Lessons From a Bike Thief


Em Carpenter

Em was one of those argumentative children who was sarcastically encouraged to become a lawyer, so she did. She is a proud life-long West Virginian, and, paradoxically, a liberal. In addition to writing about society, politics and culture, she enjoys cooking, podcasts, reading, and pretending to be a runner. She will correct your grammar. You can find her on Twitter.

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41 Responses

  1. fillyjonk fillyjonk says:

    Yeah. I think there are two issues at play with kids “not knowing want” – the fact that if a family has money to do that (after not having had it), sometimes they like to “not make my kids go through what I went through.”

    But also, I think times have changed about ideas about things like “character building” (it seems parents of the generation my parents are in took the attitude that a little bit of suffering was good for a kid.)

    I often comment that “the 1970s hated kids.” I think that’s true in some ways. But also, like you said, my parents – both Silent Gen, and one who came from a definitely working-class family where money was always precarious – would have been FAR less prone to replace something like a stolen bike. (I can hear my dad sighing and saying, “Why didn’t you lock it up?” or some such.) I know they were trying to teach us that material possessions didn’t matter, but we also lived in a “bedroom community” where many of the other families were better-off (and even at that: my parents probably had more money than I thought as a kid, they were just extremely frugal). And so my brother and me, running around with hand-me-downs from other relatives, or with off-brand stuff, we were kind of cut from the herd at school.

    My parents were good parents, but I think of a few specific instances where I think they were wrong in re: spending on their kids and reacting to their kids’ spending. I got a TINY allowance as a kid – $2 a week even in to my teens (in the 1980s). No, I didn’t have to buy my clothes and shoes or most of my school supplies, but $2 a week didn’t buy much fun, not even in the 1980s. And I remember in the early 80s, when Smurfs were first available and were super-hot, I bought one. And my dad rolled his eyes at me for spending my money “foolishly.” (As if there was anything BETTER a kid could spend her pittance on than a toy). I think unless a child is buying something UNSAFE or clearly age-inappropriate, parents shouldn’t editorialize on what their kids spend their allowance on.

    I also remember when I was in junior high school, and trying to explain to my mom what brands/clothes were OK and which weren’t….and my parents bought me the “infra dig” brands any way. I went through about 3/4 of one school year with the nickname “Wrangler” (said in the meanest, pissiest, teenage-girl way possible) because that was the brand of jeans they bought me to wear. All the other girls had Jordaches or some other designer brand, or AT LEAST Lees or Levis….it seems like such a dumb thing to me now but the fact that I remember it nearly 40 years later shows how much it stung. I didn’t fit in, and was thwarted even in my attempts to dress like the kids who did, because my parents were frugal. I think some of my issues as an adult trace to the feeling I had as a kid/teen that I was always on the outside looking in, and that because of who I was, I got excluded, and part of that was that I couldn’t dress “right” or have the “right” toys.

    I often wonder if I’d be a more secure and grounded adult if I had been indulged more as a child, and less–prone to buy myself small toys or treats because I “had a bad day.”

    I think it is a philosophical difference in child-rearing. I know some people complain that shielding kids from disappointment makes them soft, but….I’m not so inclined to agree.

    Kids have their whole adult life to learn that there are lots of horrible people out there, and that life isn’t fair, and that there are tons of disappointments. I daresay your son will more remember “Mom fixed it and I have a bike and my Mom loves me” than “some creep took my bike and there are lots of creeps in the world” and I think that first lesson is a better one than the second one.Report

  2. Avatar Philip H says:

    My 8 Year old is into archery – even shot over the winter on our county 4H team. he really wants his own bow, and he’s saving his allowance and doing extra chores to get it. His older sister is very frugal, and at one point had over $150 in her Save jar and a near equal amount in her Spend jar. The 5 year old is just getting the hang of it, but even he doesn’t like to spend money he doesn’t have to.

