My daughter, Anevay, follows the green… But I’m not talking money. She is eco-conscious, which means she wants to see things grow. Climate change worries her. So does deforestation, the meat and dairy agribusiness and the patenting of plants and seeds. The unethical labeling of foods and health products really bugs her. When, after finding that she didn’t recognize- and certainly couldn’t pronounce- most of the ingredients on the back of a skincare product we had in the bathroom, she took it upon herself to develop her own skincare company, and asked me if I’d be her business partner.
Together, Anevay and I researched the properties of individual ingredients and learned about the natural chemicals they contain that act as antioxidants and antimicrobials. Every day for months, our kitchen became a laboratory. Our stovetop bubbled with lotions and potions, and our sink became accustomed to drinking the disasters we poured down it.
Slowly, surely, we developed products that we felt proud of. After testing them to ensure their safety, and getting great feedback from friends, family and people in our neighborhood, we were ready for the next step…
“Mom,” Anevay said, “I want this to be a real business. I want to sell our products in stores.”
I sat back and thought for a moment. Having done plenty of professional marketing, I knew how hard it would be… Packaging, labeling, bar codes, taxes, pitching to stores… The horror!
But then I thought about the tradeoffs. I also thought about the countless times people told me I couldn’t do things when I was a teenager.
“OK, Anevay,” I answered. “Let’s do it.”
Today, our small company, Paloma & Co., is sold in four stores in Brooklyn. We’ve hosted skincare classes, met amazing product development pioneers, and, this autumn, will be working to expand. While the company doesn’t yet afford us an income (all of what we earn goes back into the company), we are handed checks from the stores that sell our products, and we sell products online to a growing client base. In addition, because community is important to us, we donate a portion of proceeds to other organizations that we believe help our world, and, this year, hosted our first fundraiser that raised thousands of dollars for a local literacy group.
You know why all of this was possible? One reason: I never said no. I always told Anevay that she could do whatever she wanted to do, and I told her to dream big. I asked her to envision a future for Paloma & Co., and then work- step-by-step- towards her goals.
I think that in our culture, we so often sell our teenagers and young adults short. We tell them that they must wait until they become adults to follow their passions. We force them into the mold of what we believe teens should look like, stifling their creativity, passion and nature. When we tell them to “get jobs” and make “pocket money,” instead of “create work” and “develop projects,” we are telling them that money is more important than their own interests.
Before you jump down my throat and tell me that money is important, and learning the value of a dollar is crucial, let me explain…
Most of the jobs in our society for teens are in the fast food industry. When I was a kid, I worked in fast food. So did my brother. My God, the tedium. The excruciating boredom. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think letting kids be bored is a great thing- but only when they are also given space to think of ideas that lift them outside of their boredom. Developing games with friends, writing stories, creating science projects, and, as in Anevay’s case, creating a company, are some of the fabulous things our kids dream up as a result of them being bored.
But working at a place like McDonalds? My God. We’re essentially saying: Go, kid, make minimum wage. Work your way up. This is how it is. You start off as a bottom feeder, and must slave your way to the top. Good luck. Right now you’re worth nothing, but maybe someday…
The way we frame the problem, however, means that SOMEDAY might never come. We force our kids to work backwards: crap jobs first, slightly less crap jobs second, and, if they’re lucky and dedicated and have the right connections, then, eventually, maybe a job they actually want.
What if, instead, we all listened to our teens and young adults? If we supported their creativity? If instead of waiting until they’re adults to “become something,” we simply believe that they already ARE SOMETHING… People of worth. People to listen to. Our future.
When Anevay was still in public school, she decided she wanted to run for class Vice President. Her political platform? To discuss school lunches. She didn’t just talk about how disgusting they are, but gave information to her classmates about the meat and dairy unions, and told them about how the meat in school lunches is so vile, even McDonalds won’t buy it (the meat is used only in school lunches, fertilizer, and… dog food!). She received a standing ovation for the following line: “We’re kids, not garbage dumps!” Needless to say, she became Vice President. Why? Because, unlike the other kids who were making empty promises about pizza lunches, extra bathroom breaks and the ilk, Anevay had researched a problem that really impacted her classmates, and offered solutions (one meatless day a week and food tastings in coordination with the Department of Education).
Allowing a young person to follow her passion means that she can impact the lives of others. In Anevay’s case, her love of our planet meant she could share information about food and safety with hundreds of other New York City school kids. More recently, it meant that she could develop eco-conscious skincare products that she can now use to educate, inform, and, yes, “beautify.”
I have no doubt that my kid- my fabulous, young person- will make money with her business. Because this is how it should be: we should work at what we love, with the expectation that eventually, what we build will support us.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret… My kid isn’t the only special kid on this planet: ALL kids are special. ALL kids are capable. ALL kids deserve for us to say YES. It doesn’t matter if our kids are alternatively educated (like Anevay), in private schools, or public schools. We adults can support their passions in any and all settings. This should be our priority.
McDonalds, eat your heart out. You won’t be getting my kid to work for you. She’s too busy following the “green.” See, my girl will help her planet AND put a little money in the bank. You could learn a lot from a young person like her. We all could.