I cut up the Princess’s credit card yesterday.
No, obviously not an actual credit card, she’s only 8, geez how crazy do you think I am? It’s a metaphor. Make yourself comfy and I’ll tell you the whole story.
Nearly two years ago I sent to Princess off to her first full day of school. She was a big girl, she was in first grade, she was six. Being the exemplary mother that I am, I packed her newly purchased Disney Princess lunch-box with a healthy, nutritious lunch, I even wrote her a loving note on the napkin just like the mothers of the girls who weren’t me always did when I was growing up and I wished my mother did too (in her defense my mother may have done something like that when I was in grade school had she made my lunch, but since lunch making was one of the morning chores for myself or one of my six siblings she wasn’t really in a position for writing napkin notes.) I loving placed said Disney princess lunch-box in my darling daughter’s Disney princess backpack and sent her off on the bus to school.
Fast forward a few hours and I got a phone call from the Princess. She had hurt her arm- that’s right she needed first aid in the first grade (10,000)- So I went to the school and picked her up. As we were driving home I asked, “did you like the lunch I made you?”
“I didn’t eat it.”
“What do you mean you didn’t eat it?”
“I went through the line and they gave me pizza.”
Pause. “Sweetheart, they don’t just give you food, you have to buy food and you didn’t have any money.”
“They said I could bring money tomorrow.”
And so began my daughter’s education in buying on credit. SHE WAS SIX!!!!!
I realize that it was only $1.20 but that is SO not the point. The point is that the school, an institution I’m trusting to teach my daughter, has just taught her that she can get what she wants now and pay for it later. Gone are the days of sending your kid to school with lunch money which they handed over to the cashier at the end of the lunch-line. Now you send money in to the schools and it goes in your child’s account. they they go get their lunch and give the “cashier” their account number. I’m completely serious.
In the intervening nearly two years Sean and I have done what we could to disabuse her of the notion that she can’t just get lunch on credit to no avail. She is currently in charge of making her own lunch, something she does about four days a week. The other days I plan for and send money. But some days she makes herself a lunch and she doesn’t eat it!! She just eats in the cafeteria. And the school sends notes home telling us that we owe them money.
And they’re mean about it, collection agencies have nothing on Unnamed Elementary for getting their money. They take the Princess out of class and have her call home to remind- by remind I mean tell, since the note that they sent home with the Princess is still in her backpack- us that we owe 20 cents. 20 CENTS!!!! You’re calling me at home to demand 20 cents?!!!!! Is the school system really that hard up? (Again not the point but I couldn’t help but mention it.)
But we can’t not pay it. We live in a very… (how do I put this?) non-affluent area. There are a lot of kids at that school who are on reduced or free lunch, there are a lot of kids there for whom the meal(s) they eat at school are the best meals they’ll get all week. We can afford the lunch, we can afford one for her and one for a friend. I would just like to afford it ahead of time.
Yesterday I got my big break. Instead of the Princess calling me about money owed, the “lunch secretary” (I kid you not) called. “The Princess didn’t bring her lunch today and she’s going on a field-trip but she already owes $1.00.”
“I didn’t know about the $1.00 (I really need to be better about making her clean out her backpack when she gets home) but I was actually aware that she didn’t bring her lunch today. The note that was sent home about the field-trip said that lunch would be provided.”
“It’s provided but it’s not free.”
Am I stupid that I thought “Lunch will be provided” meant that it was free? It’s ok, you can tell me if I am. But If I had known that I would have had her make a lunch. (No, it’s not about the $1.20, it’s about the fact that I’ve never been that impressed with the nutritional content of the school’s lunches anyway- tater tots are not a vegetable)
“Ok, well since I misunderstood could you go ahead and give her lunch today but since I have you on the phone can I request that you not extend credit to her.”
“So if she doesn’t have money you just want her … to go … hungry?” Asked the lunch secretary clearly aghast at the very idea.
She’s a sturdy girl, one missed lunch isn’t going to hurt her and maybe we can undo a little of the damage you have done by giving my six-year-old a credit card. I guess we should have called the school to ask for this before. I’ll admit the idea did occasionally occur to me but I didn’t think there was any chance that they’d go for it. Now that I know they will, well let’s just say that the Pea will be eating the lunch I make him on his first day of first grade.