Thursday, December 29, 2016

An Ode to Toys R Us

My Dearest Toys R Us,

I want to personally thank you for inundating my children’s existence with television ads and Christmas toy catalogs featuring Toys R Us “exclusive” items that you lack either the will or infrastructure to actually make available to them. Case in point:

My three-year old son is a fan of the Disney Jr. series PJ Masks. Yes, I realize that the premise of three Kindergarteners utilizing the power of evening-wear to fight crime is absurd, but the heart wants what the heart wants. I digress. So between the multiple copies of the catalog we received at our home and the holiday activities he performed at school, he compiled a very important list that he showed Santa.

One of the items that made the Santa short list was the PJ Mask Headquarters Playset (Item #579374). Given that there were several big ticket items on Santa’s shortlist, St. Nick made an executive decision to provide The Lion Guard Training Lair Playset (Item #432302) instead. While this proved to be well-received, Chris Cringle had apparently not picked up on the subtle indications that the PJ Masks Headquarters was at the top of his holiday hierarchy. He expressed some disappointment on Christmas morning, but the whims of a three-year old are fickle.

Just as we had finished reinforcing the ideas of choosing to focus on all of the gifts we received rather than the select few that were omitted, there was an unexpected reprieve. His great-grandparents had sent a card with a generous amount of cash for him to spend. Immediately he latched onto the idea of taking this money and purchasing the PJ Mask Headquarters Playset (Item #579374) he had been pining for.

The next day we drove to our local Toys R Us, rushed to the PJ Masks section, and were disappointed to discover that the item was not in stock. Believing that there is no way that a pre-schooler would walk out of a toy store with money in their pocket, I asked him to look and see if there was anything else that he wanted. He browsed in earnest but finally came back to me and declared that he would rather wait for us to order it than get anything else.

“Don’t worry,” I consoled my son; this is a multinational corporation and I am sure we can have it shipped to the house in no time. So I opened the website on my phone, went to the item and selected Checkout. When I enter my zip code, I was told that they cannot send it to my home. Undeterred, I restarted the process and tried to select the “Ship-to-Store” option. This was also unavailable.

Somewhat miffed, I walked up to the customer service desk and spoke to an employee. I was informed that not only was the item not available to ship to my home or store, but that it could not even be shipped to a store within 100 miles of my location. They added that they were not sure if they would ever get the item back in.

When we got home, I opened the chat window on the Toys R Us website and explained my dilemma. I was told that what I experienced was a glitch and that I simply needed to call the customer service line and have an attendant place the order for me.  

After calling the provided number, I was connected with a female associate to whom I explained the chain of events that had led me up to that moment. Having been provided the part number, she took several minutes before informing me that the chat windows associate had been incorrect and that I could not get the item. Our conversation continued:

Me: So I cannot send it to my house and you will not send it to a store within four hours of my current location?

Her: As you can see on the website that item is not available for “Ship to Home” so you will need to select the “Ship to Store” option and chose a Toys R Us location that the item can be shipped to.

Me: The only store in my state that I can ship to is 5 hours away and already has it in stock so why would I want to ship it to store that already has it?

Her: I realize that it might be inconvenient….

Me: Across town is inconvenient, an 800-mile round-trip qualifies as a quest.

Her: Perhaps if you had a friend or relative in that town who could go to Toys R Us, buy the item for you, and pay to have it shipped to your home…

Me: Am I to understand that the official recommendation of Toys R Us customer service is for me to call up my second cousin and ask him to do me a solid by fronting me the $85 to purchase and ship one of your products?

Her: It was just a suggestion..

Me: Let’s start again. Let’s say that I want to hand your company $75 in exchange for an item that they sell. How do I go about doing that?

Her: Again, if you have a friend or relative…

Me: What about a transfer from another store?

Her: We can’t do that.

Me: Can you request one be sent to my store on the weekly shipment?

Her: Sir, I know it may seem odd, but as someone who has worked retail I can tell you that there is no way for us to control or predict what gets shipped to what store.

It was at this moment I began to suspect the inventory control system for Toys R Us was akin to the sorting hat in Harry Potter. I had a mental image of a dozens of warehouse workers standing around a forklift while a magical artifact declared “The Paw Patrol Action Figure Set will be awarded to……. Store 5876 in Bridgeport, West Virginia!!!!”

