Archive for November, 2006

Mr. Killjoy

Poring over a holiday-gift catalogue, Sparkle Girl came upon some stilts. She said that she thought it would be great fun to have stilts.

I agreed.

When I was a kid, my dad made me a set of stilts. I loved them. It was not only fun to walk on them, it was also satisfying to be able to do something that other kids in the neighborhood could not do.

At this time of year, there’s always the option of adding something to the Christmas wish list. I mentioned that. There’s also the option of using her own money.

Sparkle Girl is still learning about money, and she asked whether the $24.99 that the stilts cost was a lot of money or a little money. To help her understand, I suggested that she go get her money jar.

We spread the contents on the kitchen table. She had a $10 bill, a $5 bill, eight $1 bills and a couple of dollars worth of change including a Kennedy half dollar. So, ignoring tax and shipping, she was right at it.

“It would take all of your money to buy the stilts,” I said.

“Including the half dollar?” she said.

“Including the half dollar,” I said.

When I was her age, it seemed to me that a half dollar was somehow more real than other coins. It seemed so much more substantial than two quarters. And who wouldn’t want a half dollar rather than five dimes?

I went through a period during which I converted my money to half dollars when I could. That was great until I no longer had any money left to spend on such necessities as Hershey bars.

So I had to stop. But I kept a collection of half dollars for years. And, as an adult, the $50 in half dollars came in quite handy one day when I was broke and without a job.

Sparkle Girl clearly shared my affinity for half dollars. Even so, I could see that the stilts seemed like so much fun that she was seriously thinking about parting with it.

It was at that point that I decided it was time for a little reality-check lecture.

Sparkle Girl likes knowing how to do things but she doesn’t always like to learn how to do things. She can become frustrated early on when trying to do learn a new skill. When I try to show her how to do it, though, she may become irriated with me and march off in a huff.

This is what happened when I tried to show her that, if she swung a plastic bat parallel to the ground rather than chopping at the ball when it came at her, her chances of hitting the ball would be much higher. Also pointing out that lots of practice would be necessary to get good at it did not go over well either.

So, here I was envisioning her emptying out her money jar and then us ending up having a mutually frustrating time with the result being that she never became skillful enough to have fun on them.

So I started talking about how hard it is to learn to walk on stilts and how it requires a lot of practice. In these lectures, I am never satisfied with saying something once. I have to say it several times in slightly different ways.

As I was wrapping up my remarks, Sparkle Girl turned and walked away.


Her mom went after her. When she returned a couple of minutes later, I asked for a report.

“She said that sometimes you take something that seems like it would be fun and make it seem like it wouldn’t be fun.”

She had me there.

I don’t much care for people who can find a cloud to go with every silver lining, as my brother, Mark, once said of someone. But being realistic without stepping over the line into negativity is tricky, isn’t it?

The long-term solution, of course, is to find some stilts that won’t force Sparkle Girl to use up a precious spot on her Christmas wish or part with all of her money, including her Kennedy half dollar, before she knows whether walking on stilts really is something she would enjoy.

In the meantime, I offered her a hug and an apology for making something that seemed like it would be fun seem like it wouldn’t be fun. That’s certainly not the kind of guy I want to be.