A quick look around the Catholic mom-o-sphere might leave you with the impression that most Catholic moms — especially those with large families — are a bunch of Frugal Frannies.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
Sign up to get Crisis articles delivered to your inbox daily
And that might be so. Depending where you click, you can find articles about sewing your own clothes, baking your own bread, and making your own laundry detergent. Any number of frugal-minded, crunchy-con endeavors might be occupying the time and energy of moms these days.
But there’s another side of Catholic family life that few people talk about. A side in which I must admit . . . I am a total spendthrift.
Some things are just plain worth the money you spend on them. Take sippy cups, for example. I don’t pay a lot for them in the store, but I can and will pay dearly for them under the right circumstances. Like when we have exactly six minutes to get out the door to Mass.
You see, I must have a sippy cup of juice in my purse when we go to Mass. Because if I don’t have a sippy cup of juice in my purse when we go to Mass, my normally well-behaved four-year-old, upon learning that there actually is not a sippy cup of juice in Mama’s purse, suffers from instant and apparently life-threatening dehydration.
“But. I’m. So. Thirsty,” he chants through the First Reading.
“I only wanted some juuuuuuiiiiiice,” he sighs through the Psalm.
“I don’t know whyyyyyyyyy you forgot to bring me juuuuuuiiiiice,” he finally dissolves in a puddle of frustration at the Consecration.
So yes. When it comes to finding an elusive sippy cup in which to pack the four-year-old’s juice before Mass, money is no object.
“I’m paying a dollar for a sippy!”
At the sound of this announcement, several older children abandon their own, less important projects of eating breakfast, combing hair, or putting on pants and commence the search.
But sippy cups? That’s child’s play. Through the years, and in the process of raising up eight small souls for God, my husband and I have come to value some things more than others. Some recent odd jobs we have hired out and their going rates:
- Killing a seriously annoying housefly: $1 or a pack of gum, whichever you find in my purse
- Locating and removing the source of a mysterious foul odor in the pantry: $4
- Finding your father’s staple gun: $10 (This one started at $2 but he grew desperate — a turn of events the children always welcome.)
- Cleaning out the scary-messy spare closet: $1 per black garbage bag you remove from the house
- Convincing your father it is indeed cold enough to light a fire in the wood stove: $2
- Cleaning up what the dog coughed up and not describing it to me: $5
- Keeping the entire household quiet enough for me to finish writing this column: $3
In the past, we had more complicated systems of accomplishments and rewards. I once used stars to keep track of good behaviors and extra chores on an elaborate chart I hung on the living room wall. When a child earned ten stars, he was rewarded with his choice of prize. Sometimes the reward was money, but special privileges, like trips out alone with Mom or Dad, were also on that list.
It was a very nice system. Only problem was the follow through. As in, there wasn’t any.
In order to be effective, I have learned, a rewards system needs to be simple enough to pay off quickly and with minimal pain to the parents. Like this: “If you get your little brother to stop crying about the fact that his favorite NASCAR driver’s car is pink in this weekend’s race for breast cancer awareness month, I will give you the two dollar bills I found in the laundry this morning.”
Not that I’ve ever said that.
As embarrassing as some of these kinds of shameless schemes might be to admit, I know we’re not the only parents willing to pay a fair price for a job well done. One recent day, I overheard my youngest daughter chatting with a friend who was visiting.
“I can buy lots of Pretty Ponies,” the little girl bragged. “Last week, I had a stomach bug and for every time I threw up and made it to the toilet, my dad gave me a dollar.”
I’d like to shake that man’s hand.
Coming from a large family myself, I know the unique economic systems that families can become. When it comes to earning a buck, cuteness and a bit of creativity sometimes trump hard work. I learned this the day that two of my younger sisters collected family members’ shoes, arranged them neatly in rows on their beds, and opened a “Shoe Store.”
What a bargain! Check out the selection! They were sure to have something in your size and style, for only $1. Charmed family members bought back their own footwear, and my sisters went bowling with the profits.
But we paying parents need to be careful. Though I’ve always intended to be the kind of parent whose children knew the value of a dollar, I recently discovered that some of my children might know all too well the value of a dollar.
The other day, I was rushing about, getting last-minute chores done before leaving the house for the afternoon. Hurriedly, I scooped up some random bits of Playmobil — plastic knights with horses, spears, and armor — and held them out for little Daniel to take.
“Bring these up to your room and put them away,” I instructed.
Reflexively, he reached out with small hands to take the goods, but then suddenly pulled back. His eyes narrowed at me.
“How much,” he wanted to know, “is this worth?”