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.