My daughter Madi loves nature. She loves learning all about animals, plants, and insects, and since she’s fascinated by it, she retains every detail of what she learns. We live in the Finger Lakes, in a region that is rife with nature camps, some of them surprisingly hard-core for the age they serve, sending kids foraging and shelter building, learning survival as they learn about nature.
She’ll often come back with “Did you know” stories about nature, most of them I pretend not to know, a few I actually have no clue about. During a Spring break, she went on a survival camp. As she returned, peeling off layer upon layer of wet muddy clothes, she talked excitedly about the adventure.
“And we built a shelter, and collected wood, and built a fire…”
“But, the counselors actually built the fire right?”
“Yeah…, sort of.”
“And we heated up our water over the fire and made tea!”
“No, it was hot tea.”
“I get it. So you foraged for stuff to make the tea from nature? What did you find, chamomile, rose hips?”
“We made Hemlock Tea.”
“Guh… What? Hemlock! That’s deadly poison! You couldn’t have made Hemlock tea.”
Yet, she was sure. It was Hemlock, they made it from the bark they peeled off the tree. Visions of my daughter lying next to Socrates flashed into view. I considered calling 911, but googled first instead. Yes, there is the Hemlock tree and the Hemlock plant. The plant is poisonous; presumably the tree is tasty. Lesson learned.
A few weeks later we encountered something festering on our front walk, and Madi, now an expert in all things natural, stopped to investigate.
“Oooo Daddy look!”
“Yes I see, don’t touch them please honey they’re maggots. Something died and they can carry disease.”
“No, they’re not … mag… what did you say?”
“Maggots, they’re maggots.”
“No Daddy they’re not, they’re fly larvae. I know because we collected them at camp.”
“You didn’t make tea out of them I hope.”
She went into a short dissertation on the stages of insect life.
“Okay, to you they are fly larvae, to me they are maggots, and they are disgusting.”
A short while later, as I was making her lunch, I found her walking around the house with a small plastic bowl full of said “larvae.” I reminded her that I had asked her not to touch them, let alone bring them into the house, and she explained how she deferred the request for good reason. She planned to sell them. Madi had recently worked out that if she had money of her own, daddy was less particular about what stuff she bought, so she was all about finding ways to make it. I had suggested that she could earn an allowance by doing more chores around the house, but she declined, citing that she would rather make her money doing what she wanted to do. I found it difficult to argue that point since I had made a pretty good living in the arts, not doing what my parents would have called “real work”, so I let it go.
Her plan was to create a roadside stand to sell her fly larvae, and was gathering supplies for a sign and searching for an adequate table to put by the curb. She set the price at 25 cents per larva, and had already counted the squirmy little things to calculate her max profit.
“Sweetie, you can’t set up a stand to sell maggots.”
“Fly larvae. Why not?”
“Because nobody is going to buy mag… fly larva. You have to sell something that people will want to buy, in order to make money. What reason would they have to buy fly larvae?”
I felt a teaching moment coming on; I silently dared her to contradict that one.
“Frogs daddy, people feed them to their fish tank frogs, remember? We saw them at the pet store.”
Touché child of mine. Yes, we had indeed learned that at the last trip to the pet store to replace tropical fish that died of perfectly natural causes. This kid can’t be right all day!
“Yes, but look at your market demographic and point of sale location. Okay, advertising and overhead costs are low, your supply factor is reasonable, at least in the short term, and your mark-up is excellent, but you can’t reach your customer base.”
“How many people do you think will walk by our house who have fish tank frogs??
She began counting her larvae as if that would give her the required number.
“Look, if they don’t have fish tank frogs then they won’t need to buy fly larvae for them, right? Why don’t you do what most kids do and set up a lemonade stand? We can go to the store, by some lemons and make a pitcher. You’ll see, there are a lot more people who would buy a glass of lemonade from a cute little girl than would buy a 25-cent maggot.“
“They’ll be here.” She said with a knowing look.
She had been right a lot that day so far, so what did I know? I helped her make her sign, got her a tray table, and insisted at least that she eat her lunch while she sold.
Sales were grim, as in none; lunch was cold. She valiantly held up her sign on our quiet, country road getting more and more despondent. I took a few photos, because I wanted something to remind me that my kid was an iconoclast. She was no cliché, cookie-cutter kid from some Norman Rockwell culture; my kid had the courage and vision to sell maggots on a deserted road! How can you not love that!?
One man actually walked by her stand. Her eyes lit up as she made her pitch. The fellow looked at me cautiously, and I’m certain I caught him glance around for a hidden camera. I just returned a look of, “Don’t look at me dude, I’m just a Dad along for the ride.” He left without a purchase. (Heartless bastard.)
When she finally gave up, she carried in her stuff, grumbling to herself.
“…stupid people.. stupid fly larvae… stupid stupid fish tank frogs… shoulda sold lemonade instead.”
“What was that Madi?!”
“Listen my sweet pea, everybody has days like this. Sometimes you make a good plan, but it doesn’t turn out the way you expect. Sometimes you want one thing that’s sweet, but you get something sour instead. Sometimes, life hands you a lemon.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“So what do you think you should do when life hands you a lemon?”
She stopped. Her eyes rolled a bit in her head as she worked the problem. Her lower lip that had been turned out in a pout rolled inward as she gummed it, thinking. Then she smiled.
“THAT’S my girl!!”