For those of you don’t know me, let me give you some basic information. I am notoriously frugal (some might say cheap). I think paying more than $50 for a pair of shoes is ridiculous, my kids think shopping at Goodwill is like going on a treasure hunt, and I love a good yard sale. As you can imagine, I think paying for lawn services is a big waste of my money. It’s not that I haven’t tried them in the past. I just think it’s way too much money for too little benefit. Instead, I send my husband out a few times a year with a drop spreader and a bag of weed-and-feed. As a result, my lawn is nothing like the lush, golf course-worthy spreads in my neighborhood. But, I’m O.K. with that. Like I tell my husband, I’m low maintenance and so is our lawn. I’m saving money, saving my landscaping (thanks again True Gr**n for the over spray which killed my nice plants), and I’m limiting the amount of toxic crap being spread on my lawn. In my world, that’s a win-win-win.
In my front lawn you will find good grass, bad grass, and a variety of lovely weeds. In my back yard you will find all of that and the occasional dog poop. I really don’t worry too much about the back yard. It’s mostly deck and landscaping so there’s not much grass to worry about. There’s also a lot of shade in my back yard. So, instead of grass, I get moss. Or, in my chosen parlance, lawn velvet. Ergo, the only major concern I have is the front yard. The front yard is the grass the neighbors see and the grass the neighbors might choose to talk about should it become a disaster of jungle proportions.
I really don’t care about too many weeds as long as the yard looks nice and green from the street. As long as the grass is winning (which means it maintains ownership of at least 50% of the lawn), I’m not too stressed. Note: Honey, if you are reading this it does not mean I think the grass should be groin-height before you haul out the lawn mower. There are two main weeds roosting in my front yard and I like them both. Quite frankly, I’d secretly hate to see them leave. The first of the two weeds is clover. I rather like the little three-leaved harbingers of spring and leprechauns. More importantly, one of the clover patches is a mutant patch which shoots forth a stunningly high percentage of four-leaved and five-leaved varieties. (Go ahead, blame it on Three Mile Island being about 25 miles from my house.) The other main weed I have is dandelion. I LOVE dandelions. Whether it’s the origin of their name being French for “tooth of the lion” or their perky yellow color . . . I really like them. I hate considering their demise every time we put down the occasional weed killer and I am secretly happy when they survive the attempted poisoning. When my husband offers to take a spray bottle of “the good stuff” to the individual plants, I always ask him to forebear and try to buy myself some time by offering a better and “less toxic” solution.
Enter my children, stage left. They are my “less toxic” solution. Instead of poisoning my lawn (and possibly my kids and dog) I have implemented a “Penny-A-Posy” program in my front yard. My kids get paid a penny for every yellow dandelion they pick. They get nothing for the white ones. Too late, kids, the seeds are already spread across the lawn and mommy doesn’t want to keep paying more than she has to. Remember, mommy is cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap. Besides, only the yellow ones really give away mommy’s little weed secret.
Now, let me tell you a little about my two kids. My daughter is about eight and a half. She is smart, diligent, hard-working, caring, compassionate, and likes to go shopping. She is conscientious and the perfect posy picking employee. Contrast her with my almost-seven year old son. He is charming, lazy, always up for a good time, hates to do anything he’s told, and is a “hard work is for suckers” kind of kid. He is funny and a sweetheart, but when it comes to work he is the antithesis of his sister. Watching them work together towards a common goal is a wonder to behold.
When the outside temperature and the rainfall totals are in sync; the number of lion toothed, yellow dandies in my front yard can go from almost nothing to a yellow-brick-road effect. This usually happens overnight and by the next morning I’m torn between not giving a crap (and enjoying their sunny appearance) and worrying about the neighbors using my yard as a topic of conversation at their next family dinner. I admit it. I do occasionally fold to social pressure. When I do, I remind my kids of the “Penny-A-Posy” contract.
