An old Wisconsin fairy tale — or nightmare

Once upon a time, there lived a family called the Cheeseheads. There was a mommy, a daddy and three children: Ima, Wanda and Memonny. They lived in one of those flyover states in the middle of our country. Daddy made a very good living selling fish at the local market, Mommy was a part-time secretary at a construction company and the kids went to school.

Mommy and Daddy worked very, very hard, and as the years went by, they were able to give their children many wonderful things: vacations, allowances, new toys and treats — things most other children never got. In time, the kids became accustomed to getting things, and soon grew to believe that they deserved them, so there were fewer "Thank-you’s."

But, as time went on, the children were less and less satisfied by the things their parents gave them, and always seemed to want more. If Ima got new sneakers, she wanted two pairs, in different colors. If Wanda was allowed to take ballet, she also wanted to take tap and piano lessons — until she got tired of them. And, if little Memonny was told he couldn’t have three scoops of ice cream on his cone, he was apt to dissolve into a full-fledged tantrum right there at Ben and Jerry’s.

Mommy and Daddy sometimes felt a tiny bit uneasy about their children’s growing sense of entitlement, but then they would see how excited and happy the children were when they got their way, and they told themselves, well, they really are good kids. They’re not robbing banks, after all. So, they continued to buy things the children wanted, even though it was becoming more of a demand than a request.

One day, Daddy noticed that business was lagging. At first, to continue his family’s lifestyle, he raised his prices at the fish market. But, instead of helping, it had the opposite effect: Fewer people bought fish. Everyone was struggling economically, and fresh fish just wasn’t as practical as, say, fish sticks.

Daddy tried raising prices again, but things got worse, and soon Daddy was bringing home half of what he’d been making. Then, Mommy lost her job at the construction company, where they’d been forced to pay more of her medical insurance. Because times were tough for the company, as well, it was less expensive for them to hire temp workers, whose health insurance they didn’t have to pay.

Mommy and Daddy soon went through their savings, tapping their retirement accounts, their investments and their family vacation fund. Mommy would spend her days trying to find work, and then come home to clean the house, do the laundry, and cook rice and beans for dinner, at which her children turned up their noses, impatiently demanding steak.

Finally, secure in the knowledge that their children were basically good kids and would certainly understand, Mommy and Daddy sat down with them and explained the situation.

"We’ve spent too much money, kids," Daddy said somberly. "We can’t afford the things we used to give you, and that includes your allowances. We all have to pitch in now, and it won’t be easy, but if we work together, we’ll make it." He and Mommy sat quietly, waiting for the children’s hugs and kisses and pledges to help.

"What?!" screamed Ima first. "Are you kidding me?! You promised I could get new school clothes next week. Do you expect me to wear last year’s clothes, which no one would be caught dead in?! It’s not fair!"

"Yeah," Wanda cried, "and what about our trip to Disney World?! You promised we could go this year. That’s not fair!"

"And, Mommee!" whined young Memonny, "I still get a new bicycle, roller blades and a razor scooter for my birthday, right? You promised! It’s not fair!"

Mommy and Daddy looked at each other, stunned. "B-b-but," stammered Mommy, "didn’t you hear us? Our money is gone. We just can’t afford to do those things now."

" Yes, you can!" shrieked Wanda. "Just go get another job! You too, Daddy! Get two more jobs if you have to!"

Daddy looked at her, dumbfounded. "You mean, you’d rather ask me and your mother to work even harder, than to give up some of the things you all have?"

"Yes!"

Mommy asked gently: "Well, what if you and Wanda got a job, Ima, perhaps baby-sitting? You could earn some money, and buy yourself what you’d like."

"Why would we get jobs?" Ima complained. "We already have an allowance."

"But, we told you, we can’t give you an allowance now. So …"

" That’s not fair!!" shouted the children. "We earned it! you promised!"

"But there’s no money!"

"It’s not fair!"

"There’s no money!"

"Not fair!"

"No money!"

Uh … The End?

Vicki Wentz’s column, which appears here on Sundays, is published in newspapers across the country. She is a high school teacher who lives in Chapel Hill, N.C. Readers may contact her at vwentz@mindspring.com.

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