November 15, 2004
I was never very good at school fundraising.
Oh, I did great in the annual 'read-a-thon' for charity. During the holiday's I'd con distant family members and get them to pledge fifty cents for every book I read. When they'd have to cough up $20 a few weeks down the road, they made sure they stayed distant.
But when it came to actual sales - the art of a pleasant personality coupled with a nice sales pitch - I was pitiful. In a good year I'd sell a few pizzas to friends and family, and maybe move a wreath or two for my Boy Scout troop. I never bothered looking at the prizes that were offered to top sellers because I knew I'd never have a chance.
In this case, the minute my daughter started school.
Within a week we were asked to sell three- pound tubs of cookie dough for $11 each. I was aware that I was hawking a product of unknown quality for about twice the going rate of the local grocery store. Ethically, pushing this on friends and family should have presented a problem.
It took my two seconds to realize that my daughter was the new kid on the block. Wiping the floor with her peers so early in the year would bring her respect from the 'in' crowd and cower the weak of the herd into submission. It would establish her as a leader and set the tone for her entire educational experience.
Hey, those aren't my rules. Three-year old kindergarten is a brutal place.
So we sold cookie dough. I looked up everyone that had ever snookered me into buying a $20 tub of half-popped popcorn or flimsy, paper-thin pizza for his kid. I approached her Grandparent's (and here is the unspoken advantage of divorce: multiple sets of grandparents, each eager to outspend their ex). I approached friends, neighbors, and co-workers.
In the end she easily outpaced her class, racking up the second highest sales in the school. The administration was impressed enough to let her choose her own prize.
Read that again: they let my three-year old choose her own prize. She ignored the many age-appropriate choices and now owns a wireless headset phone with multi-line capability. She does not have a phone line. She will not have one for many years. And I refuse to wear a pink neon gizmo that looks like it escaped from the world of the PowerPuff girls.
A week later we received instructions to start hawking wrapping paper for Christmas. Despite having burned most of our family's goodwill on Double Chocolate Peanut Butter cookies, we . . . , er, I mean my daughter, once again finished in the top three.
But it came at a cost. I'm now indebted to most of Milwaukee and obligated to buy every overpriced piece of crud put in front of me. Worse still, the school sees dollar signs when I drop my daughter off. The bar has been set so high there's nowhere to go but down.
The only plus was that I thought this phenomenon was isolated to her school. I imagined I could safely take my daughter to her dance class and shell out for the tuition and shoes without having to worry about sales quotas and prize packs.
I'm now thirty candy bars away from getting rid of the one hundred and eighty I agreed to sell for her dance recital. But all is not lost.
I finally put my foot down.
This time, I get to choose the prize.