I made several other feeble attempts to procure the playset and aside from phone-a-relative the only other option I was given was to call the local store back and have them “leave a note” to call me if the enchanted delivery truck saw fit to bestow one upon my city.

Finally accepting defeat, I was able to locate one on Amazon at $30 above retail – probably sold by someone who lived in one of the zip codes favored by the sorting hat – but it was still cheaper than an overnight trip. So I swallowed my pride and ordered the item. I told my son that in two days he would be the proud owner of a PJ Masks Headquarters Playset (Item #579374).

So after two days, imagine my mild chagrin when I was informed that there was a delay in the shipping of my “Two-Day Prime Item” and instead of 2 days it would be two weeks. I cancelled that order, found another one at the same price, and it should be here tomorrow.

While writing this, just for funsies, I got on Toys R Us’s website and when I put in my zip code they offered to send it to my home and cover shipping costs. I am toying with the idea of ordering it from them, defecating in the box, and returning it for a refund……..

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……

Friday, December 9, 2016

Toddler Mondays

My son has an intense dislike of round breakfast cereal. He will not eat it, and finds the thought of even touching it to be repulsive. Once when we asked him to clean up some plain Cheerios that he had knocked out of his sister’s hand, he retrieved a napkin so that his hands wouldn’t touch them as he picked them up and deposited them in the garbage. This is important because it provides the foundational irony for the following story.

It was a typical Monday morning. My wife was in the bathroom getting ready for work and the kids were eating breakfast while I was making sure everything was in my work bag. Suddenly, our rather large dog walked into the living room and proceeded to deposit the contents of her stomach on our carpet. My verbal reaction was loud and immediate, which drew a “What’s wrong?” from my wife in the bathroom. As I turned to address her question, my son declared that he wanted to “see dog throw-up first” and in his haste to dismount the bar-stool chair feel onto the handle of his sister’s ridding toy sustaining a rather painful injury to his rib-cage.

This turn of events caused me to stop my explanation mid-sentence and rush to my son’s aid who was sobbing on the floor. At this moment, my daughter decided to take advantage of her brother’s unforced error and broke out in a run for the puddle of half-digested dogfood. As she was the only member of the family who was fully dressed for her day, I could foresee her slipping in the mess thereby necessitating a wardrobe change. While still cradling my weeping son, I began loudly instructing her to “stop right there and don’t touch anything!”

My wife - having determined that whatever situation was occurring in the living room had escalated exponentially – ran out of the bathroom toward the exact same spot. I then switched from talking down my daughter to warning my wife not to come through the bedroom door (as the digestive incident had occurred between the two rooms). Suddenly my son’s despondency began increasing and I feared that either I was squeezing him too hard or his injuries were far worse than I initially thought.

I was finally able to make out enough of his words to realize that he was no longer upset about his fall. Instead, he had become inconsolable over the fact that everyone else had gotten to see the dog vomit before he had. To be fair, this was his second bodily-function disappointment of the week as he had been out of town with my wife when his sister pooped in the tub. He requested that I Facetime the aftermath and was rather crestfallen to learn that I had already removed the offending turds.

After some time, I was able to ease the pain of missing the premier and he calmed down on the promise that he could see the dog vomit next time. Meanwhile, our dog had begun her own recovery procedure leaving behind a large discolored spot in the carpet. I retrieved the carpet shampoo device from the garage and began the process of extracting what was left. As a consolation prize, my son requested to see the contents of the machine’s “recovery tank” before I emptied it. It was only then that he found himself able to finish his breakfast.

Thankfully the dog hadn’t consumed any Cheerios or else someone’s meal might have been ruined.    

Friday, December 2, 2016

Toddlers & The Meaning of Christmas

Our church has an annual tradition of collecting new toys for underprivileged children in a nearby county. This wonderful program helps to ensure that the parents are able to provide Christmas gifts for their children regardless of their current financial situation. In the past, my wife and I had picked out the toys ourselves, but as my son is turning 4 soon we thought that it was time to incorporate him into the process.

So, after several conversations preparing him to pick out toys that were not for him, we ventured into our local Toys-R-Us. While there were some momentary lapses, we were both very proud of how well he did accepting the fact that we were doing this for the benefit of children that we would never meet. We even had some mild success asking him to place the toys in the church’s collection box so that he could see the process through.

