UNDER THE MICROSCOPE

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04/26/2006 - 2:18 p.m.

DAY'S HERITAGE

The poor child cannot help herself. I am convinced that she WANTS to help herself. I am even convinced that she really harbors the delusion that it is a simple matter of willpower. But she's wrong. It's in her pores and in her veins and she is doomed. She's a lawyer's daughter twice over and she was fed legal thinking with her mother's milk. It surrounded her with her father's arms and laughter. Although her gears turn like an engineer's, the gears themselves mesh with legal thinking. Sorry, Day, it's your heritage.

And thus, from the depths of her frustrations about the handling of the little issues surrounding home life and her belief that her parents, particularly her father, have failed to acknowledge how much she has grown up, has emerged a legalistic solution. It could be called "Son of the Allowance Agreement," but it is not. Instead, it is entitled "Parents and Teenage Daughter Contract," has been signed by all the parties, and was initially drafted and expertly negotiated by Day herself.

Without her realizing it, I suspect the underlying idea came from the Allowance Agreement. When both parents are lawyers, albeit criminal defense lawyers, and cannot agree on how to handle money issues involving the children, what do they do? In this household, they negotiate and they draft. And so the Allowance Agreement was born. The Allowance Agreement required that a certain percentage of allowance be put away into savings. It required that a certain percentage be given away to a charity designated by the child receiving the allowance. It laid out the circumstances under which a child could spend allowance impulsively and when a child had to wait and who decided. The agreement went on for several pages. It did and it does control how allowance is handled—even though I could not find a copy of it when writing this entry.

And so, just before she left on vacation, Day presented a draft of the "Parents and Teenage Daughter Contract," covering topics from curfew to homework to bedtime to friends and activities to daily duties. It is very sophisticated and clearly demonstrated an attempt to be fair and an attempt to think of the issues from the parental side. It did not say, "Parents must butt out." Basically, it suggested that parents should exercise supervision, not moment-to-moment control. Much should be delegated to Day—unless she proved incapable of handling it (and Day is a VERY competent person and generally quite sensible.)

I had only two minor objections to the contract as drafted and both were handled easily. The real test was the negotiation with FogieKnight. She asked me to mediate and I pointed out to her that I had a real conflict of interest. We discussed the conflict and she asked me to come to the table anyway and I did.

The result was the best conversation I think FogieKnight and either of his daughters have ever had about responsibilities, fears, feelings, and growth. Considering that occasionally I suspect that they speak different languages, they needed almost no mediation or moderating. (I think there were a few occasions on which I found myself trying to clarify positions with the "I think I hear you saying" approach and once when I suggested some compromise language that neither of them had thought about.) I thought that Day would have to ditch the last clause or give up on having an agreement at all and I eventually left to go to bed. But I underestimated both of them, particularly Day. She unrelenting worked on getting FogieKnight to state his objections and on figuring a way to meet those objections and they worked out the last clause.

And last night, we all signed the Parents and Teenage Daughter Contract. And then, poor child, she tried to suggest that it was nerdy of us, her parents, to insist on all parties having a copy of the contract.

Nice try, kid. Nice attempt to distance yourself. But you'd best face it. You were done in long before you had a chance to protect yourself. You can become a chemical engineer or a ballerina or whatever else you want to be that your talents support. You can leave home and go to college across the country. You can protest long and loud about lawyers. But we know the truth: You're definitely one of us. It's in your blood.

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