Sunday, March 11, 2007

American woman

The American Girl doll comes with many accessories. You can get her a scooter. You can get her a rhythmic gymnastics ensemble, complete with hoop and ribbon thingy. You can get her a cat named Licorice, who comes with her very own hairball.

The accessories to Daughter’s American Girl doll were avarice and a soupcon of gluttony. On the asset side, it helped strengthen her independence and also brought an improvement in both Daughter’s math and gardening skills.

It all began two days after Christmas. The American Girl company, in some whimsical belief there was a single parent in the US with some room left on their credit card, sent out a catalogue. I, dazed from a week of declaring divinity fudge a food group, forgot to do the usual routine of spiriting the catalogue away from the mailbox and burying it deep in the recycling bin.

Daughter found it.

At first, I didn’t worry. Daughter has shown virtually no interest in dolls at any price range since the Groovy Girl fake-out. I figured the catalogue would be good for a few minutes and then she’d be back to pestering to watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” again. For a few minutes, I appeared to actually know what I was talking about. Daughter sat on the couch, looked through the catalogue, stared off into space; what I mistook for waning interest was actually plotting.

“I want an American Girl doll.” she said, jumping off the couch and putting on shoes.

I immediately fell into one of the patented Parenting Low-Crisis Reaction Modes: Stall.

[Some others are: Bribe, Ignore, Threaten and Distract.]

“Well,” I said briskly, searching the kitchen for any divinity which might have slid past my last thorough search, “there’s always your birthday.”

In the interest of protecting my daughter’s privacy, let me just say that suggestion went over fairly badly with her. She made a counter-suggestion, which went over fairly badly with me. Voices were raised, groundless accusations were hurled, formless threats were made. I’m not saying we were a segment on “Cops”, but the WWF would not have found our antics completely unfamiliar. Finally, we agreed. She was to have an allowance. In order to get her allowance, she had to make her bed every morning without being nagged, fold and put away her clean clothes and practice her piano every night without complaint. For this, she would get six dollars a week.

[Just the piano practice without moaning and flailing would be worth twenty-four dollars a month in my book, but let’s not tell her that.]

The figure of six dollars felt high, but a popular parenting website had a neat little program where I punched in what I had received as an allowance at her age and what year that was. Once we all got over laughing about how I was her age during the Reformation, it told me what her allowance would be, adjusted for inflation, to have been the same as mine. The website said six dollars, and I blindly opened my wallet.

She immediately found a piece of paper and a pencil and started computing.

“I have twenty-five dollars for Christmas from Aunt Marge and the money from the tooth fairy. With six dollars a week, I’ll need….”

Her pencil fairly smoked across the page. Note to teacher: Daughter can do any version of mathematics, as long as you put a dollar sign in front of it.

She looked up, dismayed.

“Three months!”

The tone she used indicated three months was how long it took the form the Grand Canyon. I smiled.

“You can earn extra money. There are always extra chores around the house.”

If the thought of money brought out her inner banker, the idea she could make more money helped issue forth her inner day laborer. A couple of days later, I was outside in the yard, weeding. A shadow spread over the grass. It was Daughter behind me.

“Whatcha doing?”

“Weeding. Getting rid of this,” I said, pointing to the some green stems, “so these can grow”, pointing to virtually identical green stems.

“Do you like doing it?”

I thought.

“I kind of like feeling the weed coming out, but mostly it’s just something which has to be done.”

Her eyes glittered.

“Like…a chore?”

Daughter weeded one entire side of the yard. Her little fingers were perfectly suited to grab the smallest and most recalcitrant weeds. Two dollars well spent.

As it turns out this house, while small, is filled with tasks she is more than willing to do for me for a nominal fee.

For example, some might ask if is it worth a dollar to have your daughter crawl under the folding table in the laundry room with the Hand-Vac and get at the dust bunnies?

Oh, yes, I say to you. Oh, yes.

Is it wrong that she doesn’t just want to do these things as a measure of her love for me?

Did I mention that had I crawled under the folding table I would have thrown out my back and done my celebrated imitation of an end table for a week?

Once I got over the whole “My daughter is shaking the couch cushions for change…again” distaste, I decided this was a Good Thing. These dolls are insanely expensive, which meant she was going to have to work for this for months, which promotes goal-setting. Afterwards, we’d have a conversation about Haves and Have-Nots and about donating some of her allowance to a charity of her choice.

As it turned out, along with a Banker and a Day Laborer, there is a Fiscal Conservative dwelling inside my child. All it took was changing the term from “Mommy’s money” to “My money’. We were at a toy store picking up something for a birthday party when Daughter spied something. I could be mistaken, but I believe it was a Polly Pockets Tanning Bed. Immediately, she began the classical composition “Mommy Get it Please, I’ll Play With it All the Time”. Before the allowance, the duet would have gone something like:



QUINN: You don’t need it.


QUINN: No, you want it.

Protracted conversation about the difference between “Need” and “Want” would follow. No toy would be purchased, but everyone would be cross.

Now, however, when the string section took over and Mommy was expected to sing her part, I said instead, “Sure, get it.”

Daughter was cut off mid-lamentation.


“Get it,” I said breezily, “you have enough in your allowance.”

