We were driving to school yesterday when my eldest piped up from the back; “Mummy, I want to go and see the fish this afternoon!” I replied; ‘I don’t think so. We are going to stay in this afternoon and play with your toys. Going to see the fish costs a lot of money.’ He chirped up; “It’s okay! I have some money in my money bank!” I smiled, imagining handing over a few silver coins to the staff at the aquarium and watching their reaction, before my thoughts turned to how exactly you teach a three-year old about budgeting. He saves me by suddenly shouting in excitement; “No! We could play with my LEGO! Shall we do that?” I breathed a sigh of relief as we pulled up at school and told him it was a brilliant idea.
It’s something I’m finding harder and harder as my children grow up in this city. We have so many wonderful days out, activities, and attractions at our fingertips, but very few are easy on the pocket. During the warm summer months, it’s even harder. Even if we have gardens outside, play areas on our doorsteps, and the beach within easy reach, we can’t use them until it cools down. My children don’t mind spending afternoons at home, but there are only so many LEGO towers we can build before their thoughts turn to coloured ball pits, jungle gyms, and shark spotting.
Take last weekend, for example, when we went to the mall. With plans that afternoon that would blow the budget, we decided to keep the morning affordable with a quick coffee and snack stop, followed by a trip to the supermarket to stock up. We knew it wouldn’t be the most exciting morning, but needs must – and we wanted them to learn that the weekend couldn’t always be about aquariums, play areas, and bank-busting entrance fees.
It didn’t start well. Arriving at the coffee shop, I ordered two babychinos. “No Mummy”, the three-year-old interrupts. “I want that one!” He points at a giant bottle of pink smoothie, stood majestically at the front of the display. It was the most expensive drink on offer, of course. ‘No,’ I tell him firmly, ‘You can have a babychino or you can drink your water.’ He started wailing and I could sense the man behind us in the queue shuffling around with impatience.
Meanwhile, his brother had spotted the cakes. He jabbed his chubby finger at the glass and squealed, pointing at a large slice of cheesecake dotted with rainbow sprinkles. ‘No chance,’ I told him firmly – but he wasn’t impressed and immediately tried to eject from my arms, no doubt hoping he would fall face first into a slice of cheesecake and be able to look up at me with a face full of rainbow sprinkles and a look that said; “Sorry Mummy, it just kind of happened.”
The supermarket was just as painful, with a pack of bright blue cupcakes, tray of overpriced strawberries, two packets of biscuits, and box containing a sparkly new coffee machine retrieved by an overexcited toddler and dumped in the trolley (we think he thought the latter was an ice cream machine – either that or he has picked up on our coffee addiction already, which is a slightly disturbing thought).
The worst was saved for last, however, when we passed a stall selling a selection of camel puppets. Now my boys have never shown any interest in either camels or puppets - but on that Friday morning, they both needed one of those puppets in their life. In fact, if they didn’t have one of those puppets in their life (or ideally two, as they aren’t overly keen on sharing their wealth), they were going to lie on the floor of the mall refusing to move, screaming at full volume with tears streaking their face, and (in the process) kicking one of the shopping bags so that a tin of baked beans rolled into a sofa shop opposite and came to rest at the feet of a very bemused shop assistant.
As mornings with my children go, this was not a winner. And I’m ashamed to admit that right in the middle of it, whilst scrabbling around on the floor for an escaped tin of baked beans, I considered buying one of those puppets to make it all stop.
We didn’t, of course – and soon enough, we were on the road home. And as I sat there and thought back to the events of the morning, part of me felt quite proud that we had stuck to our budget despite it all.
And the other part? I wished we had just bought them some rainbow sprinkled cheesecake and made a beeline for home.
Parenting. It’s not easy, is it?