While the 16-year-old daughter can stretch a found $20 bill from September 5 through to Christmas, staunchly refusing to bite the bullet and get a job, the 12-year-old is far more resourceful. This is the twelve-year-old, who, back in the first grade, started coming home with money every day. Not your average, “Hey, I found a penny,” situations. I’m talking real money. 25, 50 cents. Some days, 2, 3, even 7 dollars.
She insisted she found it.
Yeah. Every day.
When, one fine day a month into school, she proudly dropped a pile of change on the kitchen table amounting to over $24, still insisting she ‘found’ it, I called the school.
Surprisingly, no reports of her rolling the kids in the bathroom for their lunch money. No reports of illegal drug activity. The checked her (first grade, still unlocked) locker and didn’t find a huge stash of candy or pop (forbidden fruits of the new school nutrition initiative) in there.
Okay, kid. “Where are you finding all this money?” (Sure, sounds like an obvious question now.)
“When the kids are playing on the monkey bars, Mom. The money falls out of their pockets. I pick through the stones and find lots.”
Mumbling in reply – I say mumbling because it’s hard to speak clearly when you can’t close your mouth – “And do the other kids not see you doing this? And maybe want their money back? Or try to find some themselves?”
“No. I hide the money real fast in my pocket so they don’t see. They all just think I’m weird. But I don’t care. I’m rich!” she declared.
“Wow,” I agreed, with a flash of wonder at how long it was going to take for the other front tooth to fall out. Tooth fairy better get ready for this one! “But, Sweety, $24? Is there really that much in there?” (Who gives their kids all this money???)
The kid broke into a great smile, “Yeah, it’s the Terry Fox Run tomorrow!”
I quickly wrote a cheque to the Canadian Cancer Society.
This same daughter now, six years later, is an entrepreneur. Annoyed that she is still at least three years away from a ‘real’ job, she lamented to me one day about wanting one, and got downright angry at the thrifty sister for loafing. She asked me if she could babysit. No, she’s not ready for that. And she’s too small yet to push a lawnmower or snowblower.
She plopped down in a chair, dejected, and annoyed. “Come on, Mom! I can’t do anything. The only thing I get stuck doing around here is picking up the dog poo!”
And so, she now has a budding little business in the neighbourhood, doing daily poop scoops for her customers, and is making a tidy little income for herself. Truthfully, at the rate she’s going, if she keeps this up, she will have no choice but to quit school and go full time by Christmas of eighth grade! I told her, if she needs some help with the business – she wants a break or it gets to be too much – she should hire the sister. This idea makes her very happy.
The point of the kids working, is, obviously, to cement in them a proper work ethic. The only way they can learn the value of a dollar is to earn one. Anyone can spend one. But the value of the dollar has to be equal to the work performed to get it, making the purchase of the bike/computer/clothes/etc. a far more meaningful acquisition.
All was good until the day – midway between paydays – the kid sits herself down in my office and, reluctantly shows me a crisp new $20 bill.
Her face tells me she’s warring with herself, but, alas, she sucks it up and spills the beans.
“There’s a man and his wife outside raking next to my customer and they called me over. They asked me my name and then he told me he knows what I’m doing and is so proud of me he wishes he had a dog but wanted to give me money anyway.” She took a deep breath. “I tried to give it back, Mom, really, I tried but he wouldn’t take it.”
My heart broke. One of the biggest lessons I try to teach the kids is how to do the right thing. If you’re faced with a choice, the right thing will always be the harder thing. Pick the harder thing.
And here I was. “You know you can’t keep it, right?”
Her head nodded slowly, but her eyes said, “@*#^ you.”
“You can’t keep what you don’t earn, Babe. And you didn’t earn that. Did you offer to help them rake the lawn?” Nod. “I’m sorry, it’s not yours to keep.”
“You have a choice. You can either donate it to the SPCA or I’ll come with you to give it back.”
After a moment’s thought, “You come with me.” And unsaid, and when he won’t take it back from you either, I’ll get to keep it… Mwah, ha, ha…
And so we went to talk to the man. He was still outside raking leaves, and stood defiantly when he saw us coming.
“Something told me you’d show up. I hope I didn’t get her into trouble.”
“No,” I assured them both. “But she can’t keep the money.” I gave it back and felt the daughter inhale deeply.
“But she’s working so hard. I told her I’m so proud of her. It’s so good to see a young person working so hard. She should be really proud of herself, too. She’s going to be a remarkable young woman.”
I looked at my daughter. She was standing straighter, taller, smiling.
“Yes she is,” I agreed. “But she is also learning the value of a dollar by working. I don’t want her to learn that doing good equals money. Look at her,” I turned to her, “Feels pretty good to hear a complete stranger talk about you like that, eh?”
Shyly, she nodded.
I explained to our neighbour, “You see, she’s done something good. And a stranger has noticed. And that stranger took the time and effort to say something nice. And the feeling that she’s feeling right now – that good inside feeling – has to be the reward. If you give her money, too, you cheapen that feeling. The money becomes the reward. I want her to work hard for her own pride, regardless of whether or not there’s money in it. I want her to value the feeling.
“It’s the same reason we don’t give the kids money for good grades. We want them to work for the A. The A is the reward. The A holds the value. If I give the A a monetary value, then they’re working for the money. We want them to learn the value of the A.”
He pocketed the money. “You are a good mother,” he said. “You have more kids at home?”
“We have five.”
“They are lucky children. You must be proud of them.”
I smiled broadly. “You see? You didn’t have to give me $20. You just made my day. Someone noticed my kids. I’m always proud of them. And for now, I feel pretty good about me, too. Thanks for that.”
The daughter and I walked home slowly. I told her how especially proud I was of her that she got through that without a temper tantrum. Without a tear. She told me the truth when she knew it wouldn’t go her way. And this was a lesson she will remember for life, but won’t understand for a long time yet. Those are the hardest lessons to take from your parents.
“You, my dear, are allowed to hate me for the rest of the day. But tomorrow, it’s business as usual. Back to work for you. Ok?”
She smiled up at me. “I don’t hate you. But I kinda don’t like you right now.”
I laughed. “I love you too, Daughter.”