Ella reeeaaaallly wanted—no, needed—a new phone.
"The one you have works fine," I said, bracing for impact.
"It locks up! It doesn't have enough storage space! Aaargghhh."
"And it's paid in full. I'm not paying $700 for a Seven when your Five will do." Breathe, Andrew. Breathe. "You're 14. You don't need a new phone every two years."
A long pause. "I'll buy it myself."
And that's when it hit me. My high school freshman is more of an adult than most adults.
What ensued over the next few days was a back and forth that taught me a lot about the kid I thought I knew so well. The discussion had all the elements of a mature tête-à-tête one might expect between two cogent, reasonable people: differing points of view, compelling arguments, hesitation, angst, frustration, and finally, compromise. Next thing I know, I'm at the AT&T shop fingering my awkward, looping John Hancock on on iPad.
And Ella's texting mom on her new iPhone 7 Plus.
The one she paid for herself.
Like most teenagers, Ella doesn't have $700 sitting around burning a hole in her piggy bank. She knows she's not allowed to dip into her college account or the glacially growing investment account I started for her years ago, tossing in birthday money and other scraps every few months. That's for things like maybe a car, a backpacking trip during college, or maybe even a downpayment on a home at some point.
We decided she would transfer me the exact payment—$25.34—for exactly 30 months until the phone was paid off. She would work at babysitting or whatever odd jobs she could find to make the money. She was still required, as per our prior rules, to put half of whatever she makes into her savings account. The old "pay yourself first" thing. And if she missed an installment, Collections Agent Dad would take her phone until she came up with the money.
I tried to convince her to get the smaller iPhone 7 for about three bucks less a month, but she wasn't having it.
I tried to get her to spend a few more months putting away four or five months worth of payments for a little cushion.
But no dice. Ella had basically signed up for a mortgage, just like adults buying a home or an expensive car, fully aware of the terms and conditions. Only without the credit check or the pay stubs. Her phone is, predictably, stuck to her hand pretty much most of the day.
It sounds worrisome, until you accept that this was not an impetuous decision. Ella knew the pros and cons, the requirements, the possible consequences, all the "fine print." So far, she's two payments in, right on time, and has babysitting jobs lined up for the rest of this month. Maybe I can stop worrying.