A LABOR OF LOVE
Its that time of year again. September means the fall, the start of homeschooling and for our family, the start of our seasonal business known as Happy Hearts, run by my two daughters (ages 12 and 10) and myself. This little business of ours has gone on for 15 years, and as one group of my children left the business, the younger ones have taken it over.
How does one go into business (and stay in business!) with ones children? For us, the initial answer lay in that old adage of necessity being the mother of invention. Well, perhaps not necessity, but the opportunity of providing a meaningful life experience for our homeschooling family. It all began when my five year old twins went into my purse and took some money. They didnt try to hide anything- they just took it! I tried to explain that they had to ask a parent before taking money. So, I took the money back and thought that settled it. Two days later, they had raided their eight year old brothers piggy bank. I believe they thought that brothers were fair game. So I had a slightly more direct talk about taking things from anyone and mentioned the word stealing. They looked at me with those adorable blue eyes and said so how does money work?
I realized then that I was in a teachable moment. So I took them out to our garden ripe with pumpkins and squash and explained that money comes in when someone sells something that another person would like. I casually mentioned that if we sold our squash to people in the neighborhood we would get paid money for it. Their response was Lets do it now! And that is how Happy Hearts began-going around the neighborhood with a cart full of our produce.
Eventually the business expanded beyond the neighbors since we live out in the country and dont have that many. The boys thought about what things we had in our house and woods that people might like to buy. At first it was little leaf light window decorations and other fall decorations along with flower seeds sold locally but soon we joined the ranks of holiday catalogs. As the boys learned more natural crafts and eventually some woodworking, it went into the small catalog that we mailed to friends around the country every September. Our last day of business was always around December 6 so our family could focus more on the holiday season.
. The boys also learned to run a real business- to consider inventory, cost of goods sold and their profit margin and how to divide the work up between the three of them fairly. I fronted their initial inventory costs but I had to be paid back first from the sales. They were always happy when the chart they kept showed that they had finally taken in orders beyond the costs of the inventory. Production was one of the hardest lessons for them. Sometimes we actually had a lot of work and they had to be responsible to get an order out within a week whether they wanted to or not. I insisted on tithing and so each year we picked a charity that they could get to know and willingly support. I still fondly remember one of those early years when we had tithed, saved ten percent into a savings account, bought family Christmas gifts (or made them) and the boys still had a small amount of profit to share and spend. They negotiated together and agreed on a Lego toy and went out with their grandmother to buy it. Grandma was sure they didnt have quite enough and she was going to make up the difference but amazingly, the toy was on sale and they proudly paid for it all themselves. Their comment was It sure feels good to earn the money ourselves. What their grandma did do was match the money they saved each season and put it into a long term savings account. She died before they went to college but there was a nice little sum for the boys when they each turned eighteen.
The height of the boys business came in the year 2002 when they actually grossed $1,000, and were written up in our local Sunday newspaper with a full page spread entitled A Labor of Love. As they became teenagers, their interests turned to other things and jobs out in the wider world. But by this time, my little girls really wanted to carry on what their big brothers had done. I had to help them a great deal at first but I soon realized that they were not only enthusiastic but quite resourceful and disciplined. Perhaps growing up with their brothers had affected how they viewed the work they needed to do to sustain the little business. The last two years, they have also had the patience to sit all day in a booth at a community craft fair (the only children there) and at a noisy school gym for another neighborhood craft fair evening.
This year I had to tell my girls that I was busier than ever working from home at two part time jobs as well as homeschooling. I told them that they would have to be very well organized and self motivated if the business was going to succeed. They assured me they would do it and promptly pared down some of our slow selling items and took on some more challenging jewelry and sewing work. They are determined to match their brothers $1000 year and tithe $100 to the rainforest so they can buy an acre of land to protect it. I admire their idealism and their entrepreneurial spirit and this just might be the year they make that goal. And I remember that in the turning seasons of our lives, this little business and homeschooling itself is truly a family labor of love.