My Kids Know More Parents Who Drive Teslas Than Toyotas

crispydoc Uncategorized 17 Comments

A few weeks ago, my wife arranged a playdate for our son with a sweet kid in his grade who lives in our neighborhood. The kid's father would pick them up by car after school to spend a couple of hours hanging out.

Our son could barely contain himself when we gave him the news: "His dad drives a Tesla! I'm getting picked up in a Tesla!" Next, like a biblical recitation of who begat whom, he counted all the friends he knew whose parents drove Teslas. He found sufficient fingers, but barely.

Dad, you're embarrassing me!

I am no stranger to awkwardness when it comes to cars and social status. My first ride as a teen was a big red Chevy Caprice Classic station wagon with a bumper sticker that read, "I'm the mommy, that's why!"

I went on to own various cars whose sole common trait was their universally agreed upon lack of cool:

  • My grandfather's inherited Oldsmobile. The ads at the time, struggling to reinvigorate a brand with the word "old" front and center in the name, touted, "This is not your father's Oldsmobile." Nope. It's my grandfather's.
  • My first new car: A Saturn SL-2. I felt giddy, like I was driving the future.
  • My current car: A 2009 Kia Rondo. Verbatim from the review in Edmund's: "...about as endearing as your washing machine..."

That new no car smell

Surprisingly, one of the ways my kids differ from their peers is that they walk to and from school every day.

On those rare days when I pick them up in the car, they point out the inappropriateness of the "Math that shit up!" sticker I proudly display in the window (swag from supporting the Playing With FIRE documentary) and glance around furtively to ensure their principal does not see it.

When our oldest started school, parent friends with good intentions would pull over almost daily during her walk, asking if she needed a ride. Eventually, those friends realized we were walking on purpose and labeled us the neighborhood eccentrics.

So they walk on. Did I mention shoes are either inherited from fashionable older cousins or else purchased at the local Ross Dress for Less and Kohl's?

So not only have we been the oddball family for some time, but there's no alternative prestige to be found in their footwear.

Air Jordan? A budget airline based in the Middle East as far as they are concerned.

Bubblicious

We love our neighborhood, but we are the first to admit that we live in a bubble.

The kindergarten playground overlooks the Pacific Ocean. The public schools are great, and our home is strategically located walking distance from every school our kids might need until college. It's ridiculously beautiful and convenient.

The diversity of our neighborhood is less than our ideal (When we asked our realtor about the area, he cheerfully opined, "It's quite diverse. There are lots of Koreans!" The realtor was Korean-American).

Our neighborhood's Tesla to Toyota ratio is profoundly skewed, posing a real risk of affluenza.

How do we introduce our kids to reality given what they see day to day?

We frequently discuss the distinction between price and value. Despite frugal inclinations, we spend generously on help at home. For other families, nice cars are rewarding. For us, it's help with childcare, cooking and cleaning. It's okay to choose either if there is value in the spending.

Most of our recreational activities are either free or involve lightly used gear purchased at a steep discount - both kids go bodyboarding with me in the summers in hand-me-down wetsuits acquired from friends or at thrift stores. Good hiking trails are plentiful where we live.

We drive beaters, and dress like overgrown adolescents from the 1980s. (The kids may have won the ovarian lottery, but they lost the parental fashion lottery.)

(Reality) check please?

Once a month, we volunteer as a family in a local shelter. The kids get interact with often intimidating-looking clientele, and they have befriended the staff running the operation, some of whom began as clients. The talks and questions that emerge on the drive home are a frequent highlight.

After last summer's trip to Oaxaca, my daughter asked us why we keep traveling to places where there are so many poor people. That led to a profound discussion of how most of the world lives, and our responsibility to others.

We also have an annual family discussion regarding what charitable causes we'd like to support.

Is it working?

The jury is still out, and we may fail spectacularly.

My hope is that the kids will be able to understand their advantages without taking them for granted.

This means feeling responsible for doing something with the head start they've been given.

It also means they will feel a sense of accountability to those who began life with more obstacles than advantages.

I'll keep you posted on how badly we screw them up.

Comments 17

  1. Some all time classic lines in this post CD that got me chuckling, the air Jordan one especially. (Because I’m the mom that’s why gave me a visual of you driving that around and caused another round of laughter).

    I am one of the guilty parents who drives a Tesla and takes my daughter to school. Her friends still ooh and ahh when I give them rides in it as well so I am contributing to the spoilification/affluenza you speak of.

    I think you are doing it the right way and your kids are going to be well adjusted adults because of it. It is hard to balance what you want individually and what is good for teaching points. Congrats on your kids winning the ovarian lottery (yet another great line)

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      Author

      Dear Xrayvsn,

      Please don’t mistake my reflections for judgment – that was not my intent. We spend plenty every year on child care and home cleaning because it brings us value. You spend it as part of your intentional plan on your car because it similarly brings you value.

