The other night while driving to see Thor: Ragnarok, my daughter and I ended up having a conversation about money. It’s open enrollment at work and since my daughter is 14, we discuss my income and costs much more openly. She wondered how much I make and where all of the money goes. Since I’m pretty open about this, I asked her why she was asking and reminded her that it is rude to ask people how much they make.
Given that her question was in good faith, I told her that I would answer it and we could talk about it on the 30-minute drive to her father’s town.
We talked about income. We talked about how much I have to work in order to make enough money to cover the mortgage. I discussed how surprised I was when working my first summer job to see my first paycheck. I have a feeling that most conservatives, if not all, have that moment when working their first job. We excitedly calculate our wages, we keep a record of what we should be paid, we anticipate that first check … and then we do a double-take when we realize that The Man has taken our hard-earned money! My family jokes about this as the first real exposure to the real world.
My mom tells the story of her students, many of whom are juvenile miscreants, coming back to her to help them calculate their first paycheck. “What is this SSDI? I didn’t say they could take that!” She kindly explains how taxes work and how they are now helping support their fellow students’ babies and how their fellow students probably really appreciate it.
For conservatives, I think this shock makes a permanent mark. The indignant knee-jerk response is impressed upon our gray matter and hidden somewhere in there. We remember the hard work and the value of our money.
Circling back to my daughter, we talked about whether or not I would allow her to have a job before 18. I told her the ongoing mantra of my family: your job right now is to be a student, if you can handle that, we’ll see about doing more. The most important thing you can do right now is to be a good student, to learn, and to prepare yourself for college. We moved on from there to talking about taxes and if it would be worth it for her to spend hours that she could be doing martial arts, mentoring other kids, readying, studying, or socializing to receive a paycheck that would be half the size after taxes. “What?! I thought you didn’t pay taxes until you were 18!” she exclaimed over the radio. I laughed so hard, I started crying.
“Where did you get that idea?” I asked, in between gasps of laughter.
“Well, 18 is when you’re an adult, that’s when you can vote so … that’s when you pay taxes? I dunno!”
My response was an echo of what my parents said to me with that first paycheck. “Oh honey … no.”
Somehow, somewhere, my daughter got this silly idea that life is fair. We spent the rest of the ride discussing what would happen if she inherited money, property taxes, how we are taxed on the money we make when we make it, then when we use it, then when we give it to someone else, and again when we die. She was positively shocked that these things happened. “But that’s not fair! It was already taxed! What are they spending that money on, anyway?!”
After a period of silence, she looked at me gravely.
“…so that’s why Grandma is always so mad at the news?”
I think a light went on. Let’s just hope that it stays on.