Monday, September 8, 2008

A situation, a microcosm?

Sometimes it's useful to construct a small-scale model to observe its workings and gain some insights about a larger system.

I may have been presented an opportunity to do just this, in the guise of what may be a disagreement between me and my dear longtime friend M. I'm not certain yet if this is a serious disagreement or depends on whatever happens next. Will she respond to me? Or not? And if she does, how will she? If it's a serious disagreement, it will be our first.

Her son, D has babysat for me for the past couple years. He is 16, and recently got his driver's license.

Earlier this summer when he was watching the boys he used Connor's mountain board (kind of an off-road skateboard) and broke it. He told Connor he would replace it.

I knew from what M had told me at one of our regular breakfasts that he had no cash and was behind in a few situations money-wise.

I figured D. and I could handle this between the two of us. I didn't want to upset M by saying he'd broken something and so was beholden to yet another person.

I resigned myself to a process that I really don't like: tracking down the warranty , making calls, getting information. Turns out Connor's board has a weight limit of 100#. So the warranty did not cover this break. I opted to buy a replacement deck from the company. It cost $60. I suggested to D that he reimburse me for half that amount, and do the labor to transfer the hardware from the broken deck onto the new one. Since I knew he didn't have cash I suggested he work it off in babysitting and figured 5-6 hours at $5/hr would take care of it. He agreed to this. I didn't ask for a full reimbursement since there wasn't anything obvious on the mountain board that warned that there was a weight maximum.

The process of all this was slow, because of my own foot-dragging to make the calls I needed to make, times where I needed to wait for return calls, and some problems with D's cell phone. At one point I wondered if maybe I should let his mom know what was going on. So I did, and she said that D had told her about it. She was fine with him working it off.

We scheduled a weekend day when Gary was going on a ski trip. However, that was the w/e that Connor got injured skateboarding and so I canceled. (Regretfully; I'd really looked forward to having that day. But some things you just can't hand off to a teenager.)

In late August Connor started football which has practice on the evenings that I see my counselor. I leave before Gary gets home from work. Connor's been able to babysit Scott for the duration of the gap before Gary arrives but with him gone, I need someone to watch Scott. I asked D if he'd want to do this regularly on Wednesdays until the end of the football season. He said he would.

So, two Wednesdays ago he came to work. I told him it might be an evening when Gary got off work early, so it could be a short night. I told him we'd just keep track of his hours and when he got to 5-6 I'd call us even and start paying him again.

So that first Wed was only an hour's work for him. After this Wed Gary said he thought D had expected to be paid. I was surprised, because I thought we'd had it understood and agreed that he not be paid til he'd put in 5 or so hours. Something made me a little uneasy about this, and so this Saturday when M & I had breakfast I told her I'd start paying him again this Wednesday. She said something that gave me a strange feeling, something about it being hard for him to have 'driven over there for just an hour.' I meant to follow it up with her there, but we got talking about other things and I forgot. So once home I sent her this message:

Hi. I'm looking around for some good links to send you.

But I also wanted to be sure that we're square about D's unpaid work. I'd just hate to think you might think we're taking advantage of him. (You probably don't, but I'd still feel better if I knew we're both on the same page about it.)

The replacement deck cost $60. I figured that it didn't make sense to make D pay for all of that because he didn't know, and anyone might have thought it was ok to use. So I figured half would settle it, and to transfer the hardware to the new deck.

I figured that would be roughly 6 hours of babysitting at $5/hr.

Then the first week Gary came home after D had only been here an hour. I was expecting this and told D we'd keep track of his hours and after 5-6 start paying him again.

D was here 3 and a half hours this last time, so he's worked 4.5 hours. I figure since he has been driving over that I'd factor that in and call us good. So I'll start paying him again this week.

I hope there weren't any misunderstandings, or D didn't feel badly about not being paid this last week.

So I'll look around for some links that I think are good places to start in looking into narcissism and get back to you on that.


Last night I got her response:

Yes, the babysitting situation is kind of delicate. I think that board is a very bad design and is extremely vulnerable to breaking. I couldn't believe it when D brought home the broken board and I saw the design of the axel positioning. It's a horrible design and is so prone to breaking. I guess I feel like D has definitely done his pennance.
It was especially hard to see him having to go over for just one hour. I wondered if the entire sentence would be served out that way.

Looking at the bigger picture...D has felt uncomfortable about his rate for a while and we've done some research on the internet. Considering that he is providing his own transportation he wants to change his rate to $7 an hour, or $6 if you pick him up. I think this is fair.

I respect your wishes in whatever your choice is. And I know you respect D's need too.

My heart sank. There was something in her tone that gave me a message that she thought I'd been unreasonable. I felt a hole at the pit of my stomach, and thought some more about it.

I responded:


Did you think it was unreasonable for me to have D reimburse me for
the board?

The board has a weight limit; I'm not sure if you knew that. Its
maximum is 100#. So I think the design is probably ok within that
limit. It didn't state the limit on the board, and that's why I wasn't
going to make D pay for full price for replacing it. It never
occurred to me that he might use it, and that's why I didn't warn him
about it beforehand.

I guess I feel like D has definitely done his pennance.

I wasn't trying to punish D. He broke something, and it seemed fair
to ask him to pay for it. At the time he'd told Conrad he'd replace
it. And since he didn't have the cash it seemed having him babysit was
a good solution. In a way it was as if I'd advanced him some money and
he was working to earn that advance.

It was especially hard to see him having to go over for just one hour. I wondered if the entire sentence would be served out that way.

That particular night Gary got off early. Some nights Gary might only be
an hour before he gets home. Does D not want to babysit for just an
hour? Other nights might be longer. But D and I had agreed on 5-6
hours before we'd call the broken board good and then I'd resume paying
him. Did it really make any difference if he did it all at once, or
over a couple times? Did you think that was excessive and punitive in
some way? To me 5 hours is 5 hours whether it's all at once or broken

Anyway, I had been thinking it was probably time to give D a raise,
especially, like you say, when he's driving himself over. And I also
think that $7/hr is fair, so we'll do that from now on, if he still
wants to babysit for me. Sometimes it might just be an hour, though,
and I don't know if that's a problem. This particular gig is just
while Conrad's in football, so it goes to the end of Oct.

More than anything else, I want you and I to be ok about this. Your
friendship means very much to me and I don't want any shadows on it.

And I still owe you some links.


I was still perplexed over why it was so "hard" to see him come over for just an hour. If Connor had not had the injury and D had worked it off back in July so I was paying him, he'd still have only been here an hour. It doesn't add up that somehow this is an 'insult to injury', and that it was making him suffer unnecessarily. I told her this in another message and suggested that if they wanted I could pay him for these past 2 Wednesdays and then have him babysit free some other time in a lump of 5 hours.

I've not heard back from her and I'm apprehensive.

I'll write more later about how this little vignette between my friend and me is a sort of microcosm of a pattern that's manifested throughout my life.

1 comment:

Lori said...

I think you've been MORE than generous with D. You came up with a great Love & Logic solution. His mom should be THANKING you for teaching him these lessons now, while the consequences to him are small.

Her use of the words "pennance" and "sentence" show that she was never on board with the consequence to his actions.

And, in reality, D should be the one asking for a raise.

Anyhow, all that aside, I am not seeing a pattern in you...are you?

If she decides to not stay friends with you, I don't see it as a huge loss. You have met her more than halfway, and you can feel good about your honorable handling of the situation. Take this as an opportunity to be OK with someone not being OK with you.