Saturday, July 15, 2017

You Only Live Once

YOLO. It’s what my 16 year old son said to me the other night when we were having a discussion about his work and spending habits, which are or should be directly related. I can’t deny this even while I strongly suspect we live many lives. It’s true we’re only granted one crack at this one life so yes YOLO from rooftops and mountain peaks, but just don’t fall off. Capisce?

I beg you to try and convince a 16 year old that You Only Live Once is not a license for constant bacchanal living. A 16 year old with the freedom that comes with a new driver’s license, the entitlement of unencumbered summer days, the defenselessness against mounting testosterone and adrenaline, and the credulous confidence that he knows more and better. It’s not an amusing conversation, but it sure is critical.

I think we spend too much time sheltering our kids from the hardships in life and the not so fun realities of adulthood that we’re in essence cheating them of character building experiences and potent rites of passage. You don’t turn 18 and poof! become a mature adult who is suddenly able to budget, prioritize, delay gratification, and show up to work on time in a clean-pressed shirt with a well-balanced lunch in hand.

Let kids be kids. Isn’t that the charge-leading mantra? We must protect them from conflict with friends, disagreements with teachers, unfair expectations of coaches, the demands of bosses and the fake news the media spews. They shouldn’t worry about the fact that the $150 shoes or the $1200 car insurance payment for their 9 months of driving this year weren’t in the budget this month. God forbid they find out you really don’t have a money tree in the yard and are struggling to save as much as possible for college, which seemed so far away and is now clearly visible in the purview, and your own retirement, which you cannot even fathom. Don’t let them hear you complain about your job, your state of mind, or them.

Last summer I insisted that Teddy get a checking account. He resisted. I couldn’t figure out why it took until August for him to accompany me to the bank for a debit card. Then it dawned on me. He didn’t want easy access to his money because he didn’t want to spend his money. We’ve encouraged saving since he was a little shaver and we’ve successfully raised a big saver. Yes, job well-done, but no. He wanted mom and dad to keep funding his social life. It’s still very difficult for me not to hand him money every time he goes out. I’m stuck in that mode of wanting to make things easy for him even while I know all that does is delay the ache and burn of growing up. All it does is cheat him.

Against my better judgment, I put a summer stipend in his account. Judgment askew because he’s working an average of 8 hours a week and playing golf for about 40 so obviously he could be putting more skin in the game. He has a friend who worked long hours 19 of 20 days in the last 4 weeks. He’s got many friends who’ve never worked an hour in their lives. I convinced myself he’s on the right track, and he is with room for improvement aplenty. I’m always looking for the right time to nudge and prod as well as those teachable moments that groom and enlighten and hopefully take root. I argued that a stipend would encourage him to prioritize and budget…too make choices.

Back to that conversation. He came home jazzed after a day of golf and a 75.  While I made him dinner and after he recounted e-v-e-r-y shot of the day, he proclaimed that he knew just what he was going to do with a healthy portion of his summer stipend. I was all ears of course. He professed that he would be going to Erin Hills to golf again and wasn’t that a great idea! A rich golf binge was not exactly the choice I had in mind. For a split second, I thought about not saying anything at all. It’s his money now. Except I’m his mother and so I had to chime in and say that I didn’t support that decision. Part of the problem is that he didn’t need the allowance so this influx of cash feels like an opportunity to be frivolous, and yes, I knew and thought of that before I made the deposit. Here’s where the YOLO came in along with a rather unconvincing story about a rotund, bald, cigar smoking chronic golfer he was paired with that day who told him that is exactly why he’s a habitual course rat: YOLO. Teddy also argued that he has no future in bagging groceries, but he may have a future golfing and so technically he’s working while he’s playing. I had to give him a little credit for that one.

What ensued was a calm and productive conversation, and a little compromise too. I expressed that we want him to have lots of fun this summer and getting a job is not punishment, but rather preparation. I told him that YOLO is one thing in spirit and another in practice. It’s not permission to be irresponsible or piggy or short-sighted. I shared with him that he is saving not just for his walking around money right now, but also for when he’s in college. I don’t think we’ve ever told him that we won’t be paying for his spending, and it’s something he needed to hear. I suggested that he pick up some extra shifts to cover the cost of half the fee, and when he reaches that goal, he rewards himself with a trip back to Erin Hills. And I felt like Moses when the Red Sea parted or Franklin when the light bulb shined: it was a miracle and a revelation because Teddy thought that was reasonable. My 16 year old son agreed with me, and that may only happen once in my lifetime.

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