They say the best things in life are free and, for the most part, that’s true. Unfortunately, most of them require light to see and that costs money.
Sound pessimistic? It’s not meant to be. It’s just a fact of life. Sure, you can light a candle, Lincoln, but that only takes you so far. We lost power for a day last week, after a minor storm, and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I ate melted ice cream and went to bed early. I was like a sad nursery rhyme.
I know what you’re saying. It’s the same thing your grandma said to you back in the olden days. “Hey, at least you’ve got your health.” Yes, I do, but to maintain that, I need food…which costs money. I need to bathe…which costs money. I need to see a doctor…which – oh say, can you see – costs money.
Life’ll cost you. It goes against every hippie dippie folk song out there, but it’s true. You don’t need a lot, but you need enough. Without it, those free things aren’t the best anymore because they’re drowned in worry, debt, and darkness.
The balance, though, is figuring out what you want versus what you need and accepting that you pay for your dollars with your time. Whether you’re shoveling coal or punching a keyboard, you give up part of your day to bring it home to those you love. When you have two kids, it’s all about them.
Personally, I’ve never had expensive tastes. All I need is a cabin in the woods, an internet connection, and supply of Wheat Thins and I’m good. I might die in ten minutes out there in the wild, but I’ll die happy. I’m a minimalist at heart and, while it might cost a dime or two, it won’t break my bank. I can survive on very little. I’ll be like the Unabomber without all the unabombing.
When you have kids, though – oof. Everything has a hanging price tag attached. Every time my daughter sneezes, it costs five bucks. From Robucks to decorative pillows, it all depletes the bank account slowly. All that stuff’s important, right?
Yes and no. I want both my children to have whatever they want. When I have the money, it’s easy to make it rain on Olivia’s twelve-year-old dreams. I didn’t grow up with the same resources she has, so I want to give her what I didn’t. That’s what every parent is supposed to aspire to, right? We’re all former Little Orphan Annies, yearning to grow into someone else’s Daddy Warbucks.
My son, Lucas, has autism and is non-verbal. This post isn’t about him because he’s even more minimalist than I am. I don’t need to ever spend a penny on him if I don’t want to. He’ll gladly wear a hefty garbage bag with holes cut in it, as long as he has his iPad, with the same free apps he’s had for years, and a bag of Pirate Booty. It’s for that reason that I want to buy him everything I can and another big point when I talk about autism appreciation. His perceived “disability” gives him an outlook on the world that many of us wish we could share.
For my daughter, though, it’s a bit different. She’s more in tune with the customary outlook on cash flow and she’s the one I need to teach balance to. I know that every cent spent is a minute earned burned, but she doesn’t. She’s never punched a clock, made an adult sacrifice, or missed an event because a deadline was looming. Handing her dollars without a second thought reinforces the idea that money, in her case, grows on trees.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Now, just like a dad who doesn’t pay to run the fridge, I too can have spoiled goods on my hands. In this case, it’s not a gallon of milk. It’s my own flesh and blood rotting in the kitchen.
The goal is to give her the life she deserves without turning her into an adult the world despises. It weighs heavily on my heart and requires yet another sacrifice on my part because it means I sometimes have to hold back when all I want to do is give more.
This past week, she told me how she added a Google Smart Clock to her Christmas List. She “hates” the clock she already has by her bedside and the one that I have on my nightstand is the one she really wants. As she explained, I could tell she was hoping to score it much earlier than December.
Truth be told, I don’t love my smart clock. I have three other time pieces ready to swap out and this one hasn’t been my favorite. There’s already a smart screen in my office and, if she were to get one of her own, I could just take the Google Assistant from her room for my own. Although I just bought it in April, I would be OK with giving it up to her smiling little face. So I swooped in to be the hero.
How about we trade? I can give you mine.
Her face lit up. I go that rush of pride that every parent gets when they make their kids happy. Hey Google, who’s an awesome dad?
Thank you! I’ll give you my clock!
Nah. I don’t want your clock. I’ll tell you what. I’ll take your Google Assistant and you can give me you allowance for the week. That’s five dollars. Also, you can buy me a drink with your Starbucks gift card.
She looked at me with an expression that said, “Oh, snap.” Sometimes I would just agree, but this was a life lesson. I knew that giving in without a trade would steer her wrong. She did too. So, without hesitation, she agreed.
That was the easy part. It was when it came time to collect, a few days past the initial excitement of her new toy, that things were a bit more grumbly. She moved slower and seemed less energetic than she did when we swapped out the plugs. But she nodded when it came time to give up her expected payment and, while everything inside me wanted to let her have it for free, I didn’t.
It was hard, but I did that for you. Yes. You reading this. I did it so one day my daughter isn’t a little princess you roll your eyes at as she walks away and say, “Her parents did a bad job on that one.”
I didn’t do a bad job. When the time comes for you to deal with her out there in the real world, I will have done the best job possible. I still am. Every day. And what I earn from it will be better than any pay I’ve ever collected.