My planned outing to The Morton Arboretum yesterday afternoon was destroyed when a Chicago monsoon moved through the area. Yet after promising Joey a special date with mom all summer, I had been waiting for the older boys to head to school so I could finally give Joey the undivided attention he’d been craving.
Weather be damned. I’d find something for us to do. The scramble was on.
Unfortunately, I am cheap. I have become even cheaper now that we are paying for Catholic schooling, ice hockey, and extra coffee for yours truly. This was going to be tricky. The Morton Arboretum would have been covered under our family membership. Now what?
All of my children’s museum memberships are long-since expired. One-time passes were pricey. Sure, we could see a movie, but I was unwilling to shell out the dough upon remembering I had some free movie coupons courtesy of my Kellogg’s Family Rewards points. Sadly, I had no idea where I put them after printing out.
My husband is a different sort. He is the raffle ticket buyer, the supporter of all ill acquaintances within a 50-mile radius, and the very person who marketers target at the checkout for “impulse purchases.”
I have never given the guy much grief given he works two jobs, but I do throw coupons at him as he heads to the store. Sometimes he even remembers to use them. Most often, he does not.
Which leaves me the fiscally responsible one.
That’s when I had an idea. We would go to Build-a-Bear Workshop! Over the years, I have dropped the equivalent of a mortgage payment there. Yet I did eventually learn important lessons. Before we departed, I had the talk with Joey about expectations. He could choose one animal under $18 or one outfit under $18 (my goal was to keep the visit under $20 with tax). I once again explained how most of our family income went towards food and housing, and we didn’t want to waste money on things that weren’t keeping us alive.
I thought I had executed my plan brilliantly. We would go to Build-a-Bear. He would debate excitedly over which animal to get. He would oversee the stuffing process, undoubtedly demanding it get filled to the max. He would help create the birth certificate. What could possibly go wrong? It was child magic at a mall store.
Upon arrival, one very nice employee pointed out the sale outfits. I knew this racket. Get parents to walk towards the clothes, and instead of the sales items, your kid demands a $40 professionally licensed Batman outfit with car. No thank you. Joey had already indicated he wanted a bear, not clothes. Next.
Joey picked out his Army bear (which he aptly named “Army Guy”) and skipped on over to the stuffing station. Another very nice employee asked Joey directly if he wanted fragrance injected into his animal (at additional cost). Of course Joey said yes, and the employee looked at me expectantly.
Hell no. We have Little Trees air fresheners at home you can use, kid. We’re not paying for Scratch ‘N Sniff inserts.
Undeterred, the employee then excitedly explained to Joey again about the sale they were having on outfits.
Joey looked up at me, read my face like a master poker player, and responded.
“No thank you, ma’am.”
The employee was startled and confused. She seemed convinced she had misheard. “We are having a GREAT sale on clothes.”
“Oh, we’ll pass,” I assured her.
The employee engaged Joey again, asking when his birthday was. Learning that it was coming up shortly, she shot another look at me and excitedly explained about the great BIRTHDAY PARTIES they host at Build-a-Bear.
“Yeah,” I responded. “We stopped hosting birthday parties three years ago because I was tired of eating Hamburger Helper to pay for them.”
“NO birthday parties?” she questioned, looking down at poor little Joey as though I was depriving him of oxygen and soap.
By the time we got to checkout, even my son was a little surprised at the level of commitment the employees showed in trying to convince us not to bring home a naked bear.
“NO CLOTHES?” the smiling young man at the register asked Joey, astonished.
This time, my kid did me proud.
“NO NO NO! MY MOM SAID I COULD HAVE A BEAR OR CLOTHES BECAUSE MONEY DOESN’T GROW ON TREES AND SHE NEEDS TO FEED US ALL FOOD SO WE DON’T DIE AND PAY FOR OUR HOUSE SO WE DON’T HAFTA SELL DRUGS ON THE STREET AND END UP IN PRISON!”
Oddly enough, the Build-a-Bear fellow was not thrown the slightest.
“So you’ve been here before then?”
“Can I offer you a free membership rewards card?”
Sign me up.