When my six-year-old daughter bounded into the kitchen one bright, crisp January morning and announced that she wanted to go door to door to sell her Girl Scout cookies “TODAY!!” my heart skipped a beat. OK—it skipped several. Fine—who am I kidding? The truth is that the sensation I experienced upon hearing this news was more akin to being forcefully lobbed in the gut by an errant volleyball than a minor little heart flutter.
My eyes scanned the ceiling searching for excuses as to why we couldn’t go—not today, probably not ever!—as my mind raced through the standard questions of a highly reluctant Girl Scout mom. Why was my daughter so excited to approach strangers’ doors to offer them cookies that they would invariably decline? Why did she want to spend her Saturday listening to her neighbors’ manufactured explanations as to why they couldn’t buy cookies this year? (Let’s recite them together, kids: food allergies, New Year’s resolutions, the evils of sugar.) Why would she willingly darken this sunny Saturday with the ugly, gray thunderclouds of repeated and systematic rejection from her very neighbors?
Because she didn’t know any better—that’s why. And frankly, I was perfectly happy to keep it that way.
“We don’t need to go door to door, honey,” I said, trying to keep my voice level so she wouldn’t sense my compounding hysteria. “We can just go to some of our close friends’ and family members’ houses. We can drive!!” I added that last sentence with much enthusiasm, hoping my daughter might appreciate the opportunity to sell in climate-controlled style instead of hoofing it down our block from one house to the next like your basic entry-level salesman. The glamour I proposed was lost on her.
“No, Mom,” she said. “I’m a Girl Scout, and this is my job. How would you like it if you had a job to do and someone told you you couldn’t do it?!?” The steely determination in her eyes was inspiring, I have to admit, but it still didn’t stop me from daydreaming for a split second about that glorious possibility. What if someone actually approached me one day and told me I couldn’t do my job… “I’m sorry, ma’am. We have come to issue you a cease and desist order. You are going to need to vacate your parental responsibilities for today.” Oh, twist my arm, officer.
And so off we went. One highly enthusiastic six-year-old skipping down the street, her ponytail bouncing in the sunlight, and one markedly unenthusiastic middle-aged mom, skulking at least six feet behind her daughter as if she were trying to hide in her shadow, desperately wishing with every step that the street would just swallow her whole.
The adventure started off better than I had anticipated, actually. Our first house was a no answer. I knew very well our neighbor was home, as I had seen him pull in just minutes before, but no biggie. Our second house was a SALE! Those two cookie boxes lit a fire under my daughter brighter than the Olympic torch!
“I sold two boxes, Mommy!“ she exclaimed. “How many more until I reach 100?“
The third house presented a problem. We could clearly hear the neighbors inside conversing on the other side of the door after my daughter rang the doorbell, and it became quite obvious after a few moments of uninterrupted muffled talking that they had no intention of opening the door.
“But they’re home, Mommy,” my daughter implored. “Let me just ring the doorbell one more time. How about if I knock? Maybe they can’t hear the doorbell.”
I rejected all of her attention-seeking proposals, including her suggestion that she should climb on their windowsill so they could see her and her “cookie menu.” It was at this point that I had to explain why we can’t press our hands and faces against someone’s door and why we can’t stand on someone’s porch for extended periods hoping that they might eventually realize there is a Girl Scout selling cookies waiting for them on the other side.
This was a situation that was difficult for my daughter to understand. It was also a situation that was difficult for me to explain in sensitive, six-year-old-appropriate terms. In short, we were three houses down, and I was ready to crawl into a fetal position and cry.
But that was a pleasure cruise compared to what happened at the fourth house. As we approached their door, I explained to my daughter that I knew these neighbors, that I had met them at a party before and they had two adopted daughters so they obviously had big hearts and loved kids. We had already waved to the husband who was out working on his car at the end of their driveway, and my daughter approached the door with confidence. She rang the bell, and we waited.
She turned around to look at me standing a few feet behind her, smiled, and waved in a cute little nervous gesture. I smiled and waved back, and we waited a little more. And then, right as I was about to suggest we turn around, a robed figure came briskly into view. It was the wife, the woman with whom I had once shared a rather deep conversation about the heartbreak of infertility and to whom I wave daily as I pass her in the routine comings-and-goings of neighbors. Much to my great surprise, when she got close enough to see us, she wrinkled up her nose in disgust, shook her head disapprovingly from side to side, and shooed us away with a dismissive flick of the wrist. And just like that, she turned around and walked away. She never even opened the door.
The effect of her actions was immediate and searing. “Why was that lady so mean?” my daughter asked as she turned around and tearfully scanned my eyes for understanding. “I thought you said you knew her. Why was she looking at us so mean, Mommy?” I was completely flustered and scrambled to find a way to cover for this lady, whose nasty, scrunched-up face was now burned into my brain for all of eternity.
I explained to my daughter that we possibly woke her up from a nap and she was tired. I told her that maybe our neighbor had the flu or the stomach bug or had been up all night caring for her sick children. I said that maybe she was having a bad day or was sad. I explained that some people don’t want anyone knocking on their door. I also told my daughter we could quit selling if she didn’t want to continue, secretly hoping she would agree that giving up was the best course of action.
But she wouldn’t hear of it. “I’ve only sold two boxes so far, Mom. And I want to get to 100 so I can get that cool rainbow pillowcase!” I gritted my teeth and thought of all the emotional turmoil I’d have to endure in the name of winning a rainbow pillowcase that would probably retail for $5 at most. I was willing to buy 20 rainbow pillowcases to put an end to this misery—maybe even 25. But we pressed on, and my daughter made a few more solid sales before we agreed it was time to head home.
Later that night, as she was saying her prayers, my daughter surprised me by praying for the mean ol’ neighbor lady. She prayed that our neighbor wouldn’t be mean anymore and that she would open the door for other Girl Scouts who came to her house. I was so touched by the innocence and intention of my daughter’s heart and prayer. She didn’t wish the lady any harm (unlike her derelict mama, who had already fantasized about egging her house, rolling her house with toilet paper on a rainy evening, and leaving flaming sacks of dog poop outside her front door).
Although my first impulse was to seek retaliation for what I perceived as an inexcusable wrong, I realized upon reflection that I could rise above and learn from the experience. It reminded me of the importance of buying from our little salespeople—be it at a lemonade stand, in front of a store, or during door-to-door sales. For many, selling cookies is one of their first “grown-up” experiences, and it takes true courage for them to speak to unfamiliar adults. I learned firsthand how important it is to their confidence that these interactions be positive.
I also learned from my daughter. I learned the importance of resilience and keeping your chin up even when you want to quit. I learned the importance of forgiving and moving on and not letting one person’s negative actions or words stand in the way of your goals. If a six-year-old can master these skills, surely her mama can do a better job too.
As for my little Girl Scout, she didn’t reach her goal of selling 100 boxes, though I have no doubt she would have had her mama felt emotionally and physically able to carry on for a while longer. But even falling short of her goal was a teachable moment. Sometimes we don’t always accomplish what we set out to do, but that’s OK as long as we try. Life is full of lessons; we just have to remember to look for them. So thanks, mean ol’ neighbor lady, for opening the door on a big one that day. I just hope you don’t open the door on a big ol’ pile of steaming dog poop sometime. And if you do, it wasn’t me.