When life gives you lemons

Many years ago, my daughter wanted to open a lemonade stand. Without a lot of thought, I assented. We made a quick pitcher of lemonade, I handed her some cups to go with it, and she scurried outside to set up shop.

About an hour later, my aunt and uncle arrived for dinner. They came in the house four dollars poorer, carrying cups of suspiciously light swill. It didn’t look like the drink we had made, so when my daughter came inside, I gave her the third degree on her business operations.

That little stinker had taken matters into her own hands. Rather than charging $0.25 per cup as agreed, she had increased the price to $2.00. She pressed her brother and the neighbor girl into service, with one flagging down cars and the other selling the drink door to door. When they ran out of lemonade, Miss Industrious simply inserted the hose into the empty pitcher and filled it with water–and continued to make sales. $2.00 for a cup of lemony-scented spigot water, and she was raking it in. While I secretly admired her industriousness, I questioned her business ethics.

The next time my daughter told me she wanted to open a lemonade stand, I was determined to make it a learning experience.

I agreed to let Miss Industrious restart her business, but on my terms. Rather than simply raiding my pantry, we went to the grocery store to buy cups and lemonade mix, as well as posterboard for her signs. Eight-ish dollars later, we trotted home with her supplies and an understanding that she had to repay me for the $8 business loan from her revenue. (She also knew that if she ran out of drink, she had to use the mix we bought to make more–no bait-and-switch tactics this time!)

The next morning with her signs lettered and her lemonade mixed, she was ready to sell. I gave her babysitter the rundown of my expectations, with instructions to keep Miss Industrious adherent to the rules. I went to work and left them to it.

When I returned, I asked how the day had gone. Miss Industrious proudly told me she had made twenty-something dollars. (I don’t remember the exact number.) Rather than congratulating her immediately, I reminded her that she owed me eight–she hadn’t “made” 20something, but rather 20something minus eight. The most important lesson, I thought, was the economic principle.

As usual, I was wrong.

Instead of handing me eight dollars, Miss Industrious handed me all her money. You see, I was preparing to participate in a charity bike ride to benefit cancer research.* The event requires several thousand dollars per rider in fundraising, and her plan all along had been to help me raise money. Here, Mom, she said. It’s all for you. It’s for the PMC.

If she learned a lesson that day, I learned a bigger one.

I may have taught her economics, but she taught me heart.

*If you haven’t heard of the Pan-Mass Challenge, check it out at pmc.org. I don’t ride anymore–192 miles in two days are too much for my knees–but the event remains no less worthy. In fact, it’s pretty amazing.

Pulse check

I laid out some goals at the end of last year, hoping that holding myself publicly accountable would keep me on track. To stay true to that intent, I think it’s time for a pulse check–maybe past time. I’ve copied and pasted my goals from the original post so you’ll know what I’m talking about. Here goes.

  1. I’m going to continue my French lessons so that I can become reasonably conversational with my newfound family members. I want to be able to express myself in their language. I continued with private lessons for the first couple months of the year, but dropped them shortly thereafter. My schedule has continued to burgeon, and I haven’t been able to fit them in. I’d like to get back to it someday (soon, I hope), but something had to give. This one is sitting on the back burner.
  2. I’m going to run the Indy Mini again. My goal is to improve my time from the last Mini I ran, even if it is by one second. I ran the Mini but fell far short of my time goal. I wrote about my experience HERE, and I’m already signed up to redeem myself next year.
  3. I’m going to ride the PMC again this year. This time, I’m going to put in 500 miles on the bike before I cross the starting line. That means getting on the saddle earlier and more regularly. I. Did. It. YES! I didn’t get in quite all of the 500 miles I intended, but I trained better, harder, and more regularly. I put together a plan for both physical and mental success, and I followed it pretty closely. It paid off for me with my best ride yet. I had a great time and finished strong.
  4. I’m going to run five races besides the Mini this year. I need events to keep me true to my running. Complete, and then some. Races: 1. Runaway Eagles 5K; 2. Running for World Water 5K; 3. Warrior Dash Indiana; 4. Eradicate Polio 5K; 5. Warrior Dash Oregon; 6. Rebel Race. And my son has been pushing me to run a few more.
  5. I’m going to sit down to dinner with my kids at least one night a week. Sketchy. Some weeks I do well, others I don’t. In any case, it’s not a routine practice.
  6. I’m going to teach my kids to follow a recipe. We’ve done some cooking together this year, and I’m hopeful. In fact, I’m pretty sure they could muddle their way through alone by now.
  7. I’m going to write something bigger than an article, and then I’m going to try to have it published. Stalled.

All in all, I’d give myself a C+/B-. Your advice, comments, and encouragement are welcome; please send your thoughts my way. How’s your year going?

