We were sitting on a sunny patio outside a busy restaurant in Aspen, lulled to somnolence by a vigorous hike, lunch, and a beer, when two little girls scampered up to a woman walking close at hand along the sidewalk, led by her leashed dog. They were very excited.
“Have you seen the giant, 100 pound puffball dog?” they asked the woman, who mumbled that no, she had not. Only mildly deflated, the girls sashayed off, seemingly in search of their next victim.
That brief interchange reminded me of days hawking lemonade at a street side lemonade stand on my parents’ lawn.
No, the pair weren’t selling lemonade; they weren’t selling anything at all. They didn’t have to be, just as kids aren’t necessarily in the business of concocting a perfectly-sweetened, yet subtly tart lemonade (from ingredients in their parents’ pantry) to entice passersby to stop and buy that product. What the girls were up to is attempting to interact with a grownup: getting a strange adult to stop and smell the roses, sample a bit of kid life, and drum up an interchange as part of the bargain.
I know there are plenty of websites advocating how children can take a vehicle in the shape of a lemonade stand, constructed from cardboard boxes, plywood, or Mom’s kitchen table — if she isn’t looking — and fabricate a miniature business enterprise from water, lemons, and sugar. They get brownie points in entrepreneurship if they sell chocolate chip cookies as add-ons. The philosophy of these lemonade schools of thought runs that we should encourage our children to plow into the churning waters of business at an early age, to get some experience under their belts before they undertake making serious money at, say, age eleven. Ice-cold beverages are seen as a method of sweetening the difficult science of supply and demand microeconomics, teaching it under a microscope where a dollar earned before the age of ten guarantees a business degree down the road.
These days, kids can receive some unanticipated educational experiences simply by attempting to sell lemonade in their neighborhood. When they erected a lemonade stand on their front lawn, two Texas sisters wanting to treat Dad to a special outing on Father’s Day this past June learned about the school of hard knocks, coming face to face with health regulations and the government permitting process. It’s true; there must have been a nasty neighbor who pulled the plug on their plans (and we all have one of those lemons living nearby) but it was unfortunate that their spirits had to be dampened in this way.
There are positive interchanges, as well, like the police who made a point of stopping at kids’ stands in Palo Alto, or the bus driver in Massachusets who treated each of his fares to a cup of the .50 cent refreshment he’d noticed on his previous run.
Commercial programs abound, teaching math solutions for the most cost effective way to succeed at lemonade selling. Evidently, there is a secret formula to getting it just right; in our computer-frenzied society there are games coaching people how to develop the right mix of product, pricing, inventory control, and purchasing. Lemonade Stand, included by Apple Computer in their software packages throughout the ’80s, was the original game created by Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium in 1973. It advised keeping a weather eye on the sky, counseling that rainy days don’t make for good sales so allocate your lemons and sugar accordingly.
I think all this business-directed enthusiasm misses the goal of a lemonade stand entirely. Kids sell lemonade because they want to talk to adults, those beings who stand several feet taller than they do, the ones who make all the rules.
The lemonade stand — or the giant, 100 pound puffball dog — derives from curiosity and pure, uninhibited nerve.
Consider Lucy van Pelt, immortalized by Charles Schulz, the Peanut’s Doctor who sat at her rickety psychiatrist stand, offering opinions and counseling for a nickel. Lucy, when playing Doctor, simply sought human interaction, and someone other than Charlie Brown with whom to trade ideas. A lemonade stand, or two elementary-aged girls in search of an adult to ply about the existence of a puffball dog, does just that.
Schulz’s Lucy feared the voice-in-the-box, the teacher who, unseen, managed to oversee their school days nonetheless. By offering a nickel’s worth of advice, Lucy sought some measure of personal interchange, a commodity we risk losing in today’s dollar-driven, Internet-socialized environment.
Yes, the lemonade stand is a microcosm of the world today, but without teaching children the value of learning how to engage with the people around them, face to face, we risk becoming ever more so Charles Schulz’s voice in the box.
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Award-winning author Emily Kemme writes about human nature, illuminating the everyday in a way that highlights its brilliance. Follow her on her blog, Feeding the Famished, https://www.facebook.com/EmilyKemme, or on Twitter @. Life inspired. Vodka tempered.