My kids will immediately spring into action. (Please don’t tell my kids they should ask for more money for each flower. Remember, I’m cheap.) My daughter flies through the yard like the shadow of dandelion death pulling them out without remorse. My son wanders aimlessly trying to remember where he might have left his basketball, army men, and cars the last time he was playing with them in the front yard.
After strip mining the front yard, my daughter will run into the house, breathless from the exertion. Not only will she bring in a bunch of flowers for me to count, she will also have them artfully collected into a lovely little dent-de-lion bouquet. Being good on my word, I willingly count them out one by one and calculate her payment. Around the same time, her brother will mosey into the house, still wondering where he left his favorite race car. He won’t even break a sweat on a 100 degree day. He will hand over a scant amount of flowers all mutilated into a mass of little yellow bits and pieces. Being good on my word, I will painstakingly divide them out and count every one. I do not discriminate. I do not play favorites. Everything is on the up and up. There is no need to contact the Department of Labor. I also offer free benefits and some pretty nifty incentives to these short people. So, no need to alert the union authorities, either.
After counting their collections, the ratio of flowers between my daughter and son usually turns out to be something like 5 to 1. My daughter always beams when I announce how many she collected and how much money she earned. Her smugness might be off-putting to some people, e.g., liberals; but, hey, she earned every single penny. Her brother, on the other hand, devolves into a whimpering mass of “that’s not fair, she gets more than me!!!” diatribe. So, the last time we did this, I decided, like the good pro-capitalism mother that I am, to teach them a lesson.
My kids always stand side by side as I count out their quarry. On this particular day, I told my daughter she had earned 52 cents for her efforts. She beamed through her sweat covered brow; proud of her hard work and accomplishments. She was, probably, simultaneously calculating how many more she would need to earn a new pair of earrings. I then told my son he had earned 11 cents for his efforts. He stood there slack-jawed as if he couldn’t believe I could be so dense as to not realize there were a least a thousand in his hand. As expected, the whining express immediately left the station.
“MMMMMMMOOOOOOOOMMMMMMM, it’s not fair. I only get 11 cents and she gets 52 cents.”
I patiently explained to him that his sister had picked 41 additional flowers. That was why she was getting 41 additional cents. At this point, his sister is looking vainglorious and he is looking like the guy who kicked a bad field goal with ten seconds left on the clock. I listened intently to his excuses as to why he couldn’t pick as many as his sister. I heard woeful stories about being distracted by the sun in his eyes, the toy car he found in the grass, and the basketball net which was desperate for a short person to shoot a few hoops so it wouldn’t die of loneliness. It was the classic embodiment of the ant and the grasshopper.
Note: Now the hard-core pro-capitalist (posing as a socialist) in me came out fighting. 🙂
Playing a text-book perfect socialist, I commiserated with the sullen and downtrodden boy. I pointed out that he had, obviously, been hampered by his environment. (Please recall that both children had the exact same environment in which to work.) I demanded someone address this inequality! I claimed his sister was born with a stronger work ethic and that it just wasn’t fair. I declared that the boy was hampered by a desire to explore other interests instead of working. I said someone needed to make things fair. I pronounced the boy a victim and said his sister must not be unjustly benefited from her hard work! I said we needed to protest and I suggested we occupy something! I cried out for someone to take care of the helpless boy. I told the boy he was being punished with a paltry paycheck of a mere eleven cents. I told him his sister was the enemy, enriched as she was with a burgeoning paycheck of a huge 52 cents. I insisted we enforce an equality of outcome (even though they both had equality of opportunity).
Note. This was actually turning out to be a great adventure in both parenting and teaching the kids about government and politics.
I suggested we add up the earnings and give it all back to me. I told them I was going to take a cut for myself (to cover the expenses of administering the program – of course) and then I would divide up and redistribute the difference between the two of them.
I calculated it for them. I’d take the 52 cents from the girl and the 11 cents from the boy. That would give me 66 cents. (The total amount was perfect since I would be able to easily split it three ways. I swear God was up there rooting me on the whole time.) I told them I would take one-third of the amount because I was the government and that was my share of their income. I told my daughter she would get one-third and my son would also get one-third. My son asked how many cents he would be getting. I told him he’d be getting 22 cents.
