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Lesson of Penn State, State College Budget Crises? It's Kid Stuff

by on April 14, 2011 6:00 AM

We are in the process of renovating our basement. After 10 years of hard wear and tear by toddlers and an assortment of kids, it needs an update. The goal is to make it once again attractive to teenagers and the inevitable weekend sleepovers. Painting the basement means first having to clear closets to get ready to paint. Clearing closets means finding space in the storage room for the stuff that comes from the closets. Finding space in the storage room means emptying boxes to get rid of the junk we don’t need. Emptying boxes usually leads to reminiscing, looking at pictures and going through baby things, school projects and holiday decorations.

A potential one-day project becomes a two-week undertaking.

It reminds me of the children’s book “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” by Laura Numeroff. In the book, the mouse gets a cookie, but then he wants some milk. Milk leads to the need for a napkin and so on. You get the point.

It’s called the ripple effect. One action leads to the need for other actions.

It’s like the debate that has been going on in my house since our kids started school. My inclination is to nag them when they tend to lounge in bed too long on school mornings. I dread the ripple effect of the missed bus. My husband says, "Let them fail and they will learn natural consequences.”  

In my reality, if a child doesn’t make the bus, either my husband or I have to drive him to school, making us late to work. If we are late to work, the clients or students we deal with will be negatively impacted. Customers who are negatively impacted sometimes take their business elsewhere. Without clients, our jobs are in jeopardy. Having students complain that I’m “never in my office” means a negative annual performance evaluation. Losing our jobs mean that the ability for the child in question to be able to buy, wear or do the things that he/she wants to may be compromised. I see nothing wrong with saying, Get out of bed or I’m going to lose my job.

If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to want a glass of milk.

Sometimes the ripple effect can be a bit over the top. I don’t order the crème brulee because eating it means I will die. Rich and creamy dessert leads to weight gain, which leads to sluggish feeling, which leads to not exercising, which leads to clogged arteries, which leads to heart problems. Heart attack and death as results of an occasional unhealthy dietary choice may be venturing into hyperbole.

On the other hand, the ill or injured child of a military family overseas who doesn’t get needed medication because mom or dad’s pay is being held because our elected officials in Washington can’t get it together to agree on a budget could have dire circumstances. Maybe if we took away the proverbial cookies and milk from our partisan elected officials in their expensive suits and with those big expense accounts, they would understand how it feels to have our soldiers, sailors and Marines not be able to feed their families.

Similarly, the governor of Pennsylvania proposes a budget that attempts to address the “we spent money that we didn’t have” deficit. That proposed budget cuts Penn State’s appropriations. Departments and programs at Penn State are then forced to examine how they conduct business and ways that we can adjust to the loss of funds. Penn State administration responds by eliminating employee raises for the year. Individual employees are forced to adjust their personal budgets and spending without getting any more money – even though gas and grocery prices and the cost of almost everything else are increasing. Local businesses are impacted by people not spending as much money.

The proposed cuts in both programming and staff at the State College Area School District are disheartening and very sad. I wish someone had thought of the potential ripple effect of all of that spending – local, state and federal - before we got ourselves into this mess. Kids and education ultimately lose.

Failure to plan, as they say, is a plan for failure. Sometimes the next ask, the next request, the next demand, seems pretty obvious.

Not replacing the broken dehumidifier in the basement led to stinky carpet and musty smelling furniture, a rec room that no one wanted to use and the need for a basement renovation. I wish I had thought of that then.

We don’t always like the results of choosing the chocolate chip cookie over the snickerdoodle; the milk can end up tasting sour depending on our choices.

Cleaning the closets, then moving the stuff, then going through the stuff and losing half a day reminiscing are all part of the process of painting. Painting is the final step in the basement renovation.

Understanding the consequences of our decisions and the path where those decisions may take us is part of being a grown-up. After all, if you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to want a glass of milk.



Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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