If you’re trying to write a regular blog, it’s hard to decide what people would want to read about. There are things I’d want to write about- like gardening, fascinating people you meet on the bus, or the confluence of religion and spices in 15th century sea exploration. But I don’t know who would want to read about them or what they have to do with Neighborhoods. Although both today and yesterday I was taste testing multiple options for the right spring chai, which I now know has its word origin linked to 16th century Indian tea and spices. Maybe there is a link there, but it probably only appeals to a very narrow audience.
Yesterday I was working on the floor and having a wonderful time when one of our regulars came in and said how much he loved reading the blog so far. He encouraged and inspired me to write something again because he liked reading the stories. An employee suggested I share how I live out the work/life balance of a small business owner. The customer’s enthusiasm gave me some confidence it may interest someone besides her and my mom, who likes anything I do.
I have four human children, but I’ve birthed five. We joke that we had a child every two years. The first one came in June of 2006, just ten months into our marriage, our second eighteen months after that, and our third child twenty-one months later. Then Neighborhoods, the fourth child, was born in November of 2012 six years after my first born. You may think I had enough on my plate, but somehow in 2013, all I wanted was another sweet baby. It’s pretty special when the Dr. hands them to you with those tiny fists, red scrunched faces, and curled up toes. They cut the umbilical cord, put a thin little pink and blue striped hat on their pointed head, and if everything is according to plan, you’re immediately holding a brand new human against your skin to give them comfort from the fluorescent lights and a chilly wide world. It took some convincing, probably because my husband didn’t want me to have a nervous breakdown, but my argument that someone was still missing at the dinner table finally won him over. And so in 2014, two years into Neighborhoods, little Benjamin joined the party.
Most small businesses, especially restaurants, fail within the first three years. Some say 20% in year one, 60% by year three and I’ve seen the number 80% next to the word failure by year five. Who knows how ‘they’ are gathering all the statistics, and if they’re accurate, but it’s true that some restaurants fail. I know. I still have that equipment given to me from a tea house that went under. It’s great to have the pastry case, stainless steel tables, and extra fridges, but it makes you a little more aware when the equipment included an orange Hawaiian crayon bag that now sits in our homeschool cabinet and has their daughter’s name on it. When the bank took everything back, they weren’t allowed to go in and clean out anything. The crayon owner’s middle name was Grace. Just like my second daughter’s. So why, when you started a new business, that you heard was more likely to fail than succeed, would you be hungry to add in a baby who would have to nurse every two and a half hours?
Because it’s not about the money. Maybe I could give my life just to Neighborhoods and work seventy hours a week, knocking on every door to hand each resident a free coffee coupon so that they know where to find the hidden gem of restaurant row and I could make more money. Or I could go with my son on his scooter to go advertise together and hit fewer residences. Somewhere in that one to three year mark, a week came that we weren’t going to have enough to pay our employees, let alone ourselves. I needed to be working, but it was a ‘home’ day. I was pregnant and the girls were in co-op (I homeschool, but that’s a different story too!) and just Nathan and I were together. So it become a both home and work day. My then four year old son rode his Lightning McQueen scooter up and down Peterborough Street and helped me tape up a “Buy one crepe, get one half off sign.” I would rip the scotch tape, and he would hang the signs. We went up Peterborough, down Queensberry, and all along Park Drive, hanging our signs and overcoming a challenge. Together. And when the residents came out in force the next day for their buy one, get one free crepes, no one was more excited at dinner to hear that we made payroll than him. Well maybe no one. I was pretty excited too.
Because what life is really about is relationships. If you do it all alone and put money as your highest priority, even above people, there’s no one who fully identifies with that agonized deep breath in or that joy filled laugh out loud. Money really only has value in relationship to people. And relationships flourish in team. Even God, the Judeo-Christian God, works in team: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit serving alongside each other. Plus when you have limits, such as time, you have to lean on others. So at Neighborhoods, it isn’t a one man (or one woman) show. It’s the employees working together that kill it on a Saturday, and at that point, they’re not really working for me or for their hourly wage. In the busiest moments, they are usually working for each other. And somehow those hardest days are the ones people talk about almost as if they may have liked them most- but I bet it wasn’t merely because they performed well and served customers well and made extra tips. I bet it was because they performed well together, and that made it worth something beyond money.
It’s also not about the temporal. Delaying having children because I ought to have invested more time in my business would not have been a long run decision. Have you seen the Fenway lately? At the rate it’s changing, I may or may not have a lease there in ten more years. But barring a tragedy, I’ll still have a Benjamin.
And yet, investing in my business is important. Healthy things grow. Money is, in fact, a barometer of a healthy business. We use money to help our family live, eat, buy that scooter to go up and down Peterborough, and to help others too- paying their salaries, their wages and sharing with some who don’t have.
So how do you choose what to do and where to invest time? A wise and lovely woman once told me to think of life like a tapestry that you are spending your life to weave. Your marriage is a piece of that tapestry, each child is a piece of that tapestry, your work is a piece of that tapestry, insert the things you feel compelled to invest in here. And it’s about seasons. So some seasons you really invest in one more than another but it’s all one life. It’s not compartmentalized. That’s helped me each year. Each day actually. Because you can see when something is tearing and you need to pay extra attention to it, or when something is growing and you need to guide and shape the emerging beauty out of it. So I try to live that way--to look and watch and invest where I can, when I can, in the best way I know how at the time. Sometimes you miss out on soccer games and sometimes you miss out on steaming milk, but if you do it all in team, there is still someone else to cheer or serve. And so you can do anything, together, which actually makes whatever’s birthed more beautiful.
Today I read an email from someone with the Center for Woman and Enterprise, that exceptional organization that helped me find Hank, the furniture business owner and ultimate refiner of business plans. It seems I’ve been nominated for “The Rising Star Award,” and she loved reading my “story” on our blog. I don’t think she loved it just because I gave them a thank you where the shout out was due. I think we love stories because we’re human. So I’ve decided even if I write about spices, as long as I keep it human, read vulnerable and a bit of true conflict that is overcome, the audience will be encouraged and that’s a gift we can give every person.