The Add-On Card

EYE - June 24, 2012

A new-age way for helicopter parents to track their children's whereabouts

The add-on credit card and the SMS that follows after it is used is one of the greatest new-age developments to delight helicopter parents. Offspring, who seldom answer cellphones, never fail to swipe their add-on credit cards. It is also a double-edged gift given by people who haven't kicked the parental micromanaging habit, despite their children having moved out of home and into college dorms far away. "Comedy club at 2am? What is she thinking, who is her escort?" "Yes, I know I told him to buy any birthday gift he wanted using the add-on card, but at such an expensive shop? Must give him a lecture on brand illusion." Add-on cards also help to keep tabs on hyperactive mothers. "Ratnadeep supermart at 9am on a Sunday, and so much stuff? Mom, are you having a party, didn't the doctor tell you to rest?"

When my daughter was in college, she was hugely excited about spending her summer job money on an off-the- beaten-track holiday. Trouble was that she chose one of those tiny European countries that you need a magnifying glass to locate on the world map. She called to grumble that it was a "micro" country in a "random" location with nothing to do. "As big as Bombay?" I asked curiously. "No, no," she replied with annoyance, "more the size of Colaba, and nothing to do." In characteristic "mothering heights" behaviour, I felt bad, a tidal wave of empathy surged within me. Ten minutes later, an SMS from the bank told me that my card had been swiped at Zara. Then, another happy one said, "Just across the street, and nothing else to do here, heaven."

Soon she began earning her own money and swiping her own credit card and I was getting withdrawal symptoms — power withdrawal symptoms. On each of her recent birthdays, I have said, all misty-eyed, to her, "You are my only child, please let me pay for your entertainment expenses for a few years more, I know you earn your own money, but really, I'd like to help." And she always replies sweetly, "Awww, you already give me so much, why don't you fund my once-a-year wardrobe upgrade instead?" And I instantly say, "No no, entertainment funding is my thing. Clothes, you must buy on your own."

The SMS alert system has put paid-to-be-innovative business models to bypass parents, the kind that my daughter had perfected. On one of her vacations from college, it vaguely registered that I was not asked to spend money at all. I assumed, with glee, that dad was being targeted all the time. When the vacation was over and she had left, he remarked that she had hardly taken any money from him. Then I got the credit card statement. It showed a lot of eating out. I called her and asked what on earth she was consuming, for her share of the bill to be so much? She explained sheepishly that she had been volunteering to pay the total bill with her credit card, and her friends paid her cash for their share. That way she bypassed us keeping a tab on how much she spent when she went out. The credit card summary usually came after she left, and she had figured from experience that her mom usually agonised over the total amount, but did not scrutinise the individual items.

I recently visited my mother and, despite my grey hair, as I was leaving the house with some friends, she asked, "And when will you be back?" I said I had the key and she need not wait up, but clearly this was not about the key. My daughter came to visit us recently, and as she was going out at night, I pressed the add-on card into her wallet and said, "You don't need to spend your own money when you come home," and followed it up with, "where are you going?" She shot back, "Why don't you wait for your spies from the bank to tell you." They did.

We got a cheerful call recently saying, "I am going to so-and-so country, and don't worry about the newspaper reports, I will be safe. The international roaming on my cellphone isn't working, there is no internet at my hotel, but hey relax, I will call you on my return." I had the presence of mind to say, "If you see some things that I may like over there, buy them for me using my card please." And without resistance, roaming charges and inflated cellphone bills, my spies from the bank gave me all the comfort I needed.