Well…today I had the joy of accompanying my son and his class on a field trip to a custom leather shop owned by one of the class families. I was particularly excited about this trip and rearranged my schedule so I could volunteer to chaperone. This is my design-minded kid, who loves fashion and crafts, so I was looking forward to seeing his reaction to this sweet family business. (I’m thinking maybe one day he can apprentice there or get a summer job making wallets or moccasins.) Plus I love cool leather stuff, and thought maybe I’d pick up a purse to match my kickass Frye wedges.
Alas, the “custom” part made the latter goal unattainable, not that they didn’t have tons of amazing bags, but the price would make it hard to buy in front of my son and STILL say in two weeks that we can’t afford Great Wolf Lodge for his birthday. (I’ve already been to GWL once and I feel entitled to use any available excuse not to return.) Anyway, the visit was awesome. The company had laid out pre-cut swatches of leather for the kids to stamp with their logo and then add grommets and a ring to turn it into a keychain. The Kid whose parents ran the place gave the tour and proved how much he knew about the business. I talked to his Dad (the owner) and asked about how he included his son in the business. Not only do their two kids help out with almost every aspect of this high-end trade, but the older kid also has one night a week where he and his Dad work on personal projects at the shop. Currently they are making a suit of armor out of leather for the son, based on a dragon movie.
WHAT?! Can you imagine any cooler “quality-time” activity with Dad than this, where you are creating, and working, and bonding, and Learning A Trade? I kind of wanted to cry. My kids don’t have a life like this. They never will. I spent a second realizing I am not the Best Parent In The World. Because these people are not only doing all this, but have joyous, positive attitudes and Allow Dogs at the shop. I fold. I’m lucky if I can get my kids to pause their video games long enough to give me eye contact when its time to get Ready For Bed. What am I teaching my kids? I don’t know shite about patterns and sewing…how will I ever nurture my son’s obvious interest in this foreign world?
Anyway, it was an inspiring day and I took my boy home after the trip to have a little one-on-one time before his brother got home from school. He had some ambitious ideas for quality time with mom, including going to the pool hall to work on his shots. I was looking forward to a nap. We compromised on creating a “playroom” in his room by moving furniture around. While he enjoyed his new environment, I snuck downstairs for a nap. On the couch, I took a minute to check my stock portfolio. Yeah, White Mom is a bit obsessed with the online investing, and I tend to look up a company or two before I drift off into slumberland.
Well, the next thing I know, there is a kid crunching pretzels very loudly on the chair across from me. “Who are you texting, mom?” He starts in, before I can check the 5 year chart for this company I learned about yesterday because he wanted to buy one of their products. “I’m Working, honey, not Texting!” was my aggravated reply, because I realized the nap would now be out of the question and became instantly Filled with Frustration. To which he replied, “Working on what?”
Well, ladies, this was one of those moments, I guess. I could easily have snapped back a quick “Nothing” or “I’m investing so you can go to college, now please play a video game.” But for some reason, I didn’t, this time. This time I told him exactly what I was doing, and how I was curious about the company because he had mentioned their product. How sometimes it’s good to buy the stock and other times it’s good to just buy the product. This saying is a part of my inner investing monologue, and it’s there because of …my Dad.
When I was eight I had my first episode, I guess you could call it an “existential crisis.” It occurred to me that I was Here, and I was doomed to die in a finite amount of time, and there was really no way to either prevent that or determine what would happen afterward. So everything seemed pretty trivial: school, friends, family, soccer. Even my cats. Even chocolate. My mom didn’t get it. Or maybe she did but she didn’t let on. She appealed to my Dad, who would play checkers with me. We must have played several hundred games on weekend afternoons, or maybe we just played once, and I’m replaying it in my head. Anyway, it occurred to me that somehow Dad Understood. This situation. Going on in my head. But the other thing was, Dad was obsessed with the Stock Market. It was the 80’s, and he was one of Fidelity’s rising star fund managers, and he Believed in the Market. And the Market rewarded him when it looked upon him favorably, and it also Punished him according to its whims, and this is how we understood his Moods. If the market was down, Dad would not be likely to approve the new toy or tennis lessons you needed to win the Huge Summer Tournament. If the market was up, there were Trips and Babysitters and Remodeling.
About a year later my Dad showed me stock charts for the first time. They were in a huge, green-tinted binder that he flipped through loudly while randomly exhaling. This behavior seemed to beg some interaction, so one night I must have asked what in the hell he was doing, and he actually Told Me All About It. Of course, there are volumes written on technical chart analysis, which is what this was, so about 90% of what he enthusiastically imparted went right over my 9 year old head. But the main idea came through loud and clear. This stuff is Fun. It’s Exciting. You can get rich, which is Having Value. Therefore, life has Value if you include these numbers and charts. Everything you buy is made by a company, he explained. Some companies are owned in parts by a lot of people. Being a part of the Market is Powerful, Fun, Important. He had an affinity for a chart pattern he showed me that I, a child who loved puzzles, easily grasped. I remember finding the desirable pattern in a company called “Data General”, and recommending he buy it.
Back to Now, on the couch, with my son. “Sometimes it’s a good idea to buy the stock, and sometimes you just want to buy the product,” I’m explaining, as I show him the chart and how I’m determining if I will buy shares of the stock. Usually by now my kid is glazed over. Lectures are not his thing, and this seems like pretty dry material. But I look at him. And he is looking right at me. And he is 9 years old. And I am teaching him about investing in stocks, something I started learning from my Dad when I was his exact age. And something happens. I stop lecturing, and ask him what he is interested in so we can look at the company and maybe buy the stock. And 30 mins later he has a brokerage account with 4 shares of a financial company. And I’m thinking I should probably buy the stock for myself too but I am busy setting up a watchlist of toy company stocks for him. Because on Monday he is picking one of them and we will buy it. And I am thrilled, and enthused, but also terrified that I did this wrong, or at the wrong time, or in the wrong way or with the wrong kid. But all I see is a boy nodding, wheels turning. And then come the questions. About how I find stocks, how they go up or down, about specific toys he owns and Star Wars and how late is the market open? And I tell him about his Gampy, and I tell him how I bought Netflix even though Gampy didn’t think it was a Good Idea. And how it went from $9 to hundreds per share. And I’m not White Mom right now. I’m just me, telling another part of me it’s Okay to disagree with your parent, and it’s okay to believe in yourself, and I’ll teach you everything I know but it’s Up to You to think for yourself and make mistakes and learn and grow both because of and despite me. Because I will Love you regardless. But here is something I find Important.
So screw my ex and his inability to connect with others. Screw finding a decent guy whose worldview I can adhere to in time to pass it on to my thirsty sons. I may be White Mom. But I got this.
Well, the field trip was amazing. Dads do amazing things with and for their sons, often enabled by “invisible” moms. But Moms, well, we are something else. Embrace your fears, breathe through your moments of distraction and doubt and find these moments, because they are there. I thought I was going purse-shopping today, and it turned out that I took my son to the Market.