MY little one called me to her bedroom but ordered me to read the handmade sign on the door first. It said: “Shop. You can buy things. You need money.”
As direct sales campaigns go, this one was unbeatable. Rather curious, I knocked on the door. A five-year-old voice replied: “We’re open.” There was no “come in” or “how are you” preamble, no extraneous pleasantries or distracting small talk. She was direct and straight to business. We’re open. Bring your wallet.
I stepped inside and her bedroom had been transformed into a veritable pasar malam of impressive colour, detail and design. A children’s table and chairs made for makeshift sales displays. Each was separated into their relevant wares – household goods, toys, books, adult clothes and Daddy’s iPhone that he had spent the last hour swearing about because he couldn’t find it.
“What would you like to buy, Daddy?” She asked.
Again, I had no say in the matter. I wasn’t there to peruse. I was there to buy. I had a choice of shopping items, but I didn’t have the choice of leaving. The question was polite, but firm and left me no wriggle room. My girl should teach sales and marketing techniques to university students.
“Well, for starters, I’d like to buy that iPhone please,” I began. “I need that one quite urgently as I’ve turned the living room upside down looking for it.”
“It wasn’t in the living room, Daddy,” replied my daughter chirpily. “I brought it in here to play shops … That will be $5 please.”
The hand came out expectantly. That’s the other recent change to this regular role play. When she was younger, she was palmed off with fake dollar bills or invisible notes that were exchanged in the form of a gentle tap on the hand. Those days are over. She only takes cold hard cash now. And don’t try to palm her off with cheques or credit cards either.
She does return the cash when the game is over. She has to. They would cut off our gas and electricity if she didn’t.
“What else would you like?” She asked, pocketing the $5 with a sly dexterity last witnessed in Oliver Twist.
“Can Daddy have those colouring pens please?”
“You’re not Daddy in here, you’re a customer… That’ll be $10.”
There’s no nepotism in my daughter’s shop.
“Why are the pens $10? The iPhone was only $5?”
“Because that’s what it says on the price tags I made.”
“How do you even know what a price tag is?”
“From the Jessie J song… It’s not about the money, money, money …”
“Yes, all right, don’t start singing. Here’s the $10.”
“That’s only $2.”
“It’s the only note I’ve got left. Can we just pretend it’s $10.”
“No, we must be honest in my shop. Go and ask Mummy for the money.”
With mouth drooped sadly, I trudged off to find my wife to borrow some money to buy the world’s most expensive colouring pens.
But the regular role play is occupying much of Daddy and daughter’s time at the moment. Plastic containers filled with toys and games gather dust in the cupboard – unless Little Miss Cold Storage decides to sell them – while my girl obsesses over her shop’s layout and sales features.
Obviously, her imagination and enthusiasm for such a creative pastime are sources of paternal pride. She decides what to sell and how to sell it. She designs, draws and colours all the price tags, arranges the displays with fastidious care and works on her sales patter. She’s a cross between Martha Stewart and Donald Trump. If she discovers a penchant for insider trading and brushing her hair across her head in a Trump comb-over, I will get scared.
But her entrepreneurial zeal is thoroughly unique in our family. Her parents have zero business savvy and hold no aspirations to run a business. I’ve never seen an episode of The Apprentice. My daughter could host The Apprentice.
The last thing the world needs is another self-involved grubby capitalist preoccupied with maximising profits and exploiting unwitting customers. My daughter overcharges me for a second-hand packet of colouring pens. I’m worried.
Of course, I know it’s only a phase, but that hasn’t stopped me from shamelessly steering her role play into more noble professions. Let’s play doctors, I cry. Let’s play teachers! Let’s play vets! Let’s play animal rights campaigners protesting against the culling of monkeys in Bukit Timah!
My idealistic cries fall on deaf ears. She only wants to play at being a shopkeeper. And I’m fine with that really. I cherish her budding independence and greater understanding of the world around her.
But if my iPhone goes missing again, I’m closing down the shop.
About the Author: Neil Humphreys is one of Singapore’s best-selling authors. His works include Notes from an Even Smaller Island (2001), Scribbles from the Same Island (2003), and Final Notes from a Great Island: A Farewell Tour of Singapore (2006). Be My Baby (2008) chronicled his journey to parenthood and was his first international best-seller. His latest Singapore book, Return to a Sexy Island, is a No.1 national best-seller. Humphreys has written extensively for The Straits Times, TODAY, The New Paper, Men’s Health and Young Parents in Singapore. He currently lives in Bedok with his family and hopes his daughter will learn conversational Mandarin so she can teach her Dad.
First published in 01-07-2013.