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I've just arrived back home in Vermont after an 8-hour drive from Maryland. I spent the weekend with my two sons, ages 12 and 16.

I rented a room for 2 nights at the Embassy Suites in Newark, Deleware. I've stayed there with my boys before, many times. By purchasing through an aggregator site, I can sometimes get a room there for considerably less than the rates the hotel advertises. This weekend, I paid pretty much the listed rate, which was really more than I could afford, but it's a very nice hotel built around an enormous open-air atrium. They also have a great breakfast, with omelets cooked to order, and an open bar from 5:30 to 7:30 each evening.

There's a pool, which we didn't use this time because my youngest forgot to bring a bathing suit, and an exercise room, which I did use.

My oldest son experiences serious social anxiety, and once we're in the hotel, he doesn't want to leave the room. He doesn't join my youngest and me for breakfast in the public dining area, and so we usually carry a banana and a few sausage links up to him to eat in the room.

As I say, it cost me more than I can reasonably afford to spend, but I hadn't seen them since last summer, and we spent most of the time there, holed up in our suite playing Munchkin Pathfinder. That kept us from going out into the world much, and expeditions out into the world usually mean spending money. I can't say having a nice place to stay saved me enough money to pay for itself, but the upsides justified the expense in my mind. I don't see my kids often, and I don't want them to associate my visits with dingy hotel rooms that smell of cigarette smoke.

This morning, my youngest son and I were sitting under the pergola in the atrium. I was eating breakfast, and he was sitting across from me, shoulders hunched, arms crossed, watching the line at the buffet, waiting for an opportunity to go over when there would be no one else there.

We sat for a long period without talking; me eating, him staring at his cooling cup of coffee. I asked him what he thought of the hotel. He said that it was fancy and that there were a lot of rich people around.

I looked around at the people eating breakfast. I knew I was a bit of an imposter in that I doubted that many of the people around us were as conscious of the cost of staying there as I was, but I felt at ease. I think I blended into the crowd.

The people around us didn't look "rich" to me. Many wore jeans or sweat pants. It was a Sunday morning, so there was little call for anyone to be dressed for business. I did notice one man whose clothes seemed unremarkable, but whose watch looked pricey. I'm no expert, though.

I started to explain to my son that you can't really tell how much money people have just by looking at them, and while I didn't get around to saying it, I was formulating some statement about how there were probably people there like us, for whom staying there cost a lot but who decided it was worth it for reasons particular to their circumstances.

He cut me off, saying something to the effect of, "You can tell people have money when you see five-year-olds with six hundred dollar phones."

I turned around and saw the kids he was watching. They were very young, and they were busy with smartphones. I don't have the trained eye to tell an expensive phone from a cheap one. My sons do.

In an instant, my understanding of my son's experience of staying at the hotel was transformed. It hadn't occurred to me that he was conscious of not being in the same economic strata as the people around us. I was having an enjoyable time eating breakfast in a pleasant environment, and he was sitting, stewing in resentment, watching a kid half his age playing with a phone that he himself had no prospects of obtaining, despite his fervent desire for one.

My youngest has had a succession of cheap smartphones purchased second hand. He's never had service on any of those phones. They've just been wifi-enabled devices. Neither his mother nor I have the money to get him actual mobile service. I got a pre-paid phone account for my oldest son the summer before last, but we went so long without putting funds on the account that the phone company gave his number to another customer.

Now that I think about it, I remember being the kid who didn't have the same things that my friends' parents provided for them. Nice bikes. Video games. Cable TV. But that was a different time.

Both of my kids have computers, their own TVs and my youngest has an XBox. They're hardly living in a Dickens novel, but my youngest at least seems acutely aware that the fruits of Empire are not equally distributed.

I didn't know what to say to him about his situation, and so I said nothing. I will have several months to contemplate how I might engage with him on this subject the next time it comes up. It will take me that long to save up enough for another visit.

I told my youngest, as I was driving the boys back to their mother's house, that the next time I came down to visit them that we probably wouldn't be staying at the Embassy Suites. He said that was fine, and he sounded sincere, even pleased. He might feel more comfortable away from 5-year-olds with $600 phones.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 31st, 2017 03:48 am (UTC)
the Jonses
When I was growing up I had many comforts and extravagances: bikes, Atari games, various lessons and diversions. My family did more than, "OK". I probably took these things for granted and it pains me now that I could have displayed an indifference to the privilege I was accustomed to in front of an acquaintance who may have found that disgusting or "spoiled".

I and my sister were both adopted, and extraordinarily lucky to have the loving family that we did. What I remember from our youth was how happy we were, but also I found most painful the lack of family resemblance. I know that might sound strange but we always knew that we were adopted and despite loving my parents, it always sent a dagger through my heart to see a family with a striking familial resemblance. Seriously.. tears. It was hard to deal with then and I still don't understand precisely why. I think it's something that is hardwired.

Anyway, this only glancingly references your post. But, I thought I'd add. Thank you for writing.

ps. What is your interpretation of the image you inserted? I'm not getting an even reading.. "Disproportionate rewards?" --- (postscript - Just followed the link to Munchkin Pathfinder. Nevermind.)

Edited at 2017-01-31 03:53 am (UTC)
Jan. 31st, 2017 03:54 am (UTC)
Re: the Jonses
Thanks, Mark.

The image is from the box of the game my kids and I played this weekend, Munchkin Pathfinder.

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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