I’m raising a blackmailer. Oops

This one is for “Narf,” from The Road to Serenity, who asked for something funny. And for  B., who thinks he needs to review all my future NDAs, because… well, read on…


First, this: the children find out how utterly broke I am:

Flora: Mom? How much money do you have in your bank account?

I scrunch up my forehead, pull up the date, calculate the total number of bills deducted from my not-very-impressive balance as of today, and respond…

Jane: About $50.

Flora: OMFG! I have more than that in my Three Jars!

(Three Jars, by the way, is a very brilliant way of managing your children’s money without actually giving them real money. What I mean is—Aunt August sends a check for $16.66* for their birthday, and it’s in your name… you deposit it, of course, in your bank account, and then do you transfer it to their bank account? Of course not. At least I never do. I spend it, on, you know—food. Visa bills. Until Three Jars. Now, I “deposit” that amount into their account. It’s virtual money: I don’t put any real money in there. It’s just a record. Then, when we’re at a store, and Flora wants another Rainbow Loom, and wants to pay for it with her money—I pay for it with my visa… and deduct the money from her Three Jars account. Brilliant. Check it out.)**

Flora is very, very clever—I may have mentioned this before, how clever my girl is?—and my apparent indigence is causing her some concern. She’s following the matter to the obvious conclusion.

Flora: Mom? So I have more than $300 in my Three Jars. If I ask you for that money, where is it going to come from?

Here’s the part where I teach my children a terrible life lesson.

Jane: I would write you a cheque on my Line of Credit.

… and here’s the part where they learn the paradox of a freelance writer’s life:

Flora: Mom? Why do you have so little money when you’ve just worked so much?

Jane: Because I haven’t been paid yet.

… and here comes the part where I realize my children learn all sorts of financial lessons I don’t realize I teach them…

Cinder: Because Mom’s a freelance, Flora, and that means clients don’t pay her for weeks and weeks and sometimes months after she does the work.

Flora is outraged.

Flora: Well, that really sucks!

Me, you know, I haven’t had a biweekly, predictable paycheque since Y2K, so I rather take it in stride. Most of them pay. Eventually. In the meantime, there’s my treasured line of credit…

And here comes the part where… well, just listen:

Cinder: Hey, Mom? That client you wouldn’t tell us anything about, the one that you did that top secret project for—you know, the one that you said if you told us about, they’d send ninja assassins to Calgary to kill us and also everyone we talked to about it?

(Sometimes, I get REALLY interesting jobs. They come with these NDAs…)

Jane: Um, yeah?

Cinder: Have they paid you yet?

Jane: Um, no.

Cinder: So… why don’t you call them and say, “Pay me now, or I’m going to put your top secret project on Facebook?”

I crane around in the front seat of the car—these conversations almost often take place in the car—and stare at my son-the-future-blackmailer. Who 1) totally understands the power of social media and 2) knows that privacy in our current world is only a delusion…

… and I wonder exactly where I went wrong on the path of shaping his moral make-up…

… and then Flora—have I mentioned how very, very clever she is?—sets him straight:

Flora: But Cinder. Maybe they’d pay her this time—but then, she’d never, ever get another top-secret-don’t-tell-anyone-about-this-or-we-will-send-ninja-assasins-to-kill-you-and-everyone-you-might-have-talked-to job.

Cinder: But she’d get paid.

Flora: But she’d never get hired to do anything top secret again.

Silence falls. I do some mental arithmetic on how much room there is left on my line of credit, and decide plenty enough that I don’t need to panic. Yet. Flora, I suspect, is wondering if she should call in all her Three Jars savings now, before the line of credit is maxed. Cinder, I’m a little worried, might be thinking whether he should take the financial health of the family into his own blackmailing hands—and I make a mental note to change all my laptop and file passwords again. Just in case. Not that I doubt his integrity… just his, you know… judgement.  I turn again to look at him. His look is pensive rather than cunning—more like he’s feeling pity for my lack of ruthlessness rather than planning the demise of my professional reputation by threatening my client in my name.

I relax. Peek over at Ender, who was listening to but not following the conversation, but now has his brow furrowed in concentration. I love to watch him think: I see him chasing a thought… wrestling it… figuring out how to articulate it. What did he take away from all that? What did he glean, process?

And, here it comes.

Ender: Mom?

Jane: Yes, my darling?

Ender: Penis!

The four-year-old has spoken.



Raising a blackmailer

*You remember Aunt Augusta? She’s not real—she’s a metaphor for every relative-aquaintance-friend-of-the-family-well-meaning-stranger-at-the-bus-stop-nosy-neighbour who has an opinion about how I live my life/raise my children and misses no opportunity to tell me I’m doing it wrong. I hope you have an Aunt Augusta or two in your life: there is no better barometer by which to measure your parenting. Aunt Augusta thinks you suck? Awesome. You’re doing something right.

**Not a sponsored post. I don’t do that. I’m a real user of the service and a real fan.

Photo: My blackmailer-in-training practicing breaking secret codes…

I’m not gonna tell you

Flora: Why’s Mom dancing?

Cinder: She either filed a story–got a new story that doesn’t suck–or got paid.

Jane: I’m that predictable, am I?

Cinder: Possibly something really bad happened to someone she hates, and she’s happy about that.

Jane: Jesus. This you think of me?

Flora: Well, what was it? Did that Lord Voldemort guy die?

Jane: I’m not gonna tell you. Beasts.

I’m not gonna tell you either. But I’m deliriously happy. Fulfilled. Stoked. Thrilled. Various other adjectives of excess, preceded by excessive adverbs, that, were they usually to appear in my prose, would get ruthlessly slashed out even before they got to an editor.

What? You almost all said that it was better not to know.

English: Classic ballet-dancer Español: Bailar...

In case you’re in Cinder-and-Ender-penis-stories withdrawal, pop over to Undogmatic Unschoolers and read Sometimes, what they know is embarrassing.  

Teaching kids about money, sort of

An example of a cheque.

You know the kids have been raised in a self-employed freelance household when you hear this:

Flora: Mooooom! The mail’s here, and it looks like it could be a cheque!

And you know they really pay attention to what’s inside those little envelopes when you hear this:

Cinder: Fuck, no, it’s the visa bill. Mom? Are you ready to look at this or should I hide it for a while?

And you know they really, really understand much too much about your finances when you hear this:

Cinder: So, is it a big enough cheque to zero the line of credit, or just big enough to cover rent? Or, like, cover rent and go out for sushi and something?

But when you hear this from the three-year-old, it’s probably time to tone down on the finance discussions before the children:

Ender: Mom! Mail! Cheque! Maybe from those fucking bastards who haven’t paid you for seven months!

To all of my friends, online and real-life, who lust after the life of a freelance writer… it has its high points, I won’t lie. I wouldn’t trade it for a 9-5 office job for the life of me. But sometimes, the idea of a regular, predictable bi-weekly paycheque is beyond intoxicating. And dental benefits? Oh, god. Dental benefits. I’m swooning…