The End of A Season or Tales from Girl Scout Cookie Sales

th-3 Most people think of the traditional three-month seasons like summer and fall. But, I think in terms of realistic seasons like the “Halleluiah-the Kids-Are-Going-Back-to-School” season or the “Gotta-Prop-the-Kids-Up-to-Get-Through-the-End-of-the-School-Year-Without-Blowing-Their-GPA” season. That’s the season is upon me. Before I move to the new season, I feel like I should take a few moments to reflect on the season that is wrapping up—Girl Scout Cookie Season.

Now, I am a veteran Girl Scout leader, who has pounded the pavement for 7 years selling these precious confectioners. Despite my experience, I continue to be shocked and delighted by the people I meet selling cookies. Every year we run into at least one person who feels the need to express his/her opinion about the cookies:
th• “I remember when I paid only 50 cents per box. They’re so expensive now. Why ARE they so expensive?”
• “Why did they change the names? I can find the Samoas anymore. Where did the Do-Si-Dos go?”
• “You should make a sugar-free cookie for diabetics.”
• “You should sell glutten-free cookies.” (We do.)
• “My cousin in Portland has different Girl Scout cookies than you do. They have these little lemon ones with powered sugar…”

th-2My girls and I patiently listen to these folks and nod a lot, even though I want to tell them we have no influence over major cookie decisions. We are only lowly cookie pushers trying to earn 56 cents a box. Be real, PEOPLE, my girls aren’t the ones in the industrial kitchens baking or incorporate board rooms saying, “Let’s make a kiwi cookie.”

Over the years we have had some noteworthy experiences with cookies. Here are some of my favorite vignettes:

1. The Man with the F-Shirt: No, that is not a typo. When my troop was a bevy of young second grade Brownies, a very nice man in his late 30s visited our booth. As two brownies were taking his order, another troop mom elbowed me, hard. “Look at his shirt.” I had no idea what she getting at. “The shirt. The guy’s shirt.” What I saw was an ode to the F word. Seriously, the shirt declared every grammatical use of the F-Word with explicit examples. As a grammarian I found the shirt amusing. I had never parsed the F-word before, but I learned it could be used as a gerund, an adjective, and an infinitive. Then I remembered I was a leader of young girls, and quickly panicked. I scanned their innocent faces. Were they reading the shirt? Am I going to have to deal with questions like, “What does F-ing mean?”

IMG_5842Thankfully, my naive little Brownies were clueless. The customer with the F-Shirt left, and I wiped my brow thinking I had gotten off easy. That’s when one precocious bob haired girl in brown whispered in my ear, “Did you see what that guy’s shirt said?” I said yes, and shook my head in silence. She too shook her head and walked away. Lesson Learned: Sometimes saying nothing is the perfect answer.

2. The Day the Market Caught on Fire: The girls had bridged from Brownies to Juniors and were between 9 and 10 years old. My troop co-leader and I had set up our cookie booth outside of a local Kroger’s on a Friday night. I wasn’t very hopeful for making any record-breaking sales because the place was practically empty. To stem my boredom, I paced in front of the store. A rare customer exited through the double automatic doors, and as I said hello, I noticed a sharp, distinct odor in the air. It smelled exactly like an electrical fire. (Don’t ask why I know that.) At that point no smoke had emerged, so I told myself I was imagining things. On my second lap in front of the store, I saw a small cloud of smoke hovering over the back right corner of the store. I could see Kroger employees glancing towards the smoke and wondering what they should do.

I picked up my pace and headed towards my co-leader and said, “I think the store is on fire.” I tried to whisper it so the girls would not be alarmed, but their ears are supersonic when not listening to their mothers tell them to brush their teeth or make their beds. The next thing I knew, all four girls were squealing and jumping around as if their own shoes were on fire. I tried to calm them: “Girls, I don’t know if that is true. It was just a guess.” Just when they stopped the high-pitched squealing, a fire alarm went off. These girls really flew into a tizzy with flapping arms and feigned fear.  In reality, this was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to them.

As the Kroger employees all exited the building (none in a great hurry), several asked how much the cookies cost and indicated they would be back to get them later. Score! We were so busy taking orders, we failed to pay attention to the loud sirens heading our way. A kind police officer told us we had to leave the premises-NOW. Just walk away? From at least $400 worth of cookies? No way. So my co-leader ushered off the girls to the parking lot, while I quickly threw boxes of cookies into shopping cart. I felt like the captain who was willing to go down with my ship, except the ship in this case was a pile of cookies.

The fire was quickly contained, and the emergency had passed, and we decided to pack it in for the night, but our luck held when several police officers and fire fighters came to our cart to purchase cookies. As I guessed earlier, we did not break any sales records, but without this minor catastrophe our sales would have been paltry. Lesson Learned: Like turning lemons into lemonade, we turned a potential catastrophe into profits.

3. The Case of the Missing Cases: There was one year when I had to be the troop’s Cookie Mom. The mom who did it before got a huge promotion and was traveling all over South America every week. My co-leader, who is in charge of the finances, had just adopted a baby, and the other moms had a long list of legitimate reasons they would not take on cookie sales. So, it was up to me. (Cue the superhero music!)

Let me just come clean now. I have a very poor history managing money. It’s not that I can’t balance a spreadsheet, it’s that (a) I don’t know what a spreadsheet is, (b) I have no idea how one is made, and (c) I put money issues dead last on my list of things to do. But, I took on this project with fervor. I went to the cookie sales training, gave pep talks to my little troopers, leaned a little too hard on their parents, logged all preorders into the system, and signed up for cookie booths all over the city. So far so good.

The person who is Cookie Mom or Dad has to house all the cookies for the booths and extra orders. That usually means one designates a room for all the cases. I had prepared for that as well by clearing off a corner and some bookcases in my bedroom. I had anticipated every possible kink in the system.

My-Daughter-is-selling-CookiesI was wrong–dead broke wrong as it turned out. I had not taken into consideration my family and their insatiable desire for sugar. Little by little, day-by-day each member of my family raided my makeshift cookie cabinet. For some reason everyone (including my husband) thought this was his/her personal pantry. Later I learned my kids were overly generous with the entire neighborhood. Soon those kids caught on that our house equaled free Thin Mints.It never once dawned on anyone that they would have to pay $4.00 for each box. By that point, they had consumed at least 12 cases with 12 boxes to a case of cookies, all without my knowledge. That’s a lot of dough (pun intended).  Since I added cases weekly for booths and other sales, I had not noticed the pilfering.

At the end of the season when it was time to make deposits, I was stumped. Why were we missing so much money? I had to call in favors from two other troop leaders to help me sort out this dilemma. Eventually, it became clear that my own family members were the culprits of the missing cases, and they had done this subterfuge right under my nose. That was the year I deposited into our troop account a personal check for over $600. That was also the last year I was Cookie Mom. Lesson Learned: Never take on fiscal responsibility…of any kind…EVER. (Incidentally, my husband seconded that motion, and my co-leader concurred. Motion passed.)

There are many more stories to share, but I have to start preparing for the next season in my life. Let’s just say, spring fever has sprung in our house. We’ve rounded the corner into fourth quarter of the school year, and my children’s faces very clearly read CHECKED OUT. I have my work cut out for me this season.

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