My son, the Marshmallow Millionaire

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You see this round brown thing on my wall?

Look closely. Here’s another one. It looks silvery-gray under its tape wrapping:

And from a broader perspective, here’s one more:

The pictures are not clear, but I can tell you they’re not stink bugs. The first one’s a penny. Then you’re looking at a couple of quarters. And if you walk around my house, you’ll find more money.

You might come from the kind of house where money is not talked about. You might even come from the kind of house where money is practically invisible–maybe your mother or grandmother kept it in the back of a drawer or under the mattress (or, like my grandmother, in a little nylon footie, of the single-use variety you get when you try on shoes at the store, safety-pinned to the inside of her brassiere)–and now you find yourself following her lead. If that’s the case, you might find it surprising that in our house, we make sure our money is as visible as possible.

Actually, the reason we have coins taped all over our house is because that’s where LL put them. LL is saving up for a number of things: Lego, Lego, and Lego. Also, he wants a copy of Revenge of the Sith, the only movie of the Star Wars enterprise we don’t own. And presents for Cool J, who has humbly requested a Darth Maul costume, a Darth Maul Lego, and a Darth Maul lightsaber (has anyone ever noticed that kids are seriously obsessive? Like when they get into a character? Or a book? Anyone else know The Gruffalo off by heart? Come on—say it with me: A mouse took a stroll through a deep dark wood . . .). LL figures that if the coins are right there on the wall, they are saved and safe (or that’s my theory, anyway; based on their placements, primarily on door frames, The Scientist is quite sure that we are witnessing the secularization/profanation of the mezuzah: Money! The mezuzah of Modern America!).

If my leash were looser, you would find me drinking skinny cinnamon dolce lattes daily, popping into Anthropologie for a cute swingy summery dress, and ordering Netflix for those nights when Glee and How I Met Your Mother aren’t on and I can’t do anything but lie on the sofa in the fetal position and stuff my mouth with popcorn doused in spray butter and Kernels salt and vinegar powder. I would not say I’m spendthrift, but I’m nothing like my husband, who can happily continue to wear all the clothes his mother bought for him when he was in high school or on our year abroad (Not that I would consider it reasonable to throw out his tattered-to-shreds, yellow-underarmed t-shirts from youth, when, after all, “Harvard,” “New York Yankees,” “Pearl Jam,” and let’s not forget “Beavis and Butthead,” written in Hebrew, are so much cooler than their English equivalents). Also, he can keep a strict diet of Wonderbread and hot dogs, with the occasional Kraft single on a Lender’s bagel for variety. I will confess that when he married me, The Scientist had as much in savings as I had in debt. We were both grad students. I’m thinking that LL might one day even put The Scientist to shame (Oh, I know the kind of Jewish mother I sound like: “Help! Help! My son the millionaire is drowning!” But read on).

I first began to conceive of my eldest born as a money maverick a little over a year ago when I read about and tried the Marshmallow Test on LL. The Marshmallow Test was conceived by the eminent psychologist, Dr. Walter Mischel, and it proceeds as follows: Offer your 4-year old a marshmallow. But before he eats it, tell him that if he waits 20 minutes, he can have 2 marshmallows.

Here is what we are supposed to learn from the results:

The genius/future CEO of a Fortune 500 child: waits

The loser/college dropout/must have had fetal alcohol syndrome child: can’t wait

Here is what my child did:

First, he turned his body away from the marshmallow that I positioned very carefully in the center of his plate, inches from his body, so to be as tempting as possible. He looked right at the clock on the oven and began to read out the numbers. I marched over and re-positioned the plate so that it sat between him and the clock. He steadfastly looked past it.

Twenty minutes went by. Out loud.

At the end of it, I immediately produced his reward: a second marshmallow. Which he refused.

“Mama, I’m going to wait another 20 minutes. I want three marshmallows.”

That’s LL.

The good thing is that I don’t think he’ll end up an unemployed academic who has to decide between summer camp for his child or blond highlights (well, perhaps that won’t be the dilemma in question for other reasons). The bad thing is that I just can’t get him to think like his peers.

Take this mom-and-child argument:

PP: “OK, listen. We’re moving to the States, and I need to figure out if it’s reasonable for us to live in the City, which would mean you have to do your ERB testing. I know you have no idea what I’m talking about, but I’m going to give you this little quiz from the ERB website. Are you ready?”

LL: “Ready.”

PP: “OK, let’s start with an easy one. What’s money for?”

LL (very eager, hand up in the air): “To save.”

PP: “WRONG answer! Try again.”

LL (hand up again): “To put in the bank.”

PP: “This is AMERICA. NOT CANADA! AMERICA! Where people SPEND! They don’t SAVE! Little boy, YOU ARE AMERICAN. Now think like one! Americans don’t put money in the bank!!” (PP begins jumping up and down). “Try again! WRONG ANSWER.”

Silence. Hand down.

PP: “Forget it. You’ll never get into a decent school. We’re not moving to the City.”

*          *          *            *           *          *             *             *

Recently, a sweet 11-year-old boy who takes the school bus with LL (and whom my friend Anna Oh might consider a white devil selling his white devil wares) gave my son 10 Hershey kisses. Ten! A boon! LL was over the moon. He clambered into the car, shared the news of his bonanza, and then, as is his nature, he carefully organized his treats. Three he doled out to his younger brother (because Cool J is 3). One he ate. Six he saved. He’s turning six in four months, and he’s decided he wants to eat them on his sixth birthday. He put his little silver pile in the fridge when we got home, and every so often he sticks his head in to make sure it’s still there. Which it is. For now.

So there you have it—a little American boy who refuses to play the role his nationality calls for (how many more of him would the country have needed, grown up, to have avoided the housing market collapse?), and things that look like stink bugs on my walls and door frames. And, happily, a secret stash for my “chocolate time of the month.”

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12 responses »

  1. You have my money-Mezuzah theory wrong. LL taping money all over the doorposts in our house is a manifestation of the same primeval urge to mark your territory that also leads to Mezuzahs.

  2. I would think LL seems to have either OCD or Aspergers. Obsessions with Star Wars? Definitely a disease. Look at The Scientist.

    • Dear Puzzled Reader,
      As any good physician knows, it is unwise to make a diagnosis on the basis of a blog. Also, it seems you aren’t familiar with children. But thanks for your input!
      PS: The Scientist shows no signs of OCD or Aspergers. Although, come to think of it, he does color code his day calendar rather obsessively–but then, how would he know when to go to the gym, when to go to a kiddie party, and when to work on an article if the tasks were not clearly marked in pink, blue, and green?

      • The Scientist left his day planner in the 20th century. All tasks are now color coded through iCal.

  3. @PP: 😛
    @The Scientist: I feel for you, yet you are a lucky man
    @Jenniferg: my tool is indeed quite something

  4. Pingback: Get a Job! « The Poor Princess Diaries

  5. Economists do have a shot of serving on corporate boards and becoming President of Harvard. Just saying. P.S. This is a brilliant post. I’m almost sorry I’m reading it so much later, except it means I can read more and more today, like a home True Blood marathon.

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