Thursday, February 21, 2008

Small-Venture Capital: My Investment Dollars at Work

Today was a daycare day at our house. Since November, we have been caring for friends' children a few times each month while their parents are at work. Nine month-old Maverick and just-turned-three Elleana are absolutely delightful (no exaggeration) and my boys have grown to love their visits to our house. Most of their visits are thirteen hours at a time, although we have had some shorter days.

Mitchell and Elleana play very well together; they have fun combining their interests in some sort of preschool-style compromise. Mitchell likes to play cards; Elleana likes to look at the cards, so they "play cards," each of them doing their own thing. Elleana likes to play with dolls, lovingly changing their clothes and tucking them in for a nap and swaddling them in pretty blankets; on a good day, Mitchell might play with his favorite stuffed animals for a little while. They have found a compromise for that activity, too. Each of them take their loveys of the day into the doll buggies and race them around the kitchen and the living room. Mitchell's question of the day is always, "Elleana, do you want to have buggy races?" Elleana might run with Mitchell for a few laps, but then she slows to a more ladylike pace, while Mitchell continues to go for the gold. They also sit side-by-side for marathon storybook sessions, and today they played three succesful rounds of the Fisher-Price version of Go Fish.

This morning Max was a big help with little Maverick, who is smiling constantly and eager to explore. Max helped make him a bottle, played with Maverick, and watched him carefully while I made lunch. Max also read several books to the kids, on his own initiative, without a word of complaint. I told him, "You are almost ready to be a babysitter. I bet you could be a mother's helper soon."

So the busy wheels in Max's intelligent mind began turning in a new direction, and when the littlest ones went home today with their dad, Max asked me for some compensation for all of his hard work. "I was thinking fifteen or twenty," he said seriously. That's in dollars, if you are wondering. I told him that's just a little less than what we pay our babysitter for a whole evening of solo effort. So he tried again, but more boldly this time. "Nothing less than ten," he offered, as if we were negotiating, an offer which was promptly rejected. "But that's not fair," he whined, turning "fair" into a two-syllable word. Why do kids do that?

Then the tears began, trick number three or four in Max's well-stocked bargaining toolbox. "Max," I told him firmly, "I wish I could pay you a hundred dollars today, you worked so hard." That didn't stop the birthing noises coming from his body, but after a few minutes, the whining stopped. I know we will have this conversation at least once more before bedtime.

I'm sure he is postulating his next approach. My little entreprenuer doesn't give up that easily, especially when there is a creative way to earn money. He has his backup sources of income: his weekly allowance, which hasn't been happening as weekly as either of us would like because his room hasn't been clean on his payday; his bead business, which means making a few pretty ornaments and selling them to a gullible Daddy when he gets home from work; and his newly-launched art gallery, which involves making colorful pictures and trying to sell them to his little brother. But the best dollar in his mind, like most of us, is usually the fastest dollar.

"Wanna buy one, Mom?" Max just asked me.

"Have you been making new bead ornaments?" I asked him. "Yes, he said. "I've already made two, which is a lot, since I don't have much free time to work on them."

"What keeps you so busy?" I asked with a half-hidden grin.

"You know," he said pointedly, not even trying to disguise the irritation in his voice. With a deep, frustrated breath, he answered, "School."
Someday I will tell the newspaper reporters and magazine editors this story, of Mr. Max's humble beginnings, bargaining for dollars at home, one small venture at a time.
"The ornament's done, Mom!" Max exclaimed. After I complimented him on the new pattern he made with the pink and crystal beads I chose, he said, "Do some stores save something for you until you can pay for all of it?" I remembered the heyday of layaway when I was little as I explained the concept to him.

"Target doesn't do that," I informed him, thinking of the hundred dollar Star Wars Lego set he is saving up his money to buy.

"Why not?" he asked.

After I answered that question, he stated seriously, "A buck seventy-five. You can easily afford that."

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