Rude Awakening$ : When Your Kids $pend Their Own Money

One of the many joys of being a parent is having a front row seat for the growth and development of another human being. And not just any human being mind you, a human being you created. The spawn from your loins. The genes from your pool. The fruit of your looms. There is an inborn excitement in watching your progeny learn to make their first smile, take their first steps. As they grow older, you revel in their mastery of the alphabet and beam proudly as they read to you.

Some of their discoveries, although necessary, are not quite as enchanting to watch. For example, when one of my daughters discovered the finger painting capabilities and limitations of the contents in her diaper. (Note: It is easier to repaint the walls than clean them.) Or when my oldest child got her first love note at school, only to be disappointed when it was not from the object of her affection. (Note: Mocha chip ice cream can cure a broken heart at the age of 8.) And take the universal one that all children simply must find out for themselves: That you really can get your fingers caught when you play slam the doors with your siblings. (Note: Keep a second carton of Mocha chip on hand for medicinal purposes such as swelling and tear induced hunger.)

Yet beyond all of these, I got to view one of the greatest spectator sports of parenting this past weekend. I was on the 50-yard line of life when my children finally learned the value of a dollar. (And as far as entertainment value goes, these seats were worth more than any being hawked for the upcoming Super Bowl.)

Each daughter had received a $25 Target giftcard in their stockings this past Christmas. As we surveyed Mount Excess, erected by Santa and his helpers (aka: the Grandparents), we figured the last thing these children needed was to run out to the store and buy more, so the giftcards quietly disappeared to a secured area in my bedroom.

Not secure enough.

The four year old came to the kitchen Friday night clutching them and grandly announced that "I found dese in your bra drawer and it is time to go spend dis stuff." Fine, as we had no plans for Saturday, and fine - descriptive of their behavior of late - bra drawer pilfering not withstanding.

Now it's not as if my children have never held money of their own. A dollar here, two dollars there, but this was mega-bucks for them. They knew their purchasing power extended far beyond a bag of M&M's or a Teen Beat magazine. We listened to them banter in the backseat, tales of buying a television set, ten video games, the entire toy department. They entered Target with a swagger of confidence much like that of George W. Bush on his way to the Inauguration that morning - delusions of their actual power - again, much like George W. - dancing like sugar plums in their brains.

First stop was the Video Game department. What!?! A game costs $39.99!?! We suggested that maybe they could pool their resources? The stare we received was comparable to the one cemented to Al Gore's face throughout the Inauguration. We quickly made our way to the toy department. I should have packed a lunch. We wore a rut in each aisle as we went up and down, up and down. What do you mean I don't have enough for Angel Barbie? They actually think this stupid stuffed animal is worth $15? If I get the Ice Cream Maker, I don't even have enough to buy a pack of gum! And my personal favorite: This isn't fair!

We finally sojourned to the clothing department. I should have packed some earplugs. My middle daughter, Miss Fashionista, loudly exclaimed for all to hear, "$18.99 for one lousy pair of Capri pants!?! Give me a break!" She quickly made her way to the Clearance Racks.

As we left Target ninety minutes later, they each had a bag of goodies to show for their efforts. And while they don't realize it, those same efforts had also afforded them a huge life lesson. (And a great afternoon of entertainment for their parents!)