Mara has wanted to have a lemonade stand for a very long time. I can’t remember where she got the idea — maybe we gave it to her — but she has asked about it periodically for a year or two. It has recently become imperative that she raise more scratch than her allowance will add up to since it was announced that her friend Gwyneth is going to have her birthday party at the new American Girl store, a place where high quality outfits can be purchased for one’s upscale American Girl dolls. I guess you can rent the place out. It’s genius, really.
As I have tried to envision the lemonade selling enterprise from time to time I have always foreseen impediments. We live on a steep hill that gets busy traffic at certain times of the day but that traffic is usually going too fast to notice sidewalk vendors. There are well-travelled, level streets nearby, but one is a sort of wasteland next to the freeway and the other would mean setting up in front of someone else’s house.
Also, we don’t live in a neighborhood — or a time, or a world — where I would feel comfortable leaving my young daughter unguarded sitting at a table with a box full of money and only a stack of paper cups to defend herself with, so wherever this happened it would mean that one of us would sit with her for hours, and wouldn’t that turn off potential customers? After all, the classic lemonade stand has such powerful draw because here’s this kid sitting all alone, or maybe with another little kid, and they are sitting there waiting in all the young faithfulness of little Americans who will someday be entrepreneurs. Or at least that’s the story we overlay on the scene, because that’s what we hope for them. We see their hand-painted sign as the first flimsy sail they hoist against the dreary odds that say they’ll just be a cubicle or factory worker; it’s an indication of their trust in the system we have bequeathed them. We have to stop and buy. No matter how badly we’ve mangled our own chances at self-agency in life — and maybe precisely beCAUSE of that — we have to pitch four bits in for the next generation.
But when dad or mom is there, that image could change in the potential customer’s mind to one of serf and liege, where the cute kid is actually being used as a ploy and the parent is waiting (in the shade, reading a novel) to collect the day’s winnings. Our teeth grind when we think of this other scenario, as well they should. Grrrr!
Well, it couldn’t be helped. Mara doesn’t even really understand money yet, at least not how the denominations work, and would need help making change. We decided to take turns helping Mara with her stand, which, after all, we would place on the strip outside our house, slanted be it ever so. I leveled the table and umbrellas (and Mara’s chair after she fell off of it once) using leftover blocks of wood — (oh, the sweet vindication of the saver!) — and our friend Hillary came over to help Mara make signs and generally be part of it all. We worried only slightly that an unlicensed food business might arouse the attention of the health department, which happened to a seven-year-old girl in Oregon a while back.
Mara understood that she would have to pay us back the “bank” of quarters and dollars we set her up with and also reimburse us for the lemonade, but that everything after that would be hers to pocket. She would charge 50 cents a cup. She lugged her old toy cash register outside and an OPEN/CLOSED sign, and before we could even get the lemonade and cups out some of the neighbors Angela had emailed started showing up.
Sales were brisk. Her second party of customers, two dads who were moving their daughters into a rental house up the hill and happened to see Mara’s stand as they were driving off, gave her five dollars — “a fiver” she called it already — and didn’t want change back for two drinks, a four dollar tip! We quickly went through two pitchers of Minute Maid® pink lemonade.
Then the street was quiet and the sun beat down and there was nothing to do for a long time but sit on the chair, which is really difficult for Mara to do. But if we thought she would ingest useful, real-life lessons about the value of money and labor…well, we didn’t really think that and it wasn’t an issue. People stopped every once in a while throughout the afternoon, despite the fact that we parents, Hillary and 14-month-old Millie were all picnicking under the cherry tree right behind the stand. Mara ended up with $34 at the end of the day, and after reimbursing us our $8 n0-interest investment and paying for five cans of lemonade, she walked away with $19 for a day’s adventure.