Monday, January 14, 2008

My Favorite Entrepreneur

Back in the late fall my daughter, Isabel, discovered the terrible hidden reality behind the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Smoojipants, and Santa Claus all in one fell swoop. We were trepidatious, as we didn’t know how she would take the news of mass societal dishonesty perpetuated on our youngest, most vulnerable members. More specifically, we didn’t know how she would respond to the realization that her parents had lied to her, repeatedly and with gusto. In the end, her reaction was telling. Of course there was disillusionment, uncertainty, mistrust, and even a little anger.
But these were all outweighed by something we didn’t count on, and her first words revealed the depths of what we are coming to see is her true mercenary nature.

Before I report to you her actual words, I need to tell you about Christmas of 2006. Back in that idyllic yesteryear more than 400 days past, Isabel still had utter faith in Santa. He was the man. He had come through for her year after year—for her entire life. He had never given her reason to doubt. If she asked for something within reason, she got it. Heck, she got gifts from Santa she hadn’t even thought to ask for. If she left cookies and a beer for Santa, they were gone in the morning, in their place a thank you note signed by The Man himself.
So back in 2006 when Isabel made it clear she hoped to get her own digital camera for Christmas, she was not put out at all when both Erica and I responded with unequivocal “no”s. She simply went over our heads and told Santa himself what she wanted. In truth, Erica and I had already come up with the idea of getting Isabel a camera of her own. But, sensing a golden opportunity to prolong the glorious mystery of Santa one more year, we pretended to be adamantly opposed to the idea.
Not to toot our own horn or anything, (Erica and I share one horn), but the ruse worked sparklingly. On Christmas morning Isabel unwrapped a camera and even found a picture of a reindeer Santa himself had taken using HER camera. No doubt she was happy about the gift, but it was clear she was just as happy with the fact that Santa was confirmed to be real AND he had revealed himself to be firmly on her side. Santa had actually circumvented her parents’ wishes and gone and gotten her a camera. He seemed to be something of a materialist and in him Isabel saw a kindred spirit. She was tickled.
So now zip forward in time to the very moment back in the fall when Isabel discovered that it hadn’t been Santa after all who had given her that camera; that she in fact did NOT have a powerful ally willing to give her stuff her parents didn’t consider appropriate gifts for someone her age. The very first words out of her mouth upon realizing Santa was a giant hoax were these: “Great. So that means I’m NOT getting a laptop, doesn’t it?”
I am sure that somewhere in her heart there was some disappointment that Santa was shown to be merely a useful fiction, but it seemed that the majority of her disappointment was reserved for the loss of the laptop she had already started to see as her own. Of course you can probably predict how this story ends…we played along as if there were NO WAY we would ever get her a laptop and then on Christmas morning, lo and behold, there was a computer under the tree for her. And this time it was clear it was from Erica and me.
Isabel’s surprised face and genuinely thankful hugs went a long way toward convincing me we had done the right thing in giving it to her. A computer will help develop her reading and writing skills as well as give her something that requires her to show much care and responsibility.
But there is still this nagging voice in me that wonders if this gift will feed Isabel’s already-strongly-developed mercenary side. After all, this is a girl who stood on the well-traveled sidewalk in front of our house all summer and much of the fall trying to sell things to passersby. At first it was kind of cute—a young entrepreneur trying to make her first dollar a nickel at a time. But after a while we noticed people crossing the street a block or two up the road in order to avoid our particular stretch of concrete.
When I took a careful look at the goods arranged for sale on our front steps I saw basil, mint, tomatoes, and flowers from our garden, all of which seemed like fine wares to hawk. But alongside the produce there were some of Isabel’s less-favored jewelry, a used book or two from her shelves, a spoon from the kitchen, and some clothes. There was also a cup she used as a cash drawer and in it was about $3.75. I was afraid to think about what she might have already sold.
Erica and I eventually declared an end to all sales of any sort on the front sidewalk. I am sure we are creating a rabid free-market capitalist with knee-jerk anti-regulatory tendencies, but we simply could not allow Isabel to continue seeing each person walking by as only a source of potential profits.
It seemed things were under control under we heard her unfiltered reaction to the news that Santa was not to be counted on to deliver the goods. Erica and I decided that since Isabel is so interested in finance we should talk about things like supply and demand, competition, coupons and discounts in order to fill some gaps in her knowledge. She enjoys the topic, so long as we don’t get too didactic.
So now we are watching and waiting for the summer to see if Isabel sets up her store out front again. In the meantime, please do me a favor. If you are on E-Bay and you see a random collection of household goods offered for sale by a seller in New Haven, Connecticut, please contact me to let me know my daughter is at it again. Maybe the computer was not such a good idea after all.