Two months ago, on a cold Friday afternoon, my 9-year-old daughter Emma came home from school very excited. She had learned how to make paper footballs, a close cousin to the paper airplane. Before she could even take her coat off and hang up her backpack, she had grabbed a stack of paper to show me how to make them. The result was a folded up triangle that looked like a football. I was only half paying attention when she asked me if I thought she could sell them.
“Sure,” I said, brushing her off.
“Do you think anyone will buy them?” she asked.
“Uh-huh,” I answered, still not focusing too much on what she was telling me, as other more important tasks were holding my time.
To my surprise, I looked out my front door 30 minutes later and there was Emma at the end of our long dirt driveway, setting up shop. She had a sturdy white table (dragged all the way from the shed out back), marketing materials, a box for change, her favorite green camping chair, her big winter coat (did I mention it was freezing?) and lots and lots of paper.
I wanted to laugh, but I was actually kind of proud of her. My little entrepreneur.
Emma sat there for two full hours trying to sell her paper footballs. Car after car passed, and each time they did I saw her eyes follow the headlights to the tail lights in a wave of disappointment. One lone jogger promised to buy a paper football next time he ran by. Emma gave him one for free. My mom and dad were up visiting and they bought a few, at 10 cents each. I may or may not have bribed my son, Hayden, to buy several for his friends. But really, nobody stopped.
As the sun started to set I watched Emma take down her make-shift shop, and I wondered if she would’ve had more business if she were selling hours.
If dollars could buy hours, well, she would have made a fortune. The line would’ve grow around the house, with everyone digging deep to find all their extra change. Young and old and in-between — each one with a story:
“I have been away from my kids all day long at work, and so please sell me eight. Tonight we will play board games, make cookies, watch home movies, and stay up all too late.”
“I’d like 10 to buy myself hours of sleep. I work all night and some days too, because the bills are deep.”
“My wife and I never talk or laugh much more, so five will do me great. It’s been too long, you see, and well overdue since I took her on a date.”
“I spent a whole year holding a grudge, here is a check for $8,760. This time around I’ll do it different and not be so quick to judge.”
“Give me 10 so my Dad can take me snowmobiling tomorrow, just like he keeps saying he will, and 10 more so we can go again. Little girl, here’s a $20 bill.”
“Seven hours will do for me, one for each day this week. To make a home-cooked meal for my family will really be a treat.”
“I’ve been saving all year to buy a new car, but I think what I’ll do instead is buy 300 hours and restore that old ’74 out in the shed.”
“I want an extra hour in the morning, and one at nighttime too, to hold my kids and read to them instead of passing through.”
“I only need three hours, but I will put them to good use. My neighbor needs help cutting down a tree, and now I don’t have an excuse.”
“I’ll start with 100, but I will be back for more. I’ve waited too long to go back to school, and now it won’t be such a chore.”
Then one old man might approach her white table, stopping for a welcome breath. “I walked right here, not resting once, for a chance to buy an hour. You see my kids don’t have any time, not a moment to spare, and all I want is a nice long visit. I don’t have much, four quarters to my name, but it’s all that I’ve got. Now please, little lady, package up that hour, and mail them what I bought.”
Her till chock full, and the customers nearly gone, I bought two for my own dilemma. And planned to spend every minute — all 120 — making paper footballs with my Emma.