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Gift Wrap This

I’m not what you’d call a natural salesman. Having never worked in retail, and rarely even hosted a yard sale, I’m uncomfortable pawning merch onto other people. My idea of a solid marketing pitch: “Hey … you don’t want one of these, do you?”

Yet in 15 combined years of my children’s schooling, I’ve hawked enough nearly useless junk to fill a 3rd-grade classroom. And not one of the tiny portable ones either: a huge classroom, like the kind we used to have before schools were penniless and begging for bucks.

Sucked into countless school fundraiser sales — whining and grumbling all the while — I’ve slung chocolates and coffee. I’ve moved magazines, pushed potted poinsettias, and hustled gift wrap. I’ve hit up friends, trapped neighbors, and pleaded with long-since-tapped-out family members to buy muffin tins and scented candles and macadamia nuts.

I’ve done it for two reasons: to funnel field-trip/assembly/art/lab money to our sickeningly cash-strapped schools, and so that PTA moms don’t mutter “slacker” when I skitter past them, hoping to avoid being tapped to work the clean-up shift at the scrapbooking booth. (I will write a check for \$100 right this instant if you promise never to make me scrape craft glue off of someone’s decorative scissors.)

I do my part. I swear I do. I buy books for the school library and bid on gift baskets at school auctions and march my family to designated “Dine Out for Your School” nights at restaurants in town.

But the constant barrage of pleas wears a woman down — and these sales campaigns are the worst of the worst. They start with flyers and emails and banners lashed to the schoolyard fence: “It’s coming! IT’S COMING!!” Then an “instructional” (read: “inscrutable”) packet finds its way home in your kid’s backpack — and the race is on.

It’s a mom-eat-mom world out there, my friends — a world in which otherwise rational women hustle merchandise like maniacs in the hopes of winning their child a schlocky prize.

“I promised neighbors a made-to-order cake for every gift-wrap order over \$25,” said a mom I know. “I wound up baking a hell of a lot of cakes.” (I will write a check for \$200 this very minute if it means never having to frost a Bundt for tightwad neighbors.)

“I hate asking people for money, and usually my friends have kids selling the same stuff,” said another friend of mine. And who wants their kids going door-to-door these days? “So I buy it myself. I have so much gift wrap, I could open a store.”

Her kids’ PTA invites parents to simply donate a lump sum at the start of the year, absolving them from participation in any other fundraisers.

“But surprise!” she said. “They still send your kid home with all the materials for the tchotchke sale and the jog-a-thon. And do you really want to be the family that didn’t donate, causing your child’s class to lose the ice cream or pizza party they would have enjoyed if they’d had 100-percent participation? I don’t.”

(I’ll buy ice cream AND pizza for the whole flippin’ 1st grade if someone will please, in the name of all that is sane and sensible, explain to me why I should pay another human being to jog?)

I know we’re supposed to use these fundraising campaigns to teach our kids about enterprise, community, and giving back. So far, all mine have gleaned is the certainty that when all else fails, Grandma’s good for a box of peppermint bark.

But that’s probably because their marketing pitch is so solid: “Hey, Grandma, you don’t want any of this candy …. do you?”

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Published inColumnsParenting
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Keep Your Skirt On
Wife on the Edge
Broad Assumptions
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