Natural consequences

AS I WAITED FOR MY GARAGE DOOR TO OPEN yesterday afternoon, I was met by Eli, who was fixing to leave on his bike with his basketball. He’s been enjoying that we live close to basketball courts, but it’s been too cold to play outside. He has discovered that sometimes, his school is open after hours and if one of the two gyms is not in use, he can shoot around inside.

The problem was, he was wearing crew socks and a pair of athletic slides. And a hoodie. And it was 20 degrees outside.

I tried to explain frostbite and hypothermia, but all he heard was BLAH BLAH COLD BLAH BLAH BLAH and off he went.

When he returned 15 minutes later, his feet were really cold. (No!) As he sat with them next to the fireplace, we had another discussion about how 20 degrees is a kind of cold one should not trifle with. This is the kind of cold that would freeze the canned sodas we used to leave on the shelf in our carport. It’s the kind of cold that helps you identify every broken seal on every window and door in your house. It’s the kind of cold that makes furnaces sputter and quit.

You would think the experience of self-inflicted cold feet would have left an impression. You would think he’d have been grateful that I dug out two winter coats so he could choose one to wear on his walk to school. You would think those things, but you are probably an adult with a fully-developed frontal lobe. The boy rolled his eyes and groaned when I insisted he wear a coat. Or, he groaned because it was the first day back after winter break. Probably some of both. Either way, he was running late this morning and asked me to drive him to school. (Only the second time this school year!)

He got into the car wearing just a hoodie. Coat’s in my backpack, he said in response to my side-eye. Do you have a hat? I asked. I have a hood. Gloves? One. But I have pockets.

At least he was wearing sneakers instead of slides.

WebMD illustrates natural consequences using the coat / cold example. They go on to say, “Learning through experiencing consequences is much more powerful than through a lecture or punishment. Using consequences for misbehavior is an effective teaching method for dealing with behavior problems in children and teens.”

Oh, WebMD! That’s precious! I thought it would be effective too, but I am a female adult. And I have learned from parenting two boys through their teen years that cause and effect is not the deterrent you’d expect it to be, at least when it comes to weather-appropriate dress. Eli’s brothers insisted upon leaving coats behind, lest they be forced to actually use their school lockers. And with Eli, I’ve had to establish a threshold of 32 degrees Fahrenheit, below which he will only reluctantly wear long pants to school, much to the chagrin of school administrators.

Despite it all, I do tend to agree that a “natural consequences” approach to parenting is probably the best way in most cases. Within reasonable limits, of course. But I’ll be counting the days until he demonstrates that he can decide on his own, based on weather reports and experience, whether or not it’s a good day to wear a coat.

I take comfort in knowing that my kids’ behavior places them in the fat part of the bell curve. A quick Google search of “shorts in snow” yields many images of bare legs on a white background, including in this feature story from the Coeur D’Alene (Idaho) Press that articulates adults’ perennial concern for children’s cold legs.

I have found my people.

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Area Boy wears summer attire in winter. School administrators remain exasperated.

 

Questionable Math

MOM, CAN YOU HELP ME WITH MY HOMEWORK? Eli has been pretty self-sufficient since starting middle school a few weeks ago, but he needed a little assist with his math last night. He started reading aloud:

"Ryan earns a paycheck of $52 per day at Bob's Burger World. Complete the table to show how much he earns depending on how many hours he works." When you do the math, it comes out to $6.50 per hour. 

Then my HR head exploded because of everything that's wrong with this scenario.

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First of all: $6.50 is below the federal minimum wage (not to mention many localities, which mandate a minimum wage higher than the federal rate). Granted, if Ryan is below a certain age, he may be paid something less than minimum for a brief initial period on the job, but otherwise, NO. It doesn't say if he's waiting tables and earning tips, so we have to assume he's in the back doing food prep or dishes or something. 

But the worksheet says Curriculum 2.0, which ought to mean this question is not one from 20 years ago, when $6.50 would have been a damn fine wage for our boy to be flipping burgers.

Second of all, his paycheck isn't $52. He does not bring home $52. Even if he earns less than would require him to pay federal and state taxes this year, he still owes social security and medicare.  On $52, his share is $3.98, so his best-case, net actual paycheck is actually $48.02. 

Unless Bob is paying him cash under the table. (Bad, bad Bob.)

Third of all, this table goes from 1-8 hours then jumps to 12. TWELVE HOURS? How old is Ryan? Do child labor laws apply here? If so, is this during the school year, or a summer job? Does he need a work permit? Furthermore, is this 12-hour day on top of 32 hours already worked in the week? If so, Ryan needs to be paid time-and-a-half for the last 4 hours on that 12 hour day. 

