My Child, The Hustler

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“Put your shoes on, we’re going to be late for school,” I said, picking up Tiny’s backpack to sort through it before school. “What is all this stuff?”

His backpack was filled with books, which is normal now that he’s an avid reader, but I pulled out a box of Pokémon cards that he got at his dad’s house, as well as a bunch of toys. At the bottom of the bag was a roll of dollar bills. I held it up. “Dude. Who did you rob?”

“Oh, that’s from Daddy’s,” Tiny said, shrugging a shoulder as he pulled on his shoes.

I looked at the roll of bills, which was small enough to fit in the palm of my hand, and tied together with a small rubber band. I shrugged, thinking his dad had given him lunch money that never made it into the school lunch account. Setting it on the couch beside the myriad of childhood crap that somehow always managed to fill my son’s backpack, I said, “You’re not allowed to bring toys to school. Why do you have so many toys and Pokémon cards? What does your teacher think about this?”

My kid looked at me with a face full of childhood innocence, with a slightly devious gleam in his eye, and said (in a tone of flippancy I’ve never heard come from my tiny human’s mouth), “Oh, she just rolls with the flow.”

Rolls with the … . WHAT?

“We don’t have time for this. We’ll talk about this later. Grab your backpack. Let’s go.”

“Oh! I forgot my Pokémon book!” Tiny chirped, running off toward his room.

Three … two … how long until my head exploded?

“DUDE!” I shouted, my Valley Girl-ese coming out. “You don’t need your Pokémon book. That’s not school related. Didn’t we just talk about this?”

He came out, clutching the yellow binder to his chest. “But I want to show my friends, Mommy.” Big, green, puppy dog eyes.

I was being played.

“You want to show them to your class?” I asked, seeing a neon post-it with the words Show and Tell in black ink beside the dollar bill roll on the couch. I sighed, tapped my foot a few times at those eyes, and snapped, “Whatever. Fine. No trading cards with friends. Got it?”

He nodded excitedly, and shoved the binder into his backpack. “I won’t trade any cards, Mommy, I swear.”

“Good. Now, GO!” I hollered, shoving us out the door.

About an hour later, my mom came over, bearing gifts and coffee. She had helped me rearrange the living room a few days before, and had a few Christmas decorations she wanted to rehome to her always-willing-to-not-buy-stuff child. She walked over to the couch, started to sit down, picked something up, and turned to me with the stack of rolled up bills in her hand. “What is this?” she asked, cocking her head to the side.

“Blood money?” I joked, looking again at the stack. “He said it came from his dad’s house.”

Mom sat down, pulling the rubber band off the bills, and counting them. “Lunch money? But why would lunch money be rolled up? … Are you sure he didn’t steal these?”

Open shock and denial filled my voice. “Not my child, no. We were reading Story Thieves, and he was outraged that a little girl read her own books during math class. His moral compass is not something I question.” Then again, my child is the ringleader of his own posse of friends at school … so … . “No, he wouldn’t steal.”

My mom looked at me, looked at the money, and said, “Never say never. You’d be surprised what I thought my daughters would never do, and when I heard some things, it made me question everything I thought I knew. You may want to ask him again.” She rolled the bills back up, seven dollars in all, and put the rubber band back on them.

“I will. Oh! I have PT until 4, and I promised I would pick him up at 3:15. I totally blanked!”

“I’ll get him,” Mom replied, and stood to leave. “But, don’t forget to ask about this.”

I went about my day, thinking about the rolled up bills enough to start referring to it as drug money to Mr. M, and went to pick up Tiny after my physical therapy session. As soon as I walked in the door, Mom motioned for me to follow her into the bedroom. “I know where he got the money,” she said.

I made a face at the hushed whisper and odd lead in. “Did he take it from someone?” I asked, remembering my mom’s comment about not always knowing your children. Tiny’s a good kid, though. He’d moved onto third grade math, was reading on a third grade level, his teacher said we had no need to conference because he was doing amazing, and he never got bad marks in school … save for music … because he giggles incessantly when he farts.

… I may be to blame for that. This parenting/role model thing seems to straddle a thin line … and, let’s face it, farts are hilarious.

“When I walked up to daycare, all the kids were surrounding something, and Conner was standing there, watching them. I thought it was strange, and when the teacher told them Conner was leaving, Conner walked up to the group and held out his hand. The kids gave him back a binder.”

“His Pokémon binder. He wanted to show it to his class today. I thought he had Show and Tell,” I said, thinking I’d finished the story.

Mom made a face, which shut me up. “After I saw that interaction, I asked him about the roll of dollar bills. He told me he had no clue where it came from.”

“Umm,” I interjected, “He said it came from his father.”

She shook her head. “After I asked several times, and he kept repeating he didn’t know, I told him I didn’t believe him. That’s when he said he’d been selling Pokémon cards for money. We had a talk about not selling them, particularly seeing as he doesn’t know how valuable the cards are, or what they are worth.”

The cards’ worth wasn’t on my mind right then, but the fact that I was imagining my child handing out cards and getting back dollars floored me. “WHAT?” I said, suddenly thrown off balance. My mind flew back to the boys’ business, tech&play, where Conner had proven to be a natural born salesman. But, he wouldn’t move from a legitimate business to selling cards on the side … would he?

We got in the car, I turned down the radio, and looked in the rearview at my child. “So, I heard you were selling cards at school instead of showing them to your class,” I began.

“Just the bad ones,” he said. “I didn’t like those cards anyway, so I let my friends buy them. They didn’t have a lot of power, but my friends don’t know that.”

Oh M my G. My kid was a hustler. Not only was he selling them, but he was selling the ones he believed to have the worst value. This was too much for my mind to handle. “No more Pokémon cards at school. No more selling cards. Mommy is putting her foot down before you get in trouble with the school. Do you understand?”

At the end of the day, I told both his father and Mr. M about his schemes to get money selling cards. Unfortunately, I’m the only person not currently proud of his craftiness and willingness to earn an extra buck on the side. I’ve always thought that by showing my son how earning money the hard way paid off long-term. It seems, though, like he’s learning that if he can supply a demand, he can get rid of stuff he would otherwise have to live with, like “bad” Pokémon cards, and make a few dollars doing so.

For now, I’ve shut it down. I can’t say that he won’t do it anymore, particularly seeing as his backpack is where junk from his father’s house goes to stay. On my watch, though? He can earn money the old-fashioned way: by taking out the trash.

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