Did you know that elementary school students can give the lunch lady their ID number, and they can buy anything they want on credit?
Last week, we got a notice/bill sent home with our oldest son saying we owed the school $6.40. A little comment was handwritten at the bottom by his teacher… “Ask him what he’s been doing in the morning.” Our children have discovered several great (North) American delicacies… Klondike bars, ice in their beverages, and perros calientes (or as we know them here, “hot dogs”). However one, due to accessibility, taste, and in-expense, has become a favorite of our oldest – chips. he can’t help himself. He’s gotta’ try them all. Cheetos, Doritos, Ruffles, Lays, Wavy Lays (which are Ruffles at a lower frequency), Funyuns, etc… It doesn’t matter. He is a connoisseur.
Obviously the unbridled gluttony is so great that arriving 15 minutes early to school, coupled with this new found quid pro quo arrangement of an ID number for food, “afforded” him the opportunity to augment his lovingly prepared breakfast from his mother with a bag of chips.
To a family that last used a credit card four years ago, this was a hard pill to swallow.
First we had to stop the bleeding. Beth called the school, and informed them that he, nor the other two school-age kids we are responsible for, were allowed to buy anything on credit. We told them that we would pay the debt, but we would need a few days because we wanted this to be a teachable moment. This was super important to me because I feel one of the greatest lessons we are failing to impart to our kids as a culture is how to deal with money. There’s a reason credit card companies are circling college campuses looking for young clueless students to “brand”. Their words, not mine. While I thought the time for these lessons would come a few years later, my oldest forced my hand.
Second is where I came in… treating the symptom. Here is another installment of “Life-Lessons from Papi”. Guest Star: Oldest son.
(translated to English)
Papi – “I got a note from the school saying you owe $6.40. Why is that?”
Son – “It’s because I wanted chips” (or, as he says it “Es que yo quería cheeeeps.”)
Papi – “Sounds good. How did you plan on paying for that?”
Son – “I don’t know.”
Papi – “Well, that’s not going to work with the school. You can’t just tell them, I don’t know how to pay you, and they say OK. Any other ideas?”
(Long contemplative pause… the beginnings of a tear in his left eye)
Son – “Last week they needed pencils.” (Back story – all students were requested to bring a few extra pencils, soap, and tissue paper to class to restock)
Papi – “OK. So if you bring them some more pencils, they will say OK, your debt is forgiven?”
Son – “Ummm…. (attempting to read my face and determine the answer I want to hear) No.”
Papi – “Well, maybe we need to try something like money to pay your debt. Do you have any?”
(Long pause… more tears)
Son – “Granddad gave me a penny last week.”
Papi – “That’s great. You only owe $6.39 now. How do you plan on getting that?”
(The crying is getting a little uncontrollable because he doesn’t know what to say and he is sad that he will have to give up the penny that Granddad gave him.)
Then he had to say the thing he didn’t want to say, but the thing I was forcing him to… “Sorry, Papi.”
Papi – “Well, I go to a job six days a week to earn money to pay for the things we have. It sounds like you need a job. Would you like to begin your exciting career at Mami and Papi Inc.? It pays $1 a day with night and weekend positions to fit your schedule!”
Son – (With exclamation and relief) Si! Thank you, Papi! (I’m not kidding. He thanked me.)
So, all of last week was filled with “special” jobs around the house that I’ve needed to do. Turd patrol was one night. He filled two Walmart sacks with dog crap. Cleaning up the bricks and wood around the side of the house was another night. He vacuumed the house. He vacuumed the van. He pulled all the weeds out of the flowerbed. I also had him sit naked in the bathtub and hold dogs while I gave them a bath. Then he had to clean the bathroom afterwards. At the end of every night, we told him, “you only have $X to go!”
Last Friday, he was finished paying off his debt! We circled back up with him, and again reminded him that if we don’t have money for something, we don’t buy it.
Papi – Do you know why Papi doesn’t have a really cool fast car right now (I was attempting to set him up for success, to say, “Papi doesn’t have enough money for a fancy car right now.)
Son – Because you married Mami, and you had to sell it.
That wasn’t the answer we were looking for, but I now recall sharing that story with him… (I love you beautiful blue 2004 Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder GTS!) Don’t worry. I love Beth more!
Sometimes people tell us we are being pretty hard on our kids. We have a lot of fun and laughter as a family, but it is true. We hold them to a very high standard, and there are very real consequences for their actions. My thought is, if I’m not hard on them, the world will be later. We could have gone with the excuse that he didn’t know better, and he gets a pass this time. However, like the previously mentioned college students that rack up thousands of dollars in debt before they graduate, “I didn’t know” won’t fly with Visa and MasterCard. Besides, $6.40 is a pretty cheap lesson in fiscal responsibility. In my life, I’ve made mistakes with money that had three or four zeros at the end (Did somebody say 2004 Eclipse again?!?).
As much as it pains me to see my oldest broken over a nearly negligible amount of money at the age of 7, I will take that in a heartbeat over him dealing with the embarrassment and shame of bankruptcy at the age of 30.
At the dinnermesa,