I am not a helicopter parent.  I do not listen to my kids and ignore adults.  I hold my children accountable for their choices and their actions—even when it’s hard.  But, when a grown man steals from my teenage son, I find myself relating a bit too much with Bellatrix.

John, my oldest son, has wanted an ATV for as long as I can remember.  He’s saved every dime of his birthday money, report card money, and Christmas money for years.  At only 13 years old, he’s managed to hustle up odd jobs to earn cash.


Recently, many of his friends’ parents simply went out and bought new ATVs for their kids.  John’s problem was that his parents have neither the desire nor the bankroll to keep up with the Jones. We practice the work hard play hard philosophy. And, in our eyes (well at least my eyes) getting new expensive toys means working hard.

Will, my husband, on the other hand, knew that Johnny’s desire would someday land daddy a new big boy toy play with, so he started thinking of ways to spin John’s request into an “opportunity.” So, to Craigslist Will went looking for a fixer upper.  

He presented an ad to me that had a Yamaha Blaster for a reasonable price because it needed a piston and a cylinder.  I had no clue what that meant, but he told me that the guy was getting brand new parts because there was a warranty on the broken ones.  It would just be a matter of putting it together, which he knew how to do.

He was convinced that this was going to be a great educational experience for John.  He would not only get a decent ATV, but he would also learn quite a bit about fixing an ATV on his own.  Hesitantly, I agreed, and we let John use some of his money to buy it.

Never Give a Stranger Money and Take an IOU

Will is not naïve, so I don’t know why he allowed this to happen.  But, when they went to pick up the ATV, the parts hadn’t been delivered yet.  That should have been a sign for them to put on their Nike’s and run like hell.  

John was so excited to be that close to getting a new ATV that Will let emotion cloud reason.  So, he went against better judgment and allowed John to give the guy his money, and he told the guy to call when the parts came in.

One week, no call.

Two weeks, no call.

Three weeks, and I finally said, “John, if you don’t call that guy, I am going to, and I promise, what I say will guarantee you never see those parts.”

John called.

No answer.

John left a message.

No return call.

Lather, rinse, repeat for four more days.

John surrendered to the reality that he got played.

Next Stop—My Mechanic Friend

They took the ATV to Will’s friends, who flips bikes to make extra money.  He told them they needed to “crack the engine” to see if they guy was honest from the beginning.  

When they got in there, it became evident that the man had taken total advantage of John to the tune of another $1000 in parts.  The cost had just exceeded buying a much newer working ATV.

Enter Bellatrix

I promise you; I am not a coddler. Those people get on my nerves.  I like it when my kids mess up and then figure out how to fix things on their own.  But, there was no way for John to work around this.  The guy wouldn’t answer his calls.  He couldn’t just go there.  The man lived in the backwoods.

John was going to lose his money.  End of story. Life lesson about trust and money learned.

But it’s still eating at me.  I am dying to give John the money he needs to solve the problem.  I just want to get him a new ATV because he’s experiencing so much discomfort.  I know him feeling like this is necessary to grow from this experience, but it is killing me.  I want to solve his problem.

To prevent myself from running out to the local bike shop and financing a brand-new ATV that I can’t afford, I decided to practice the art of journaling.  So, I wrote a letter to the many scents of Summer’s Eve who ripped off my kid.

Dear Jack Wagon,

Do you know that you stole money from a child?  He may be a teen, and he may be cocky and mouthy, and a bit awkward, but he’s a hard worker.

Do you know you took ½ of his savings?  That was his birthday money for that past 12 years.  He’s gotten straight A’s since he started school. That was money given to him by his grandfather for valuing the opportunity to learn.

Speaking of opportunities to learn, he’s going to take this shit storm you’ve given him, and he’s going to walk away from it much smarter.

You’ve taken innocence and taught it apprehension.

You’ve taken a child’s naivety and turned it into fear.

You’ve shown him the true face of greed.

He’s going to take his lumps, he’s going to lose his money, and he’s going to walk away from this with an education in what greed can turn people into.  I am certain that he will never let self-indulgence get in the way of what is right.  As far as I am concerned, you gave him a good hard look at what he doesn’t want to be.

So, I guess all I can say is enjoy his money.

I hope as you spend each dime of it, you think about all the birthday presents he opted not to receive so that he could one day get an ATV.  

I hope the image of his pile of Christmas gifts being smaller than everyone else’s because he asked for that money to go into his savings so he could save it becomes a work of art in your mind’s eye.

I hope the image of an 8-year-old awkwardly raking leaves and shoveling snow sticks in your mind each time you open your wallet.  And, I hope it gives you an uneasy feeling that won’t go away.

And I hope to god no one ever does to your kids what you did to him.  Sitting back and watching a child’s view of the world become jaded feels like swallowing ghost peppers without water to a parent.

But, despite it all, I am thankful to you.

I am grateful that you tested my resilience.  You forced me to control my need to fix things for my son.  You see, I wanted to give him the money to solve this problem.  I wanted to comb the want ads and help him find odd jobs.  I wanted to do whatever I could to help him recoup the money he’d spent his short life-saving.

But, I didn’t.  I let him feel the pain that comes with learning that the world is not always a beautiful place.  I let him learn that life is not always simple and people are not always kind.

And you know what, he learned that he could take a bad situation and figure out a way to make it not suck.  And he did just that.

He took that ATV apart, and he listed every piece of it on eBay.  I don’t know if he will recover all of his money, but he figured out a solution on his own.  And after he sells every part of that bike, I want so badly to drive him past your house so that he can stick his middle finger up at you.  But he’d never do that.  He’s too kind.

Me, on the other hand, I’ll let him put me to shame.  So, when my garage is empty of ATV parts and harsh life lessons, if you see an odd car driving down that backwoods lane, it’s just me.

If you look closely, you’ll see my arm sticking out the window.  Perched right atop of that arm will be the most beautiful “bird” known to moms.  The one that says, “Fuck you for screwing with my kid.”

With Warm Motherly Regards,

Emily and Johnny Erson


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