to market to market

On a sultry afternoon we arrived with homemade peppermint patties and chilled oreos sprinkled with rose petals and pistachios, an irritable three-year-old, a serene newborn, five hand-sewn felt purses, six hand-drawn cards, and two kids full of optimism. The cookies had to be kept cold. The baby had to stay in the shade. The three-year-old had to be kept away from the money box. It was a moment of balance.

I want, very much, to support my children’s entrepreneurial interests. I want to meet their requests to sell crafts / setup stands / make money all their own with a frank, open gaze that says “I hear you. What an interesting idea you’ve got there.” Kids can learn marketing, money management, product development, and the rich toolbox of manners like eye contact, smiles, and hellos all from a little small business exposure.

I also want to convey ideas like cost of materials, time spent, energy allotment, mom’s general sanity. If I say yes to this idea for our family, I’ll inevitably be saying no to other things along the way. Since we’re new in this town, Joe and I have taken the startup idea of “fail fast” to heart. Try new things quickly and find your favorites like an old local. So last fall when the seven-year-old told me she wanted to have a stand at the market selling art, I said hmmm maybe. This spring I looked up the market manager’s email and emailed her to ask about kid stands. Was that even allowed?

The market manager emailed me back to say they had one day per month when kids were welcome to setup stands and sell whatever they liked. Perfect! I could channel the energy but not sign our whole summer away.

After visiting the market a few times the girls settled on something they thought was deeply underrepresented: cookies. Plus they wanted to sell hand-drawn nature cards, and copies of a simple felt purse they had themselves and loved. We ordered supplies and wrote down costs. I emailed a friend to borrow a table and tent. Joe helped the girls repurpose a box into a sign. We dusted off the picnic blanket and chose some props. One child and I slathered our way through an “easy” peppermint patty recipe from Genius Desserts and portioned them into paper bags. The other child generously peppered rose petals, pistachios, crushed candy canes, and gold sprinkles on Newman’s Os.

Had we had managed to make ten purses, we would have sold ten. But this was their market, not mine, and so we had five, and sold out in the first hour. One girl’s cookies sold faster than her crafts, the other had the opposite dilemma. Across from us a lemonade stand hammered together with a chalkboard listed a special deal if you bought both a cookie and a lemonade. Small tables lined the corners of the sidewalk, kids sitting on blankets demurely hawking rhubarb pie slices and ball jars hand-plastered with marbles.

^^ That’s the only photo I got with the purses, they sold so quickly / I was very busy sitting in the shade acting nondescript. Next time!

Here’s the funny thing about these things: as an adult I focus on product (cost) and result (money). A good idea? You’ll make millions. Spend a bunch of time and barely covered your costs? Must be a bad idea!

But the girls focused on the people they talked to, the way the market felt, how were they were perceived by the adult customers, how proud they were that they never had to ask for help making change, and didn’t defer to us to answer their questions.

The money they made (after paying us back for costs) was quickly spent at neighboring stands. A woman down the way sells polished stones looped onto soft cords. The girls had been eyeing those for weeks.

So it was totally worth it. But I’m glad it’s only once a month.


  • Sarah

    This may be the cutest thing I ever did see! I can imagine they felt so empowered creatively!
    I’ve been following along since your recent move from Boston and have wondered if you miss the city? I’m a mom of two girls and we’ve always debated wether to move closer into our city of Richmond,VA or to move further out. We also plan to homeschool and I see benefits and feel drawn to both! What factored into your choice to move out and how did you feel at peace about that after being “in the middle of it all”? <3

    • Rachael

      Yes there are definitely benefits to both. As adults, we felt the pull to have space for more hobbies–gardening, woodworking, planting trees, a fireplace. I call them hobbies, but really they are they stuff of life! Being in the city was really fun for a time and I miss things like walking everywhere together, doing errands quickly on the way to other things, and the institutions, like museums and Broadway shows. But at these ages, the play and imagination that come from having space, time, and silence is invaluable to us.

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