When I came home from my last business trip, my daughter Katie's lemonade stand was on the sidewalk in front of our house. The sun had set, the ice had melted, and I grumbled as I carried the sticky folding table to the garage.
I checked the till -- about ten bucks in loose change and dollar bills. At 25 cents a cup, that's pretty good for watered-down Country Time in soggy Dixie cups.
It's been heating up in Ohio. We've had a couple 80-degree days already -- good for the lemonade business. Katie's got an entrepreneurial spirit and a ton of energy, and my wife is great at channeling it. Over the winter, Katie sold firewood and hot chocolate. Springtime was smoothies and painted rocks (the neighbors will buy anything).
I did my tour as a stay-at-home parent when Katie was born, and it kills me to miss so much of what is happening now.
But I'm the breadwinner, and like a lot of working parents these days, that means I'm on the road a lot. Last month it was San Francisco, Boston, New York, DC, and all the while I'm thinking of Ohio and our quiet side street with my kid on the corner selling iced lemonade under the hot sun.
"It's my job, Daddy" Katie tells me. She's developing a good work ethic, that's for sure.
"Where's all this money going?" I asked her once.
"You'll see," she said. I imagined coming home one day to a pony in the driveway.
"Just clean up when you're done," I reminded her, knowing she'd forget and knowing I'd end up rinsing the big red cooler, again.
All in all, I realize how lucky I am. I have a job I love, with health care, and a family I can talk to whenever I want -- thank you Skype. But every time I fall asleep in some distant hotel room, I ask myself, "Is what I did today worth more than tucking my kids into bed?"
Children are adaptable. They are resilient. And mine have gotten pretty good at saying goodbye. A hug and a kiss and they send me on my way. No drama, no guilt trips. It is tempting to think they are taking it better than I am.
But a few days ago, Katie brought me a shoebox.
"What's this?" I asked.
"I've been saving it," she said. She lifted the lid, revealing a pile of change and wads of bills.
"This is great, sweetheart," I said, proud of her for not spending it all at the candy store downtown. "What's it for?"
She laid the box in my lap, put her arms around me and said, "It's for you Daddy. So you won't have to go away tomorrow."
I thought about cancelling my meetings for the week. But I have to work, and so I have to leave home sometimes. I talked to Katie about responsibility, and what it means to provide for a family. I held her tight, probably a little too long.
After she went to bed, I realized what I should have said.
"Sweetheart, I promise you we will open a little stand together, and we'll sell firewood in the winter and smoothies in the spring and lemonade all summer long."
Someday soon, I'll make good on that promise.