Embed from Getty Images
My daughter and her mother are off to Miami for a week.
In Helen’s bag are 4 books.
This is a first.
Helen doesn’t like to read books. In part because I write them. In part because she’s 15 and her interests lie elsewhere.
Helen does, however, like making money. I learned this when we made a simple trade a few months ago: I’d put up $300 for her ticket to the Governor’s Ball music festival if she’d write 300 words about her favorite performer for Butler. “A dollar a word,” I said. “More than most sites pay.” That’s how she came to write about Logic — the rapper, not the concept — for Head Butler.
Then she went off to Minnesota for a month, got a 10-to-4 job scooping ice cream, and banked another chunk of cash.
While she was there, I recalled there’s another $300 music festival in September. I texted her. “Feel like writing? Same offer.” Her response was instant: “Deal.”
Then I decided to press my luck.
Her summer reading for school is a YA novel by Matt de la Peña, “Mexican WhiteBoy.” I read what she reads, so I dived in. It’s about a teenage boy, whose father is Mexican and whose mother is a white American. During the school year, he goes to a private school, where he’s a top student. Now he’s spending the summer with his relatives in San Diego. They’re bi-lingual. He speaks no Spanish. Fortunately, he’s a terrific pitcher; his fastball speaks for him.
You can see the PC issues. Street culture vs. elite culture. Native language vs. the lingo of the ‘hood. Future achievement vs. present pleasure. With each page, I was more depressed and angry. It’s not like I wanted her to read a book from the canon by a Dead White Man. Or even Jane Austen. But….well, you know.
Funny thing. As I read deeper into the book, I got hooked. Still was annoyed by the relative who shared Deep Thoughts about life, but the kids got to me. It might be worth your teen’s time, especially if he likes baseball. [To buy the paperback of “Mexican Whiteboy” from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]
Second funny thing. Before I discovered I liked “Mexican Whiteboy,” I got an idea — I’d offer my cash-conscious daughter money to read a few more books this summer. I expected I’d get what she calls a “hard pass.” But my text produced three better words: “Deal. How much?”
I won’t tell you how much I offered, because I don’t want you to think I’m rich or stupid or indulgent — but she snapped it up. Especially as “The Great Gatsby” is a book she’ll be assigned in school this year. This way, she’ll have a head start. And though she won’t be writing anything for Butler, she does have to discuss the book with me. As she sees it, she gets cash. But in the longer run, I see that she gets value. [To buy the paperback of “The Great Gatsby” from Amazon, click here.]
I bought her a short novel that keys off rebellion and integrity. It’s also often banned. To read about “The Chocolate War” on Head Butler, click here.
I bought her “The Four Just Men.” Because she has the justice gene. And in this short book, villains who commit legal crimes are deliciously punished. To read about it on Head Butler, click here.
It’s long, and a long shot: “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” by Patricia Highsmith. [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here.]
When we left for the airport, I asked, as I always do, “Got everything?”
“Wait,” she said, and sprinted back to the apartment.
When she returned, she was carrying three books.
The moral: we bend the twig any way we can. But not, I think, by lecturing and hectoring. Better, I believe, by connecting a kid’s values to your hopes. And also by knowing that money sometimes buys things of lasting value.
This article originally appeared on The Head Butler
Photo credit: Getty Images