Grandpa thought he was offering the boys a lesson, an opportunity, a gift if the boys could only jump through an easy hoop, a hoop only inches from the ground and large enough to ride a bike through. And as he saw it, he was placing the hoop directly in front of the boys’ intended target so it was simply a matter of pedaling a few paces. But what he didn’t get was that opportunity is a nesting ground for anxiety, that a door opened is a big slab of oak ready to slam into your face, and one can hang themselves on a hoop—certainly, it’s been done, somewhere, somehow, by someone.
He hadn’t finished speaking, but I could see the panic, the welling of the eyes, and then the oldest pushed away from the table, excused himself, disappeared. The middle boy said, OK, and the youngest jumped up and down. A hundred dollars! he screamed—he’s recently developed a high-octive squeal that he let rip at full volume.
The deal seemed easy, a gimme: if you can save $80 by April 15, I’ll give you $100 for Lego Fest. Grandpa’d just passed them each a bankable $10 so they were on their way. But the older generation seems immune to the acidic properties of money—the way it singes skin, melts clothes and leaves a sour taste in the mouth that only massive amounts of sugar or a new toy can neutralize. And after the deal, Grandpa and Grandma left and the boys were bored, and there was all the money to think about along with what they had in their wallets, did he really expect them to save?
Can we go to Target? They asked, saying they wanted to price things out, check out the scene. I had a feeling where this was going, but I had some household items to pick up and we had nothing else going on.
I can’t do it, the oldest said as we got in the car.
Of course you can, you’ve done it before.
No. I can’t. . . . I felt like I was driving an addict to his fix.
They poured into the store, effervescent, all that was and could be was golden, amnion love, and they raced over a rainbow in joyous boydom to the toy and electronic departments. And they were happy.
But the nature of light is temporal, changing, waves subject to the movement of stars and planets and the switch on the side of the lamp. And the elastic moment stretched into a thin gray line of an hour and each box of Lego toys became a temptation, a taunt, a reminder of the finite nature of $10 and that a boy could not buy everything even if he borrowed several weeks worth of allowance. And there was the snarling promise of Grandpa’s gift, barbed wire around the glistening boxes demanding they back off and hold that burning cash until a later day. But what cruel heart would ask a boy to carry fire? Who would pay for the blistering hand of a child? And can a boy be expected to walk away from a Bounty Hunter Assault Gunship?
So they skies darkened and they wrestled demons in the isle of Target, and I’d say the demons won. There were some tears, some back and forth, some wheeling and dealing and the promise of a lifetime of good behavior and accomplished chores, because Saving Money can not sit on the scale of judgement across from Immediate Gratification. No sane person would pit apples against oranges.
They clutched their boxes at checkout, begged weakly for gum, then bounced to the car to rip open their treasures. They’d each found the key to delight.
And when they reach the deadline for saving and they’re broke, and they don’t get the bonus because they shouldn’t, I like to believe then, a lesson learned. But probably they’ll file the memory of Grandpa’s proposal in the box of the unimaginable, next to dragons, unicorns and being grown-up.