    How did we get there with these three? We parent. The TV is off most nights – its a treat used to reward academic performance or other really good choices. They don’t have their own phones or computers in their rooms, and they are forbidden to go in the pool until all homework is done, and done correctly (which in southern Mississippi is quite the motivator).

    I have lost track of how many times I have heard parents of my generation lament screen time or loss of family connection, only to recoil at being reminded there’s and off switch on nearly every thing.

    I applaud you and your husband righting the wrong of a theft. in circumstances like that you are teaching the kid that good deeds are rewarded, and kindness and compassion are virtues to be lived out. I would suggest a bike lock from now on.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Philip H says:

      Watching my nephews at a distance I definitely can see an enormously strong argument for deeply restricting portable screen time or, frankly, treating a smart phone like a car and not giving a kid one until they’re 18. But perhaps it’s just that now that I’m 40 I’m old enough to say “kids these days”.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to North says:

        Depends on the type of Screen Time. Bug gets one hour of ‘shows’ a day (we make him set a timer), but he can read books on his tablet all day long, and certain games are allowed, if they are ‘educational’.

        X-Box is something we play by ear. If we need him out of our hair for a bit, and the weather is crap, we’ll let him play X-Box for a while, especially if it’s a Kinect game.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          I was thinking primarily of a smart phone. I’ve seen kids with smartphones and frankly I’ve never seen anything good come of it.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to North says:

            Bug has an old iPhone, but it doesn’t have cell service. We basically just use it for alarms, and we’ll take it with when we go out to eat. Jump on the restaurant WiFi and let him play a game or watch PBSKids while we wait for food.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              Amazon makes a “Fire Tablet” with a kids OS that is really good. I think it cost $80, it offers lots of parent controls, but also helps them start to learn how to use the tool. We got Mayo one for his 6th birthday, with the understanding that it is ONLY used with permission and goes away when told to.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Kazzy says:

                Bug has one of those, but the Fire OS annoys the hell out of me (what they did to the base Android OS is a crime…). He’s also beat the hell out of it, and it’s showing it’s age.

                As much as I loathe Apple products, we already have the phone, and it’s easy to drop in a purse or pocket on the way out the door.Report

          • Avatar Brian F Brock in reply to North says:

            I’ve noticed kids who spend a lot of time on smart phones are socially awkward, can’t communicate, have anxiety and have ADHD.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Philip H says:

      I think draconian approaches to “screen times” are impractical. How would you feel if someone told you that after a long, hard day at work you couldn’t veg out with some crap TV but instead had to read?Report

      • Avatar InMD in reply to Kazzy says:

        I agree but I also think it depends a lot on your situation. They do 0 screen time at my son’s daycare so my wife and I are afforded the luxury of ‘a few minutes here and there isn’t going to kill him.’ I might be a little more inclined to police it if there was more than what I consider minimal exposure.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to InMD says:

          I’m not saying no boundaries. But the idea that children can ONLY watch “educational” programming is a restriction we’d never accept for ourselves as adults. That isn’t the mindset we should approach every decision with regards to kids (there are crucial ways children and adults are different), but sometimes it helps expose the extremism of an approach and allows us to evaluate whether it is justified.

          I don’t think one episode of Captain Underpants a day is going to kill my kids.Report

          • Avatar InMD in reply to Kazzy says:

            Yea it isn’t my bag either. Of course I also wonder if that isn’t due to brain rot of my own, having been subject to virtually no restrictions of that nature as a kid.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Kazzy says:

        I’d feel the same way I do when people suggest that dudes should watch less porn and try harder to form relationships with actual adult women.Report

      • Avatar Philip H in reply to Kazzy says:

        1) They are my kids. They live in my house under my rules. I’m not asking for your or anyone else’s permission or agreement.

        2) Its not draconian. They can earn TV under certain circumstances and they get it as a reward when we decide they deserve it. But we don’t want them feeding their brains with stuff that doesn’t help them learn and grow.

        3) I don’t veg out to TV after work. Most of the time I’m doing stuff with the kids, or pursuing other hobbies like fishing and building scale model trains. I also read nearly as voraciously as my kids do. I used to blog a lot but for a variety of reasons I’ve stepped away from that.

