TAXing times!

When I was in my early twenties, I remember complaining to my grandfather about working so hard and yet having so much of my meager weekly earnings sucked out of my paychecks for taxes. He told me that paying taxes was a privilege, that I should be grateful for making enough money to be able to contribute to our country’s growth and stability. I didn’t know a heck of a lot about life at that time. Nor did I have much interest in government, politics, or social welfare. But I liked his sentiment and adopted it as my own. Regardless of how much money I earned, from that point on, I felt a sense of pride and ownership of this country when I saw my gross earnings lessened by state and federal income tax. I know it sounds weird. But having to pay those taxes qualified me as one of the lucky ones.

It’s funny how the stories we live in shape our views of the world. You can embrace gratitude for almost anything. (Although I admit to finding people who do that more than a little annoying.) But in this case, my grandfather taught me to appreciate an inevitable component of living that most people see, at best, as a monumental nuisance. Isn’t teaching our kids and grandkids how to live better and happier lives the single most meaningful thing we can do?

That’s why no matter how disappointed and frustrated my boys are, I’m not reneging on our new allowance policy. My husband and I have thought long and hard about this. We’ve studied the various philosophies about paying allowances. We’ve even instituted several programs that haven’t been terribly successful. So we are now embarking on an allowance policy that enables our kids to earn income for accomplishing daily chores around the house. The program allows our kids to sign up for weekly tasks and then earn 50 cents per completion of said tasks.

For my 11 year old, Levi, this means a chance to earn enough money to buy a real laptop, save for a car and even sock away a few bucks for college. (He’s a planner.) His motivation is truly impressive. Last week alone he earned $10.50 for the week. My husband created on-line bank accounts for both boys and worked with the boys to print up home-made checks as well as withdrawal and deposit slips.

I have to tell you though, I was a little bit shocked when I saw Levi’s paycheck on Sunday. His $10.50 gross income had come to little more than $4.00 after my husband subtracted Fica, State income tax, Social Security and insurance. Levi was crest-fallen. At first I thought my husband had gone too far. I mean, Federal and State income tax? But after I thought about it, I kind of came around to his philosophy. I mean, if our job as parents is to prepare our kids for the real world, what better way to do it than this? I mean, you hear so much moaning these days about kids and entitlement. Why not teach them to work harder for what they want. Placing a few realistic obstacles in their paths may seem cruel or unfair, but when you really think about, isn’t that the best way to lead by example and prepare them for the harsh realities ahead?

When Levi complained that he’d probably never be able to save enough for college at this rate, I told him about Grandpa Irwin’s philosophy. It made me happy to be able to share it with him, like I had passed on a small gift from my grandfather to my son.

They say that people live on through stories and shared memories. And so, on his birthday week, it gives me much joy to tell all of you a little bit about my grandfather; who he was, what he believed, and how his influence still resonates in all of our lives.

Your tax dollars at work!

Okay, what is wrong with this picture? Our State is literally going broke. We don’t have enough space to house the criminal offenders we have. Our law enforcement officers are radically understaffed because of funding issues. Our courts our ridiculously overcrowded. And yet, there’s enough manpower, money and chutzpah to send an official “officer of the court” to my private residence at 8:30 at night (on a school night) to serve me f-ing papers for a traffic camera ticket I received in July. I have to ask, could we possibly put our resources to better use?

So I’ve finally gotten my five-year-old to bed and am tucking in my 9-year-old when the doorbell rings. This is odd since we live in a gated community and never received a call from the guard gate that someone was here for us. We live in a very anti-social neighborhood (don’t get me started) and only know a few of our neighbors, none of whom randomly show up at odd hours of the night to borrow a cup of sugar or ask for help with a run-away pooch. I run to the door and ask the obligatory “Who is it?”

No answer.

Now any sane individual wouldn’t open the door at this point. But I guess I figured it was some poor, lost mute looking for aid and I swung the door open with total abandon. There stood this scramble-haired, gen-Y kid in jeans and a skater-looking t-shirt. “Um…Are you Debra?” he asked. Suddenly my senses returned and I realized this probably wasn’t the Publisher’s Clearing House here to deliver my 10 million dollar prize. In the meantime, my little guy, who was jarred awake by the doorbell, is now screaming frantically for me to come to him, and my older son is anxiously shivering in a towel in his doorway.

“No,” I said with the conviction of a well trained perjurer. “Why?”

“I have to…um…serve these papers to…um…Debra.” he clumsily announced.

“Well, she’s not here,” I continued with the fabrication. “Do you want me to give them to her?” (Now, let me note here that I thought in order for papers to be properly served they had to go to the individual named in said papers.)

“That’d be great,” he said handing me the papers. He turned to leave and then looked back. “By the way, what was your name?”

“Um…Diane,” I said, “I’m the baby sitter.”

“Uh huh,” he smiled as if to let me know he wasn’t fooled by my inane charade.

I closed the door and immediately opened the letter It was a photo-radar ticket from July. “You have got to be kidding,” I muttered with incredulity, adding a few choice words along the way. “What the hell is wrong with these people? Aren’t there real criminals they could go after? I mean, what are they gonna do, put me in jail?” My nine-year-old is now sobbing uncontrollably. I run to him and pull him close. “Honey, what’s wrong? Why are you crying?”

“I don’t want mommy to go to jail,” he wimpered.

“Mommy isn’t going to jail, sweetie. This is nothing. Please don’t worry,” I reassured him.

I finally managed to settle my children, calm their fears and get them to bed. But it was already after 9 and I knew that the next day was bound to be a tough one since they usually go to bed well before 8.

The ticket is for $220. I don’t deny that the ticket was deserved, or that the hideous photo is actually me. But can anyone tell me why they needed to come to my house at 8:30 at night, disrupt my children’s routine, and waste an abundance of time, energy and resources for something as insignificant as a four-month old speeding ticket?

Maybe I should send this to Sheriff Joe. He’s a sensible guy. I bet he’d go after the idiot beurocrats who sent the scraggly kid to my doorstep to terrorize my children and annoy the hell out of me. Hmmm….maybe he’ll help me if I tell him that kid was an illegal?