Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Little Lemonade Girls

Blair had a lemonade stand last weekend. Actually, we had a yard sale, and set up a lemonade stand for Blair to run so she would tolerate being at the yard sale instead of watching Wow Wow Wubzy. She thought the lemonade stand was the coolest thing she’d ever done in her life, all four years of it, which was saying something.

I decided that this was an opportune “teaching moment” and explained to Blair how we’d give all the money she made to Alex’s Lemonade Foundation, the charity started in Philly years ago by a four-year-old named Alex who had cancer and held a lemonade stand to raise money for her hospital to help find a cure. Alex didn’t stop at one stand. In fact, over four years, she raised $1 million, declaring that, the following year, she’d raise five times that.

Then, Alex died. She was 8.

Not long after, I interviewed her parents for an article I was writing for Philadelphia Magazine. We were naming Liz and Jay Scott “Best Philadelphians” for 2005 because they'd decided to continue their daughter’s mission—raising $5 million through lemonade stands—by quitting their jobs and focusing their lives on what their daughter had begun.

I was pregnant with Blair as I sat in the Scott’s living room with my tape-recorder running. Liz talked about how she could tell, early on, that Alex was sick. I asked her to explain that in more detail, thinking not about the article, but about the baby in my own tummy, wondering how would I know if she ended up being sick. Liz cried only once talking about her daughter Alex—not about the illness or about the lemonade stands—but about the little girl who liked the color purple. She missed her daughter. She missed her. I couldn’t fathom it—missing a child who had died. I couldn’t even fathom having a child. I had no idea how enormous, how consuming, how life-changing my love for that child would be. I didn’t understand.

“Who wants lemonade?” Blair yelled--screamed, really--to people on Saturday as they were getting out of the cars, as they were browsing our card tables set up in the driveway, as they were standing right in front of her with quarters in hand.

“She’s really learning how to be a savvy business woman,” more than one person said to me. Each time, I thought how Blair was the same age Alex had been when she had her first lemonade stand—both of them so alike, two little girls who believed that selling lemonade was the coolest thing they’d ever done. I couldn’t allow myself to think beyond that—to think about what happened to Alex, to imagine that happening to Blair. I couldn’t. Because that would mean I’d have to imagine missing her. Missing her.

I realized now, finally, I understood.

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