Our eldest, the 14 year old boy genius, the one we’ve planned to live off of in our old age because he’ll have discovered a sub-sub-atomic particle or written a novel more beloved by condescending hipsters than Infinite Jest, jumped in the wave pool at Big Surf with his iPhone in his pocket a couple of weeks ago. He was at a friend’s birthday party and was dropped off back at home after while we were still out. When we got home, he was in bed and the phone was on the kitchen counter in a ziplock bag with no more than 25 grains of rice placed carefully on top of the screen.
It’s possible we should revise our retirement plan.
But the point is, he’s now without a phone. We’ve decided it’s not in his best interest, as a developing human, for us to simply purchase him another phone. Yes, it was an accident, but even accidents have consequences, we wanted him to learn. Of course, we’ve learned they mostly have consequences for us, as we now get texts from random numbers that say things like, I left my guitar and history project in the backseat of your car, can you drop them off at the office for me? And it’s not like I can call him and yell at him, because I’ll just get some random kid who’ll have to relay the Your mom’s totally pissed at you message, likely the next day when he sees him, and by the time Ben gets home I’ve forgotten I wanted to yell at him for being irresponsible.
So, in order to facilitate the process of getting him a new phone without just bailing him out, I put together a list of additional chores he can do to earn extra money to save up for a new phone. I figured if I can have him do things that will save me time and things he will eventually benefit from learning anyway, it will be a win for all. Thus, we’re currently paying him $1 to take out the trash, $2 to do the dishes at night, $5 to cook dinner, and $2 to ride the school bus that picks him up in our neighborhood a full hour and 40 minutes before school starts in the morning, even though we live 4 miles from the school.
I’m not going to lie: teaching a 14 year old how to cook his favorite meals has not made my life less stressful. If he’d focus less on his standup routine and more on not cutting his goddamn hand off, I maybe wouldn’t have to drink an entire bottle of wine while I sit at the counter and spend 2 hours talking him through Sesame Chicken Noodles. So far, though, that’s where we’re at.
That said, I feel like this plan is really starting to work out for both of us. Two nights ago, Jason was at the gym and I was home alone with the kids. I went into the downstairs bathroom to pee and spotted an enormous spider in the crack between the door jam and the wall, behind the door. I mean this thing might have been related to the dog spider in that video. Because I’m a really good parent, I determined it was an excellent learning opportunity for Ben. When he’s a grown man with a girlfriend or wife with a paralyzing fear of arachnids, it will be vital for him to know how to handle this variety of situation. No time but the present to learn.
So I, as you do, when you’re teaching your child valuable lessons, climbed up on the counter in the bathroom, as far as I could get from the spider while still keeping it locked in place with my eyes (if you let them out of your sight, they run and hide in your bed under your pillow) and yelled to Ben in the living room, “BENNETT! IF YOU COME IN HERE RIGHT NOW AND KILL THIS SPIDER I WILL PAY YOU $5.”
He came in, assessed the situation and agreed to the deal while I explained the terms and conditions. “You have to actually kill the spider and dispose of it’s remains to earn the $5,” I told him. “If you try to smash it and miss, and it gets away, I will deduct $5 from your new phone fund.”
“OK, but what if I just don’t try to kill it at all?” he asked.
“You get nothing, but I won’t take money away from your fund. I’m just saying it makes them madder if you try to kill them and fail, and then they won’t rest until they wake you up by crawling on your face at night, so YOU BETTER NOT MISS. OK?”
Then I explained the Newlin Family Super Secret and Highly Technical Way of Dealing With Creatures We’re Afraid Will Jump On Our Faces If We Get Too Close. I’m not going to go into great detail here about just exactly what the method entails (because it’s super secret), but without giving away too much, I will say it involves a tape ball and a long stick.
Once he had assembled the proper equipment, Ben readied himself for battle. By this point, his middle brother had joined the audience, standing on the toilet behind him. I remained standing on the counter*, because someone had to be the grown-up in charge.
Ben took a deep breath, pointed the tape ball on the stick end of the broom at the gargantuan spider, and rammed the beast. Unfortunately, the end of the stick was bigger than the crack the spider was in and the tape wasn’t rigid enough to squeeze in there and kill it. Instead, the spider got a little bit mashed and ran down the wall onto the floor.
At this point, because I felt like it was important for Ben to have the experience of keeping a cool head while dealing with someone who is hysterically unhelpful, I screamed bloody murder. Luckily, I’d prepared him for the vengeful wrath of an injured spider (and his own monetary deficit), so rather than dropping his weapon and running, Ben flipped the broom around to the brush side and beat the monster until the broom literally fell to pieces and the spider was clearly no longer of this world.
It was a really successful parent/child experience, I think. I’m probably going to write a parenting how-to book.
*Don’t, worry, I cleaned the counter of all of my foot germs after all of this was over.**
**No. I totally didn’t.