J, my 4 year old, has been struggling with separation anxiety the past few months so I am always looking for quality one on one time with him. Today we had one hour, just the two of us, and he chose to go to LuLu's, our neighborhood Mexican joint.
We happened to arrive shortly after the local middle school was let out for the day (half days for parent-teacher conferences), so the place was mobbed with 4th-8th graders who walked there for lunch. I was struck by several things:
1) No parents in sight.
2) The girls have the cutest clothes. No doubt their wardrobes are nicer than mine. There was an abundance of Ugg boots, trendy bags, tight tanks. The guys were decked out in izod, pumas, and riding high-end looking skate boards.
3) Several of the kids used credit cards to pay for their lunch. The others paid with $10s or $20s. An average lunch at LuLu's is probably $9.
4) Lots of swearing, trash talking, and heavy flirting.
After lunch, we went across the street to Starbucks which was also packed with middle schoolers. The girl in front of me (I'd guess in a bout 7th grade) paid with a Starbucks card. She didn't have enough to cover her drink, so she took out a credit card and loaded her starbucks card with $50. I took a look around and all of the kids had huge foofy frappucino drinks. Those things cost serious coin.
Can we all just say a collective WTF?
Perhaps I am being hypocritical, because obviously I had to be at these establishments to notice this, but going out to eat is a real treat for my kids and me. Certainly not a daily, or even weekly indulgence. And as for my daily starbucks, I figure my $2.35 for a tall latte is ultimately a huge savings over being admitted to the loony bin. And I am 38 years old. I have worked really hard for a really long time to enjoy that $2.35.
Growing up, money was a sensitive issue in our house. We always had the necessities covered, but there certainly wasn't extra cash for designer jeans or regular meals out. I remember saving for a looooooong time to buy my first pair of Guess jeans IN COLLEGE.
As a result of that, at least in part, I really learned to be careful and respectful with the money I did earn. I had to make choices and prioritize the things I wanted.
But I digress. This isn't about me. (Or is it?)
Getting back to the kids - my first thought is, seriously, what in the world is wrong with their parents? All of these kids are under 13, so I think it's a pretty safe bet that they are not working for this money. And I don't think they are using credit cards with cash coming from their checking accounts.
But then I realize, this is my 'hood. Fast forward a few short years and it's going to be my kids who are this age. Just say, for the sake of argument, that $10-15 lunches (lunch + a large vanilla bean frappucino) every day and the coolest clothes and toys for my kids are affordable for my family. Then what? Is it a reasonable thing to share our abundance with our children? If you can live in a nice house and save for college and retirement and give money to those who are less fortunate, and there is still plenty left over, why not let your kids enjoy what you have? Or does that deny them the opportunity to feel the proper respect for money, and particularly for those who may not be so financially privileged? Will they ever learn to separate their happiness and self worth from the things they HAVE? And then, take the opposite scenario - what if we don't enough money to give our children all of the toys and things their friends have? What if expensive lunches and decadent drinks aren't in the budget? How do you handle that when when you live in a community where many families do have seemingly unlimited resources? How will we teach our children that being happy doesn't come from things you can buy? How do you help them feel ok when the majority of their peers have everything they want?
Here is the part of the blog where I am supposed to come up with a pithy and catchy conclusion but I don't have one. I don't know the answers. All I know is that I am really glad my kids are still young enough that a 25 cent gumball is still the ultimate extravagance.