On Becoming a Billionaire

Today, for our Easter family activity, we strapped the canoe onto our car and drove up to the put-in spot on Minnehaha Creek at 54th Street and France avenue, with the intention of paddling all the way to our house, about a half mile above the falls. It was a perfect day for paddling – high, swift water, clear skies and bright sun without too much wind. And we nearly made it.


I ended up carrying two freezing cold, sopping wet, and very terrified children in my arms for a half-mile home.

But I’m not here to talk about our fiasco at a low bridge, where the combination of high water, low clearance and swift currents managed to fill our canoe with water, traumatize my children and nearly kill us all.


No, I’d like to talk about the conversation that happened about twenty minutes before our near-drowning.

About becoming a billionaire.

First, there was some discussion about the difference between one million and one billion, in which several metaphors were used by my eleven year old in her explanations to her six year old brother – particularly in her assertions that one billion was very, very different than infinity – though they are both, without a doubt, very very large.

After that, the conversation that my children had from their loungy spot at the bottom of the boat shifted to becoming a billionaire – and what they would do with their billions.

Ella, the oldest, thought about it for a while. “If I were a billionaire,” she said, “I’d live in a motor home. An Airstream. But I’d paint it purple. And then I’d use the rest of the money to build libraries all around the country.”

Cordelia, the middle child, said this. “I’d hate to live in a motor home. If I had a billion dollars, I’d buy a big house – not a mansion, but maybe kind of close to a mansion.  A big house without being mansiony. And I’d use the rest of the money (after buying food and paying taxes, of course) [AUTHOR’S NOTE- I love that my kid knows about paying taxes and assumes that it’s something that rich people ABSOLUTELY MUST do.] to save the sea turtles. Because somebody’s got to save the sea turtles.

Leo stared at his sisters incredulously. “I wouldn’t do any of those things,” he said.

“Really,” I said as I dipped my paddle into the creek. “What would you do if you became a billionaire?”

“That’s easy,” he said. “I’d pay to be president. Also, I’d buy a Lego Death Star set.”

And there you have it folks – the inverse nature of idealism in reference to birth order. And while I can’t prove that this is the case with all families, I figure that since Jean Piaget created an entire theory of cognitive development solely on his observations of his own children, I’m just going to do the same.

Oldest child: Idealist.

Youngest child: Realist.

And middle children find their place somewhere in the spectrum.

The other thing I learned: My son is – really and truly – obsessed with owning a lego death star. So much so that even if he had the option of owning any game, toy or trinket on this broad, green earth, he only wants one thing: A lego death star set. That and being president. And for some reason, the two things are, for him, related.


6 thoughts on “On Becoming a Billionaire

    • I’m also fascinated by birth order – though, as the oldest of five kids myself, I’m definitely not the stereotypical “oldest child”. I’m not type-A. I also not achievement-centered, conscientious, reliable nor a perfectionist. In fact, in looking at this article about birth order, I exemplify pretty much none of the traits: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/06/10/earlyshow/living/parenting/main511694.shtml

      BUT my oldest child totally IS all those things. She is a classic oldest child. And my son could have appeared in any number of textbooks. So there you go.

      Also, he thinks that you can pay to be president, which will kill me forever.

    • My childhood traumatizations were classified as “character building”. And now I write fiction with a dark little twist at the soul – particularly in my work for grownups. Coincidence? I think not.

      This is why we have a “Therapy Jar” in our house, and why it is, even now, stuffed to the brim with dollars that my husband and I have shoved in over the years.

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