I'm also wondering if Bob charges Ryan for meals, or the logo tee-shirt he's required to wear. I start to get annoyed with Bob. I wonder if Bob could use an HR consultant to help him stay in compliance with employment laws. After all, it's complicated running a business.

This is where my HR mind goes, and even more so since I sat through three days of payroll training last week. But I forced myself to set all of those questions aside, since that really wasn't in the spirit of the homework problem.

Until the next question:

"If Ryan needs to earn $390 to buy an iPad, how many hours would he need to work?"

Well, you know they want you to divide his sub-minimum hourly rate into the total of $390. But that's not really the case, is it? First of all, if Ryan buys the iPad in Maryland, he's going to pay 6% sales tax, so he actually pays $413.40. More, if he agrees to purchase the extended warranty they'll try to sell him. You know he's also going to want a cover for it, and maybe a screen saver. And, he doesn't NET $6.50 in his paycheck. Let's say his hourly rate after required taxes is actually $6.00. So instead of 60 hours, it's actually going to to take closer to 70 hours. Unless Bob has him working 12 hour days, and is paying him time-and-a-half for hours in excess of 40 per week. Or he's earning tips. Or….

MOM! STOP! Eli was becoming exasperated. So we went to the next question, wherein Ryan got a raise of $2.50 per hour, and now how much does he earn in an 8-hour workday? 

Well, at least now Bob is complying with minimum wage law! He'll gross $72, but net only $66.49. Because taxes.

I'm starting to feel bad for Ryan. I bet Bob never even had him fill out tax withholding forms, or checked his work authorization. I wish Ryan would look for another job, with a reputable employer, who pays above minimum wage and appreciates Ryan for his work ethic and attention to detail. After all, he's been slaving away in that hot kitchen for months, and yes, he got a raise, but that's probably only because someone called out Bob on that minimum wage thing and he wanted to avoid a wage and hour audit.

Eli rolls his eyes at me and finishes his homework. He doesn't understand all these questions I've been asking, and thank goodness for that. He's still in middle school. He has a few years before these problems jump off the worksheet and into his actual life.

 

 

Off they go (or not)

Ah, August. It's the time of year when many parents deliver their offspring to college. After four years of running the high school gauntlet – get the grades, take the AP classes, participate in extracurriculars, rack up the volunteer hours, collect the honors – your sweet baby child is suddenly all grown up and off on his or her next adventure, and it's one from which you will be largely absent. You spent all that time cheering their teams and listening to their concerts and shuttling them all around town and documenting the whole thing with video and snapshots, and now, it seems, you have made yourself obsolete.

You lug plastic tote boxes into your kid's dorm room, rearrange the furniture, make the bed, hang the twinkle lights, and fret over roommate assignments. After the frenzy of activity, poof – junior is gone. Launched. When will he come home next? Is asking for just one text a day too much? What if she forgets to [insert very important thing here]? Who will reminder her to do all the things YOU used to remind her to do?

These days, my Facebook feed is full of posts from emotional parents sobbing as they bid their progeny farewell, predicting they'll be a "basket case" on move-in day, posting emotional odes to their baby birdies as they leave the nest. Parents wondering how their infant, born just last week, can possibly be gone from the house already.

Moms and dads forgetting, for a moment, that this, after all, was the goal all along. 

Of my three sons, two are college age, and both chose, for a variety of reasons, to attend community college. This means they are living at home and commuting to a nearby campus so they can take general ed classes, probably for their first two years. I'm confident this was the best choice for each of them, and not just because of the significant cost savings. 

And yet, part of me feels like I've been missing something this month. My peers are experiencing a rite of passage that I am not. I joke about how I can't get mine to leave, how I say to them, "Are YOU still here?", and even as I am confident in their choice, I still have mixed feelings.

While the changes my family is undergoing are not as significant as the change that comes when a child moves out, there are changes. Post-secondary education is a big deal. Commuter kids must also find all their classrooms, manage their time, advocate for themselves, and continue to develop their study skills. All of this is challenge enough for the maturest of young adults. But I believe some kids need the extra advantage of being able to do all of that without also having to navigate the unique challenges of residential college life. Some kids just aren't ready to tackle it all at this age.

So, as you adjust to life without your young'un around the house, remember those of us whose kids are still around, and the unique adjustments we're making to accommodate this new phase of their lives. Even as I explain to my kids that my one job is to get them ready to leave home, I'd be lying if I didn't admit that part of me is relieved to be able to give them some additional time to transition. When it's time for them to go, they'll be more than ready in every way.

And so will I.