Now, before I continue I need to give you all a little insight on my daughter. As I said before, she’s a caring and compassionate child. When she was younger, she wanted to know why Obama couldn’t just give everyone a bunch money so they wouldn’t be hungry or not have a place to live. Some wanted to know why some people didn’t have nice clothes to wear. She wanted to know why some kids didn’t have toys at Christmas. Let me tell you, it was hard to explain the differences between bad luck and laziness. I explained that not everyone without a home and not everyone going to bed hungry was in that situation because of laziness. However, I told her, some were. The challenge was determining the difference between the two and helping the ones who were trying to help themselves or those who couldn’t help themselves. That was when I told my daughter about the charities I support, like Special Olympics and Dress for Success. I told her, the private industry was the correct place for charity, not the government. I discussed how the government was supposed to govern, not be a philanthropic organization. I think she got my point . . . but now was the chance to prove my point.
So, back to the dandelion story.
When my son realized he was getting 22 cents, he whooped and hollered and did a silly little dance. He was so happy. He was doubling his money and he didn’t have to do anything to get it. My daughter, on the other hand, being a math whiz, immediately saw the flaw in this approach. “Wait a minute!”, she screamed, “that means I’m getting 30 cents less than I earned!!!!” As you can imagine, she was incensed. She was furious. She was indignant. She was stomping around instead of doing the happy dance her brother was doing. She wanted to know how I, her loving, mother, would cheat her out of 30 cents just to make sure her bother didn’t walk away with only 11 cents. She wanted to know why I would take a third of her earnings and keep it for myself. She wanted to know why she couldn’t keep every penny she earned. She wanted to know why her brother was getting some of what she worked so hard to earn. She wanted to know why her bother deserved anything other than the 11 cents he earned. While she was voicing her disapproval, her brother stood there repeatedly shouting to his sister it was because it wasn’t fair for her to get more than him just because she collected more flower heads. Still elated from the realization he was getting free stuff, my son told me, as he hugged and kissed me, I was the “bestest” and most beautiful mommy in the whole wide world. (Note: Think about it, all I had to do to earn his gushing praise and adoration was to take something from a person who rightfully earned it (and deserved to keep it) and give it to him. Yay, me. I am so awesome.)
I reminded my daughter of the charity discussion we had a while ago, the one about the difference between bad luck and laziness. I asked her to assess her brother’s status. She (correctly) assessed her bother as lazy. He didn’t work hard. He barely even tried. He played while she worked. He moseyed around looking for lost toys while she snapped up the dandelions. He shot baskets while she arranged the yellow flowers into a nice little bouquet. Suddenly, a light bulb went off in her head. She finally “got it”.
She summarized it pretty accurately. She said I was like the government. She said her brother was like someone on welfare. She realized she was like the taxpayer. She turned to me and asked, “Mommy, doesn’t it make you mad when the government takes your money and gives it to people who didn’t earn it?” My response, “Welcome to the TEAparty, my dear. We can check to see if they’re accepting junior members.”
My son, on the other hand, if not given proper guidance, could easily turn out to be a socialist. He really was fond of the concept of redistribution of wealth (as long as it was not his) and not having to do much to earn it. My daughter now has a firm grasp of the fiscal conservative’s view of fairness, which is “you deserve to keep what you earn and not have the government take it away and give it to others (although you can choose to give it away yourself)”. My son still has the fiscal liberal’s view of fairness, “as long as it’s someone else’s money, let’s have the government continue taking it away and spreading it around”. The good thing is, I now have one more fiscal conservative in the house and there’s still plenty of time for my son to come around. I have eleven years before he’s old enough to vote. Wish me luck. Then again, I don’t think it will take that long. One day, when he has worked the hardest and is the one with the most dandelions, I’m pretty sure he’ll suddenly have a completely different point of view.