Making change, or rather, staring at the cash register

Aside from people who stand in line at McDonalds for ten minutes, and then, upon reaching the counter, stare up at the menu with wonder and say, “Umm, let me see…”, my biggest pet peeve is cashiers who don’t know how to make change.   (Actually, that’s not true.  My biggest pet peeve is people who are constantly late and can’t be bothered to pick up the phone and let you know they’ll be late, but that’s another blog entry entirely.)

The latest incident happened at our local Rite Aid drugstore.  I don’t remember what I was buying, but the total was $11.71.   So I gave the cashier $20.01.  She punched something into the cash register, and then paused, staring for a moment at the money in her hands and I thought, “Uh, oh.”  One glance told me she had neglected to put in the  .01 part, and just put in $20.   So of course the register was telling her my change should be $8.29.   She did know this wasn’t right – she realized she put in the wrong number, but she could not figure out what the right amount should be.    I began to grip the counter in my effort not to roll my eyes and yell, “It’s $8.30!  Add the penny!  How can this possibly be so difficult?!”    Instead I took deep breaths, reminding myself that this girl was not to blame for her inability to add a penny to $8.29  (or to figure out that was what she needed to do).   All she ever learned, after 12 years in our wonderful system of public schooling, was how to punch the numbers into the computer and wait for it to give her the answer.    5 minutes and one fruitless consultation with the other cashier later,  she finally located a calculator and was able to give me the correct change.

Now here’s the kicker.   The Rite Aid trip had preceeded my morning coffee run.   The kids and I decided to go out to lunch that day, and then went to Buttercup Bakery for cupcakes.   As we were walking back, I told them the story.   When I said, “So I owed her $11.71 and gave her $20.01”, Maya interrupted me and said, “Wait!  I want to figure out how much change you should have gotten.”   So I waited, and after about a minute she said, “$8.30.  Right?”    I wanted to fall on my knees and thank the gods that I was not raising children who would look blankly into the eyes of a customer should they ever run the register in a business, and not know what to do with an extra penny if the computer is down or they forget to punch in the right number.
We got completely off track from the Rite Aid story after that, because  Maya kept asking me to give her more ‘making change’ problems to solve.   She did them all in her head, without the benefit of the actual money in front of her, and of course without a calculator.    She only got stuck when we got into really large numbers, and I’m sure if she’d had paper and pen, we could have gone on like that for hours.  This from my daughter who practically falls into a coma if anyone suggests doing any math ‘lessons’ like those found in workbooks or textbooks.
Let me reiterate, just to make sure you got that.  We  DON’T DO MATH LESSONS AT HOME.   Ben, I swear, is learning Math through osmosis.    And before anyone begins to argue about this, let’s remember our well-intentioned but completely clueless Rite Aid cashier.    She probably took Math classes every year until she graduated.  Probably Algebra.  Maybe even Geometry.  But people, she CAN’T MAKE CHANGE!   She is in her late teens or early 20’s.   My kids are 10 and 6.   Ben can’t yet make change in his head, but he can count out the money if he has the coins and bills in front of him.   And why?  Well partly because we have a store, which they’ve visited a lot and mostly because they are constantly making their own ‘stores’ at home, haggling over prices and using their coins to purchase things from each other and yes, to make change.   It’s even funny how they avoid using round numbers.  They’ll price things at 3 cents, or 7 cents, and then someone will buy two of them.    It’s not a lesson.  I don’t quiz them on it.  If they ask me a question I answer it.  That’s it.  That’s unschooling.  And so far, it seems to be working quite well.
Now, about those people standing in line at McDonalds……

About Amy

Amy Milstein was born and raised on a farm in Indiana, but after 20+ years considers herself a full-fledged New Yorker. She is married with two kids, who do not go to school but are instead life learners. This means they learn by living in the world (real life ) instead of hearing about it and simulating it in a classroom. With her family, Amy loves to travel, read, watch movies, write, sew, knit - the list is endless.
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