When I was a kid, we were given candy order forms or big boxes of Hershey’s bars and told to hit the street. I recall going door-to-door in my neighborhood toting my wares, and not thinking for a partial moment that there was even a narrow possibility that something bad would happen to me.
Of course, part of that was the kid in me who was developmentally unable to process the concept of mortality, but another part was the rural area in which we lived and the 20 + years that have passed.
I legitimately do not believe that there are more psychopaths now than there were in the ’80s and ’90s, it’s just that they have more bad press, and the world wide web and programs like Megan’s Law make them more visible. Still, the perception is that there is more crime and children are in greater danger in their own neighborhoods than ever before.
And so school fund raisers have become celebrations of TOTAL passive-aggression.
Pearl’s first fund raiser of first grade: the School Mall Program. She brings home this booklet with a picture of a glow-in-the-dark Spongebob T-shirt, and she’s like, “Here mom. You have to sign this.”
“What is it? I can’t sign it now. I’m busy.”
“Can I watch TV?”
20 minutes pass. Pearl bounds into my office (she’s into bounding). She’s holding this Spongebob T-shirt thing.
“Mom. You forgot to sign this.”
“I didn’t forget, I just don’t want to sign it until I can see what it is.”
“Can I finish my show?”
She has a really strange metric of when to ask for permission.
So we make and clean up from dinner and I sit down with Pearl to look at this crazy thing. It is a booklet full of order forms with spaces for family’s addresses and a note from Pearl on the other side. The booklet is shrouded by the glow-in-the-dark Spongebob T-shirt picture and a bunch of sales-y rhetoric, and I squirm a little because it feels dishonest and passive-aggressive to me, and I’m having a hard time discerning the method.
Pearl has no patience for the rhetoric and is instead bouncing around the living room talking about her glow-in-the-dark Spongebob T-Shirt, and then an insert falls out with what appears to be an iPod touch pictured (closer examination reveals that it is a “smartphone shaped FM radio” ), and her giddiness skyrockets.
“Oh my god mommy! I can have that too? Do you think it has games on it?”
“Sure,” I say, absently, still trying to decode the instructions and figure out whether I’m supposed to mail these things or just supposed to provide the school with the information they need to sneak attack my relations and close friends.
So I figure out what to do (I give them my family’s addresses, and they mail the stuff. They assure me they’re not going to sell my family’s addresses), and we fill out this booklet, and I’m getting anxious a) because the order form includes a spot to indicate which side of the family and how the “sponsor” is related to pearl, and I just have a whole pile of anxiety about how the world points out to Pearl, constantly, that her family is not like the other families and that’s basically unacceptable and b) because I kind of want all these people to subscribe to some magazine. Not for the school, for my kid. I want my kid to be the asshole whose parents do the fund raiser for her, and who gets all the best plastic junk and kudos.
I do not want to want this. I remember being totally snowed as a kid with those “prize presentation assemblies” they used to call us in for, where the stage was piled high with plastic garbage and a boom box and a bike and maybe later a boogie board, and the kid who sold the most stuff in the fund raiser would get the best prize. I didn’t put together that the people who ran the fund raiser were doing something immoral in attempting to bribe children to sell things on which they would net massive profit, and which would have no practical use in any household anywhere, and kicking a nickle or two back to the school so they could pat themselves on their wide, corporate shoulders and feel great about being greedy capitalists.
I remember figuring it out years later and thinking, “I can’t believe the school let them do that!” But at the time, it hurt to get to choose a red kazoo for my three orders when the girl whose mom worked at a large office would get the maincure set with pink Lee press ons, and I kind of want Pearl to be the kid who gets the boogie board.
So we filled out the booklet, and I’m internally grimacing, and if you happen to get one of these “requests for sponsorship,” I’m sorry. Really I am. Just buy a damn magazine, would you?