A Household Word
Mother of the Mob

I used to worry about my kids. I thought that because they canít remember to put their shoes on every day before they go to school and to brush their teeth every night before they go to bed, that they were -- how does one say this delicately? -- average.

Now, I have come to realize that while they are standing around staring into space, not putting on their shoes, their fertile minds are occupied with really important stuff. Stuff like calculating the interest on their overdue allowance and figuring out what percentage of the cookies in the cupboard are theirs. Their memories, while selective, are very impressive. They donít remember to do their homework, but they do remember who sat in the window seat on every flight our family has taken since 1992.

They canít remember where they left their winter jackets, but they recall who got the last orange popsicle from every box Iíve ever purchased. They canít remember to bring in the garbage cans, but they always know who owes them money. Although their talents might not be apparent in a traditional academic setting, I think they may have a promising future in the mob.

My 15-year-old son forgets his lunch every day of the school year, but has a mind like a steel trap when it comes to cash. His cash.

"Mom," he said yesterday, "can I have $10 to go to the movies?"

"Why donít you use your own money?" I suggested. "Thatís what your allowance is for."

"Well," he explained with a tone of slight exasperation, "remember last November when you couldnít pay the pizza delivery man and I lent you seven bucks? You never paid me back. So I calculated the interest based on a 5 percent annual rate, compounded it monthly and it turns out that you owe me $42. Iíll take the $10 and we can call it even."

It was an offer I couldnít refuse.

Last weekend, when we had guests, my 8-year-old, who canít remember to practice, toted his violin case into the living room. Taking his dad aside, he slapped him on each cheek and threatened: "Yo, when I was 5, you promised that I would get a real allowance when I turned 8. I want it tonight. I want it retroactive from the day of my birthday party and I want it in small, unmarked bills. Hand it over or Iíll play this thing. You owe me."

Itís not just the boys. My daughter is also blessed with the brain of a skilled bookie.

"Hi honey, how was school?" I inquired as she came through the door at 2:45 p.m.

"I donít remember," she replied, "but can you take me to the mall?"

"Do you have any money?" I asked innocently.

"Mom," she explained with an air of limited patience, "remember we had to take back two shirts that I got for Christmas in 1997? Thatís $30 right there. Plus, since grandma died eight years ago she hasnít sent me any birthday money -- that would be about $100. So you owe me."

"Yeah," said the oldest son.

"Yeah," said the 8-year-old.

"You owe us," the three wise guys chorused.

"Actually, darlings," I explained to my children, "you kids owe me. The way I figure it, I spent an average of 13 hours in labor with each of you. Multiply that by three and add lots of interest and then compound it by three meals a day and a roof over your head. Then multiply all of that by 18 years and divide it over the lifetime of the loan ... ah, just fuggedahboutit."