I started writing this weekly column almost twenty-one years ago, and I’ve always promised never to write about politics. But today that promise will be broken not by me, but by our two granddaughters, Little One and Sweet Caroline.
So, what could a six- and seven-year-old possibly know about politics? From our conversation going to school yesterday, apparently a whole lot.
While driving them to school each morning, I always ask them what special things they will be doing today? After they finish telling me, they ask me what special things I will be doing. Yesterday, I replied, “Today, girls, I’ll be working on taxes.”
Their next question prompted a thirty-minute conversation that ended with perhaps the greatest insight ever spoken by ones so young.
They asked in unison, “Papa, what are taxes?”
My task was twofold. First, explain a system that, to be honest, is so complicated I really haven’t been able to completely understand it yet. And second, not to get so upset, frustrated, and distracted that I accidentally drive off the road before reaching school.
The Wife and I are taking the girls to the beach for spring break so I decided our forthcoming trip would be a good place to start. “We need gas in the car to get to the beach. For every gallon of gas in our car, we pay a little tax, and that tax money pays for people to build new roads and fix the old ones.” I was surprised at their response.
“That’s fair, Papa.”
Feeling encouraged by their response I continued, “We need snacks for the trip, so we pay a little tax on them. When we get to the beach, we will eat breakfast …”
The girls interrupted to ask if they could have hot chocolate and pancakes each morning, and the tax discussion didn’t resume until I promised that they could.
“And we’ll eat lunch, dinner and a special dessert each day, and on all the food and snacks we buy, we also pay a little tax. That money goes to people in the government so they can make sure our food is safe to eat. What do y’all think of that?”
“That’s fair, Papa.”
“When we get to the beach, we’ll have to pay an entrance fee in order to get onto Jekyll Island. People use this tax money to keep the beaches clean, protect all the sea turtles, and infrastructure to give us fresh water and get rid of sewage. When you poop, it’s gotta go somewhere.”
And this prompted a discussion for the next five minutes about poop and where it goes. But finally, they decided paying an entrance fee to save turtles and get rid of all that stinky poop was okay.”
“That’s good, Papa. We love the giant sea turtles.”
“Taxes also pay for school lunches, part of your teachers’ salaries and …”
The next couple of minutes the girls argued about what their best school lunch was and which food tastes the yuckiest. Once hot dogs were voted the best and rice pudding voted the yuckiest, I was able to continue.
“And taxes also pay for the school resource officer to be in your school.” They decided that even though they didn’t like the rice pudding, they both loved the resource officer.
“We want her to get paid. She’s nice and keeps us safe, Papa.”
Pulling into the parking lot, we finished our conversation, or so I thought.
“They also use the money we pay in taxes for some stuff I don’t think is too smart: like how to stop making hair turn gray and a study to see if people will eat ground-up bugs.”
Of course, this prompted comments about how much they liked my gray hair and how eating a bug would be the yuckiest thing of all — even yuckier than rice pudding.
Just before they got out of the car I asked, “So what do you think about paying a million dollars to see if we can get people to start eating bugs?”
The girls said, “That’s not fair, Papa. Don’t pay those taxes!” Then asked, “Have you ever eaten a bug?”
Our tax system must not be as complicated as I’ve always thought. It seems our six- and seven-year-old granddaughters have already figured it out.
And in response to the girls’ question about whether I’ve ever eaten a bug? I’d have to answer yes, yes I have. But understanding the reason I did is like trying to understand why our tax dollars are going to studies about why people won’t eat bugs. It’s complicated.
[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001.]