So, when it finally happens to you- and in this harsh capitalist world it will, trust me- you must keep your cool and forge ahead. I have been preparing for this day since I first spawned, and yet even I was somehow taken aback when the evil question was posed. Some background appears to be necessary for those not aware of the “river house” syndrome that is quite strong along the Chesapeake Bay. Anyone who can afford one- and many who cannot- has one of these lovely abodes where they while away the hours at the same time the rest of us poor suckers lurk miserably in our city mortgage boxes. As you can gather, subtext: we cannot possibly afford such a delightful poultice for modern life. And I’m not bitter about that. Not the least bit. Really. I am perfectly happy funneling the majority of my paycheck into this wonderful stack of bricks that will someday get repainted, repointed and paid off. Someday. But I digress! This is a guide about lying to your children, not about lying to yourself!! Let us continue with the great betrayal.
I shall set the scene. It’s a snowy day and we are all cozied up in front of our electric fireplace- which albeit a glorified space heater, its light bulb and blower system actually make it look like a coal burning fireplace. Really. OK, back to lying to kids….
One of my children asks if they can have a playdate with little So-and-So. I text the parents, and get the dreaded “oh, sorry we are at our river house!” response. No matter, we will ask after another child. Nope, also at their river house. And then strike three- again with the river house! My ungrateful children look at me with pleading eyes and utter the question I knew would come one day: “why don’t we have a river house?” Do I explain how norms of allocation affect the distribution of rights, privileges and social power, as well as access to river houses? Good God, no! This is how it went.
“We don’t have a river house because mommy and dadda don’t want one. They are a ton of work. And you’ve seen the state of this house. Mommy couldn’t possibly maintain two houses.”
“We can help.”
“You mean the way you walk the dogs and water the plants in this house?”
“But if we had a river house we could walk to our friends’ river houses and play!”
“Note the term ‘river’ house, children! There is only swimming or boating to other people’s houses. Remember that horrid summer when you tried being on the swim team? I don’t know about you, but I’m still scarred by that nightmare!” Both children visibly shudder. “And remember that boating experience when Uncle Patrick went so fast and turned the boat so hard that you both thought you would land in the Potomac?” Their little faces grimace.
“So it’s for our own good that we don’t have a river house?” The female one is a quick study.
“I’m glad you said it dear, and not I.” I pat their little faces. “And snakes like rivers, by the by.” One final nail in the coffin, and voilà, problem solved!
The bottom line is that every child will encounter the sudden revelation of unequal social and economic status. Maybe in your community it is living in a particular neighborhood, or owning a Mercedes, or wondering what that “Target” store all the peasants are talking about sells. You, the parent, will have to explain it in such a way that the children are so thoroughly turned off they will never, ever irritate you again by broaching the damned subject. One look at Joel Grey and Liza Minelli in Cabaret and you know that money is a dirty, dirty business.
That’s why I prefer to make very little of it….