What do you want to do this summer? we asked our children not long ago. Go to camp? Take swimming lessons? Lie on your back and make cloud animals in your mind? None of the above, our son and daughter answered. We want to make money.
They are 7. They are twins. They have enormous spending plans, plans that mainly involve candy, movies, and Beanie Babies far beyond their usual budget. They are tired of the dribs and drabs of pocket change we dole out. This summer they want to make the big bucks so they can spend it all. They want to feel the thrill of entrepreneurship.
They come up with what they hope will be a great notion: selling juice boxes at the beach. It seems a harmless enough plan, something that might even be met with appreciation from thirsty children whose mothers have forgotten (it happens) to pack refreshments. Our kids could be a kind of saving grace.
Our kids could clean up good.
The planning stages of the enterprise mainly involve my going to the supermarket and pricing the various varieties of apple versus grape juice. Apple wins out. It's cheaper, more thirst-quenching, and doesn't stain nearly as badly. (Personally, I'd rather drink paint remover than apple juice, but maybe I'm an anomaly.)
They will sell the juice boxes for 75 cents each, which is barely breaking even. We figure our kids are too young to fully appreciate the concept of a loss leader. Maybe next summer.
Day 1: Success is (a) relative
The first day out, they sell only one juice box. To their uncle, who is kind enough to give them a ride home from the beach, which is only two blocks from our house. So we don't feel too bad that our baby sitter has to walk home alone dragging the juice wagon behind her. At least our kids are learning proper managerial skills, such as delegating unpleasant tasks whenever possible. I only hope the baby sitter doesn't unionize.
Day 2: Right concept, wrong location?
Unfortunately, no relatives felicitously drive by today. Sales are nil. Maybe we're at the wrong beach. The throngs of children we were expecting seem to be elsewhere. Hmmm. Expectations and interest in the venture are beginning to flag. There is some talk of bigger and better signage, and an art project looms large in our future. But it is derailed, or at least postponed, by "Arthur." The kids have been out in the sun all day. A little public television never hurt anyone, did it?
Day 3: Gone fishing
No sales today either, but that's because the kids have gone fishing instead. Maybe a day away will give them some perspective. Maybe some success at, say, catching a fish will encourage them to persevere in their venture. No need to consider the project a complete failure yet. We still have 20 days on the beach-house rental, and the juice we don't sell here we can always hawk at home. And what isn't sold at home will provide me with several months' worth of school-lunch beverages.
The fishermen return empty-handed, though not glum. A tiger shark barely managed to get away, or so I'm told. And they've come up with a new idea, a different venue. There's a crafts fair tomorrow, and the kids want to set up their juice stand on the village green. I tell them OK, so long as their business is as far as possible from their aunt's. She is an artist of some note who sells her paintings at the fair every year. She is a kind, refined, and restrained woman who loves her niece and nephew dearly. I would hate to test the limits of her patience with the likes of our two darling yahoos screaming, "Juice for sale!" while she tries to make a living. We hope the locals will be both hungry for fine art and thirsty for fine beverages. We hope we don't spill any juice on her oil paintings.
Day 4: A fine day at the fair
The crafts fair our children intend to crash actually has a name and a brief but illustrious history. The arts festival has evolved (or rather devolved, depending upon how you view these things) into quite the event at this beach community.
It happens twice every summer: once in July and once in August. That way, whichever month you're here renting you get a crack at it. And the year-round folks have two opportunities to rake in a little extra cash. About a week before it takes place, handwritten signs announcing hours and sponsors spring up overnight at strategic places - the post office, along the main road into town. Even in high gear, it's fairly low-key: The fair lasts only four hours. It consists of a rolling balance of genuine artists and artisans, plus burgeoning capitalists like our own mop-tops selling everything from cookies to handmade beaded necklaces to shells filled with a small amount of wax and wick. (No one in her right mind would call it a candle, even if she did purchase one from a persistent six-year-old for a dollar when she couldn't haggle him down to 75 cents.)
We arrive at 10 a.m., fashionably late. It's a bright, sunny summer day and the village green is buzzing with activity. Incredibly, there is a space just the right size for our kids to set up their business right next to the library's used-books table. Tom Clancy for $1. (No, he can't be haggled down to 75 cents either.)
My husband and I wander away as quickly as possible, not wishing to hover. We say hello to my husband's sister but don't linger. She is right in the middle of about three transactions. Her paintings are really good. They are mostly beach and flower scenes, the type that forever remind one of this beautiful place. In a sense, she provides a way to take your vacation home. It's a cool way to make a living, I think.
But not as cool, of course, as selling juice boxes, which our children do with great aplomb, racking up a whopping $12 in an hour and a half.
Day 10: Business? What business?
It's been a week since the arts festival, and no one's said a thing about juice boxes. I have noticed, however, that someone keeps slipping them out of the refrigerator. The time is now taken up with morning summer camp, crabbing parties, and beach expeditions. Making money has lost its appeal.
Or rather, the grim reality of standing around in the summer sun with a cooler full of product has turned out to be less fun than they expected. Beachcombing is hot right now. So is watching the sunset and going on nature walks.
True, we spent a lot on the juice boxes, not to mention the summer rental, but it was for a good cause: to teach our children a well-worn truism. The best things in life are free. And the second-best things are on sale at a sizable markdown.
But that'll be next summer's lesson.