Sunday, February 1, 2009

No Free Lunch

I think it was a year and a half ago that my younger son, Christopher, discovered credit. It was his first day of kindergarten. When Christopher came home, he ran to his Mom and said excitedly, “Mommy, they have chocolate milk in the lunchroom. I had chocolate milk today.” My wife, surprised by this, asked him where he got the milk. “From the lunchroom,” he replied. “My friend said the milk was free.”

My wife laughed, realizing what had happened. She’d made a complete lunch that morning for both our boys. However, some kids’ parents pay for the school lunch. She sat down with Christopher and explained it to him, saying that the milk was not free. She cautioned him not to do it again, saying that Mommy and Daddy have to pay for it later. My wife also told him that she would give him money once a week for chocolate milk, if he wanted it.

Things went smoothly for a week. As she promised, my wife gave Christopher money for his chocolate milk. They also reached an agreement for ice cream once a week, which made Christopher happy. Then that next Friday afternoon, Christopher came home and handed my wife a note from Christopher’s teacher. The note was a bill listing over a weeks’ worth of breakfasts that Christopher had apparently eaten in addition to the one chocolate milk. When my wife asked why he was eating breakfast, especially given that he eats breakfast at home every day, Christopher only replied, “Mommy, my friend said it was free.” Once again, my wife counseled him that the food at school is not free and that Mommy and Daddy have to pay for what he eats. She also sent a note to his teacher, letting her know of the situation and that he gets breakfast at home and brings everything he needs for lunch.

Christopher has learned much since then. He knows that Mommy and Daddy aren’t big on credit cards. He even has his own pseudo-version of credit. If he sees something at the store he wants to get, he knows he can get it with the money he has. If the money’s at home, we’ll get it for him…as long as he has sufficient money and promises to pay us back as soon as we get home.

We are thankful that the school sent the bill home so quickly. Had the school waited a month or longer, the bill could have been much higher. When Christopher gets older, I’m sure he’ll laugh.

Then again, when he becomes one of the people trying to pay the bills that our politicians are creating right now, he may view what he did as appropriate.

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