As we were driving to summer camp this morning my son said, “I’d like to drive around the neighborhood. I’m interested in fountains. Maybe I could buy one.” This isn’t The City of Fountains we live in. It’s just that my son has an obsession with and an “eye” for decorative fountains, and can spot them hidden beyond a tree in your backyard from 17 miles away. “Stop! Go back!” he’ll yell as I’m driving. “There’s a fountain back there!” And if I do turn around and go back, it will turn out he’s spotted a fountain in a scene in a movie, playing on somebody’s television, and he caught a glimpse of it when they peeked through their mini blinds to get a check on the weather. Like when they were trying to decide, “Should I sit in the house and finish watching this Discovery Channel show about fountains, or should I go outside and mow the lawn?”
And it’s not like he needs a fountain, mind you. He has quite an impressive fountain collection as it is. But I decided not to point out the obvious. I didn’t say “You don’t NEED another fountain” which is what my husband would have done, and which would have provoked a long round of crying and pleading that I wasn’t up for. Instead, I asked “Do you have any money?” And he said “I have $5! Oh and I have another dollar. 5 plus 1 makes 6!”
“Didn’t your grandparents send you $5 recently?” I asked. “So how much do you have with that? What’s 5 plus 6?”
He thought about it and said, “Well, 5 plus 5 is 10, so that means I have $11!” “Right!” I said. Pretty good for a 5 year old, I thought.
Then, before I could stop myself, I said, “You know what? I’ll give you $2 just for figuring out that hard math.”
“It wasn’t hard” he said. “I’m smart!”
“You are smart!” I agreed. A comment that I realize goes totally against the recommendation of the New York Times magazine article How Not to Talk to Your Kids.
And then my son said, I’ll tell YOU what! If I can tell you what 9 plus 9 is, you have to give me two more dollars!” Because, you see, the kid IS smart, he knows he can’t buy a fountain with only $13 in his pocket. He was angling to build up his savings, get a new fountain faster. I thought about it for a second, considered the handful of bills I had stuffed somewhere at the bottom of my purse. Were they all $1’s or did I have a $5 bill in there? Would giving up another $2 leave me with nothing, thereby requiring a trip to the bank? Before I had a chance to actually check, I took the bait. I agreed we had a deal.
“But I’m going to count on my fingers” he said, as I shrugged.
Then I heard him in the backseat, counting to himself: “One…two…three…four…five…six…seven…eight…nine…” then a pause. Then he started again “ten…eleven…nine…ten…eleven…” He was quiet as I drove for about 4 miles. Then he announced, with the utmost confidence, “NINETEEN! Nine plus nine is 19!”
“Aw. Nope! But you were close” I said.
“TWENTY!” he shouted.
“Nope. Not quite,” I replied.
“Fine then!” he sniffed. “I don’t get the $2. Never mind! Just forget it!” He cried.
I asked if he wanted me to tell him the answer and he said no, “that would be cheating”.
So I said simply, “You were close, but too high.”
“Eighteen!” He guessed.
“Right!” I said. “Now I owe you $2.”
“No,” he said. “I didn’t get the answer on the first try. Never mind, it doesn’t count.”
“Okay,” I said, resigned to his surliness again. No biggie, I thought. I can keep my $2. Maybe I’ll buy myself some chocolate with it. Yes, I thought, determined. I’ll buy myself some chocoloate! I swear to you, as I thought about it, I could even taste it.
But then he said, “Okay, you can give me $1. Or… you can give me $2. It’s okay.”
And I said, “Now wait a minute! You said you couldn’t have the money since you didn’t get it on the first guess.” And he said, “But I DELETED those other guesses when I said eighteen, so you have to give me the money!”
And that’s how I ended up short on cash when I went to buy myself that chocolate bar.