My first thought of the morning was "Fuck you, Monday!" followed by the ever-optimistic parental foolishness that I would make this day work. Yeah. Right. Spoiler alert: I called my mom before noon and attempted to bribe her into a babysitting gig, with a turkey burger (don't even get me started on my 7-day retrain-my-palette meal plan. No wine. There is no wine on this diet!!!). Despite my lackluster food choices, Nanny came to the rescue. That's not what I'm here to tell you, though. No. In the hours before I was rescued something terrible happened. I was robbed. Of my sanity. By a small, determined human with brass balls and a steel will. You'll never get me to swear to this, but today, today she beat me – and she wasn't even trying.
There she was, on the sofa with her fuzzy blanket, an array of snacks, the TV remote at her disposal and fresh off a game of Hello Kitty Bingo with mommy, when she fell into hopeless, sheer boredom. I had been in my office for 30 minutes slugging away at my deadlines when she could take no more. Driven to distraction by boredom and neglect, she made the pilgrimage to my office several times, okay eight times but it's not like I counted, over the next 30 minutes. Finally my first "work" hour was up and it was time for her lunch. Only, she wasn't interested in lunch. Oh, no. She had bigger plans. Commerce was her game, and she wanted to start bringing in the cash now. No waiting for a Memorial Day yard sale for this little Trump-wannabe. Today was the day she would sell things. Starting now.
She: Mom. Mom. Mom. MOOOOMMMMM!!!
Me: Yes, Spenser.
She: I'm ready.
Me: (arched eyebrow, too smart to be quizzical, smart enough to be afraid) Ready for what?
She: To sell things. I'm ready to sell things. For money. Now. You need to come outside with me and write me a sign.
Me: (slightly relieved) Ohhhh, well we're going to have a yard sale in a few weeks you can sell things then. That'll be fun. Right? Spenser? Spenser!
Too late. She was already outside, as the cool breeze forcing its way into my living room through the wide-open front door indicated. Yup. She was on a mission. A mission to rob me of my last shreds of sanity.
Me: Spenser. Spenser! Come back inside. It's lunch time. (pause) Um, sweetie? What do you have there?
She: Stuff to sell, Mom! I told you. Now, can you tell me how to spell "On Sale"? I want to write it on the sidewalk.
Me: I think you mean "For Sale". That's what you're selling?
She: (head held high, hands in her hoodie pockets, chest out) Uh-huh.
Me: Spenser, you have a stick. You're selling a stick?
She: What? People like sticks!
Me: And a piece of paper, a free pen from the bank, and one of your brother's foam darts.
She: Uh-huh. How do I spell my sign, Mama?
I think about two minutes had passed – just long enough to make a PB&J and to start, for the first time, cooking a turkey burger. This, my friends, was the beginning of the end.
She: MAAAAWWWWWMMMM! MOM! No one is buying my things! Can you believe it?! No one is stopping. A lady was jogging, and she didn't even stop. She just kept running. She didn't already have a pen. Why didn't she stop?! I hate everybody. How do you spell "free"?
This last bit came out in one long run-on sentence. I was still processing what she said when...
She: MOM! How do you spell "free"?
She: Okay. You may have to tell me that again. Wait, does free mean I still get money?
Me: No, free means you give someone something for no money. You just give it to them. Understand?
She: Yeah. Okay. I'm making a "free" sign. But I still want money.
I followed her to the door and looked out to the bottom of our short driveway. She had enhanced her display, dragging the little black, wrought iron table from the front porch to her "For sale" sidewalk square. On it, she had arranged her scrap of paper, pen, stick, foam dart, and (new addition) a red pencil and torn eraser. She frantically looked up and down the sidewalk one last time before she sprang into action. Grabbing the far end of the little table she began to drag it again, this time three squares to the left of where it first stood. She stopped, and looked up to see if I was there.
Me: Yup, you got it.
Once again, she crouched low over the smooth concrete and carefully lettered a new sign onto the sidewalk. This time her letters were noticeably larger. Yes, that was obviously the problem the first time around – her signage was too small. Again I went inside, and again I attempted to cook lunch. All the while I heard her fish-mongering outside "Free stuff! Free stuff! Toys! I have toys! FOR FREE!"
She: FREE stuff! I have free stuff. Toys! Come and get a toy. It's free! But you can still give me money. Come and get your...stuff!
Her head volleyed back and forth between her approaching customers, toothy smile beaming, voice raising to staccato pitch. Yes! Here was her chance...but, no. It wasn't meant to be. The dog walker managed a faint smile, but never broke stride. The toddler on his trike slowed down, only to be shushed along by his father taking long strides as he offered a warm grin and a wave. But no one stopped.
I watched as her little pink-clad shoulders drooped, saw her fasten her stare on her purple flip flops as she picked at a small hole in the thigh of her leggings, above the large hole in the knee of her leggings. (Mental note, she needs new pants). She spun on her heel, her face fixed in five-year-old fury born of disappointment and hurt. I expected her to come trotting up the porch steps and into my arms, to bury her head in my belly and let out little sobs. Nope, not this girl. Swinging her arms, her fists clenched into tiny balls, she stomped up the stairs.
She: People stink! What's wrong with everyone? No one can stop?! NO ONE! Mom, really, WHO WOULDN'T WANT A FREE STICK?!
I swallowed a laugh and wound up producing a squealy, gagging grunt, which devolved into a wheezy cough. I had nothing – no words of wisdom or comfort. Really, I just wanted to eat. I was STARVING, having made it through five-plus hours on a cup of oatmeal and 1/2 a grapefruit. And no coffee. Did I mention there was no coffee on this diet either? Anyway, I thought about telling her a hard truth – to move product you have to have something people want, an item that's in demand, and preferably hard(ish) to find. Why does no one want a free stick? Because sticks are everywhere for the taking. They're sticks. Instead, I took the coward's way out.
Me: You need more foot traffic, that's all. Why don't you wait until about 3:00 when school lets out and try again? Tons of kids walk by here on their way home from school. Don't be upset sweetie. Just try again later. Come on, drag the table up the driveway a bit and come inside for lunch.
To my surprise, she listened. She took my crappy advice and came inside, where she proceeded to ignore her PB&J while firing off roughly 86 questions in rapid succession about why people suck and no one would buy free paper. Her words – "buy free paper."
There's really no end to this story. In fact, it's not even a story. It's just another moment, in another day that I cherish less than I probably should, and am more crazed by than I probably should be. I finally ate my turkey burger, my mom came over, I made my deadlines, time passed predictably. And in a few years, when Spenser is a tween and only talks to me when she needs a ride to a friend's house, I'll remember the day she tried to sell free sticks and paper. Only this time, instead of wanting the day – and all its demands – to end, I'll want to relive each moment of her desperately needing me to be with her. Knowing this makes it even more bittersweet.