This summer Jack started mowing lawns. Ours was his training ground for exactly forty minutes. He left a big swatch uncut down the middle of the grass and complained that our lawnmower was too heavy. I fired him.
He went over to my mom’s house and mowed her lawn. She overpaid him and gave him a snack afterward. I figured I’d keep mowing our lawn myself. I could keep my fifteen bucks and get a workout every week.
I know I sound like an old woman when I start talking about how little I got paid mowing the gargantuan lawn we had when I was young. We’re in an age where not only will we likely pay six figures to send either kid to a state university, it’s more expensive than ever just to be a kid. I call this the Lego Han Solo Index: when a boy can spend more on one teeny-tiny action figure on Amazon than what I pay the cell phone company every month.
A kid mowing a lawn today earns roughly the same as I did in half a day at my first job out of college not too terribly long ago. I was a medical transcriptionist for a podiatrist. It was the 90s and there was a recession, and medical transcription is what happens when you have an English Lit degree and no ambition.
The woman who hired me figured I’d be pretty good at medical terminology since I’d taken three semesters of Latin in college. What I didn’t tell her was that my Latin class was right after lunch during my favorite soap opera, so I missed the maximum number of classes one can miss every semester and still pass. The rest of the time I was probably paying less attention than I should, sitting in the overheated classroom daydreaming about whether Steve and Kayla were actually going to make out in this episode or just stand there, looking at each other with frustrated sexual tension.
So I earned peanuts while trying to figure out how to spell things like plantar fasciitis and metatarsophalangeal. The woman who’d been so impressed with the Latin classes was frustrated that I didn’t come with a full Physicians Desk Reference in my head as a result of my instruction in a dead language.
I’m not going to ever have to look up penicillin again, though. Not after the gal explained to me how she remembered it.
“It’s like penis is illin’,” she said – except switch out the ‘s’ for a ‘c’, which makes perfect sense to me. Except thinking about why that particular part of the body might be ill makes me feel kind of woozy, so I prefer to think chillin’. That sounds way less gross, but is just as easy to remember.
So then here are my kids – who don’t have to do anything nearly as strenuous as master medical terminology – earning tons more than I did with a whole lot less education. And, while I’m really grateful that my mom has the ability to hang with Jack and impart something about work ethic while he soaks her for her retirement, I get tired of fielding requests for trips to the local video game store and Lego and Nerf stores so they can fill up my house and their adolescent minds with more crap. Maybe they could set their sights on something bigger, more expensive, requiring fewer trips to the crap store.
When I was saving my allowance it was for a double LP of the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack from Grease. Thirteen dollars was a hefty sum for someone earning a dollar a week.
Granted, I didn’t have to do anything for this allowance, other than be on call to grab a beer for my dad while he was watching a game on TV, or clear an occasional dinner plate. I think I fed the dog once in a while.
But, still, at that rate it took a complete summer to save up for the ability to belt out “YOU’RE THE ONE THAT I WANT, YOU’RE THE ONLY ONE I WANT, OOOH, OOOH, OOOH, HONEY!” with back up while dreaming about having the kind of hair that will take a perm like Olivia’s.
And, here are my kids saving about that much up in about 40 minutes every weekend.
They also try to invent new ways to get us to pay them.
“Hey mom, if I clean my room, can I have five bucks?”
“I’m not going to pay you to clean up your own mess.”
“What if I take my brother to the park? Will you pay me for that?”
“He’s not a puppy. I’m not going to hire you to take him for a walk.”
“Well, if we hang out around here any more, I’m going to go crazy because he’s bugging me and I’m going do smack him or something, and it’ll be your fault because we didn’t go to the park.”
I’m not saying that’s exactly how the conversation goes, but once we start talking about ways the boys can earn money, the conversation rather quickly turns extortiony. The concept of protection money has come up more than once.
Last weekend we sent them to their grandparents with a collection of toys they no longer played with. Among them were items every parent just had to buy in time for Christmas and for which we searched everywhere and probably paid a premium.
The boys hung out at Mike’s folk’s yard sale, peddling their wares, and came home disappointed in the resale value of a plastic Jedi Starfighter, even if it was missing a couple of parts.
We took them to an event that night for nonprofit Mike and I support that benefits farming families in Guatemala. During a presentation, we watched pictures on a big screen of families with kids our kids’ age, but half their size. Families for whom Jack’s summer earnings might equal their annual income; whose children don’t get enough protein to grow properly and who can’t afford school shoes. Or school.
Colin had brought a wad of cash with him, excited about buying a trinket at a table full of handcrafted goods. Both boys picked out coin purses with stitched Mayan patterns. I picked out a Christmas present or two and was feeling magnanimous so I pulled their purchases into my pile.
I was paying for all our booty when I noticed Colin sidling over to a donation box with a slit narrow enough he had to pause to fold his bills neatly before inserting them one at a time.