Today I had a deep and meaningful conversation on the subject about taxes with Declan, my five-year old. He loves money. He counts it, he jingles it, he puts it in and takes it out of his thirty-five year old bank, “Mr. Smiley” who used to gobble up my change when I was five, a relic from when my father came home from trips examining and auditing banks for the Federal Reserve.
“Mommy,” he looked up from the piggy bank he’d emptied all over the floor. Again. “Why are there guys on my money?”
“Oh, that’s a good question,” I replied. “They’re the presidents. Like President Obama. Presidents run the nation—they’re the boss of America.”
“Who are these guys?” he asked, rearranging the nickels.
“Those are some dead presidents. Do you want me to tell you their stories?” He likes stories about ghosts and dead guys, and not just for Halloween. He arranged the money some more.
“No. Are they made of silver?” He thinks silver is cool. But he doesn’t like gold because we told him the story of King Midas, and he thinks one day, I might get turned into a cold gold statue. Though he will most certainly be able to turn me in for a secure financial future, I won’t be “soft and cuddly” anymore. And I won’t be able to get him snacks or juice.
“No, the economy stinks. People sell and hoard. Silver’s too expensive to use for coins.” I replied.
“But why are these guys on my money?” He was getting upset. The dead presidents should not be touching his stuff, “unless they ask first.”
I gave it some thought. “Because ultimately, all money belongs to them and they want you to remember that fact.” It was the best I could do.
“Are they going to take my money?” I could see the apprehension rise in his voice as he cupped his hand over the pile of pennies. Now you’re getting it, kid.
“Yes.” Sometimes, a kid just has to hear the truth. “They’re going to take your money and maybe fix a road or give a large business a tax break. Maybe, if you’re really lucky, they’ll give it to someone else—someone nice who needs a little money.” Nice people getting money always makes me smile.
“They’re not going to take my money.” He frowned.
“Well, since you brought it up,” I confessed, “they are. They take a lot of my money every day.”
He looked from my wallet to me. And back to my wallet, half-waiting for the Washingtons to dance across the room into the hands of “The Guy Who Takes My Money.” Who, in his mind is probably related to Al Gore, since I invoke the name of Al Gore for all things related to power, environment and recycling.
“Did you turn off that light? Quick…Al Gore’s going to get you.” I know you’re not wasting water… Al Gore wouldn’t like that…” Al Gore, in fact, has become the Santa’s evil helper…the guy who puts kids on the list if they toss their peanut butter jars into the common trash or try to get a wasteful bendy straw for their chocolate milk. He’s quite helpful, actually—I’m grateful. And now, I’ve done it again—created another government villain to do my bad parenting for me, “Taxman.” Someone should pass a law against parents like me.
“They’re NOT going to TAKE MY MONEY!” Quick as a flash, he rose for the broom and brandished it like it was a Revolutionary musket. “If they try to take my money, I’ll slap them like this.” He proceeded to slap his own face—pretty hard. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that punching himself out wouldn’t dissuade the IRS. But he didn’t stop there, “And then I will hit them with this and punch them like this, and I’ll kill them.” Wow. Such violent rhetoric coming from the progeny of a Gandhi-loving pacifist like me. Taxes bring out the worst in mankind. Ask Sam Adams or Patrick Henry. They’re available, because they’re not currently guarding any denominations of money.
I probably shouldn’t even write the word “kill” here lest the poor boy’s name be housed somewhere deep in the annals of a Homeland Security watch list at age five…That’s a bit early to start a long career of being tailed. The government resources it’ll take will serve to justify jumping the kid another tax bracket by age six—there’ll be agents at his kindergarten posing as lunch ladies, at the playground, at the local pink ice cream stand.
That’s pretty expensive, and besides, the agents could end up gaining a lot of weight stalking us at ice cream stands, further exasperating the health crisis in the United States. Which would definitely require a new taxpayer-funded government program. Where would it all end—age eighteen, or when Declan gets a rejection letter from his first job for reading too much Thoreau?
“Wait,” he said, dropping the broom-musket on the floor and running for the silverware drawer. He came out with my grandmother’s antique corn holding spike—the one that was locally crafted five decades before someone in Congress would surely have passed a law prohibiting corn holders with excessively long one-centimeter swordlets. You could lose an eye.
“Mommy…I will kill them with your Swish [sic] Army knife.”
“I don’t like the word kill. You’re not going to kill anyone. Don’t be fresh.” Learn to channel that anger now, boy. It’s a skill you’ll need.
“I’ll poke a hole in them.” He brandished the corn-knife like a cross between Zorro and Poncho Villa.
“Son, that’s not even long enough to poke a hole in Glenn Beck’s ego. Put that thing down! It’s sharp.”
“Well, they’re not taking my money.” End of story.
The birth of a five-year old conservative. An Alex P. Keaton in training. Where did this come from, I ask myself. Last election cycle, we adventured to political rallies for both parties. While Huckabee’s was by far the best due to the Governor’s band and the people I thought for sure were carrying automatic weapons touting signs telling me to go ahead and try to take them away…All the rallies had fun signs waving, balloons and people cheering. A good time from both sides of the aisle. And I’m certainly no broom-musket brandishing tax avoider. My husband and I pay tons of taxes. Income taxes, taxes on cars, taxes on stuff we buy, taxes on the business, taxes on things I consider buying, taxes on the taxes paid to other tax collecting agencies.
Since I’m not part of a local militia or the Director of Graft at City Hall, I can only hope at least a modicum of my taxes are going to something good—like paying my friends in the military, fixing the crumbling bridge I stood under last week, or even bribing someone to get something good done. Because–Machiavelli should run for office–the end “justifies the means (sometimes).” I’d even settle for someone using my cash to repair a pothole in my honor. I’ll put a plaque on it like the WPA. It’ll say, “This pothole dedicated to the good citizens by taxpayer Casey” like those bricks you buy on walkways to dedicate to your grandmother or your long-lost cat.
But that’s not how Declan feels. Even as we speak he is rounding up the pennies and nickels with the dead presidents on them and hiding them. Which means that he won’t be able to invest them to save for an overpriced college education or buy a car to impress the ladies.
But maybe he’ll have the good fortune to win the two-dollar lottery (which, I’ll tell him is a voluntary tax on people). Then he can buy a plane ticket to Switzerland, where at least he’ll be able to hide his pennies and nickels in a box next to Mitt Romney’s penny and nickel box, where they’ll be safe. Because nobody’s going to get those, either.