LAST WEEK I took a major step that will place me right up there with Bill Cosby and Ward Cleaver in the pantheon of parenting.
I started to give Eve and Solomon an allowance.
It wasn't as if I wanted to do it. I rather enjoyed the authoritarian thrill that comes with making them ask for a few bucks at a time. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I had a wingback chair, a dark, smoky room and a dim light slanting across the top half of my face. It would have been even more fun to greet their monetary requests with a protruding brow and a ghastly overbite, like Mr. Burns from "The Simpsons."
Unfortunately, there was nothing scary about me. That made it easy for them to bleed me dry a dollar at a time.
In hindsight, I blame the ice-cream man. For decades, he and his kind have employed the same con game and, in doing so, they have perfected the art of using children to separate parents from their petty cash.
It starts with that stupid little tune. You know the one. It's a series of high-pitched notes that sound as if they're coming from a giant music box. The song is cute enough to attract little kids who are hearing it for the first time. It's hypnotic enough to make curious onlookers walk, zombielike, toward the truck. It's recognizable enough to make parents purchase Bomb Pops to recapture childhood memories.
I hate that tune. It's cost me a lot of money over the years. However, Little Solomon loves it. He loves it so much that he can recognize it from miles away. And he's not alone. The ice-cream-truck tune is like a dog whistle for kids. Although we adults might hear it when the truck rounds the corner, kids between the ages of 5 and 9 can hear that tune long before it becomes audible to adults.
At 9, Little Solomon is right there in the cutoff range, and it seems his recognition of the ice-cream song has become incredibly acute as he's gotten older.
I've seen my son thoroughly engrossed in a video game - shooting, grimacing and talking back to the screen. Suddenly, he pauses the game, straightens his back and cocks his head to one side. He remains that way for 10 seconds, and then he stops the game to run upstairs and raid his piggy bank.
"Where are you going?" I ask, although I already know the answer.
"The ice-cream truck is coming!" he shouts over his shoulder before barreling back downstairs and out the door.
At other times, I've seen the boy predict the ice-cream truck's arrival with Zen-like certainty, much to the amazement of the other kids on the block.
A few days ago, I was sitting in the living room while my son was on the steps with some of the neighbor's kids. It was about 6:20 in the evening when I heard Solomon make an announcement to an older boy. "The ice-cream truck will be here in 10 minutes," he said.
"How do you know?"
"Because it always comes around 6:30."
Five minutes later, we all heard the music playing faintly in the distance.
It's that way almost every night now, and it usually costs me money.
My decision to give them an allowance comes not just from the boy's ice-cream-truck obsession. In truth, his habit of stashing birthday and Christmas money for months on end means that he can usually fund his ice-cream Jones. Eve, on the other hand, is perpetually broke, because she tends to spend her money on nail tips, cheese fries and clothes from Hollister. She looks to me to feed her ice-cream habit, and, at 12, she's old enough to take on that responsibility for herself.
In deciding to give them an allowance, I have freed myself from the bonds of the ice-cream man. No longer will he control my petty cash by blasting that stupid song. No longer will he take my dollar bills in exchange for sunflower seeds and Now & Laters.
From now on, my kids will get their money at the beginning of the week. They'll also get three instructions: Donate a portion to the church, save a portion for the future and, no matter what else you do, do not spend it all with the ice-cream man.
We'll see how it all works out.
Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books, including his latest novel, The Dead Man's Wife (Minotaur Books), and the humor collection Daddy's Home: A Memoir of Fatherhood and Laughter. The married father of three has been featured on NPR and CNN, and has written on parenting for Essence and other publications. He created the literacy program Words on the Street. His column appears Tuesdays. More at Solomonjones.com.