By Marla Jo Fisher
The Orange County Register
My children need a laptop and an iPhone. Because every teenager in America, except them, now has these essential electronic devices, without which the survival of the free world would be in jeopardy.
My kids never used to be materialistic, but now we’ve been living in this comfy, middle-class suburban neighborhood too long and the attitudes are starting to seep into their pores.
It’s time to remind them of this: Three hots and a cot.
I recently learned this expression, and it immediately became my favorite. This is what prisoners must receive by law from the state while they’re incarcerated.
And that’s what I owe my kids while they’re incarcerated in the hellish fortress known as Chez Fisher.
Three hot meals a day and a place to sleep.
Anything else is just gravy and they need to earn it, or so I tell them.
It’s not unusual for my darling teenage son, Cheetah Boy, to walk into the living room and start a sentence with, “Mom, you need to ...”
Hmm, let’s see, I muse to myself while he’s speaking, what do I need to do? Go to a day spa and get a massage?
Give him a list of things he can do to help around the house?
Call my best friend and meet her for a margarita?
No, sadly, that sentence inevitably ends with “... buy me a new (fill in the blank here).”
When that occurs, 800 times a day, (OK, really, I’m exaggerating — it’s only six times a day) I point out to him that in actuality I don’t need to do anything except eat, sleep and earn my paycheck.
The fridge is full of food, I remind him. He can make some. There’s a comfy bed with a memory foam mattress in his room. We have hot running water 24 hours a day. With indoor plumbing. His school is only four blocks away. I provide all these creature comforts for him to enjoy.
If he wants more, then a discussion needs to ensue, because I’m neither his personal banker nor an ATM.
I’ve already made it clear to my kids that they’re not getting laptops until they go to college. We have a computer. It’s in the living room, where I can supervise its use.
They are not deprived children. There’s no point in calling Child Protective Services just because I won’t give them laptops with which to disappear into their bedrooms, never to be seen again until they’re 18 years old.
They do own smartphones, for which they paid half and which they pay for by the month out of their own pocket money, earned by doing chores.
I grew up with nothing but loving-if-crazy parents, a roof over my head and enough food to eat, and I learned that it’s possible to live without a big houseful of fancy devices, expensive clothes and new cars.
In fact, don’t tell anyone, but we don’t even have granite countertops in our house. Shh. That’s our little secret.
Yes, I know, many people who grew up with nothing want to treat their children to the best, now that they’re making good money. I understand this philosophy of wanting your kids to have a better life than you did.
But, really, does buying them a lot of possessions accomplish your goals? Does it give them a better life? Or does it just make them unappreciative of their value, and unable to understand the satisfaction of working for what you want?
At least once a year, I try to take my children to a place where people have nothing so they can have a sense of perspective about their lives.
They’ve seen people living in shacks that don’t have the word “Radio” in front of them, built out of sticks in the Yucatan. Entire families live in one room, which may or may not have a single bare cord bringing in electricity from the outside world.
The huts we visited in Africa, made from mud and dung in the Masai Mara, had no pizza ovens inside, though they did have a fire pit and a smoke hole in the middle.
They’ve seen children living in orphanages and men in cardboard shelters on the sidewalk in L.A.’s skid row.
Compared to that, my children are rich beyond belief.
Recently, my handsome son got his first job. He’s in the hot back room, making sandwiches for the drive-up window at Wendy’s. So far, it’s not a lot of fun.
But he loved getting his first paycheck on Friday, and looking at that “$79.00” on the front, knowing that he earned it all himself.
He’s saving for a car, and to pay his insurance when I let him get a driver’s license.
Yes, he has pointed out that his other friends have brand-new cars their parents bought them. That’s fine. Every family has different rules. In our family, you earn your car.
And your laptop and iPhone, too.