        Parenting is about choices – and you don’t have to make a choice to give in to screens in your home. They have an off switch for a reason.Report

  3. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    I’ve had bikes stolen as well. You’d think living out in the country would make you immune, but even country roads have people walking on them, and some of those people see a bike and think, “Now I don’t have to walk!”

    But yes, there is a difference between making someone whole, and giving in to their every desire.

    PS you can get Lo-Jack systems for bikes. I plan on getting one for my E-Bike.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      Forgot to add, last Thursday, the compressor on our fridge died. It’s under warranty, so I’m not out the repair, and since we just moved back to the house, the fridge was not stuffed with food (so the amount we had to toss was minimal). Still, repair guy can’t get here until this Friday, so we are ‘living out of’ a cooler this week, and making daily runs to the grocery store for ice. The first night was a bit of a scramble to find the cooler, pack it with what we could and the ice, and get everything cleaned up.

      Then it was time to send Bug to bed, and usually he gets some ice water before bed. Except that night, all the ice was buried in the cooler, so no ice water. You’d think we just threw away all his LEGOs. Had to talk to him again about the difference between ‘needs’ and ‘wants’, and how he needs water to live, but he doesn’t need ice water. He could manage one night without. We did, however, promise to set aside a bit of ice for him for bedtime, tomorrow.Report

      • fillyjonk fillyjonk in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        I remember though, being a kid and some minor change in my routine making it feel like the world was ending….I probably would have reacted similarly. (Hell, as an adult, I *inwardly* react similarly when there’s some major change in my plans or schedule. I’m just mature enough to cry about it on the inside and to show minimal reaction on the exterior)Report

      • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        My dryer went on the fritz the other day, and the wife wanted to call a repairman. Now, the wife grew up poorer than I, but I am much more frugal than her. So I said no, I will take a look at it. They are simple things and so it is usually a simple fix. So, it is probably just a fuse that is the matter, and I will have saved a hundred bucks. A bit of my time, but I would have probably spent it screwing around online.

        It is a relationship to money, how it is made and how it is spent. Sometimes time is worth more, and sometimes it is less.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Aaron David says:

          My wife has internalized that I was once a high end technician, so she trusts me to triage and decide if I want to fix something. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, and sometimes my knee says, “You are getting too old for that shit, call in someone younger who has better knees.”

          As an aside, I bought the fridge in 2016, and it came with a 1 year warranty. When it stopped working, I went to the manufacturers website to get the manual and was greeted with a pop-up saying that everyone suddenly has a 5-year warranty! A little digging, and it turns out a lot of their compressors have started failing and customers were getting pissed and word was getting out online, so they pushed out the “warranty extension” to do some PR damage control.

          So yeah, warranty repair, let the service tech do it.Report

          • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            You have a warranty and are correct in using it. Replacing a compressor is a whole ‘nother ball of wax too. Due to having refrigerants in the system, you would need to evac the system to 4 microns, be able to braise in a new compressor, test for any leaks and then recharge it. Much of that takes a special license and a variety of specialized tools. You did the right thing. And I totally get the knees part. I needed a new wax seal for a toilet not long ago and called a handyman. I am too old for that shit.

            My wife came into some money when she was in her early twenties, while I had a child at that point in my life. I grew up very middle class, while she grew up with less money. This has changed our perceptions of money very dramatically.Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Aaron David says:

              Growing up poor has skewed my perceptions of money in serious ways. We are getting ready to add a new bedroom to the house, and getting the financing requires some big numbers that cause me stress. My wife often has to walk me through the household finances to remind me that we can afford to take out the loan, and we’ll be fine, even if one of us is unemployed for a bit.

              There’s also weird personal value perceptions. My wife and I do very well, but I constantly struggle with a perception that I am not worthy of this wealth, and any day now the Universe, or karma, is going to realize that the poor kid is doing way better than he has any right to, and I’ll get knocked back down.

