In the morning before school, I gave two boys $2 each to spend at mini-mall. This year, I have no “sellers” at mini-mall; just buyers. After school, my first grader handed me a plastic baggie, bursting full of one-dollar bills. “Here’s my change from mini-mall,” he said.
“Change?! How can you possibly get this much change from $2?”
“It’s just my change.”
“What did you buy?”
“Some puppy chow, some popcorn, two fuzzy buddies, but I lost them, a bike chain bracelet and some cupcakes.”
“I bought some grass heads, and some flowers for you.”
My thoughts fluttered back to the $60 cash that was sitting on the counter this morning. The cash his brother had earned from raking leaves, which I was going to deposit later that day into his bank account.
“Did you take any money off the counter?”
His silence instantly revealed what I suspected, and feared. As soon as we got home and walked in the door, I scanned the counter for the $60, and I found that the cash was indeed gone.
From that point on, things were a bit blurry. There were lots of lectures, lots of questions, and answers that made me sick to my stomach.
From what I gathered, he has no concept of what a $5 bill truly is. “Did you get your change, your dollars, back when you spent the $5?”
“I got three quarters back.”
This is why we don’t give little boys lots of money like this.
“When you spend a five dollar bill, it’s like five ones; so you get dollars back when you spend a five, just like you got $17 back when you spent a twenty dollar bill.”
He looked dumbfounded — astonished. As if a room that had been darkened his whole life was suddenly illuminated. He had thought, until this moment, that he had turned a profit. He came home with more “bills” than he had left with. Never did it occur to him that perhaps each bill carried a different value; that five 1 bills were the same as one lone 5 dollar bill.
I’m assuming he bought stuff for his friends, he dropped a few bills, and there were many purchases that were eaten before they made their way home. And, of course, he didn’t get his change back on those $5.
I called the mini-mall teacher, who found there was indeed a $12.00 overage, which they were going to give to my son. In addition, out of goodwill, the mini-mall class was each going to contribute $1 each, for a total of $13. Already, he had earned back $25 of the $60; for which I am very grateful. Now, all that was left were chores and allowances to repay the debt. He had $10 in change his piggy bank (actually, it’s a soccer ball bank) and that was quickly converted to debt payment.
Plus, he offered to sell frogs. He added, out of goodwill, that he would also catch some fish and sell those too.
Still, I had another problem; a classic public relations crisis management problem. This is precisely the problem I was trained to handle back in college. His oldest brother, the 7th grader, the one who had earned all the cold hard cash in the first place, wasn’t home yet, and was missing this drama. I wanted it to stay that way.
Mini-mall doesn’t exist at his school; the middle school. This is a shame, because if there’s anybody who would devour a bag of puppy chow, it’s the 7th grade boys. At the rate of their metabolism, they probably need puppy chow, and it’s a crime the food is wasted on the youth; and they would certainly help the profits of mini-mall soar.
I know, the classic textbook “Public Relations Crisis Case” that is required reading and under constant debate in college journalism classrooms, the Tylenol poisonings, revealed that honesty is always the best policy. Let the people know exactly what’s happening, and what you’re doing now to repair things. I know it’s wrong to hide the truth; but I always go for protection when it comes to my kids. When can safely say it’s my weakness as a parent.
“Kids, you need to understand that this is Mom and Dad’s money. Your older brother is under enough stress from school, and he doesn’t need to worry about replacing and earning back this money. Your Mom and Dad will take care of this; he doesn’t need to know. ”
Besides, I didn’t need to give the kid one more reason to hate his younger brother.
An hour later, my 7th grader arrived home. Instantly he spotted the empty baggies on the table, filled with a few minor crumbs from puppy chow. He’s a 7th grader. Food is his passion.
“Who bought puppy chow?”
“You did!” my 4th grader promptly answered.