Sometimes, our young entrepreneurs need mentoring. Or so I thought.
It was years ago. I anticipated my once-a-year volunteer stint at the Little League concession stand with mixed feelings: one more commitment, even if it was only for two hours. Ah, well. I could throw off my usual serious, responsible work as a psychiatric nurse and just have fun. What could be easier than handing someone a piece of gum and taking a nickel?
I got to the small, green-shingled refreshment shack at noon to find my co-worker, Evie, already in place. There was also a stray little kid, a girl, bopping around.
“Her parents are this season’s volunteer coordinators,” Evie said.
Great. We were babysitting.
After a quick orientation to French fries and hot dogs, I eagerly awaited my first customer. I was 5 and playing store.
A red-haired boy approached the stand.
“Ummmm, a hot dog and a Pepsi,” he said.
“Coming right up. A hot dog, and did you say a Pepsi?” I asked with pride.
“Here you go,” came a voice from – where?
“$1.75” chirped a little girl’s voice, and as if by magic, the hot dog and Pepsi were on the counter over which I was still feeling pride.
“Wow,” I said, looking down at a cherubic little face at the height of my waist. “That was quick.”
She giggled. I took the customer’s money.
My next mini-customer wanted three Air Heads (awful, sweet, stretchy candies that my 13-year-old son had described as “really good!”). As I scanned the candy shelf, blondie popped a whole plastic tubful on the counter.
“Grape, apple or cherry?” she asked our customer.
“Oh. Different flavors?” I asked. She giggled.
“Who are you?” I asked her, after our customer left.
“Jamie,” she grinned widely.
“How old are you?”
“And you’ve done this be–?” I asked.
But before I had the last word out, she was at the freezer pulling out a strawberry shortcake ice-cream bar, plunking it down on the counter, and scooting across the shack to grab a paper dish full of fries.
“Take the money,” she quietly ordered.
Evie, sitting next to the coffee maker, looked up at me.
“The only thing she can’t do is the money,” she said, yawning and turning back to her book.
The next customer wanted nachos. By now I was seriously doubting my ability to do anything. Was I really a college graduate?
“Nachos? We sell nachos?”
“Over here, silly,” chided Jamie, popping a small cup of cheese sauce into the microwave.
“Ten seconds is enough,” she instructed.
“Thanks, boss,” I said, “and someone else wants chicken nuggets.”
Swifter than a bolt of lightening, she’d pulled open the freezer and was heading to the grease pit.
Fighting back tears, I asked the next kid on line what he wanted.
“A push-up lollipop.”
Now we were getting somewhere.
“Purple, red or green?” I asked.
As I turned to pull one out, Jamie, fresh from behind the sports drink cooler, scooted under my legs.
“Light green or dark green?” she asked.
I was filled with a mixture of outrage and a desire to pinch her cute little rosy cheeks.
“Is there anything you can’t do?” I pleaded.
“Yes. She told you!” Jamie said, now pointing to Evie, who was sitting back and enjoying my pain. “I don’t know how to do the money yet.”
I thought about this for a minute. I looked down at this efficient little dynamo. She was, after all, just a little girl.
“Well, maybe I can help you, sweetie,” I said, feeling a semblance of self-worth returning. Maybe even a twinge of shame for the resentment I had begun to feel for this sweet little know-it-all. I was the grown-up. I could share the wonders of simple math with her. I was thinking about an approach when another gooey-faced customer placed an order.
My teaching opportunity presented itself in the form of a request for three lollipop rings. Twenty-five cents each. The child held out a dollar.
“Jamie,” I said carefully, “Let me show you something.”
I waited until I saw her clear blue eyes meet mine. She was darling. She had stopped her frantic service to the public. I had her attention. I focused on the moment, feeling more confident by the second.
“Jamie, honey, do you know how many quarters are in a dollar?”
“Four!” she shot back, without missing a beat. “Don’t you even know that?”