Do you worry about money?
“Do you worry about money, Mom?”
This is the question that my six-year-old son asked me on a Friday morning while I was halfway between sleep and consciousness.
The boy just entered the master’s bedroom after three knocks and the now famous morning greeting of “Can I come in please? I have an important question for you.”
He moved to my side of the bed and held my hand.
This is typical Nicholas; sweet and full of questions in the morning.
“Huh? Where did you get that question?” I asked as I sit up to make sure he knows I am listening to him.
“From the Mommy of my classmate. She said she’s sad because there’s no birthday party because no money,” he replied.
There was a long pause and then he stared on the white wall still in deep thought.
“So Mom,” he continued, “Do you worry about money?”
How do you answer a question like that?
Recently, my children have been learning several Visayan words and phrases that I have not been answering deep questions such as the money-worry query.
I normally would call their Daddy when I encounter difficult questions from them. But this was a question directed to me.
“Mom, do you worry about money?”
I initially told him that I don’t because I have a job that “gives” me money and then I work on saving and spending my money.
The answer was not satisfactory for the boy because he had a follow-up question.
“But what about parties? Why not worry about no money for parties.”
I told him that we have money for parties but parties are not the only way to celebrate birthdays. You can go to a movie, travel or have a quiet dinner with family.
He smiled, “For my sixth birthday, you took me to the safari park because I asked you to take me.”
Because Nicholas chose a visit to the giraffes and lions over a birthday party.
Choice is a huge word in our home. It is in the same level as consequence. He chose to celebrate his birthday at the safari park and these days he is left with memories of touching a donkey, feeding a bird and eating ice cream while watching a lion roar.
We have been teaching the children about the power of choice and the consequences of choice.
It often happens around the dining table. We talk about it like we talk about toys and movies. We do not wait for a special moment to discuss this. It happens while they are wiping the table after a meal; as they pick up their toys during clean up time; or as they walk from table to sink to put away the dishes.
It is amazing how children learn so much from conversations around the dining table. They pick up words and ideas which they cascade to other children.
I am not anti-birthday parties. I love the food, songs and stories which come with parties. What I do not like is the pretentiousness of throwing a party when you cannot afford it.
Because that is when you worry about money.
When you cannot afford it, do not throw a party. Do not send a text message to your relative or friend asking to borrow some money so you can throw a party to impress your neighbors or make yourself feel better.
Here’s the truth that many mothers do not want to read but I am going to write it anyway: If you do not have the money to spend for your child’s first birthday, then do not throw a party. Do your child a favor and change your mindset about first-birthday parties. The first-birthday parties are usually for the parents, not the child. Do not fall into the debt trap just because you want to impress the neighbors or the in-laws.
Our children’s needs are simple. Let us not complicate them.
Let us also refrain from creating a culture where happiness is equated to material things or grand gestures.
I am not saying that parties should be banned. I love to organize small parties for my mutants. We decorate the house for every occasion imaginable. We were just done with Halloween; we are on to Thanksgiving and then, Christmas.
But I do not mean expensive decor.
Think Japanese paper, poster paint, glue and paint brushes and then prod them to get creative. I usually ask them for the concept and then we buy the materials. We work for hours and hours without end and then reward ourselves with puto and sikwate.
I have long given up on making other people’s practices as my family’s tradition. For many of us, this is easier said than done, especially when you live in a compound surrounded by relatives.
But think about this: do you like the feeling of constantly having to worry about money because the next birthday is coming up?
When you let this culture gain roots, it will be difficult to stop it. The next year, your child will want a bigger party or a better dress or a grander cake.
There is never enough money for a person who does not live within his or her means.
The best gift we can give to our children on their birthdays is the gift of being debt free; that Mommy won’t be screaming at them in the next week or two because Neighbor X is demanding that she pays for the money she owed her which she used for a party that is really not necessary.
It’s your turn to answer Nicholas’ question: “Do you worry about money?”
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