              Which, in a way, doesn’t bother me, I’ll be fine. But there is no way in hell I want Bug to grow up like I did.Report

        • Avatar Philip H in reply to Aaron David says:

          I spent about 4 hours last night replacing a passenger door handle on a sliding door on my Mazda 5. I grew up turning a wrench, and normally don’t need much time to do physical replacements. That said I took over two hours to get a single bolt through its hole in the door and to engage with the fixed nut on the handle to tighten it down. That’s the point my wife usually says we should have paid someone, but my older brother is a 1967 Volvo 122S Amazon, so I take my car repair seriously.

          I agree with @Aaron David (probably the only time) that its a relationship to money.Report

          • fillyjonk fillyjonk in reply to Philip H says:

            I fixed a broken handle on my oven earlier this spring, and then, later, replaced the borked electrical heating unit (it melted through and arced and popped dramatically when it failed) and for someone who’s done very little “handyperson” type stuff, I impressed myself.

            I did it mainly because I couldn’t find someone to come out and do it. the local appliance repair place could sell me the parts but said they no longer had a handyman they could send out. And I wasn’t gonna buy a new oven over something I was pretty sure could be fixed.

            Generally, I’d rather pay someone, if someone can be had, but in a small town and especially given that some workers randomly miss the appointments they make and then have to be called back for “rescheduling” – I’m gradually becoming more handy.

            Still, for anything involving natural gas, or things involving directly handling the house wiring, I will always Call A Guy, because I don’t fancy being dead.Report

  4. Avatar Aaron David says:

    A friend of mine’s first wife was Japanese. Not Japanese-American, but born and raised in Tokyo. Now, she and my friend both came from families with three children and space for those children. My friends family had an older house on a little bit of land, like maybe a quarter acre. Their dad was a disabled Vietnam vet, and mom was a homemaker. Not much money and a bit distraught. She, on the other hand, was the daughter of a hospital administrator and they owned a home in Tokyo.

    They both looked at each other’s families and assumed that they came from similar economic backgrounds. More than anything, this mismatch was a cause of pretty serious issues. They just couldn’t see eye to eye on anything financial.

    You are probably wondering why I am bringing this up, as it says nothing about theft, but it is about perceptions of money. I am not going to say anything about whether it is good or bad to buy your kids stuff or ways to teach them frugality of whether it is right or wrong. You feel you did the right thing for the right reasons and that is good enough.
    And even more, that you are able to look at these things and see that there is more too this, that you are able to take something away about the perceptions of money and want, that is something to be proud of.Report

  5. I think about this often when it comes to toys. My kids get so many toys we have to throw them out. Toys with their meals; toys from attending birthday parties; toys from grandparents; random toys that just seem to show up in our house. They don’t have the time to play with even a fraction of them. I sometimes look at some toy they’ve casually discarded from, say, McDonald’s and think how much some poor kid would love it. And it makes me incredibly sad and guilty.Report

  6. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I think about this topic quite a bit (as I’m want to do when it comes to issues of child rearing). My general thinking (currently) is that I want them to understand that sometimes the answer is no and they need to develop the necessary coping skills to make peace with that. There are various reasons why “no” might be the answer… it could be financial, it could be practical, it could be a “consequence”, it could just be because Daddy doesn’t feel like it. But… sometimes the answer is no. Because that’s just life. It doesn’t matter if you have all the money in the world… sometimes the answer is still no. To me, making peace with no is an important skill to have.

