Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Windows, weeds, and year books

J-son came home from the Quaker Local School on Monday just bubbling over with excitement.  "They had extra year books," he told me, "so they gave us one!"

"Well, that's really nice of them," I replied.  "You got a yearbook?"

"Yeah!" he agreed, "They gave us a yearbook!  And so we have to give them $20!"

N-son repeated the story later, both parts of it:  "They gave us a yearbook", and "we need $20".   It turns out each boy got a yearbook, and so the total cost is $40.

Now, I'm not exactly sure what I would have done if they boys had come to me before they had yearbooks in hand.  I can understand wanting mementos of an institution and its community that has shaped your life, but the boys have been at the school for only 5 months.  And we're gearing up to pay for them to go back again next year.  So I'm guessing I might have offered to go halvsies with them, but I probably would have tried to talk them out of it first.

But the fact is, the boys did not think to ask; they just acted.  And this isn't the first time that a school "gave" them something that came with a hefty price tag (that's the boy's interpretation; not the school's interpretation, of course).

So the boys are paying for this themselves.  And since they don't have the money for this in their accounts right now,  I decided to introduce the boys to the horror of debt.  The part of the scuzzy Pay Day Loanster/Credit Card Company/Pawn Shop Owner is played by yours truly.   That is, I handed the boys each a $20 bill to pay off the school, but I am charging them $1/day in interest fees until they pay the entire amount back.  That's like, an annual interest rate of 1825% -- sheer highway robbery.

The boys are paying the money back by doing menial chores for not-very-much money.  The part of the stingy Sweat Shop Owner/Task Master is likewise played by yours truly.  Fortunately, I already had a long list of summer chores lined up, thanks to my experience supervising high-energy boys during previous summers.
N-son washes the dining room window.
He's outside; I'm inside.  See how clear the window looks now?

And -- maybe because of their previous experience working hard for me -- they've gotten to the point where I don't have to supervise them closely.  That's a blessing all around.  They've pulled weeds, washed mirrors and windows, swept leaves, and washed walls.

As of this morning, they've each earned $11, but they've also each accrued $2 in interest charges.  With any luck, I'll have a really clean house and a tidy yard -- plus debt-free sons -- by the time next weekend is over.

There's another lesson in this, of course, one that is harder to learn.  Who among us hasn't had the experience of saying "yes" to something and then finding out how much it costs?   There's the friend who invites us to a big gathering at a restaurant, who after we express interest says, "and that'll be $50 per person".  Or the coach who tells you your son is really good; he should go to this tournament, and after you sign up you discover the entrance fee is $150.

Learning to ask the cost beforehand is a lifelong skill.  In the times we fail at that, learning to gracefully but politely say, "Thank you so much anyway, but in this case I think we'll . . . wait until next year/share a yearbook between us/give the books back instead" is another important skill.

And if both of these skills fail you, well, at least you can fall back on window washing and weed pulling.

1 comment:

  1. To be honest, not feeling awful about forgetting to ask is one of the many reasons I make a lot of money. I'm glad you're letting them work it off instead of just yelling at them.