It was a few days after this, while he and I were in the car together, that he broached the subject of the donated toys again. He seemed somewhat confused that any boys and girls would not have presents at Christmas since Santa delivered everywhere. I carefully explained that while Santa left each child a large, unwrapped “Santa gift”, the parents and grandparents like buying gifts too but sometimes just cannot afford it. Therefore, the toys that we give would be to supplement the work of Santa.

Since my unassailable logic was obviously having a profound effect on his impressionable young mind, I began to wade into deeper waters. I reminded him that as Christians, we are called to be the “hands and feet” of Christ. I pointed out that one of the most tangible ways to show Christ’s love was to help those in need.

Obviously on a theological roll, I reminded him of the joy he felt when people he loved gave him things and how we should take any and every opportunity to share that joy with others. How Christ was Savior to the meek and marginalized; the poor and the destitute; the outcasts and the has-beens. While we didn’t possess the resources to make every child’s Christmas better, we did have the resources to make every Christmas better for one child.

During my soliloquy, I would occasionally glance in the mirror to watch his face and that is when I knew beyond a doubt that we were through the looking glass. While others might have dismissed such profound ideas as too lofty for a three-year old to absorb, I could see in his eyes that despite all odds I had reached him. I couldn’t wait to explain to my wife that it was my brilliant oration that had led our son to the true meaning of Christmas and inspired what would become a lifetime of serving his fellow man.  

Several moments of silence passed between us before our eyes met in the rear-view mirror and with a contemplative look he said, “Dad?”

“Yes Son?” (mentally preparing to deflect the forthcoming praise and admiration from my firstborn)

(glancing back out his window) “Grandma goes to that carwash sometimes.”

Nailed it. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

An Open Letter to Franklin Graham

 On November 10th, Franklin Graham posted his reaction to the Presidential election on his Facebook page. My response to his reaction appears below.

Mr. Graham,

                    With all due respect to you and the Protestant authority your surname grants you, I think that you are inflicting irreparable harm upon Christians and the reputation of the Savior we claim to represent. You began your essay with a question, “Did God Show Up?” as if his ability to be present in people’s lives was predicated upon the balance of power between two American political parties. Let me pose a rebuttal question, “What Makes You Think That He Ever Left?” At what point did the God who created the heavens and the Earth become cowered by the balance of power in modern America? At what point did Jesus - whose entire ministry took place in the shadow of Roman imperialism - become too squeamish to operate in our nation?  

I say this because your words have inexorably linked the will of Christ with the actions of Donald Trump and his administration. That is dangerous not because of who he is, but because of what politics is not: a surrogacy for Christian discipleship. Politics is an intrinsically secular and self-serving extension of American democracy. To attribute the actions and words of a politician to God is nothing short of blasphemy. Yes, our faith will affect where we fall on a few issues, but I dare say that most political issues don’t have a clear faith component. For example:

Corporate Tax Rates?
Mandatory Minimum Sentencing?  
Congressional Term Limits?
Asian Trade Tariffs?
Gun Control?
The Defense Budget?
Healthcare Costs?
Standardized Tests?
The Opioid Epidemic?
Capital Punishment?
Agricultural Subsidies?
Social Security Reform?
Banking Regulations?

All that I am saying is that it is perfectly reasonable for American Christians to come to different conclusions on the issues without having their faith publicly questioned. That leaves us with homosexuality and abortion; two theological minefields that we have been unable to reach a consensus about as a religion much less a country. If I am Catholic, the very act of taking birth control is a sinful medical intrusion into the reproductive process while a Protestant might only define abortion as the selective termination of a viable pregnancy with no extenuating circumstances. Homosexuality is equally as murky among believers who are still grappling with the idea of nature versus nurture.

You said that “God’s hand intervened Tuesday night to stop the godless, atheistic progressive agenda from taking control of our county” which leaves the reader with a few possible scenarios:

1.      God’s hand only intervenes on certain occasions and the Trump/Pence ticket was worthy of such a celestial intrusion where the Romney/Ryan or MacCain/Palin ticket was not.
2.      God intervened in this election because Christian families and churches prayed about it more than they did in 2008 or 2012.
3.      This is the first time a “godless, atheistic progressive agenda” has attempted to take control of the country.

