Reality Store: Shopping for a Real Life

In the 1960s, teenagers practiced being adults by wearing their parents' clothes
I worked at the Reality Store at Dunbar High School yesterday. What an opportunity. I relish being asked to drop an anvil of reality onto the heads of 15-year-olds.

The Reality Store works like this: High school freshmen social studies students get an adult life assigned to them. They get a spouse and some get kids. Based on their current grade point average, they get a job and a salary that reflects it. With that salary, they head to the Reality Store, where they have to make choices to meet their monthly budget. They get to pick a house, choose spending levels for utilities, electronics, a car, child care, insurance, savings, food, clothing, how much they’ll give to charity, and even entertainment expenses.

I worked two classes, one of them my daughter’s. She was married to Garrett. She was a school psychologist with a master’s degree and they had two kids, whom she named “Laquisha” and “Spoon.”  

“What does Garrett do?” I asked her?

“I don’t know, but we don’t make a lot of money,” she said.

“I think you need to find out what your husband does for a living,” I told her. “Where does he go when he leaves the house every morning?”

She did pretty well at the Reality Store. They chose a house in a good neighborhood with a nice lawn and picked a utility package that will allow them to water their lawns a couple times a week and take “warm” showers. Toward the end of the period, they went back to upgrade the house, because they had enough money left in their budget. 

“We don’t have to pay child care because our kids are in school now,” she told me.  I thought it was a good sign that she didn’t spend the extra cash on a Hummer.

I helped her friend Kat, whose husband was their friend Hannah.

“Are you guys lesbians?” I asked.  “No, she’s my husband,” Kat said, pointing to Hannah. “We call her Hank.”  Apparently that class didn’t have enough boys to go around. It’s amazing how real-life this exercise is.

The kids with low GPAs were struggling in their fake lives. They were forced to choose the “boring” entertainment package and settle for “consignment store” clothing. I heard one boy arguing with his wife, who told him they couldn’t afford for him to have a cell phone. “I’ll leave you and go live with my online girlfriend,” he said. 

I wonder if they shouldn’t have a divorce table, where you can trade your husband in for a small apartment, child support, and a night job waitressing.