One of our Labor Day weekend activities was going to see an outdoor production of Peter Pan. We knew a lot of friends and neighbors who were also going, and we were all looking forward to it as we packed a picnic lunch, gathered blankets and cameras and binoculars and packed everyone and everything in the car.
"Wait!" Caroline yelled as we backed up. "I forgot something!" She started to undo her seatbelt.
"Honey, we need to get there. What did you forget?" Whit asked.
"I need to get some money."
"No, don’t worry, Daddy and I have money," I said, "and you can get popcorn or cotton candy or ice cream or whatever you want. You don’t need money."
Whit kept driving.
Caroline got a little teary. "Please," she begged, "please let me go back and get some money." We were a little exasperated, but Whit, being Whit and not Julie, pulled back into the driveway, unlocked the house and let her get money out of her piggy bank.
She got back in the car with a ziplock bag full of quarters.
As we got back on the road, Whit and I both reiterated that neither kid needed any money. We reiterated the constant lesson that saving is important, and that if they pull money out of their piggy banks all the time they’ll never save enough for a big purchase. When Caroline couldn’t name one thing she wanted to buy, we launched into a conversation about spending money purposefully.
It wasn’t a long or serious or particularly critical conversation, but it was one that left both me and Whit feeling as though all our lessons about spending and saving and responsibility had fallen on deaf ears. "Here we go," we thought. "Caroline is going to waste the money she’s earned on some stupid, overpriced, plastic toy that will be broken or thrown away within a month."
We got to the park, spread out our blankets and chatted with our neighbors. When another family walked up, I saw Caroline talking to the father, but didn’t think much of it.
Later, Caroline and I went to buy some ice cream. "Mommy, want to know why I had to bring money?"
Sigh. Okay, we’re walking by the souvenir table. How timely.
"No, Mommy. One time over the summer, I was playing with those girls, and we walked over to a yard sale with their dad. I didn’t have any money but I really liked a bracelet, and remember I got presents for you and Daddy and Jack? Well, their dad lent me five dollars. When I found out they would be here, I wanted to pay him back."
Then it was my turn to get teary. "Caroline, did you give him that bag full of quarters?"
She nodded, seriously.
"Did you do that yard work so you’d have money to pay him back?"
She nodded, seriously.
"Have you thought about paying him back ever since he lent you the money?"
"Yes, Mommy. He said not to worry about it, so I didn’t worry about it, but I knew I had to pay him back as soon as I could."
"When Daddy and I were talking about you not spending money foolishly, why didn’t you tell us what you were doing?"
"Because you were in a hurry, and you would have said that you’d pay him back for me, and I wanted to pay him back myself."
I hugged her. "Good job."
You know what I learned? One, that I don’t parent into a black hole. Two, that I parent a bit too much. And three, that if I don’t slow down, I’m not going to give my kids the chance to prove any of that.
Pretty sobering. Pretty amazing when your fourth grader is the teacher, and you’re the sheepish student.
Thanks, honey. I needed that.