“Where are you going with those?” I ask Eli, my twelve year old son, as he suspiciously tries to slink out of the house for school carrying three unopened boxes of leftover Passover matzah. “Um…nowhere,” he answers. “Bye mom. Have a great day.”
“Wait just a minute, Eli,” I’m not ready to let this go. “Why are you taking three boxes of matzah to school after Passover?”
“I thought they were leftover.” He chirps.
“Yeah… So what?” I challenge.
“Alright mom,” he confides. “But if I tell you you can’t get involved. Promise?”
These are always my favorite intros to any conversation with my kids. Promising not to get involved isn’t something I’m apt to do easily.
“I promise nothing,” I say. “Now what’s with the matzah? And if you miss the bus you’re walking to school. So start talking.”
“I’m selling them to a friend.” he sheepishly confesses.
“Selling them? For how much?” I inquire.
“Fifteen dollars,” he tells me.
This is the part where I go berzerk. “Fifteen dollars? Who would buy matzah for fifteen dollars? That’s insane.” I grab the matzah and insist that it is not being sold to anyone. “If you want to give your friend the matzah that is perfectly alright. But you are not selling it to him for any amount of money.”
“But mom, we made a deal. And you always say ‘a deal is a deal.’ He wagered with me willingly. I’m just fulfilling my side of the bargain”
As I delve into this, I learn that Eli has been making money on the side selling a variety of useless items to his pals who only want Eli to play more advanced PS4 video games with them. Eli has a limited number of players, and since his mother is a meanie and wont splurge endlessly on Disney Infinity and Marvel superhero characters for the PS4, Eli has had to turn to his own ingenuity to raise the funds to support his virtual reality video habit.
“Joey begged me, mom,” Eli pleaded. “He just really wants me to be able to play with him and I don’t have the Star Wars Battlefront Seasons Pass. Can I please go now?”
Then I pulled out my ace. I was sure I had this one in the bag. “Well Eli,” I say, “If you feel that selling something like matzah, that you didn’t even pay for, to Joey, or any other friend, for way more money than it’s worth, is the right thing to do, then you go right ahead. Just make sure you feel good about yourself and what you’re choosing to do.” Ha. This was a page from any good Jewish mother’s parenting book. I felt the guilt dripping off each word as it slowly and purposely rolled off my tongue. No way Eli would collect the cash and exploit a pal with this jolt of maternal consciousness infecting his psyche.
But alas, even sure things sometimes go awry. When Eli came home from school he laid down the fifteen dollars from Joey along with all of his Chanukah and birthday money and asked if he could use my amazon account to purchase his Star Wars Battlefront Seasons Pass. “Mom, I tried to tell Joey I didn’t want the money,” He explained. “I swear I offered to just give him the matzah for free. But he wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. He insisted, mom. Really.”
I reluctantly gave permission for Eli to buy the Season’s Pass and have been pondering this decision ever since. I’m plagued with guilt over taking another child’s money to pay for a game I wasn’t willing to buy for my son myself. I am deeply perplexed about where Joey so easily scored $15. Did his parents know he was subsidizing Eli’s PS4 practice? Would they think we were shameful people, taking money from their 12 year old son? Maybe they did know about it and were under the impression that we were from some sort of underserved North Scottsdale barrio. Maybe they believed their son was merely giving back to his community as they had undoubtedly modeled through their own charitable endeavors.
The more I mulled this over, the more awful I felt. But I had set this up for Eli to make his own decision and I fiercely believe in allowing your children to make choices and live with the consequences of those choices. I told him to follow his conscience and he had. Only his conscience didn’t lead him to the conclusion I had hoped it would. Now what?
“Is there anything Joey wants that his parents wont give him?” I asked after a few hours of hopeless deliberation. “Maybe we can get him something, you know like a toy or a PS4 game?”
“Mom,” Eli chastised, “Joey has everything. There’s nothing we could get him that he doesn’t already have.”
“But maybe there’s something he’d like that he might not buy for himself?” I pushed. “It doesn’t have to be a big thing. Just something to let him know we appreciate him and his friendship.”
“Well,” I could see the wheels turning in Eli’s head, “He really loves his gecko, Emily. Maybe we could get him something for her.”
“OK, that’s a good idea,” I said, “What do you think she might like?”
“Hmmm…” he looked at me coyly for an extremely long moment. “I know. How ‘bout a PS4 controller? They don’t use joysticks anymore so Emily could play with us. I know they would both love that.”
In the Disney Marvel Battleground Universe, I think I’m being set up for a gigantic Hulk smash.