Monday, October 12, 2009

Could Be Worse. I Could Be a Condescending Late Night Talk Show Host.

There's a certain irony that occasionally pops up in the realities people create for themselves, or should I say in the pictures of themselves that they paint with very broad brushes. It's a bit of a stereotype, I suppose: the teacher with the high school dropout son or daughter, or the cop whose kids are always in trouble with the law. I had a doctor once who went to jail for stealing prescription painkillers. My ex-husband was the "son of a preacher man". And now he's my ex-husband, so how's that for an explanation of what it was like to live with him?

As for myself, I work in the world of dollars and cents. That's about as specific as I ever care to get here about what I do for a living, but my point is that I spend many hours a week concentrating my attention on the proper use of one's money. And admittedly, because I have seen a thousand ways to make mistakes with it, I can be a bit of a tightwad personally. I prefer to think of myself as "frugal", or a "saver". But these were not the words of choice used by the aforementioned ex. But anyway.

This is my long-winded way of setting you up for the story of how I spent a good part of my weekend arguing with Sixth Grader about financial decision-making. Sixth Grader wants an iPod Touch in the worst way. And because "Santa" spent many hours last year store-hopping in search of Sixth Grader's current 4th generation iPod in the highly coveted purple hue that she requested, I am insisting that she save up her own money for it.

Where does Sixth Grader get money? From me, of course. But I do make her earn it. She and her sister have a whole list of potential chores and a very workable system that I created last spring just for the purpose of teaching this valuable lesson. To date, Sixth Grader has earned and saved more than half of what she needs to get her upgrade. She's so close. And then the mall gets her. Or, at least, it tries very, very hard to get her. This is why we found ourselves once again in a tangled mess of tears and yelling on Saturday afternoon. I took the girls to the mall for the express purpose of making my twice-a-year pilgrimage for work clothes for myself (yes, I shop for myself twice a year. And that's two more times a year than I did for about a decade.) I felt pretty good about the fact that I was exhibiting the payoff of my financial restraint right in front of their eyes - that I wait for the store I love to have its semi-annual sale, and to send me my 20% off coupon, and then I score BIG - but Sixth Grader didn't see it at all. Because she immediately deserted me.

She came back an hour later, clearly stressed. She had seen about a million things that she couldn't live without. She had her money with her. She bought nothing, because she is saving for her iPod Touch. It was NOT FAIR, she said. I said something very sympathetic, I'm sure, but she started to cry anyway. WHY can't I just give her some money to spend in the mall, just this ONE TIME? Uh, because I already gave you all that money in your little wallet there, sweetie, I said. Go ahead and buy something if you really want it, I said. More crying. She'll NEVER have enough money for an iPod Touch. NEVER. I reminded her of the many ways that she can continue to earn the rest of what she needs as we made our way out of the mall. It took a while, because she dragged herself about ten feet behind me, stopping to stare mournfully into several stores. We eventually made it to the car, where she escalated her grief to a series of bold statements about how unfair and mean I am. Can't I just GIVE her the rest of the money NOW and she'll owe me?

Ha. That's a good one.

After a brief, heated exchange with her, I managed to extract my emotions from the situation and return to parent mode. In parent mode, I counseled her that she did indeed seem to have a problem on her hands, and that she will have to figure out a way to solve it, but that making it my problem is not a viable solution. I then conveyed the parable of the Girl Who Waited for the Semi-Annual Sale to her, seeing as she missed the live performance. And again, we revisited the chore list.

It's the tiniest bit possible that some of this lesson actually sank in with her. Because Sunday afternoon she did about $16 worth of chores, all unprovoked. And she didn't cry once.

My point is, I do worry a little that I might end up with financial train wrecks for grown children someday. Simply because, like I said in the beginning, irony happens. But I try to do what I can to teach now, without being "preachy" or, god forbid, "uncool". And yet, I find myself worrying less and less about the "uncool" part. I still don't want to be preachy. But uncool is starting to look pretty good to me. On many parenting issues, I find myself much more drawn to uncool. Who knew? You spend your whole adolescence and young adulthood trying to be cool, and then, as a parent, uncool is the new cool.

That's what I'm going to tell myself, anyway.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Why Don't I Listen To Myself? Why?

Sixth Grader would be horrified if she knew that I was about to write this about her. But too bad. Because the thing is, Sixth Grader has been torturing me these last few weeks, and it is only right that I pay her back by making it public.

Oh, I don't really think that way. Not always. But this time? If for no other reason than to maybe invite a little empathy and support, I am going to tell you about how Sixth Grader has essentially been possessed by some kind of mean, moody, temper tantrum-prone aliens lately, and I'm a little fed up with it.

It started with the new school year. It didn't escape my attention that, over the course of the summer, Sixth Grader did not see a whole lot of her school friends. Such is the curse of the child-with-single-working-mom-and-child-is-still-too-young-to-stay-home-unsupervised. She was subjected to a lot of camp - much more than I wished for her, but that's how it goes. Not that she didn't have friends at camp, because she did. But not school friends. So school started again, and almost immediately, Sixth Grader became a girl obsessed. Obsessed with playdates. Obsessed with sleepovers. Obsessed with any and all kinds and forms of girl get-togethers, quality time with family be damned.

That's fine. Except that along with school starting, so did gymnastics team practice three times a night. And so did flute lessons, and subsequent practice demands from Band Instructor. Oh, and also: Sixth Grade - unlike Fifth Grade - involves homework. So. On top of all of those things, Sixth Grader wished to smush in as much of her social life as she felt she had been deprived of over the summer months. But really, what she wanted was to have her social life take prominence, and then MAYBE smush in some of those other things around IT.

To be honest, I am just so-so at the whole rule-enforcement thing. Call it an inherent desire to compensate for the insane strictness under which I was raised, but I'm just a tad reluctant to go all militant on my kids. But you know? It's just me. And I needed to rein the kid in. For her own good. And also, for my own good, as it was developing into this situation where every spare minute that I wasn't carting her and her sister around to some practice or lesson or fetching food for them, I was instead carting her around to this or that friend's house. ENOUGH. So what did I have to do?

I had to go just the slightest bit militant.

I created a playdate and sleepover "sabbatical." The "sabbatical" was to last one month, beginning several weeks ago. I then let the "sabbatical" slide for what I deemed a special occasion. (The special occasion being that I had made plans to go away with Boyfriend on a Saturday night and Grandma was in charge. Go ask Grandma.) Then, last weekend, I had to reinforce the "sabbatical".

To make a long and painful story slightly shorter, last weekend consisted of 48 hours of complete and total pain - both Sixth Grader's and mine. Fighting, arguing, begging, yelling, grounding, crying, apologizing, more begging, more grounding. For five days I have been carrying her cell phone around in my purse, ticking off the two week penalty until I can give it back to her. Who knew that grounding your child could cause a mother so much anguish? But the sabbatical - that was not intended as punishment. It was intended as a method of putting the brakes on something that was getting out of control. It was meant to return a sense of balance to her life.

And you know, for these past few days she has been much calmer. More polite. More herself. Did she learn something? Or has the hormonal cloud just passed? I don't know. But this afternoon I returned a call to a fellow mother who invited both of my girls to come over after school tomorrow, and I said "Sure." I'm no hard head. I can recognize progress.

This fellow mother just called me back to inform me that she will bring the girls home for me tomorrow. At nine o'clock. At night.

I sense a serious backslide coming....