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A lemonade stand taught my kids a lot about the art of the deal


The art of the deal

A lemonade stand was a right of passage for Sylvie Roy's children. It also turned them into neighbourhood sharks

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On the first really hot day this summer, I biked by a lemonade stand. Two kids, 25 cents a glass. Choice of iced tea or lemonade. As I'm digging for my quarter, I remembered I moved the change from my fanny pack to my wallet, which I'd left at home. "You'll be here for a while?" I asked.

"Another hour," a kid in a white T-shirt responds.

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"I'll be right back," I say, hurrying home, as memories of lemonade stands past catch up to me. These kids looked young, but older than my son when he launched his first lemonade stand, a day that still makes me smile at the memory.

I pick up some cash in the house and my husband joins me for the bike ride back. We drop $2 in the collecting can with a slot on top, tell them to keep the change and, after drinking his iced tea, my husband leaves a dollar tip. We knew it was our turn for a little payback.

Not long after we had moved to a row house in Regina, my son decided to open his own lemonade stand. He worked diligently on his "For Sale" sign, clearly marking each letter and number in the fine writing of a recent kindergarten graduate. He wanted to come up with a special deal meant to attract swift business: "1 glass: 10-cents. 2 glasses for a dollar."

Realizing quickly that his first year of schooling had not covered the intricacies of economy of scale, I tried to better explain the meaning of "special deal." I suggested he could, for example, charge two glasses for 15-cents. No, he said. He wanted "for a dollar." Was it because the phrase rolled off his tongue so smoothly and easily? I don't know. He never made that clear. But he went back to work on the sign and eventually, triumphantly, emerged with his final version "1 glass: 10-cents. 12 glasses for a dollar."

He set up his stand: a little wood table, drink pitcher and about 10 glasses close to our row house, right at the busy confluence of pathways. Business was good, he had to keep coming in to wash the glasses. Soon, he also had to come in and mix a few more jugs of lemonade.

Then I heard a knock on the door. Opening it, I faced one of my neighbours, furiously claiming my kid had stolen money from her kid. It appeared her son had got hold of her coin collection and taken a special dollar from it to purchase lemonade. To top that off, her son had returned home with no change. My son had kept the whole dollar.

Hurrying over to the stand with my irate neighbour in tow, I worried about my parenting strategy up till now if it meant my son had become a thief by the age of 6. Arriving at the site of the crime, I started the interrogation in as gentle a way as I could. After all, within the Canadian legal system, one is innocent till proven guilty.

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"Did you sell her son a glass of lemonade?" I asked my son.

"Yes," he said.

I breathed a sigh of relief. Thief, maybe, but no liar.

"Did he give you a dollar for it?" I asked

"Yes," he answered, totally upfront about the exchange.

"Why didn't you give him his change back?" I inquired, puzzled, with my angry neighbour silent but still standing nearby.

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"Well, he gave me a dollar. I asked him if he wanted 12 glasses of lemonade but he only wanted one. So I gave him one. I offered him 12 glasses. He just didn't want them."

Kid's logic! Not a liar and not a thief.

Misunderstanding clarified and the concept of always giving change back more thoroughly explained, my son handed our neighbour her special coin collection dollar back. (Did she then pay the 10-cents for her son's glass of lemonade? I can't remember now.)

Ten years later, having moved to a two-storey house in the city, we left this son, now 16, in charge of his sisters one Sunday. While my husband and I took a one-day vacation, the girls decided they would like to run a lemonade stand. Their older brother set up the same little wood table and the same pitcher he used 10 years earlier. With a church soon letting out across the street, parishioners, many of them our neighbours or acquaintances, turned into customers.

The girls did a brisk business, just as their brother had. And my son, bearing in mind the lesson from 10 years past, explained the concept of always giving change back to customers. But on our return in the evening, I was baffled by the amount of money the girls generated that day. It seemed excessive considering how much lemonade I remember stocking in the freezer. A friend clarified this mystery a few days later when she dropped by.

"At the lemonade stand on Sunday," she whispered, so her comments would not wander off to young ears, "I bought a glass and I only had a $10 bill on me, but they seem to have lots of loonies and toonies on the table. I drank my lemonade and finished it, and they still had not given me my change back. So I asked for it. And they replied, 'Oh! You want it? Everybody else has said to keep the change!'"

As my husband and I biked home from the latest neighbourhood lemonade stand, we realized we'd only paid a few pennies for the drinks really. The rest … the rest had been for the memories.

Sylvie Roy lives in Regina.

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