The more things change, the more they stay the same. This occurred to me recently after hanging out on a street corner in the hazy end-of-summer sunshine with my friends, Lori and Jenny, and their two sons. I met them about four years ago when our youngest boys started kindergarten together at Lincoln School. Lori and Jenny were hard to miss: two women, an obvious couple, often walking to school with their two little boys; picking them up at the end of the day, all four, together. The thing that struck me about them — and I was sometimes a little jealous — was how tight a family unit they were. They always seemed to be on family bike rides, or on walks around the block, or going to the baseball game. My family, on the other hand, is a lot more like five separate entities: Nat, my oldest, is autistic, but actually the rest of us are also very much into our own private interests. I often despair about our lack of family unity. So I was really happy when Benji, my youngest, became friends with their son, Andy, because they seemed to know how to have fun — all together.
I was right. Whenever we had an afternoon with nothing much planned, I could nearly always count on Lori and Jenny to have an idea. Sometimes, we would all go to a big field and shoot off model rockets that their older son builds. Sometimes we would go to the park around the corner and the boys would shoot cap guns and ride scooters.
On this particular Saturday, the activity was putting up a lemonade stand. I took Benji and Nat, and we walked down the hill to Walnut Street to meet them. Everyone looked up and greeted us warmly. Lori produced a Rice Krispie square right away for Nat, whom she has taken under wing. She is the one who successfully introduced him to his first cap gun experience, with the appropriate warning about the loud noise he was about to hear. Once, when the other kids were playing softball and Nat’s autism prevented him from focusing properly on the game, Lori found him a toy airplane to throw around. I knew that she would try to engage him somehow this time with the lemonade sales.
The problem was, no one was buying. People would do U-turns right in front of our stand but still not stop to buy lemonade. Others were out getting exercise, but had no money for a drink. Benji tried to entice passersby with his hand puppet, but to no avail. Nat started to seem antsy — I’m not sure if he understood the concept of the lemonade stand, particularly such a dormant one — so Lori took him inside and asked him to come pick out some candy. Five minutes later, there was Nat with a small bag of candy and a huge grin on his face.
None of the kids cared that they did not make many real sales (of course, my husband came and bought some, but it didn’t really count). It was just like the lemonade or bead jewelry stands I had operated when I was a kid, where you work hard on the product, on coloring in the vivid Magic-Markered sign, and on figuring the cost of the merchandise, (then, a nickel, now, a quarter) but still went bankrupt by the end of the day. And, most of your sales came from your mother or father. Back then, however, there were no autistic kids in the neighborhood, nor were there any gay families; at least, none that I was aware of. What a relief it is to me that things have changed, because all of our kids experience difference so positively; naturally and easily. Andy has two moms. Benji has an autistic brother. Big deal, let’s sell some lemonade.
I wasn’t thinking about this, though, when I walked down the hill to join my friends. The thing on my mind was how I knew without a doubt that for the next few hours, my boys were going to have something interesting to do, with kind, fun people who knew how to have a good time — and that I could be part of it, too. So little effort, and yet, exactly what I would wish for on a hot afternoon in the middle of summer. A failed lemonade stand, perspiring parents and excited kids; a happy combination, no matter what decade you’re from. Because as the saying (sort of) goes: when God gives you good friends with lemons, sell lemonade.
Copyright 2006, Susan Senator