The Child has a birthday, and it’s an important one: she’s an official teenager, 13. She wants teenage things for her birthday, things that signify increased age and independence. An iPhone. A debit card.
We don’t have time to throw an actual party, but I want to mark the occasion, so after school on her birthday, we drive to Wal-Mart, where my father has wired her quite a bit of cash. She’s immensely pleased by this, but even more so when I drive her and her cash to the bank, where she has an appointment to open her first checking account, and get her first debit card. She stares at the endless bank forms, staying awake by bouncing in her seat in gleeful anticipation of what is to come: A form on which she signs her name with a smiling cat next to it, and then selects a Mickey Mouse debit card to mark her newfound maturity.
The employees at the bank are so delighted that they bring her a cupcake with a candle and the entire branch sings Happy Birthday to her.
She takes her very adult bank folder out to the car and tosses it in the back seat, buckling up quickly for what she knows is the next stop: the phone store. All the way over, she talks about what types of other phones there might be that she might want. It’s going to take a while to make the decision, but in the end, the only thing that takes a while is waiting for someone to get her new iPhone out of the back of the store and activate it.
She is thrilled, and even more thrilled when a debit card bearing her name – her name! – arrives in the mail a few days later.
She activates the card and disappears into her bedroom, coming out every so often to ask my opinion on things she is considering buying. A gadget that makes your shower water look like a rainbow seems like a good idea, briefly, but she loses interest even before I talk her out of it. She’s on Amazon, which seems safe enough, and she’s delighted just to know that she can buy something all by herself. Things seem to be under control: Mom not needed.
The next day, I drive her to school, and ask if she bought anything.
Oh yes, she says proudly, I bought some antiques on eBay.
This is not the answer I am expecting, so I inquire, what sort of antiques?
Oh, a lot of things, she says. I’m going to fix them and re-sell them for a lot of money.
I ask again: What sort of things?
She can’t remember exactly what. There’s a chair, she says, but I shouldn’t worry because she was very careful and there was no shipping charge for the chair.
Great, I tell her, can I see what it is you bought on eBay?
She opens up her eBay app on her phone, and shows me: An “antique” chair in need of repairs, and a vintage accordion, listed as “for parts”, on which she’s used the Buy It Now option to lock in a $70 price.
I ask if she paid for any of this. No, she says.
I ask, did you enter your debit card number anywhere? No, she says.
Anywhere at all? I press a bit. Anywhere on the internet?
No, she says.
We have a talk about why this isn’t such a good idea: In the first place, she doesn’t really know how to fix antique accordions, I point out.
I can probably learn.
I’m sure you can, I tell her, but let me ask you: Do you know what parts you might need? What they might cost? Do you know what a working accordion of that type might sell for?
Oh, she says. She clearly can’t decide if I’m being serious or not, and truthfully, neither can I. I know there must be people who understand and can speak knowledgeably and seriously on the economics of the vintage accordion marketplace, but I am not one of them.
I tell her we need to cancel her eBay account and apologize to the sellers, but she can’t buy any accordions today or any other day. She’s not 18, so eBay is just out.
You didn’t give me any rules for internet shopping, she says. What do I do?
Neither of us is ready for this, so I make up a rule quickly: If you haven’t ever walked into their store in the mall, you have to ask me first.
She hesitates to agree to this, and it takes me a moment to realize why.
Unless it’s something for me, I tell her. In which case, you have to call grandpa first.
Okay, great! she says.
I briefly debate whether some punishment is warranted, but in the end, not having her very own for-parts accordion seems to be punishment enough.