Saturday, June 05, 2010

I'll Take The Copper

On the way to the greenmarket today I passed a stoop sale seemingly run by kids and made up nearly entirely of stuffed animals. Half a block later more kids were hawking lemonade and iced tea. As I came near the adults were urging them to go talk the stoop sale kids into cross promotional advertising. The dad was actually defining the term "poaching customers," we call that "going Brooklyn on your ass." I laughed but, honestly, I was already planning to come by later for lemonade.

My shopping done I did cross the street again and swung into line behind a lady I could clearly identify as a long term neighborhood denizen. She was making a purchase of lemonade and a brownie (BROWNIE!!) and teaching a lesson to both the children and the mother, of whose planning this venture was surely a product.

Now this mother. She was about one PTA meeting away from being a cliche. Watching her you could tell that her brain knew she needed to let these kids do the work and learn the lessons and get the satisfaction all their own but her body simply would not obey. She hovered and reached and tore paper towels and gave instructions. She struggled valiantly, half-swallowing each piece of advice before it leapt free of her lips. The lady in front of me could see, as could we all, that this mother had given the kids all the tools for success. They had implements for serving the brownies and the fresh mint and the lemon slices so food safety was a concern. They knew their prices and their math. There had even, it seemed, been a discussion about the optimum amount of ice for each serving to ensure cold product but plenty of it. My fellow customer was determined to make mom let her lesson plan land.

I tried to follow suit but it was hard. I don't have the sense of authority that some of my neighbors do. There's no way I can pull off telling some woman to step away from her children and let them serve me. I did my best, though, to encourage her to see that I was willing to let the kids take their time to do it right. If only I'd had someone there with me to purchase so I could have taken photos as little hands reached halfway into the mint cup then thought, retracted and painstakingly retrieved a sprig with the fork provided. Who wouldn't want to help out with that sort of learning? The mother tried. I know she did and, perhaps once things got rolling a bit, she was able to absent herself from the transactions.

It was wildly civilized to be strolling home, brownie quickly scarfed, sipping my lemonade with hard-won fresh mint and it gave me time to think. I think I'd be able to sit back and watch the kids do their jobs. I'm sure I'd pick a spot high enough up on the stoop that I could watch every transaction with eagle eye, though. It's a good bet, too, that my cuticles and lips would be gnawed to bleeding from the effort of just letting it go. Because that mom and I? We could serve half the neighborhood in 20 minutes while whipping up a batch of cookies to sell next and tweeting our triumphs in real time. But we know that's not the point.

My friend Sara and I had a lemonade stand when we were kids. My house was on the corner of a busy street and a highly trafficked residential one. The spot was ideal except that everyone drives by in cars too fast to see what you're selling. I'm sure we had help making the lemonade but I'm pretty sure that was all. No adults stood by us while we twiddled our thumbs waiting for customers. No one instructed us on portion sizes or fair pricing. Oh, wait, our mothers did probably phone a few friends to make sure someone stopped by and we sold something. Then they sat in the kitchen, no doubt sipping a cool drink themselves, and kept an eye out that we weren't dousing each other in lemonade or being taunted by local hoodlums. I know for a fact no one was there while we worked out the math because Sara convinced me that the easiest way to divvy up the spoils was for someone to take the silver money and someone the copper. I should take the copper. And I agreed.

Maybe our mothers crouched by the kitchen window and stuffed their fingers in their mouths to keep from yelling advice to us. It's unlikely since these are the same mothers that got in trouble with the authorities for letting us walk home alone from kindergarten* but maybe. I appreciate a lot more now their ability to let us work and fail and learn than I did at the time I'm sure. Which is, I suppose, a lesson in and of itself.

*We were well-schooled in traffic laws and stranger danger and had a specific route we were to follow and we loved doing it. I'm still a little resentful that an end was put to it. So is my mom.


  1. so love this...As the mother of a 16 yo and 18 yo I so get this. My girls were raised on the soccer pitch and working in the food tent and admin tent of many a tournament. I watched them to learn customer service, change making and food distribution. They handled grouchy parents at registration and testy coaches unhappy with the outcome of a game. Stepping back is the hardest thing but required. My daughter was able to go to college in Rochester NY from Los Angeles...with little hesitancy and much confidence.

  2. Miflohny1:56 PM

    You got to keep the copper? How long did it take for you to figure out the lesson from that? :-)

    A friend and I walked to and from kindergarten and first grade together every day. Well, that's not true. We walked to school together. In the winter I walked home alone, as my friend had cool boots and I had those rubber things you put over your shoes and it always took forever to get them on, and my friend waited for no one! I know we didn't have a specific route and I don't ever remember getting any lessons in stranger danger, even though we had a peeping tom in the neighborhood and my mom rarely took my brother and me shopping with her as she was afraid one of us would walk off and get abducted.

    When I got older I never had a curfew either - my parents said I should come home when I thought is was reasonable. They didn't even stay up to see when I came home.

    I sure hope I'll be able to give Little Seal nearly as much freedom!