Monday, December 19, 2016

Toddlers and Bell Ringing

Last weekend, my wife had the idea for us to “ring the bell” for our local Salvation Army chapter. We also thought it would be a tangible way to teach our three year-old son about the meaning of Christmas. It was only a one-hour shift, so we felt certain that the allure of holiday service and charitable giving would keep his attention for sixty consecutive minutes. We were wrong.

We began by explaining to him that the objective was to solicit money for the red bucket by ringing the bell as people entered and exited the store. Situated between the two automatic sliding doors, there was very little space to maneuver. We had two bells between the three of us so naturally we gave one to him. His first strategy was to ring the bell at people in an accusatory manner while shouting “give money!”

Once we explained to him that we might need to scale back the armed robbery vibe, he warmed up to the idea of constantly ringing a bell while “holding” the automatic sliding door for people. He was so adorable that customers started handing him their donations to place into the bucket. While this was well-intentioned, it broke one of the cardinal rules of Salvation Army bell-ringing: never touch the product.

This parameter is important because it prevents any charges of financial impropriety by the bell ringers. It also prevents a situation where a preschooler is handed a wad of paper currency and takes it to be a gratuity for his service. The following scenario repeated several times:

1.  Customer hands child money, waits expectantly for adorable reminder of Christmas spirit

2.  Child frowns at crumpled bills in his hand and meticulously counts them while making no indication that he plans to do anything with the bills other than keep them.

3.  Parent plasters grin on their face while reminding child through clenched teeth that they need to put the money in the bucket “like we talked about”

4.  Child voices strong displeasure at parent’s suggestion, recounts money, mentions Toys R Us

5.  Customer’s grin fades slightly

6.  Parent stops ringing their bell and reaches for child’s hand to “assist” them in depositing the money.

7.  Child recoils / parent’s voice takes on a more threatening tone / customer is now visibly uncomfortable.

8.  Parent wrestles money away from child, deposits money, and thanks the customer over child’s loud protestations.

9.  Just as child calms down, someone else hands child a donation    

It was after this happened several times that I offered to place my son on my shoulders. This, I reasoned, would place him out of reach of most patrons and prevent a meltdown. The downside to this idea was that I was struck in the head several times by a metal bell and suffered some temporary hearing loss on my right side. Soon enough, the novelty of riding on shoulders wore off and he wanted to be posted at ground level again.

A few instances of bell-throwing and one unauthorized use of the store’s complimentary wheelchair later, our shift had ended. Perhaps we made a difference. I probably should have checked his pockets……

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