      Guilt is a vestigial emotion with utility similar to your appendix – irrelevant until it becomes catastrophic. There’s no place for guilt when you are thoughtfully enjoying the fruits of your labor in accordance with your values.

      Let’s say on one ride your daughter’s friend asks you how you achieved success enough to score your sweet ride, which prompts a discussion of living below your means, saving and investing that plants the seeds for her subsequent adult perspective – that’s a financial life you just saved!

      Jury is out on whether my kids will follow our lead, but whatever they do they’ll go into it eyes wide open knowing the consequences of those choices.

      Fondly,

      CD

      P.S. “Ovarian lottery” was a term from The Snowball, a biography of Warren Buffet. My admiration for his writing verve was not intended to misrepresent this as an original thought – I’ll be more diligent about crediting sources of such sayings in the future.

      1. No worries at all CD, I did not take offense about Teslas 🙂

        And I’m sure a lot of stuff I write has drawn from a lot of sources as well (which would be a pain to credit each one) so I am sure Warren would give you a pass 🙂

  2. I see this in my own life as well. In my neighborhood, every other home has a Tesla parked in front. If you count cars at the main intersection, there will be more Teslas than Toyotas for sure. This is Silicon Valley after all. I’m happy with my 11 year old Toyota; in fact I drive it with a sense of counterculture pride.
    It’s difficult to innoculate our children from affluenza, the dreaded disease of entitlement and sloth. The best way is to lead by example.

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      Author

      MD,

      I like the way you frame the issue. Perhaps I can persuade my kids to think driving a Kia in our neighborhood is like being the punk rock dad.

      I spent a couple of years in Boston, where I felt like an untucked man living in a tucked man’s world (We were supposed to wear ties and khakis as ED attendings! I selected my specialty specifically to avoid dress codes!).

      Perhaps, like you, I can create cachet around being the community misfit that generates respect for my counter-cultural stance.

      Rock on, MD.

  3. For some reason this post made me laugh–probably all the references to archaic vehicles. My daily drivers range from a 1979 Ford to my “new” 1999 van….my poor kids 😁

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      Mrs Thompson,

      Your laughter gives me hope that I am not alone in my pariah driver status.

      Somewhere out in the world, the Thompson kids are asking their mom to drop them off one block before reaching school.

      As Gasem put it: If you author your life, your children will automatically learn to author theirs and they will hold dear what you hold dear.

      Thanks for letting me know I’m in good company.

      Warmly,

      CD

  4. The only new car I have purchased is a Tesla. And I definitely value it! All things considered, I still think it saves me more money compared to the old Mercedes sedan ( handed down to me, of course!) that I was driving.

    Next time we shop for a new car, though, we will definitely looked to get a used/pre-owned car. Not only is it cheaper and better value, but it could be healthier. That “new car smell” that you speak of… that’s the smell of toxic fumes being off-gassed. Don’t be the schumck who overpays for a over priced, toxic piece of metal and plastic that happens to move 😉

  5. My car is 14 years old. Drives nice. European .
    Recently I inquired about a new car and was shocked at the sticker price. Shocked. Absolutely. I’m not even talking about a Tesla here. I would never buy a Tesla.
    I can afford maybe 1 Tesla/month, that’s not the point, the point is: why?
    My wife, who is Chinese, wants a Bentley. Yeah right.

    So I kept the old car.
    Very happy about it. It’s been paid off for 12 years now. On the business. Pretax.
    That’s my criteria for a good car: no payment.

    I have noticed also that upper class American raised kids are uncomfortable around poverty. As if it were a transmittable disease.
    Born insecure, they are subject to overspending on status things like T….s, or B……s.
    Just to ward off the bad Spirit. The bad luck.
    Like my wife.

    Maybe it’s just an Asian American thing.
    I’m European American. Some would just call me American. Or Rican. Or rich. Or cheap.

    Never mind.

  6. If you aspire to Tesla, you are simply living out a George Jetson fantasy. If you own a Cobra you think you’re Steve McQueen. Neither is high in practicality. You are simply playing with symbols of coolness and that coolness comes at a price beyond utility. None of this is about your kids or your kids friends, it’s about you purposefully authoring your life. If you author your life, your children will automatically learn to author theirs and they will hold dear what you hold dear.

    When it came time to get my oldest kid a car, she told me what she would prefer, which was a Honda Civic aka low maintenance, low cost gas , cheap insurance, you can put a set of tires on it for under $1000. Once her good sense was recognized, I kicked into gear to find a car for the best deal which was an off lease 3 year old car with 26K miles. The car was brought up to “new” spec by Honda prior to the sale. That gives her 5-10 years of reliable “car” before it starts to wear out, no payments. She was a little embarrassed because she was expecting something more like 10 years old. Because of her diminutive “need” I paid nearly zero on the Oh Wow scale and all the dough went into the transportation and none into mystique.

    My kid is an orphan adopted from China. Clearly she doesn’t come with privilege but she does have my protection and the good sense to build her life into something self sustaining.

