It used to be that every time one of my children started a conversation with the words, “Hey mom, can I talk to you about something,” I braced myself for a question about sex.
Now I hold onto my hat for a question about something far more difficult to answer: the economy.
A week ago while driving my 10-year-old to a party, Amy delicately broached this subject in the way one might ask where babies come from.
Sensing this was sensitive territory, she cleared her throat and said, “Mom, the kids at school keep mentioning something about Wall Street and some sort of crisis. Also, I heard on the news that we’re all going to be depressed about it. It’s making me worry that something bad is going to happen,” she said.
You might think there’s a huge difference between telling my daughter what’s going on in the financial markets and just filling up the minivan with the sound of my voice babbling, but it turns out there isn’t.
Let’s just say it would have been easier for both of us had I just answered with an explanation of where babies come from.
What I discovered while trying to simplify the nation’s financial crisis in terms a sixth-grader can understand is this: No matter how you put it, the situation makes no sense.
Here’s what I mean: “Well, honey, banks loaned people lots of money for homes they couldn’t really afford, knowing that there was a good chance those folks might be unable to pay the loans back.”
“But mom,” she answered, “why would anyone do that? If I ever loan money to someone at school, I only give it to them if I’m pretty sure they’ll give it back to me the next day.”
I tried this: “Now, the government is trying to figure out how to fix the problem so that the folks who made the bad financial decisions won’t have to go out of business.”
“Huh? That’s weird because you always say when we make bad decisions we have to suffer the consequences, and sometimes our bad decisions will cause other people to suffer, too. That’s one reason why we’re not supposed to do stupid stuff.” Right.
Obviously, I wasn’t doing a very effective job because I wasn’t even able to get a 10-year-old to understand the root causes of a financial crisis that “might make everyone depressed.” Moreover, when I tried to explain how and why the federal government must step in to fix the problem, I made even less sense.
I’m willing to concede the problem is me. I’m sure I’m missing something because I can’t seem to portray the current state of the economy in terms that make it clear we should implement a multibillion-dollar bailout for corporations whose leaders made more money by quitting their jobs than most of us will ever make by actually working our whole lives.
Here’s an explanation I didn’t try: “Well, sweetie, the plan now is to borrow more money than we could realistically print in a year and help out the folks whose greed caused them to make a lot of really bad decisions. But not to worry, because you and all the other children you know will one day figure out how to pay all that money back, while also working overtime to keep the checks flowing to your old mom and dad through a fine program called Social Security.”
That explanation would have prompted my daughter to ask, “What’s Social Security?”
And heaven knows, I’d much rather talk about sex.