Cleaning sunglasses


I haven’t been able to write for a week, not for lack of time or topic, but because I haven’t been able to sort out the jumble of thoughts in my head following my PMC ride. (In case you’ve forgotten what that is, click HERE for the facts, or HERE and HERE for the inspiration.) I’m finally able to eke something out, but I suspect this topic will be sneaking into my posts for some time to come.

I had planned for this to be my last PMC ride. The fundraising commitment is incredibly steep and the hours of long, lonely training rides have taken their toll on my psyche. I wanted to go out on a high note–one last, good ride–and I accomplished that. I had a great ride, both mentally and physically. I finished feeling full.

By the time I boarded the party boat, er, ferry back to Boston, I started having second thoughts. What if…what if I came back again?

So far, I’ve been able to rein myself in and withhold commitment until I come down from the endorphin high. It has gotten me thinking, though. Why, exactly, do I feel drawn to this ride? What keeps me and so many others coming back year after year?

For one thing, it is extremely well-organized. The staff has identified every possible rider need and takes pains to address each one. From road signs to police support to food and water to porta-johns to icy hot to music to dorm space to luggage transfer to beer at the finish, it magically gets done. As a rider, I don’t even give it a thought; that’s pretty amazing.

Then there are the volunteers. More than 3000 people work their you-know-whats off to keep us riding, and they’re just as committed as the riders. At one water stop, I saw an older man with limited mobility sitting between tables of fruit and power bars. When I moved closer, I heard him telling people to bring their sunglasses to him; he would clean them. And trust me, he was. He may not have been able to lug jugs of water or move boxes of yogurt, so he found the thing he COULD do and made his contribution; the amazing thing is that he’s not unique among his fellow volunteers. I find that kind of commitment overwhelming.

Finally, the spectators play a huge role in keeping people committed. From Sturbridge to Provincetown, the cacophony of sound rarely ceases. Cowbells, cheers, clapping, boomboxes, bagpipes, drums, whistles, and the ubiquitous thank-yous keep those pedals turning. This year, I again saw many signs that read I’m alive today because of you! I’m a survivor! and My daughter is 14 today because of you! (The latter was painted on the back window of an imposing black SUV that cruised part of the route to make sure we saw it.) Kids lined up to give us high fives as we rode, and the full complement of campers at the Cape Cod Sea Camp (Da Hedge) came out in force and greeted us with deafening cheers as we rode by. With “Thank you for riding!” bombarding me for 190 miles, I finished feeling like a rock star. Riders keep coming back because we’re left somehow believing we’ll let these people down if we don’t.

What finally became clear to me is that everyone has a role to play. This event would not be so successful without each of these groups of people. We all do what we can, and that’s what makes it great.

I don’t know if I’ll ride again next year, but I’m pretty sure my involvement with the PMC is not over. I have visions of renting a vacation house on the Cape during PMC weekend just so my kids and I can set up camp along US 6 and scream our support. Or maybe I’ll mix Gatorade in Wellfleet. Or direct traffic in Wareham. Or pass out ibuprofen in Bourne.

One person can make a difference. Look at what thousands of them together can do. Never underestimate your contribution to a cause, even if all you can do is clean sunglasses.

Flying high

In less than two weeks, I will ride my bike a grueling, but beautiful, 190 miles to benefit cancer research. (See my note HERE if you want to learn more.) The price of entry is a fundraising commitment that seems impossible: $4300, and I treasure every gift, whether large or small.

Many, many people support me with donations and encouragement, but no one believes in me more completely than my daughter. In 2010, she begged me to let her set up a lemonade stand so she could have some spending money. At the end of the day, with a sly grin she proudly handed me the entire proceeds, $13.25, for my PMC ride. That had been her plan all along.

Last year, she gave me the only $5 she had in her possession, with a note that said, “Just do it, Mommy!” and she followed up this year with a flurry of organization. In May, she began prodding me to get on the bike, get my fundraising letters out, and get on with it. If it weren’t for her, I’d probably still be procrastinating.

Little did I know, her organization didn’t stop with getting me in line. For months, she has quietly squirreled away every coin, bill, and birthday check that has come into her possession. Yesterday, she presented me with $47.64 that helped push me over the threshold of my fundraising commitment. Stunned at her forethought and planning–not to mention the generosity of giving me everything she had–I had no words beyond, “Are you sure?”

Some part of me feels guilty for taking money from a child, but a bigger part realizes that this is her way to shine. She has long-since thought this through. This is her gift to me and to the cause, and she has worked hard to pull it together. To refuse it would not only be an insult to her efforts, but it would also constrict the very thing I should be nurturing: her generous heart.

As a parent, I struggle daily with knowing when to direct, when to guide, when to suggest, and when to back away. I want my kids not only to do the right thing, but also to identify it and choose it for themselves. That means I can’t always tell them what to do; I have to let them make their own choices. It’s hard, because I think of all the ways they could fall down. What I often forget, however, is how much higher they’ll soar if I remove my tether. Today, my daughter is soaring higher than I ever will.