    At the same time, I *loathe* the oft-referenced idea of “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.” Um… no. It’s okay to be upset. It’s okay to be human. Yes, sometimes you DO get what you get and you have little or no power to change it. That sucks. That is upsetting. Do not deny children their emotions — especially young children for whom the having and experiencing of emotions is how they begin learning how to regulate their emotions. But do help them understand that their emotions cannot always be resolved. And perhaps that is the bigger lesson. Allow kids to experience the full range of emotions — within reason — and help them over time develop the necessary skills to manage all their emotions. Do not shield them from disappointment. Do not try to chase away their sadness. Do not chastise their anger. Make sure kids hear no. Let them feel what they need to feel. And guide them to managing their way through all of life’s yeses and nos, ups and down.Report

    • Avatar Kevin in reply to Kazzy says:

      “His upbringing was mid to lower-upper middle class”. What does this mean? Why does everyone who grew up in a family of means try and pretend like they were just somewhere in the top part of the middle-class? I always thought of it as the bottom 20% are lower class, top 20% are upper class, the other 60% are the middle class.
      If his family could afford to get a pony on a whim, he definately came from the top 20%, probably the top 2%Report

  7. Avatar Joe says:

    I commuted to work in uptown Charlotte for at least 7;or 8 years. I left my bike in front of the building every day. Crowd s walked by it everyday. Thieves walked by it everyday. Ultimately it was never stolen. The reason was it had bike locks anchoring it to a on sidewalk bike rack. I still have the bikes in used for computing and both of them were not inexpensive.

    Lock up your bike and then you can invest in better bikes.

    Sort of like leaving your keys in your car. Police will not make grand theft a priority if you were partly to blame.Report

    • Avatar Em Carpenter in reply to Joe says:

      Sigh. Always has to be one. No, we were not “partly to blame”. The thief gets 100% of the responsibility for thieving. Victim blame much?

      As I said, he always brings the bike inside. It was 20 minutes to eat dinner. The police were very helpful, actually, and none felt the need to tell my 11yo it was his fault his bike was taken. (Also it’s petit theft here, as it is worth under $1000)Report

  8. Avatar Slade the Leveller says:

    I had the misfortune of having my bike stolen outside my office, despite having a U lock on it. Take a look at Lock Picking Lawyer videos on YouTube if you ever want to despair about locking up your stuff. It’s really an illustration of the old joke about outrunning a bear. You just have to make your bike a little harder to take than the other ones on the rack.Report

  9. Avatar Slade the Leveller says:

    Growing up, we were neither rich nor poor, but we were probably closer to the latter than the former. That definitely influenced my parenting, and my kids really didn’t want for anything growing up. That is, as long as I didn’t mind them having whatever it was they wanted.

    Three stories:

    1. When GameCubes were a thing, my son and daughter badly wanted one, which I didn’t. So, I told them they had to buy it for themselves, and, by golly, they saved their money and got one of the damn things.

    2. My son had his bike stolen when he was in 7th or 8th grade, and I suspected it was because he didn’t lock it up at the train station where he had parked it. He needed it to get around, and I wasn’t about to be his chauffeur, so I made him take the money he made as an aide at our church’s VBS to get a new one. You better believe that one was a little better taken care of.

    3. We always took great driving vacations with the kids when they were young (25 and 23 now). Seattle, Cooperstown, Toronto, and Montreal are the ones I can remember. We did that exactly once when I was a kid.

    I think what we can learn from all the discussion here is parents will do what they want with their kids, and are very resistant to taking advice on how to raise their kids. I did things that horrified my friends, and stuff they did with their kids horrified me. Lo and behold, everyone’s kids turned out fine.Report

  10. “I snapped a picture and tweeted it out, with the caption ‘Hashtag spoiled.'”

    I’d urge you to resist doing that again. It’s not your son’s fault that his bicycle was replaced. The intention is almost definitely NOT to shame your son, but that might be the effect of posting that image/hashtag. I’m a bit sensitive about this personally because I was often accused of being “spoiled” growing up (and I probably was) by the very people who were “spoiling me.” It was a hard thing to deal with.

    I do realize that as far as hard things to deal with go, that’s probably pretty minor, but if I told you all the facts–as I almost did in a much longer comment that I wrote and deleted–it’s not nothing.

    All that said, however, I do realize that this OP is actually a meditation about why you might have been wrong to post that image with that particular hash tag. Your challenging your own attitudes, and I know your intent isn’t to shame anyone, but to consider the pro’s and con’s of your current situation. I really liked this post.Report