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Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Owl and the Pussycat

At a quarter to seven on a Sunday morning I am woken by a yeowling cat. I am forced to acknowledge that a day of rest is not applicable to this household. Cats! Why don't people chain up their spoilt felines at the weekend? I realize that they are my spoilt felines howling outside my door. I go to investigate and am immediately deafened by purrs. Have they no consideration for the nearly awake? I stomp downstairs tripping over eight other legs and a couple of tails thrown in for good measure. In the family room they are all awake and play with the Gamecube, oblivious to me and to starving cats. I call loudly “anyone want to earn some money for an extra chore, feeding the cats?” All three of them continue to pogo in front of the screen. I am fairly confident that I wasn’t even heard, which is important because it means I can do the deed myself without later being accused of cheating, or denying them the opportunity to earn extra cash. I have discovered that bigger children create ever more complicated negotiations for the parent to navigate when it comes to finances.

Only one of them has taken readily to the motivational force of pocket money. [translation = an allowance] It’s probably just an age thing. she’s the right age and they’re too young. The boys have to be prompted through every reluctant step but their sister has become the allowance Queen, or should that be plague? She pounces on me at inconvenient moment demanding money with menaces, “what can I do? Can I get 50 cents for picking up that piece of paper?” She has acquired previously undetected haggling skills by osmosis. She has an endless list of 'things to buy.' Her brother already has every Pokemon that exists on the planet, and I have yet to find a suitable source of eggs for junior. I need fake eggs, but plastic ones. We don't want to expand his horizons too far in case he gets hooked on the Faberge variety.

“O.k. 40 cents for picking it up? 25? Alright, say 5 cents?” I agree, because it’s still early enough to be dark, but does she give up claiming victory? Of course not. She’s relentless, energetic and young.
“O.k. how about another 50 cents for putting it in the bin?”
“What? You want 25 cents for picking it up and another 50 cents for putting in the bin?”
“Forget it.”
“o.k. just 25 cents for picking it up then?”
“What are you going to do with it when you’ve picked it up? Just carry it around all day?”
“What’s it to you? You only said ‘pick it up.’ That’s what I’ll do if that’s what it takes.” Let me die now, it’s the other two that are supposed to be literal.
Once she’s in the groove she’s all over me like a rash as I bumble around in slippers and a dressing gown trying to restore order.
“Can I fix the table for breakfast for 50 cents?” I look at the table piled with papers, books, food scraps, left over homework and a wide assortment of writing materials. I dither momentarily, weighing up the benefit of her being able to earn the extra money she needs for a preferred toy, versus the benefit of consistency of routine for her brothers in being able to sequence laying their own place setting at the table?
“What! What! What’s taking you so long?”
“Er, O.k.” I continue to splosh around at the sink in the kitchen. She’s by my side within 30 seconds, “50 cents please.”
“You’ve finished already?”
“Yup, I’m done. 50 cents please?” I look over. The table is empty. Piles of debris line the edge of the wall.
“I thought you were going to lay the table for breakfast?”
“Nope, you didn’t say that, you said ‘clear if for breakfast.’ It’s clear, I need my 50 cents.” I determine to use my words more carefully, to be less cavalier. Her feet tap in the puddle on the floor as I count out five dimes for her, “don’t make that mess any worse dear,” I plead.
“Hey I can clear that up for you for 50 cents?” I press the coins into her palm and pass her her piggy bank, slip in a high five.
"No thank you.”
“Hey why not? You just want me to stay poor! You won’t let me earn what I need.” I look at the emotional blackmailer with awe. How does she know how to do that already? This is one aspect of her upbringing that has been missing, due entirely to the existence of her brothers. I would never appeal to anyone’s conscience, the ‘do it for me,’ ‘do it to make me proud / please me,’ as that has always been a waste of breath. So where has she found this talent? Is it innate?

A recall a million failed attempts of appealling to her brothers when we first started RDI [translation = Relationship Development Intervention] which I wasn’t very good at;
“Please, just for me, just once?”
“”Once’, what it is?”
“One time.”
“Oh, I not do it one time, I do it zero times.”
“Please, just to make me happy?”
“No, your face is happy now, that is stupid.”

Or, changing face to demonstrate unhappiness:
“Please, just to make me happy?”
“No, your face is a liar.” It’s enough to turn a mother prematurely grey. No, all such appeals were set aside together with the RDI book.

I look at my daughter, the expert at personal relationships aged 8.
"You should put it towards your college fund."
"I have a college fund?" she asks with eyes like saucers. I don't like to mention that any potential college fund has already been squanders threefold on her brothers' therapy. I grab a cloth and slip to the floor “because I know that you’ll want to charge me more for obtaining a cloth first, another ten cents for disposing of the dirty cloth and object very strongly to wiping the splashes that are outside a three foot radius without additional payment.”

I stand and lob the cloth into the wash, “and besides I can do it myself is far less time than it takes to negotiate with you.” But I suspect that says more about my own shortcomings than hers.

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