The other day, my daughter announced that she wanted to buy her own groceries.
"Not everything," she was quick to clarify, "Just the stuff you say I can't have."
"If I say you can't have it," I said, "You can't have it."
"No, I don't mean the stuff I can't have because you live in another dimension and don't appreciate it, like saying I can't have iTunes, but the stuff you say I can't have because it's too expensive. Like fresh fruit."
"I do buy you fresh fruit," I pointed out, "I just don't buy you hydroponic fruit grown in Petri dishes and sold off season at pretentious yuppie markets that cost half the price of a semester of college."
"Whatever," she sighed, clearly bored by anything that comes out of my mouth. "I just want to buy the foods you say you can't afford, because I can afford it." I winced at the truth of her statement. The wages babysitters are paid these days put most of us grownups to shame. Even she had realized the cush gig she's got going when she announced, "I was planning on getting a job, but then I saw how low they pay." Which is to say, parents now pay more for babysitters than Dominoes pays its employees to deliver our pizzas, or half the places on earth pay workers to sew our clothes.
But I digress. Humbled by her assets, I took my daughter, flush with babysitting cash, to the grocery store for her very first experience at paying for her own groceries. I was quite delighted. For all those things I told her were way over-priced, unnecessary or marketing gimmicks I'd have nothing to do with, she would, for once, get a feel for what a chunk out of her wallet they cost her. A box of "milk" made out of tree nuts because she's suddenly, at the age of almost 16, decided she's probably lactose intolerant? Go for it. Cans of coconut water because filtered water isn't sufficiently "hydrating?" Have at it. "Protein" bars containing enough sugar to put most of us into a diabetic coma? Sure; you eat the candy, I'll settle for some fish.
Once in the store with her own basket and her own wallet, however, her "needs" rapidly turned pragmatic. I basked in the enjoyment of watching her rethink the value of her desires, delighted in the victory of watching her remove "essential" items from her basket and return them to the shelf, and giggled at the entertainment her shocked face brought me when she actually looked at the inflated sticker prices on all those things chock full of antioxidants and other super-healthy good things. But still, she found about twenty dollars of what my Depression-era father would have classified as "dinky dainties" (and I would have classified as high-priced garbage).
When we got home and she'd put her new groceries away in specifically marked sections of the refrigerator and cupboards, she reminded me that I wasn't to touch anything without her permission. "No problem," I assured her, I respected that she'd bought them with her own money and wouldn't touch them. And there followed a lecture, from her to me, on the value of earning her own money.
I should have seen it coming.
"I think it's time I start paying my share around here," she said, "I mean, since we're practically equal and all."
"Yes, practically," I responded. "That's the operative word. But now that you bring it up, your share of the rent runs about a thousand bucks a month, then there are the utilities and the --" but she cut me off before I could throw in the gas and car insurance.
"You're so funny," she laughed. "I mean, I like to help out because I know it's hard being a single mother."
I beamed, so proud of my good girl.
Then, later that evening, as we were both fiddling around in the kitchen, she said, "You left the burner on again." Clearly, this pay-for-your-own-groceries business had gone to her head and now she was taking charge.
"I just now turned it on," I snapped, "I'm making a pot of tea. Sorry, but you didn't catch me having an Alzheimer's moment."
I had recently removed the sign she'd taped above the stove that read, "TURN OFF BURNERS" and wasn't about to be bullied by the likes of a kid who couldn't remember to turn out the lights or make her own bed.
"I wasn't trying to pick an argument," she argued, and I thought that was all there was to it. But of course, I'd misjudged the situation, as I tend to do.
"I can't wait until I'm really old," I snickered. "And I'm living with you and--"
"Wait, wait, wait, you're never going to live with me!"
"What do you mean I'm never going to live with you? Of course I'll live with you. You pinky promised!"
"I was 8 years old!"
"So? A pinky promise is a pinky promise. And I'm sure not going to a nursing home."
Well, damn, chip off the iceberg and float me out. If I thought my good girl would give me shelter in the approaching storm, I was in for a wakeup call.
"Mom, I will put you in a good nursing home, but I'm not about to let you move into my house!"
"Why not? I can cook. I'll stay in my room and take my meds and as long as I have a chamber pot, I'll never soil my diapers. What more can a mother do?"
"Mom, nursing homes are nice places," she said, in the same way I used to tell her dentists wouldn't hurt her. "We put Aunt Mary in one and it was very cozy."
"Aunt Mary was a gazillonaire and could afford a room at Trump Towers!" I wailed. "I'm a blogger for The Huffington Post and destined for the poor house!"
I covered my ears as she droned on and on about responsibility and independence and all that foolish nonsense. She sounded like one of the parents on a Charlie Brown cartoon. Wha-wha-wha-wha!
"Mom? Are you listening?"
"Of course not; you're trying to put me in a home."
"Not right away, and besides, there are worse things."
"Like what? A commune full of communists? Been there, done that. Now that it's the 21st century, I insist upon a spa."
"Mom, you need to face reality. You'll need to go to a home."
"You're a really bad kid," I told her, "You know that, don't you?"
"Yes, I do. And you're a really bad mother. That's why you're going to a home."
"You mean, if I buy you coconut water you'll let me move in? Because I'll be a good mother?"
"Never. I mean it, Mom. Never. Ever." Her face was so serious I checked to see if I wasn't standing there dead.
"Fine then. I don't want to live with you, anyway. I could never stand your décor. I'll go to the nursing home, but if I can't paint the walls my own colors and bring a cat along, forget it. Yikes! What's that? It looks like vomit. Don't put that in your mouth!"
"It's a spinach-flavored smoothie," she proudly announced as she guzzled some green slime, "with added soy protein and sweetened with agave syrup."
"Well that settles that," I said.
"If that's what you'll be serving, I'd rather live in a home."
And with that she smiled and gave me a long hug, telling me I'd made the right decision.
Later, that night when she'd presumed I was sound asleep, I heard her back in the kitchen, this time opening the freezer and dishing up the ice cream, loaded with lactose and utterly refined sugars and non-organic eggs. She wasn't such a bad kid, after all.
And besides, wherever she moves, I'm not worried. She's going to need a babysitter. And if there's one thing that's certain, it's that they'll cost way more than a nursing home. Step aside, Mary Poppins, this old gal is making plans!