I suspect that I am stuck in a time warp circa 1970. I think hard, as I need to assess if I need to recalibrate. Under what possible circumstances would my parents have taken me to the European equivalent of Build a Bear with 50 bucks in my hot little hand? They would have had to have won the Lotto! Someone must have had a near death experience! Maybe my birthday and I had behaved like an angel for 365 days! They all seem equally unlikely.
I move forward a couple of decades and re-examine the circumstances under which I would have taken my first child to such an establishment? Single parents are often short of cash. It would definitely have been a special treat or over compensation for guilt, another fringe benefit of single parenthood. I ignore the issues of the exchange rate and twenty years of inflation.
The thinking has failed to provide me with a solution.
I look at my daughter, the epitome of pleading. She was invited to a play date, which has now morphed into a visit to Build a Bear. A parental contribution was necessary last time for such an expensive treat. No-one should be expected to fork out the cash for two children for such a jaunt. I am reluctant to repeat the exercise within the same month.
“It's very simple dear, we can't afford it.”
“But we're rich!”
“Yes we are. We have a house, food on the table, we can pay the bills, but $50 is too much for an afternoons entertainment.” I try not to make comparisons. It seems little enough by comparison to 50 minutes of speech therapy. I don’t belong to the ‘treat all your children the same’ club any more, not for a long time.
“$50? But I need money for the movies and snacks too.
“Movies? I thought you were going to Build A Bear?”
“And a movie.”
“All in one afternoon………it was supposed to be just a play date.”
“You said I could go! I can use my allowance if you like.”
“That doesn't even come close dear.”
“Use your credit card.”
“Credit cards……” I decide not to disappear down a blind alley. “Your dad's been in England for two weeks. Two weeks of not working. Two weeks without pay. So not only is there no money coming in, he also had to pay for an expensive flight, hire a car and live there for two weeks.”
“What about the money in the bank?” I had forgotten how simple life is when you are young.
I grow weary of being out smarted and out manoeuvred by ten year olds. I want her to experience a little bit of what other people consider 'normal' but I'm unwilling to shoulder the practical fall out. How can I equate 45 minutes of occupational therapy for two with an afternoon of frolick for one at a fraction of the cost? What is really necessary and what is extravagance?
At ten years old, I might have gone tadpoling, fished for pollywogs with an old jam jar. I'd have had some squashed sandwiches wrapped in tin foil. It would have been fun.
When my oldest daughter was ten, we would have done the same thing, but with a bigger picnic. It would have been fun.
I lift a coffee mug to my lips but resist, as a thimbleful more will make me tremble. I glance over the neatly stacked piles of Pokemon trading cards on the windowsill, at the roiling clouds through the window. I am ill equipped to tutor smallish children but I'm way out of my depth with the next developmental stage of growth. I watch the first spike of lightening whip out from the clouds and count, waiting for the clap of thunder in my brain.