I signed up to volunteer for Reality Town at the beginning of the school year when I had good intentions. I didn't know what it was but I like Lowly Worm. I like pig police officers. I like cats in lederhosen. How bad could it be?
It wasn't bad at all. In fact, it was quite interesting. Reality Town is a program for Jr. High school students where kids get fake check books to buy cars and houses and pay bills. I was stationed at the Recruiters booth for kids who wanted to join the military. Make no mistake: it's called "Reality Town" but it's not actually real. I'm not a real recruiter. Kid weren't really singing up for the reserves. That would be a good trick.
So we ask them why they want to join and give them a quick aptitude test and then we pay them $173/month. If they have any schooling past high school they get the GI bill on top of their monthly pay. Sweet deal, no? I thought their careers and education were just randomly assigned. So I was kind of surprised that all the kids who were sort of dumb on the aptitude test had crappy jobs with no education. It sort of made me feel bad. And of course it was the kids who needed money the most who wanted to join the military. It was so awkward. Then I found out the jobs and education were given to students based on their GPA and I felt even worse, but it also made sense. It was kind of awful. But also fun--it's just Jr. High. Those kids still have time to pull up their grades. I'm an optimist!
There was this one little cliche who made me sad though. She couldn't pass the test and had no formal education (on her fake Reality Town card). As she walked away after not joining the armed forces she gazed at the volunteer dad who was working at the booth with me and cooed, "I like your eyes." Later she came back because she was totally broke and had figured out how to cheat on the test (all the answers were A). She faked her way through the test with a group of friends who looked me straight in the eye and said, "Let's see. I think the answer is. . . A?" Oh, honey. I'm scared for you. But welcome to the army reserves! Yikes. If she asks my son to a girl's choice dance in the future I will plan a family vacation.
On the lighter side of Reality Town there was a delightful little PhD candidate who needed extra money to pay for the horse she had purchased. She loves horses! Maybe we can find her a nice position in the cavalry. And I had to chuckle as at least half of the kids who listened to my spiel and passed the aptitude test took out their checkbooks to pay me after I had signed them up for military service. "How much is it?" Paying the army to let you join? Priceless.
As for my own son, he ended up with a bachelor's degree and a job as an air traffic controller. He has a stay at home wife and a 7 year old son. He opted for a cell phone but no cable and chose the moderate grocery plan which allows for generic cereal but no frozen waffles (see if I ever buy those again). He bought a condo (a great little starter home) and a Honda Civic Hybrid (I'm tearing up a little with pride--a HYBRID!) Sure he's got student loans to pay off but he saves on child care with his stay-at-home wife and because I volunteered he started with an extra $200 in his bank account--and that is basically what you will learn about parenting if you read Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers.
Blink. Blink. Blink. Did anyone ever tell you that you have beautiful eyes?