase a car, but that doesn’t mean you can speed or drive it any where you want to. You stay on the roads, fasten your seatbelt, and obey traffic laws regardless of who paid for the car.”
The question hasn’t been repeated yet, but this child will come around again, asking for a better answer to a very good question. I’m so grateful that I’ll have a solid answer—for the iPad question at least.
Wishing you a many, splendored waxing crescent moon, Rxo