As an added bonus, your statement carelessly labeled the 65 million citizens who cast their vote for someone other than the Republican nominee as going against the very will of God. Instead of simply disagreeing with their political conclusions, you have chosen to dismiss them redundantly as “atheistic” and “godless.” Is it really so improbable that a fellow believer found themselves unable to cast a vote for Donald Trump? Will the Day of Judgment be a long line of Americans attempting to explain their support of Gary Johnson, Hillary Clinton, or Dr. Jill Stein?

The God I love is not restricted to arbitrary labels like conservative, liberal, Republican or Democrat. At the risk of sacrilege, I would even venture to guess that He isn’t even an American. The God I love does expect me to conduct myself with faith and grace, especially in dealing with those I disagree with. The God I love would never equate contemporary political affiliation with eternal sacred worth or casually invalidate the faith of another person because our ballots were not identical.

You ended the commentary by declaring that, “My prayer is that God will bless America again.” What does that even mean? Has your God been withholding his blessings from 319 million people until the Electoral College would allow Him to resume dispensation through Donald Trump? Did your God need the permission of a political party to touch the hearts and lives of his children? Does your God require His ministers to endorse political candidates while utilizing Facebook to denounce “secular media”?  

Jesus conspicuously avoided political commentary over the course of His Earthly ministry, perhaps you should do likewise.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Thoughts on Toddler Parenting

Verbal Communication

My son’s speaking voice now rapidly oscillates between its only two settings: alarmingly-loud and obstinately-hushed. The former is the default and utilized for everything from conversation to announcing bowel-movements while the latter is reserved for times when verbal communication is requested by an adult.

For instance, if my phone were to ring while we were in the car together he would begin requesting a snack at an ear-splitting volume. If we were at home and I was asking him what he wanted for dinner he would simply mouth the words while exhaling. I am eagerly awaiting the onset of normal human speech.

My daughter is just beginning to speak and her favorite word is “no.” This is probably due in no small part to its ceaseless use in her presence. Previously foreign phrases like, “No! Stop relocating dogfood to the toilet bowl!” become alarmingly commonplace.


My children’s eating habits have diverged dramatically over the past year. My daughter will eat anything. Her entire philosophy could be summed up as “I’ll have what you’re having.” She is so concerned with missing a side-dish that she spends more time on plate surveillance than eating. Even while chewing, her eyes constantly scan the area in front of her dining companions to ensure that she has not been shortchanged.

Heaven help you if contraband garnish or a clandestinely-applied sauce is discovered. She will immediately raise an accusatory figure toward the perpetrator’s plate and exclaim “dat!” until shame compels you to offer her half of the last crescent roll that you had hoped to consume unnoticed. Leftover night is a culinary massacre because once she has pilfered and pillaged everyone else’s meal we have to watch her shoveling handfuls of deconstructed meatloaf pancake applesauce spaghetti in her mouth.

My son, meanwhile, has narrowed down his nourishment to three meals: chicken nuggets, peanut butter & jelly, and “I’m not hungry.” (To be fair, there may be other dishes he would eat but he was talking so quietly we could not hear him) Even within that narrow framework, acceptable presentation is an ever-moving target. Should the nuggets be whole or sliced into portions? Do we preemptively de-crust the PB&J or allow him to dramatically discard it later? Even a properly-plated acceptable entree risks contamination from an objectionable side-dish. In these cases, the PB&J is unilaterally rejected based upon its association with English peas.


Punishment is also becoming more complicated by the day. For whatever reason, toddlers are given the ability to discern inconsistent consequences long before they can understand the concept of developmentally-appropriate repercussions. This means that any deviation based upon a child’s age risks putting the entire system of justice on trial. “How come she gets to (insert infraction here) and I get sent to my room?”

As much as you wish an in-depth lecture on cognitive milestones would settle the issue, you are left with vague claims of authority based on nothing more than your status as a parent. The daddy-knows-best platform has been roundly rejected by focus groups for centuries, but I have yet to discover a viable alternative.

