The Parable of the Lemonade Stand

An image of lemons and a pitcher of lemonade on a table
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This past summer, as they have many times before, my kids asked if they could hold a lemonade stand. I’ll admit having mixed feelings about the whole enterprise. My less enthusiastic side tends to perseverate on my own lost work time and the endless number of supplies and chores that accompany that task, for no matter how much they insist they can and will do it independently, that never comes to pass.

When I’m at my most enthusiastic, though, I get tickled at their excitement, not to mention how effectively they convince strangers to drink their warm and questionably tasty beverages. After all, it was my children who, several summers ago, informed a customer at their kool-aid stand that the only reason why we had kool-aid in our house was because it was left over from their mom’s yarn-dyeing experiment. Since their mom would never ever let them drink the stuff, they added, they were (naturally) selling it to strangers.

All of that is perfectly true.

But let us consider what is perhaps the most common reason adults give for why a lemonade stand is worth the effort:  it teaches kids about money, hard work, business, and entrepreneurship, more generally. In fact, I’d wager that you’d have a hard time finding an adult who doesn’t give that sort of response for why such activities are worth the trouble.

But as I was pondering that reason, an interesting series of events transpired that made me start to re-think whether that is actually what’s going on in my front yard during those hot summer days. For if it teaches anything, perhaps what the lemonade stand demonstrates is that we are quite willing to overlook inconsistencies and contradictions in our environment when such so-called “irregularities” threaten the ways in which we label social life. More simply put, we’re not interested in changing our version of events in the face of contradictory evidence if we really like the original story.

For instance, several of the customers at the lemonade stand substantially overpaid for their drinks or told the kids to keep a large amount of change. I watched others request ice, and upon being told that it had all melted or was eaten by the entrepreneurs themselves (!), these customers insisted that they were perfectly fine with warm lemonade. To top it off, the kids had several cars pull over and give them money with no anticipation of any product in return. (And have I mentioned that my offspring were chanting “We love money!” as much of this went down?  My pride was almost unimagineable.)

Nay, let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that this whole exercise was about “learning the value of an honest dollar,” for if most of those adults were really concerned about giving kids a real taste of the world of business, then at the very least they would have expected 50 cent, cold lemonade, which is what most of them neither paid for nor received.

Of course, it seems obvious to retort that these are just kids, and that as kids, they were doing their best with the resources they had to mimic the world of adults, presuming that such mimicry constitutes the first steps toward more accurate imitation later on — and this may well be true.

But if anything, what my kids learned is that you can get a whole lot of something for nothing (or close to it), just the opposite of what I imagine most adults would describe as the events that had transpired on my lawn that day.  For I suspect that most of the adults present for that sticky yellow scene contextualized it as a “good cause” precisely because they found it entertaining and quite possibly nostalgic, rather than vocationally formative.

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