Opportunity Cost

There is a concept in business and economics called “opportunity cost.” There are wordier and more accurate definitions than the one I’m about to lay out, but for me, it comes down to this: When you make a choice, there is an associated cost because that choice will prevent you from doing other things. If you become a musician, you’ll probably not also become a lawyer. You get married and have children at a young age, you probably won’t travel the world to the extent that you would have otherwise.

Opportunity cost. Opportunities lost.

I’m thinking about this tonight because my wife just texted me from the Jefferson Mall, where she’s hanging out with our oldest child, our ten-year-old, getting some one-on-one mother-son time (crucial and necessary for the happiness of both parties) and picking up some stuff for the middle child’s birthday party this weekend. She just texted me from the big “Eurobungy” thingie in the center of the mall, that giant contraption of steel beams and rubber bands that lets kids fly up into the air, delirious with happiness, for the low low price of seven bucks for a couple of minutes.

We’ve spent untold hours and dollars at “the jumpy,” as it’s known in our family’s vernacular. The aforementioned birthday girl absolutely loves it, and the littlest one is pining for his chance to take on the thing, still too small to meet the minimum height requirement. We know our way around the Eurobungy, and have spent plenty of time helping the kids get properly airborne, one, two, three, JUMP!

Here’s what my wife just texted me: “He says he doesn’t want to do it anymore.”

He’s at that awful, awkward transitional stage from boy to young man. His body is just slightly too big for The Jumpy to be any fun, but his brain still tells him that it is the most awesome thing ever. The cognitive dissonance is starting to rear its ugly head, and very soon, my sweet boy will start to think that The Jumpy is stupid and is only for little kids.

And here’s why I’m sad and broken-hearted about this. It’s not because he’s growing up; I’m smart enough to realize that him growing up is beautiful and magical, and although it hurts, it’s necessary. I’m sad because for every time we walked through the mall and he got to go up on The Jumpy, there were probably three or four times where I said “No,” for no good reason. No reason other than that I was tired, or grumpy, or ready to go home, or was feeling stingy about the stupid damned seven dollars and what a waste is that and why do they have to charge so much for a kid’s ride?

There’s your opportunity cost, right there. Paulo Coelho said, “One day you will wake up and there won’t be any more time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.”

Miles, I am so sorry I said no to you, for no good reason, on this little thing you wanted to do. And now you don’t want it anymore. There are a finite number of days in a young man’s life in which The Jumpy is exciting, and I denied you many of them. You now want other things instead, but those particular opportunities are lost, and I am sorry I denied you those brief, giggly, five minutes of happiness. You will find other things that also delight you, and I’ll do a better job of helping you enjoy the moment. I promise.

Thank you for everything you are teaching me.

4 thoughts on “Opportunity Cost”

  1. As the father of a manchild just a few years older than yours James I know the mixed feelings you’re talking about. He’s suddenly too grown up to acknowledge his parents in public yet still young enough to want to be hugged before he goes to bed at night. It’s a bittersweet experience but I’m glad to be along for the ride with him.

  2. James, I understand the sentiment, but I think you are beating up too much on yourself. $7 for a 5(?) minute ride isn’t cheap. Kids have to know that there is not an infinite amount of money in the world to do fun stuff with. I would like to think that the “opportunity cost” issue can be turned in to helping your kids to make such decisions themselves. Taking the dollar issue and ride at face value, does the child want that ride that much, or would the child choose a new book which might provide entertainment over a more extended period? Similarly, is the opportunity cost of the time at the ride more important than being home for dinner on time with the rest of the family, or getting to a dentist appointment, or whatever? Lest you think I am the Grinch reincarnate, I hasten to add that with 2 13-year old daughters, I certainly look back and think what I might have done better in one or another circumstance. And we all try to make good choices for our families.

  3. Perhaps he wanted it so much because he knew he couldn’t have it every time. Delayed gratification is a great gift to teach. You’re a good dad, James.

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