Her mouth turned downward.

“But I’m saving money for the doll.”

“I know,” I said cheerily, patting her shoulder, “and I’m very proud of you. But if this matters to you so much, I guess it’s worth your hard-earned money. It should only put you back about…two weeks.”

“I want it, I just don’t want to spend my money on it.”

“Oh!” I said happily, and said no more. We left the store; Daughter thwarted and puzzled, Quinn quietly gleeful. It’s been over a month and this whole “Pay as you go” financial outlook for Daughter has been wonderful for all of us. She covets a Cinderella coloring book or some junk jewelry? I no longer have to point out how she’ll take all the decorative jewels, paste them to the cat’s collar and ignore the coloring book, or break the jewelry before we even get to the car, because it’s her money. And the minute I remind her that it’s her money buying it, she no longer wants it. It’s glorious.

A few days ago, we were in a bookstore, and Daughter noticed a tripod holding different books from the same series.

“Look! Geronimo Stilton! Sienna loves those!”, she said breathlessly.

“Huh,” I said absently, gazing longingly at knitting books, but she wasn’t be to put off. She grabbed one from the middle.

“She doesn’t have this one.”

“How do you know?” I asked in confusion. Geronimo Stilton book covers are chrome-bright and involve a picture of Mr. Stilton, a mouse, in various fur-raising adventures. To me, they are interchangeable. She clucked her tongue at me.

“It’s the newest one. We were talking about it at lunch.”

She thought.

“I’m going to get it for her!”

I went into my now perfected, “…okay, but you’ll have to use your allowance.”

She said, “All right.”

We stared at one another.

I spoke slowly, to clarify, “You’re okay with spending your allowance money on this?”

“She’s my friend, she likes the books, and I want to get it for her.”

"Oh, okay." I said, pleased. We grinned at one another.

For a second, I toyed with caving to the sweetness and generosity of the moment and saying “…no, no, sweetheart, I’ll pay for this.” But then I thought, she never thought of doing this before she was earning and saving money. She’s proud of herself and if you, Quinn, just step in and pay for it, you’ll just…whatever the female version of emasculate is her.

“Let’s go pay for it”, I said. She went to hand it to me, but I waved it off, and handed her a ten-dollar bill.

“It’s your friend, your purchase, and your money. You can take care of it.”

Shoulders squared, Daughter walked proudly towards the cash register.


Blogger houseband00 said...

Hi Quinn,

Great post, as usual. =)

I actually say the same thing to D when it comes to the value of money.

Good job! =)

2:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Way to go Quinn and Daughter!!

9:14 AM  
Blogger Dodi said...

Oh, she melts my heart! She is a fantastic kid with a giving heart... isn't it amazing to see your own kids do something cool like that?

Thank you so much for sharing!

10:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good job to both of you.

I was deeply suspicious of Those Dolls and all their accessories, but they ended up encouraging amazing creativity. Our daughter, now college-age, and her friend still occasionally send each other letters "written" by the characters they developed for their dolls.

4:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My 12-year-old niece owns Molly, the 1940s-era girl, and one of the Colonial-era ones, I think. After about 4 years she has outgrown the dolls, and is showing a sudden, mature talent as a jewelry designer. So I guess she has a couple of expensive keepsake dolls to pass on, one day, to her own daughter.

10:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My 12-year-old niece owns Molly, the 1940s-era girl, and one of the Colonial-era ones, I think. After about 4 years she has outgrown the dolls, and is showing a sudden, mature talent as a jewelry designer. So I guess she has a couple of expensive keepsake dolls to pass on, one day, to her own daughter.

10:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a fabulous story! I know my customers will love it - I have linked to you from our blog.

10:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

THIS was a good post.

11:11 PM  
Blogger OHN said...

We started this when our boys were young and now they are making excellent money decisions as teens. Their friends that are "given" everything, don't have a clue. I think it is the best thing we have done as parents!

It is amazing the difference when they are spending their own money how cautious they are..most times by the time they have enough saved for that special item, the desire for it has gone away--this also teaches is a win-win situation for everyone!

10:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great blog! I'm one of "those kids" whose parents pretty much gave in to her every monetary demand. And guess what? I am now 30 years old and TERRIBLE with money! I spend nearly all of my paycheck as soon as I get it, then whine around at my husband for the next 2 weeks for money. Ridiculous, I know...

Anyway, I now have a 2 year old daughter and I have often wondered how to teach her to manage money when I'm such an obvious disaster at it. I REALLY like the way you're going about it. Good job!

Oh - and I also LOVE that your daughter was so quick to spend money on someone else, yet hesitant to spend it on herself. It sounds like you have a great kid there!

12:03 PM  
Blogger Jan said...

That is awesome. Just awesome.

10:33 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Fabulous, Quinn! You must be so proud of Daughter. I'd be interested in that web address for figuring out allowance. :)

2:53 PM  
Blogger Hannah Lane said...

This was a great post! I am getting ready to introduce my daughter to money management and this was a nice, encouraging story!

6:47 AM  
Blogger Pamala Rose said...

Wonderful post, glad I stumbled across you during my random surfing. Will have to check back to see how the savings accumulate.

3:43 PM  

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