My 15–year-old and I constantly butt heads over her desire to be rich. Her unabashed use of the word gets under my skin, and she knows it. “I’m going to be rich,” she’ll say pointedly, “Rich, rich.”
To me the word conjures up Kardashians and teenage influencers who get flown to tiny Caribbean islands just to flog designer water. I worry that her values are off, that she’ll end up in a McMansion in the suburbs with a flat-screen TV and no natural light, and still expect me to come for Sunday dinner.
It’s not her fault. She’s grown up with reality shows and the questionable values that go along with them. She knows that YouTubers like the Dolan twins get paid millions just to show up. She’s watched teen Vlogger Emma Chamberlain get rich by talking about her love of iced coffee. So is it surprising that she thinks being wealthy is not only her right — but also her extremely attainable destiny?
“Why do you hate it so much that I want to be rich?” she asked the other day after I noted that her vision board for Civics class was a little heavy on the ‘aspirational’ front.
My first instinct — as always — was irritation. Why does she need to be rich? Why doesn’t she want to save the planet or meet Malala? In a bid not to alienate her, I asked why she wanted to be rich.
She looked at me like I was daft. “So I can have money. Life is better when you have money.”
“Okay, but —” I started, ready to do what I’ve reflexively done for my kids entire life whenever they mention money, which is to make it sound like a bad thing, like something only shallow people aspire to have — not people like her parents who chose to become an independent filmmaker and a theatre actor, who chose to follow their bliss and map an authentic path in the arts.
But my daughter doesn’t get caught up in such distinctions. She simply knows what she likes — and what she doesn’t like. She does not, for example, like to brush her teeth in our tiny bathroom, when the rest of us are in there. And she logically traces this issue of overcrowding to money — or lack thereof.
“At Ruby’s house the kids have their own bathroom,” she says. “They’re rich,” she adds, emphasizing the ‘r’ in a way that makes me clench.
“Well, this is what we have for now!” I chirp, aggressively upbeat, even though the mess of bodies and floss and toothpaste spit can almost pitch me into a panic attack some days.
“When my kid talks about her plan to live in an apartment in New York City with floor-to-ceiling windows, I must admit I do feel wistful. “Damn,” I think, “That sounds like fun.””
She stares me down in the reflection of the very crowded mirror: “Tell me again why you became artists?”
I give her my money-doesn’t-equal-happiness speech.
“Do you think I don’t know that?” she says, finally, with an eye roll. “But it definitely helps. If we had more money we could stay in an actual hotel sometimes instead of always camping.”
“I like camping!” I interject brightly, as though my enthusiasm will change her opinion.
“And maybe actually go away for March Break,” she continues.
“You don’t like our ‘staycations’?” I say, feigning hurt. “I’m proud of our low carbon footprint,” I add weakly.
“And you and Daddy wouldn’t seem so stressed all the time.”
I have no comeback for that one.
Because when I get past the triggering word, I can see my kid’s yen to be rich is less about Kardashian levels of opulence and more about a desire for the comfort and order that financial stability brings.
She’s seen us struggle. She’s watched us let go of certain dreams, go back to school in mid-life and try to re establish ourselves in new fields, all while raising two kids. She feels the unspoken strain in our household when money is tight.
And if I’m honest, a part of me wants that too. I don’t need to be infinity-pool rich, just comfortable. Like, really comfortable. Like, storage-in-every-room, finally-dealing-with-our-basement, and getting-a-second-bathroom comfortable. When my kid talks about her plan to live in an apartment in New York City with floor-to-ceiling windows, I must admit I do feel wistful. “Damn,” I think, “That sounds like fun.”
The truth is, with her fixation on being “rich,” my daughter forces me to examine my own willingness to live in a way that routinely keeps me up at night. When she asks why we don’t have this or that, or why we can’t go here or there, she’s not necessarily being whiny or ungrateful, she genuinely wants to know about the choices we’ve made and why we made them, as she considers what she wants for her adult life. And if she can find the sweet spot between following her bliss and living a life of comfort, how can I fault her?
My teen is also a budding philanthropist who wants to use her money for good, things like like helping animals and advancing cancer research. “That’s the whole point of being rich,” she tells me.
She has also promised to help me make a film one day and to take care of us in our old age, which is frankly a relief since we have no benefits. And there’s also talk of building me a mansion next door to hers. Maybe mine can have skylights and southern exposure?
For sure, a second bathroom.
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