What he proposed, instead, was that we just run right home and create, in his words, “a healing potion.” “Let’s mix some things together and keep trying them on my scratch until it disappears then we can sell our potion for, like, a lot of money.” He wanted to be rich by bedtime. I tried not to take a needle to his balloon but explained, in gentle terms, that we are not chemists. I told him that mixing random ingredients together then applying them to skin are more likely to create injuries than to cure them. He sighed at his defeated prospects and my lack of vision.
I’m a realist--the worst person to run your business plan by; I will point out its flaws and defeat your eager demeanor. I do try to temper my cynical tendencies when it comes to my children. Sometimes it’s a challenge, especially with my son. He’s the type of kid who proposes new rules to well-established board games and is eternally disappointed in me for following a recipe even when the dish is delicious. I think things are fine the way they are; he hates convention. His mind is alway working--I can almost smell the smoke. This past year, I’ve seen him become fixated on novel ways to make money. Every week, a new idea.
While I have some parental pride at his creativity and confidence, his zeal dredges my childhood in an unhappy way. My dad was a wheeler-dealer and a dream chaser. He never met a product he he couldn’t sell; well, for a little while, until he got bored or dissatisfied with the cash flow and moved on.
Dad was married four times but his true love was multi-level marketing companies. You know, those organizations where you sign up then immediately recruit twelve of your friends who enlist their friends and so on until you have a teetering pyramid of naive hopefuls. My father got his pals (and my friends’ parents and my teachers) to invest their savings in: soaps and shampoos, weight loss shakes, legal insurance, milk-culture cosmetics, ionic air cleaners, anti-aging vitamins, and Viagra for women.
I have a vivid memory of coming in after school one day to find a giant metal tube with a swinging door dominating the space where our couch had been. It looked like a time machine; Dad informed me that it was an upright tanning machine and that he was thinking of selling them. We lived in Florida. Also known as the “sunshine state” where tans could be had daily for free.
Dad insisted I “take a tan.” I put on my swimsuit, affixed small guards over my eyes, and stepped blindly into the machine. The door closed and I startled when suddenly the floor began to move beneath me. I peeked and saw a circle of lights around me as I rotated. Around and around I went, getting hotter and hotter. I was being cooked like a pig on a spit. Afterwards, my skin sported a flush and a clinging burnt toast smell.
Because of my father’s cockamamie schemes, my son’s ideas create a pavlovian response in me to counter them. I am a cons lister. But my son keeps trying. By the time we pulled into the driveway that day after school, he had already abandoned his healing potion plan and had a new one--to create a DNA home testing kit. Before I could question what he was hoping to discover with said DNA test--ancestry? paternity? who stole the last cookie?--he was on to the next. That’s the thing about both my son and my dad, they lose interest fast.
The list of my son’s ideas is endless: selling hand-drawn comic books at a street fair booth (abandoned after he crafted one comic); sports cards collecting and reselling (stopped when he realized he might have to actually do research to not get suckered); garage cleaning service (shut down when I suggested that he clean ours first).
My son and his pal have hatched an idea for a business they’ve named “TEV.” Their plan involves going door to door collecting video games that kids have outgrown then selling them on EBay to garner a tidy profit. So far, they’ve culled a total of 4 games--two from each of their own homes.
My son isn’t content to up his own profit-making, he wants to monetize me too. He wants me to charge for my blog; sell the goodies I bake; write a kids book and get it on out to a publisher while he’s at school today. Recently he decided that if I’m too lame to exploit my own skillset, then he will--he planned a bake sale.
As a lemonade stand veteran, I’ve learned this: charge overhead. In the past I’ve spent mornings mixing lemonade, dragging tables, and buying paper goods all for the kids to swoop in and get bored within 10 minutes. Now I charge for time and supplies and they take the whole venture more seriously. They assess foot traffic and weather. They hold signs and accost passing cars. This past summer, a car pulled up and the man driving said, “My daughter insisted we come. She said your son made everyone on the camp bus promise.” We sold out.
It’s spring but we haven’t had a sure-footed warm or sunny day since last summer. Finally the sun peeks through the clouds for a few glorious hours and we start a batch of my favorite sea salt chocolate chip cookies (delicious recipe below) and everyone else’s favorite gooey toffee butter cake. My children have their friends over and they roam in and out of the kitchen to “help.” They set up a table and create an overly-optimistic pricing structure: $4 per treat and $7 for two. I talk them down.
The sidewalk is empty of passers-by so, taking a cue from my son, I send a text to everyone I know in Glencoe. People start arriving on foot from neighboring houses and by car. Girls from down the street bring paper and pens to make more signs. My son pays them. Another boy yells from the curb at cars. My son pays him. One dad comments that since his son helped make the cookies that he should get paid too. Pretty soon every kid handing over a few bucks to buy a sweet is getting a percentage of it back. It’s backroom capitalism in action--everyone’s on the take.
I’m fond of saying that I like the idea of happy chaos but sometimes a lot of kids in one place can just feel like chaos--skip the happy. Not this. It’s bedlam sure, but I love it. There are little girls riding scooters up and down the driveway; dads with arms crossed talking about basketball; boys counting money and conferring; older girls doing cheers on the lawn; and moms asking for the recipes. My son’s money-making scheme lined his pockets and brought a bunch of people together on a random Saturday. I take note to remember this when he makes his next pitch.
I don’t have to wait long. His most recent brainstorm involves charging Six Flags for roller coaster ideas. He says, “Do you think I could call the head of Six Flags and offer to work for him for $10 a week? I’ll give him one coaster idea per week. I already have one called ‘The Energizer.’” I peer at him in rearview mirror and think about how he really doesn’t have any idea how the world works. Good for him. He’s not limited by past failures, not hampered by common sense, not inhibited by wisdom. His whole world is opportunity and ideas. One of these days he’ll have a great one--hopefully it won’t involve tanning machines.
Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sea Salt
2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
2 tbl Maldon Sea Salt or other best quality sea salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium-size mixing bowl. Cream the cooled melted butter and sugars together in a large mixing bowl with a wooden spoon until smooth. Add the eggs and vanilla extract and beat until smooth. Stir in the flour mixture until just incorporated. Stir in the chocolate chips. Place the bowl in the refrigerator for 10 minutes (or up to 6 hours) to let the dough firm up.
Drop the dough by heaping tablespoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets, leaving about 3 inches between each cookie. (Balls of dough may be placed next to each other on parchment paper-lined baking sheets, frozen, transferred to zipper-lock plastic freezer bags, and stored in the freezer for up to one month. Frozen cookies may be placed in the oven directly from the freezer and baked as directed.) Sprinkle each cookie with 1/8 tsp sea salt.
Bake the cookies until golden around the edges but still soft on top, 9 to 11 minutes (a minute or two longer for frozen dough). Let the cookies stand on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then remove them with a metal spatula to a wire rack to cool completely. Cookies will keep at room temperature in an airtight container for 2-3 days.