My younger daughters are much more strong-willed than my oldest. Or perhaps it’s just that being outnumbered by the two of them I don’t stand a chance.
At any rate, a year or so ago I threw in the towel when it came to buying birthday gifts for their friends. As much as I tried to direct them to beautifully illustrated Caldecott Medal winning books or intellectually-stimulating age-appropriate board games or an array of art supplies, they gravitated to the cheesy, poorly-made junk at Claire’s or Justice. (The irony of calling a store Justice that hawks over-priced t-shirts with slogans like “nerdy but cute” and underwear stamped with “I love hip hop” on the bum to seven year olds is subject for another post.)
I began letting my girls select the gifts they thought their friends would like (translation: what they would like). After all, I was going to spend the same $30 no matter what. So they began giving gifts like sequined purses and Webkinz. And while the gift recipients’ parents may have questioned our taste, word on the street was the kids loved them.
So, when one of my second graders came home the first week of school with a note announcing that she was one of the first children invited to sell something in the class store*, I had to remind myself to trust her judgment.*The children earn classroom “dollars” for good behavior. At the end of each month, a few children are identified as store owners – they bring in objects to sell to the rest of the class. They must price their items and create an advertisement to promote them.
At first my child saw this as a good opportunity to unload some toys she no longer wanted! I suggested she make a treat, since she loves to cook, or we could buy some cool erasers or other useful item. Our deadline approached and she still hadn’t made a decision, until one day she came home and said “rocks”. She had decided she would paint and sell rocks. And she would sell them for $5 each.
I actually thought this was a really cool idea, although it made me a little nervous. Would other children spend their class dollars on rocks? Especially when we knew her best friend, also a store owner, was bringing in homemade chocolate chip cookies?
Fighting the urge to be an over-bearing parent, I embraced her idea. We happened to have a small stash of rocks in the backyard that her sister had collected, some leftover acrylic paints from various craft kits, and an old bottle of spray varnish. I spread newspaper on the kitchen table and she and her sister painted as I made dinner one evening.
I have to admit that I’d envisioned Martha Stewart type results; the rocks painted with rainbows and peace signs. Their dad had suggested that they paint faces on the rocks and sell them as “pet rocks.” The girls evidently had their own ideas – there were rocks painted with flowers and abstract smudges of color and even two painted as snow-capped mountains.
That night, after the girls went to bed, the rocks lay drying on the kitchen table and I basked in the glow that can only be felt by a parent whose children cooperated in an activity with no bickering. When my husband came home I proudly showed him the rocks and told him how beautifully the girls had worked together on them. He said “where are the googly eyes?” OK, we were both a little nervous that nobody would purchase her hand-painted rocks.
Friday morning we packed them all up and she proudly carried them to school. She’d colored her poster the night before, advertising that you could display the rocks on your “mantl” or “window sil“.
I became busy with my day, wondering only briefly mid-day how the store was going. And perhaps saying a short silent prayer that she would sell at least one rock. At the end of the day I picked up the girls. “Mom,” she said, beaming, “I sold all of my rocks!”
Oh when will I learn. Adults don’t know what children like – children do!