Punishment is also one of the most polarizing issues faced by parents today. Like political ideology, a complex issue tends to be broken down into two diametrically opposed subgroups which promise the exact same dire outcome for those who disagree:

Spare the rod, spoil the child – Corporal punishment is Biblical, ethical, and effective. There is a direct correlation between the morality of a society and that society’s willingness to spank a child when warranted. Abstaining from corporal punishment with a child will force them to become disrespectful, irresponsible adults destined for prison.

Bear the rod, see you at trial – Spanking a child is a barbaric, psychologically-damaging act that erodes the trust between the vulnerable and their caregiver. Enlightened minds will tell you that spanking a child leads to emotional distress and is nothing more than a tantrum by an adult. It models violent behavior that will invariably create an adult destined for – you guessed it – prison.    

As best I can tell, the prudent measure is simply to utilize what works for you and your offspring while befriending a criminal defense attorney as a hedge. Your child’s aforementioned concern with fairness means that subsequent children will cite precedent when judgement is rendered so there is additional pressure to make the right call the first time.

This all becomes a moot point because the only thing my kids are more passionate about than even-handed justice is immediate leniency. My son will insist that his sister receive swift and decisive punishment up until the moment that it is rendered, whereupon he will advocate on her behalf (she’s a baby). If my son is placed in timeout, my daughter will immediately begin lobbying for clemency by asking for him and trying to free him from his room. Perhaps I can take comfort in the fact that one day they will be each other’s greatest allies at their parole hearings. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

An Evening at Dollar General

It was a typical Friday night at our home. My wife and I had just gotten the kids in bed and realized that we did not have enough milk or peanut butter to sustain our Saturday morning routine. So I drove to the closest Dollar General. Upon enter the store, I noticed an unusually long line, but hoped that once I located my items perhaps it would have dissipated.

Unfortunately, I found myself 7 people from the cashier while juggling a gallon of Clover Valley’s finest dairy and a jar of JIF. Glancing around at the impulse items, I noticed a display for a bag of “Hot & Crispy” Microwavable Bacon Curls Pork Rinds. Having never encountered this culinary delight before, I awkwardly shifted the two items in my hands so that I could retrieve my cell phone to take a picture.

About the time I raised the phone to eye-level, the woman who was currently being checked out (hereafter referred to as customer 1) turned and loudly addressed another customer several people back. In the interest of decency, I will replace a words used quite frequently with “cuddle” “rainbow” and “peppermint.”

Customer 1 – What the cuddle did you say!?
Customer 2 – (Instantly matching customer 1’s volume & intensity) It is none of you mothercuddling business what I said!
Customer 1 – It’s my mothercuddling business if you are trying to insert yourself into my business! I will knock you the cuddle out!
It is at this juncture I realized that I was still holding my phone in a manner that could be easily misconstrued as filming this altercation. Wishing to avoid being cuddled-up by these two, I slowly moved to place it back into my pocket.

Their conversation continued in form and intensity until the man who was next in line (attempting to buy anti-freeze) finally broke his silence and exclaimed, “Lord Jesus! Why can’t there be peace on Earth?!” There was a moment of respite where both women briefly contemplated his question before returned to threats of “cuddlin’-up a mother-cuddler” all the while never acknowledging the gentleman’s presence.

There were two teenage girls in front of me who turned around to look at me for some sort of direction and I believe I mouthed something along the lines of “be cool….” The worst part about this was that customer 1 was unable to complete her transaction due to her preoccupation with customer 2. This meant that the line went absolutely nowhere which further ratcheted up tensions.

Valiantly attempting to defuse the situation once again, the gentleman next in line implored the ladies to cease lest they find their shenanigans “all over SnapChat” and reminded them that there was a long line and they were “scaring the Hell out of the other customers.” Once again, they simply leaned around him to continue their conversation.

Eventually, an employee came from the back and opened another register to start getting people out of there and the argument stopped. There was a collectively sigh of relief until Customer 1 looked back up from the card-reader and took offense to the fact that Customer 2 had not elected to re-que at the newly opened register.
Customer 1 – You need to take your cuddling rainbow over to the other line!
Customer 2 – I ain’t going nowhere! I got nothing but time peppermint!”
At this, an older woman two customers back from me muttered, “If they make me have to go to another Dollar General after all this, I’m gonna kick both of their rainbows.” The yelling continued until the peacemaker’s buddy (who I had noticed standing by a car with the hood up when I pulled in) walked through the front doors inquiring as to why it was taking 20 minutes to get “some damn antifreeze.”

