Sunday, September 14, 2008

Money Matters

Our older daughter Z, now a worldly near-4 year old, knows there are two firm rules about money in our household. One, keep loose change away from Baby A - it's a choking hazard. And two, when you're done playing with your fake money, be sure to put it back in your pretend cash register.

Other than that, I've wondered what else about money I should be instilling in her young, impressionable mind, while she's still unconditionally receptive to my influence. Z understands cash has some value, at least on a shallow level, but doesn't quite grasp the power of the purse. I mean, how could she, when nearly anything she could possibly dream of - from dolls to stickers to candy - pretty much amounts to mere peanuts?

Still, we've been very careful not to spoil her. We've also been teaching her the importance of charity, and the bigger idea that there will always be people less fortunate than she, people so busy struggling for fundamental "needs" that frivolous "wants" barely enter the equation. Possession's definitely a concept any pre-schooler can grasp. Point out that not everyone can afford her favorite toys, and that she's very lucky to have what she has, and it's pretty clear she gets it. She empathizes. She's been there. She's knows full well how it makes her feel at school when a friend shows off shiny new princess shoes Z wishes she had herself.

I've personally been hyper aware of the tough plight faced by so many - too many, really - Americans this current election year. The never-ending campaign has been awash with so many fiscal facts, figures, promises, recriminations and strategies, flying left and right from both sides: thousands, millions, billions, even trillions of budget dollars in programs, funding, tax cuts, tax hikes, and more. When I hear these numbers, I think of all the people potentially oblivious to the way others are gambling with their future. I also think of my own kids, who will similarly have to deal with any decisions made on their behalf by do-anything-to-win politicians who may or may not have their longview best interests at heart. Then I consider the current economic downturn and wonder how my own kids would fare in the near future were things to take an even more dire, disastrous turn. I wonder what kind of problems they'd face should so many currently irresponsible spending habits continue unabated, digging a deeper and deeper hole of national debt that will eventually have to be reckoned with.

Of course, right now both kids are more or less blissfully innocent of all this stuff. Z, for her part, can recognize pictures of Barack Obama and even spell his name, but of course she has little idea what he means or what he'd do as president. She does, however, recognize that he represents something good, and that he's ready to clean up the mess made by "a bad man." I find that encouraging - not the fact that we're potentially raising some bleeding heart, but the fact that Z understands the difference between good and bad, and the notion that one person can make a difference. I think of that every time we give change to someone in Chinatown, or every time we walk somewhere instead of driving. Certainly I think of this every time she chastises me for forgetting to turn off the lights (and she does do this - she says "it's not good for the Erf!"), or every time we drop things off at the second hand store.

When Z - let alone barely walkin', not talkin' Baby A. - grows up, she'll come to her own conclusions as to why the world works (or doesn't work) the way that it is. She'll also fully understand the role that money plays in the general function and dysfunction of global society. If I've done my job, though, she'll always remember that no matter how deep the coffers or debts, there'll always be a right and wrong way to go about doing things: irresponsibly, thinking only of the here and now and none of the ramifications, and responsibly, thinking about tomorrow, the impact of her decisions, and ultimately, what it means for her own children, and her children's children, so many years down the line.

(Alma's a member of the Parent Bloggers Network, which is sponsoring a "Money Doesn't Grow on Trees" contest with Capital One, which is why I'm suddenly so fancy-pants introspective this silly season).


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