    Parsimony

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      Author

      Parsimony for the win – but extra points for the kid who could recognize value at such a young age.

      May we all be so lucky that our kids learn to hold dear what we do. Artfully rendered, Gasem.

  7. Hey Crispy Doc,

    We are neighbourhood eccentrics too. We live out in the country and frequently walk or bike around the trail system that we share with our neighbours. Everyone else drives around on their golf carts. Same when we go RVing in larger campgrounds. My kids aren’t embarrassed about it – they have actual disdain when they see it.

    I can also identify with the childhood car issue. We had a 1960 buick that my grandpa gave us circa 1980. When we went on trips, we had to fill up the tank every 300km which was a problem since the gas tank was under the trunk. The trunk was so rusted out we had to take our luggage out so that the tank fill hole would rise to line up with the hole in the body. We used to joke about it becoming a Flinstone type car – low greenhouse gas emissions.

    -LD

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      LD,

      The mental image of your grandfather’s Flintstone car is priceless. Although your reputation for methane emissions may not make the car totally green.

      As for your children’s disdain on seeing your RV, I’m quite certain that disdain ranks higher on the hierarchy of adolescent shame than embarrassment.

      In fact, with apologies to Maslow, may I present to you my pyramid of adolescent shame:

      Denial – I will pretend you are not my parent
      Disdain – I will roll my eyes and stare at my plate for the entirety of family dinner time
      Humiliation – Could you drop me off at the block before my friend’s house? She’s allergic to Kias.
      Embarrassment – But none of my friends shop at thrift stores! And the shoes I want are only $XXX! Sheesh!
      Mild amusement – Say this funny phrase in front of my friends because the humor is in having someone as unhip as you say something contemporary

      Not looking forward to ascending that particular ladder.

      Thanks for reaching out, LD, parenting misery loves company.

  8. It sounds like you’re doing an excellent job of keeping your kids grounded. The international trips to less affluent countries surely helps put things into perspective for your kids.

    Our Tesla Model 3 and our nice house certainly aren’t doing this for my sons. I’ll have to balance it out somehow.

    So far, I’d say that the deepest we’ve gotten on the issue of income inequality is explaining why the homeless have to live in tents and benches in LA.

    I have a sense that this isn’t enough. When my sons are a bit older, perhaps an approach like yours will do the trick.

    — TDD

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      TDD,

      During the peak of the “Occupy” movement, there were a dozen protesters at a busy intersection of our small town asking for honks in support of the movement. Part of me appreciated that there were people in town who wanted to reduce income inequality. Part of me thought, Folks who can afford to live here by and large represent the 1%! It felt a bit meta.

      The irony is not lost on me that the international travel we enjoy is a first world privilege that highlights existing income equality, while bearing witness/trying to understand and have empathy for/giving to charitable causes that aim to relieve third world poverty is an awkward byproduct of the privilege of travel.

      Between your ADU and your parents and young kids, you have plenty on your plate. Focus on getting your first decade of practice under your belt in a manner that is financially secure and smart, and the other aspects like teaching your kids about how the rest of the world lives beyond SoCal will happen when the time is right.

      Always happy to hear from you, my friend.

      CD

  9. Oh, this is such a difficult topic! Thanks for the great blog post on it. I was talking to a friend of mine the other day (part of a dual physician couple) and she said something along the lines of, “I’d go back to Colombia in a second. Taking my kids there got them out of the bubble they live in here of who drives what and who lives in what mansion!” (She’d just gotten back from Cartagena and said it’d been eye opening for her kids to see someplace besides here.) And another guy—who used to run a shop and make oodles of money, but gave it all up and sold everything so he could live in an RV with his wife and six kids so they could work hard for 8 months a year and travel for 4 months a year—said he used to be in the rat race until his kids started to act entitled. Then he chucked it all and radically downsized his life so he could spend more time with his kids…it just all makes me think…I count the years until the youngest is out of the house and try to make sure we’ve not only living in the moment, but making the most of those moments.
    So from a profound sense of gratitude, thanks for putting words to the feelings that keep parents awake at night…least we raise a generation of entitled children…

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      Author

      BC,

      Thanks for weighing in – I love watching how your mind works.

      It’s hard to find the right balance. You want safety and great public schools for your kids, which can lead to a home in bubble neighborhoods. Suddenly you find yourself explaining repeatedly why your family is different than others. We are unlikely to head down the path of radical change (although I respect those who choose that path greatly, and seriously considered it in the depths of my burnout), but instead are trying to impart a sense of responsibility to those who did not pull a winning ovarian lottery ticket.

      A friend who is a devout libertarian says he’ll contribute a fixed amount to each of his several kids, but then they are nudged out of his nest and expected to soar or crash of their own accord. We are probably taking a less rigorous approach with our kids.

      We often discuss the advantages we are passing on with our kids, articulating the expectation that they 1) not squander them and 2) they contribute to healing a broken world.

      We’ll see how the lesson takes…

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