As Joe and I walked through the parking lot of Dick’s Sporting Goods, I overheard a mom ask her teenage son sarcastically, “And what’s your excuse the other 90% of the time?” I wish I could have heard what his excuse was 10% of the time.
We were at Dick’s to buy Joe some Under Armour shirts, both heat gear and cold gear, because the temperature is unpredictable in Indian summer. I told Joe to pick out what he needed, and we wandered through the store, collecting shirts and shorts.
“Hold on a minute,” I told him. ”I need to figure out if I have enough money for all this.”
Joe chafed a little, “Why are you bringing that up now, after we’ve already picked everything out?”
“Let’s not argue about it,” I replied, because people were standing right next to us, and as much as I enjoy eavesdropping, I don’t like being eavesdropped on. ”Let me just add it up, and we’ll figure out what to buy.” Joe looked frustrated but didn’t say anything.
I did some quick mental math, and figured that with the rest of my birthday money and the coupons I had, I could afford to buy everything. I don’t like saying ‘no’ to my kids, but neither do I have the kind of income where I can buy them whatever they want.
And quite honestly, it’s not been easy, living in one of the richest counties in the nation, where it’s nothing for parents to buy their kids a new car as soon as they get their drivers license. The parking lot at Joe’s school is full of brand new Mustangs and Jeep Wranglers.
As we got back in the car, I asked Joe, “What do you think happened back there? Did you think I didn’t want to buy all the shirts because I don’t want to spend money on you?”
He told me no, it wasn’t that, he just didn’t understand why I let him pick out a bunch of shirts and then questioned whether I could afford them all.
“Sorry Joe, I didn’t mean to make you feel like you aren’t worth it. It’s just how I make decisions, I need to gather the options together, figure out how much it costs and then decide. I didn’t intend to demean you.”
He seemed okay with that, but it bothered me, how much being a parent is about money. How much I wished I didn’t have to stand in the middle of the store and do mental math to total up the shirts and shorts, and subtract the coupons, before buying clothes for my son.
It bothered me so much, this dilemma about money and clothes and what these things might mean to a teenager in a huge competitive high school, where every day it’s a fight to be noticed.
It bothered me so much that it was still on my mind the next day as we headed to Barnes and Noble to buy the “No Fear Shakespeare” version of Macbeth, otherwise known as “Macbeth for Dummies,” which Joe was supposed to get weeks ago, and forgot to ask for, hence the “D” on his English interim. (The interim which mysteriously disappeared before Joe had a chance to show it to me. Then, when I told him I would give him $5 for every “A,” the interim appeared out of nowhere! Truly a miracle!)
Joe and I both love books, and we wandered around the store a lot longer than we needed to, looking at books, picking them up and reading a few pages, but we only bought Macbeth.
As we got back in the car, and I was still thinking about clothes and money and being a teenager, I asked Joe, “You don’t ask for much. Do you wish you could wear Abercrombie or Hollister, and you don’t ask because you think I wouldn’t buy it for you? Because if it was important to you, I would buy you those kinds of clothes, even if it meant going to the mall.” (I really hate the mall.)
He thought for a moment before answering. ”No, I don’t want to dress like that. I feel like if I did, I would lose my edge. Wearing the ‘right’ kind of clothes is just too easy.”
And you know, I breathed a sigh of relief when he said that. I wasn’t depriving him of anything by not buying him the clothes everyone else wears. Because he wants to prove himself on his own merits. He doesn’t want to succeed by being just like everyone else, he wants to succeed by being himself. Which is a pretty grownup attitude for a teenager, a lot more grownup than many grownups I know.
I don’t know where it comes from, that wisdom to see through to the heart of things, that understanding that clothes don’t make the man (or woman), but when I hear my children say things like that, I worry less about what I’m not able to give them. I wouldn’t say I worry less, but I worry less about that.
The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. To be your own man is hard business. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself. Rudyard Kipling
What do you think is essential for kids to have? I’d love to hear what you think about it in the comments.