Wisely fearing for his friend’s safety, Peacemaker held out his hands and said, “Go back outside man! You have no idea what is going down in the DG tonight! Save yourself!” Taking in the posture of the two women and the palatable tension in the room, he shrugged and retreated back to his post.

Finally, both women completed their transactions and my clerk asked the other clerk what had happened. With the same tone and inflection one might use to describe a price check on soup, she indicated that Customer 2’s companion had asked what was taking so long and Customer 2 had speculated that Customer 1 was using digital coupons on her phone. Customer 1 had overheard this and threats of bodily harm ensued. I was eventually able to buy my items and get my rainbow home. Blessed are the peacemakers; may their engine coolant be evermore effective. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Mall Fun!

My son has really gotten into “adventures” which thankfully at his age can be something as pedestrian as going to Home Depot. So one day I had taken off work early to attend an event at his pre-school and afterwards he wanted to go on an adventure together. We went several places but eventually found ourselves at the mall as it was a hot day and they have an indoor play area.

He ran around that for a little while before deciding that he wanted to ride some of the kiddie rides at the other end of the mall. Knowing that I had no cash and hoping that the change machine in the ride area took cards, we walked over. Unfortunately it only accepted bills so (while prying my disappointed son from the school bus ride) I told him that I had to try and get some money first. This entire exchange was somewhat conspicuously being observed by a young mother there with her two children who were also enjoying the kiddie rides.

Finally locating an ATM with a dubious bank association and a $3.50 convenience charge, I reluctantly swiped my card, input my PIN, and agreed to the extortion fee. The machine then emitted the requisite currency dispensing noises minus the actual currency. The screen thanked me for my business and yet the cash dispensation drawer remained empty.

Just about that time, two young men approached the machine with a mall security guard in tow. Apparently their ATM experience mirrored my own and they had enlisted the guard’s assistance in resolving the issue. He gamely looked the machine over and shrugged his shoulders before calling for backup. The second guard appeared and performed his own visual once-over before declaring that the ATM “hasn’t been acting right” and that we should probably call the 800 number listed on the side and get out money back.

I immediately called the number and was told that there was “an unusually high call volume” pertaining to ATM issues so I went back to the main menu and selected the option for the sales department. Shockingly, it was adequately staffed and my call was answered. The associate informed me that there was nothing that he could do and that I should probably call my bank to have them stop the transaction.

By this point, my son was becoming impatient (as toddlers do) that daddy had been standing at an ATM for 15 minutes and somehow still was unable to produce any money. So, as I began dialing my bank, I started walking with him in the general direction of the rides thinking that I might have seen a second ATM further down. Having arrived back at the rides, I noticed that the same mother and her two kids were still there.

Frustrated with the entire situation and trying to explain to my bank that another bank’s ATM had taken my money, I dismissed my son’s repeated pleas for quarters to ride the school bus with an unnecessarily curt “Daddy’s busy. Why don’t you just sit on the ride and pretend we put quarters in it?” Amazingly, he found this to be an acceptable compromise and began gleefully rocking his body back and forth while making engine noises on the stationary ride.

Moved by the scene of this poor young man whose deadbeat father would apparently rather have his son pretend to ride something than to part with a quarter, the young mother approached me and indicated that should would like to pay for him to actually get to enjoy the ride. Simultaneously moved by her kindness and embarrassed by its implication, I made a bumbling attempt to explain that I was not too cheap to part with a quarter but that the mall ATM had stolen my money and I was calling two different banks to prevent $23.50 from being removed from my account. This is, of course, the kind of thing a publicly shamed cheapskate would say.

I again thanked her for her generosity and she was polite enough to pretend she bought my story before walking off with her kids. When I finally got someone from the bank on the phone, my son kept loudly insisting that he explain to them what had happened and why their "broke machine" had prevented the lights on the school bus ride from properly activating.

As it turns out, the ATM did not even attempt to communicate with my account so I had the same chance of getting cash out of it as I would have swiping my debit card on a napkin dispenser. The entire setup may have been a decoy box to acquire the Debit Card info and PIN numbers of naïve teenagers and desperate parents. Next time I will just talk him into a emoji pillow from one of the kiosk vendors.