Fair Money
by Debbie Farmer

One of summer's greatest pleasures is a day at the county fair. All of the
advertisements make it sound so exciting, promising so many things: clowns,
displays, entertainment, deep-fried Twinkies, exotic animals, carnival rides
and more. And, sure, it sounds like a perfect day, but I warn you, pay close
attention to the words "and more."

This is code for all of the activities you will have to pay for that aren't
included in the admission price. Which is, well, just about everything.

But this year I vowed things would be different because I had a plan.
Right before we went through the gates I gave each of my children a
twenty-dollar bill and said, "This is your money for food, rides, and
souvenirs."  I could tell by the way they stared at me and then at the money
and then back at me, that they couldn't believe their sudden windfall.

Now, admit it. It sounds like a great plan. Maybe not right up there with
wrinkle-free laundry and self-cleaning ovens, but close. I mean, it would
not only teach my children the value of a dollar, let them exert their
independence, give them choices, and make them feel powerful, it would also
me money. Lots and lots of money.

And, hey, it worked.

In fact, as we made our way down the carnival midway they passed right by
the ice cream booth and the deep-fried Oreo booth without so much as
a second glance.

And when we got to the ride section they completely ignored the Giant Slide.
Mind you, the very same Giant Slide that I spent $50 in tickets for them to
ride on over and over again last year.

It wasn't until my son suggested going to the free petting zoo so he could
"get closer to nature" that I began to suspect something fishy.

My hunch was confirmed when, over the next two hours, they visited the free
water booth eighteen times, the petting zoo twice and had nothing to eat but
pretzel samples filched from the gourmet dip booth.

"How about something fun to eat?" I said. "Like a chocolate covered banana?
A bag of kettle corn? A deep-fried Ho-Ho?"

"Oh, we're not hungry," they said practically in unison. "But we'd really
like to visit the cell phone booth before they're out of those free paper

"Ah-ha!" My suspicious were confirmed. "You're trying to save your money,
aren't you? AREN'T YOU?"

Not that there's anything wrong with this, mind you. But these are the very
same kids who drop my ten-dollar bills on movie popcorn and Jujubes
without so much as flinching.

So, as a conscientious parent, I now had two choices. I could 1) stick to my
principles and teach them a valuable life lesson or 2) forget about the
lesson and buy them a corn dog and a ream of ride tickets with MY money.

I'm not going to bother telling you which one I picked, but I will say that
their eyes lit up as they charged off toward the Giant Slide.

Oh, all right.

I know this is exactly the kind of precedent setting that parenting experts
are always warning you about. The kind that will turn kids into entitled
adults and irresponsible spenders and junk bond traders and all that.
But, hey, what was I supposed to do?  In my defense, I couldn't very well
say in public, "For goshsakes, stop saving your money and go buy a
deep-fried Twinkie RIGHT THIS INSTANT!" Could I?

But, on the other hand, there's something equally wrong about two kids
spending a day at the county fair with nothing to show for it but free
pencils imprinted with the names of local realtors. Right? RIGHT?

And that's what I kept telling myself later that evening when we walked to
the car and my son pulled a twenty dollar bill out of his pocket and said
incredulously, "Look! I have all of my money left."

"Me, too," my eleven-year-old said. "Hey, if we combine it we'll have enough
for a new Nintendo game."

And, folks, I didn't even scream.

*          *            *

Debbie Farmer is a humorist and a mom in California. You can find Debbie at
www.familydaze.com, or by writing her at Oasis Newsfeatures, P.O. Box 2144,
Middletown, Ohio, 45042.