Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Saved by Customer Service

About six months ago, Noah fell in love with the Lego City Mine set. He found it in a Lego catalog, which he kept by his bed and picked out of the recycling bin on at least two occasions. I mostly ignored his insistent requests that we buy it for him, because it was $100, which is so much money that I thought maybe I could unload it on some very eager grandparent at Christmas time. As much as I love my kids, I don't have a strong desire to buy them toys.

Surprisingly (or not), my aversion to toy buying is most likely an affliction of being an architect. You see, architects don't like ugly things. And most toys are, well, (garish and) ugly. Beyond that, we architects would always prefer to spend a thousand dollars on a beautiful, functional thing that we love rather than a single dollar on something that is only marginally attractive and functional. If we are forced into choosing between having something mediocre versus having nothing - well, many of us would simply choose to have nothing. We don't readily admit these preferences to the general public because we need you to hire us to design your buildings. But inside we are always thinking, when you compromise on design, nobody wins. Ultimately, we are pragmatists. We swallow our pride in the workplace; we may design ugly buildings so that we can bring home a paycheck. But we're damn well going to bring that paycheck home to a carefully, aesthetically controlled environment.

At my home, plastic toys (and their associated catalogs) have a way of finding themselves quickly demoted to the recycling, while wooden toys are lovingly glued, screwed or nailed back together. I can't resist Haba and Plan Toys, I am still drooling over the outrageously expensive Community Playthings blocks that Noah's preschool had, and I am still scheming to get a Jako-o Stilt House. But Legos, despite being the most well-played-with toy in our house, are still ugly. To add insult to injury: they're all over the floor all the time. Can't we at least leave the aesthetically beautiful toys laying all over the floor?

For many years, Noah played independently with Not-One-Single-Toy he had. This supported my decision not to buy many toys. The best way to get him to play with a toy was to sit right beside him and play with it yourself. So, it made sense to buy only those toys I liked. When Mattias was born, I discovered that some kids actually DO play independently with toys. (I can still hear the angels singing.) But I didn't change my buying habits, because over the course of 3+ years, we'd already managed to have enough toys to keep Mattias entertained. (That and the fact that Mattias has the most amazing imagination.)

Eventually, Noah got Legos, and he started playing with them a lot, even though it wasn't always in the usual way. Lo and behold, he could finally play with a toy independently! That meant - means - a lot to me after all those years of non-toy-playing.

BUT, as Fritz points out, why should we buy more when he can't even clean up the ones he has?

"Maybe you can build a mine from the Legos you already have!" I told Noah enthusiastically for six months every time he asked about it. That's what the Lego block concept is all about, right?

Well, last week, one of the grandparents asked what the boys would like for Christmas. I hopped online to find that Lego City Mine AND - guess what? SOLD OUT until December 28th at the online Lego store. I buy almost everything online. So the next thing I did was go to every website I could find looking for the Lego City Mine. Nada.


Remember how I just said I don't have a strong desire to buy the boys toys? Well, that sentiment died a quick death when I realized that there would either be 1) No Lego Mine on Christmas or 2) Ebay Bidding or 3) Overpayment on Amazon involved. Over the course of one day, I watched the price go up by $40. I even searched the German websites. It would be even more expensive to order it from Germany and have it shipped over. Forget the grandparents, I created this situation and I needed to remedy this situation NOW.

Maybe there was still a set at the local Toys R Us? Can't tell from their website. Hey! What's up with Toys R Us? It's like they're not even answering their phone! I thought real people worked at real stores. DON'T THEY KNOW I HAVE URGENT TOY NEEDS? DON'T THEY WANT TO SELL TOYS? I ho-ed and hummed about going to an actual store because I really didn't want to become That Mom chasing down the elusive Christmas gift like her life depended on it. But, shit, all the kid wanted was one stupid Lego set for six months and I FAILED HIM.

Fritz was of the opinion that we could order the set, give Noah a picture of it on Christmas Day and then - well, give it to him when it arrived.

"Really?" I asked. "But he's a FIVE years old! I don't think you should do that to a five year-old."

I swallowed my pride, deposited Mattias at a neighbor's while Noah was at school and drove to the closest Toys R Us.

Guess what? One, single set left. Whew. I immediately snatched it off the shelf and called Fritz to celebrate from my cell phone. There were no registers open at Toys R Us. Didn't they want my money? I was reminded once again why I like to buy things online - I mean, with that kind of customer service, what's the point? But you know what, I think the only reason I managed to get the Lego set WAS their terrible customer service. So there you go, let's hear it for lousy customer service. It saved my kid's Christmas. (Insert eye roll - because, I mean, really, I am That Mom.)

But I won't lie to you: walking to the car I did wonder if I shouldn't list it on Ebay and give Noah a photo of his gift on Christmas day after all.

Since publishing this, Amazon, at least, seems to have found reasonably priced versions and Lego now claims to be shipping on Dec. 22. Whatever, people. Whatever.


Dan and Amanda Meyer said...

I have a soft spot for Legos. They may be ugly, but there are so many positive things the boys get by playing with them. We don't have a lot of other toys, but we do have a TON of Legos.

By the way, Quinn is getting the mining set for Christmas this year too!

Sara Struckman said...

hahaha! I was laughing out loud at this story! We were just at a Lego store this weekend (talk about GARISH!). I was there reluctantly - making the point that we already have SO MANY Legos in the house (hand me downs mostly). I do love them, but damn they are annoying!

Your son will never forget this Christmas - and that's the real gift.

Thanks for the great story!

clueless but hopeful mama said...

Oh I can imagine how hard it is for someone with an strongly developed aesthetic sense to deal with the ugliness that is most toys these days. I have no design sense whatsoever and most toys give me a headache just looking at them.

Also: I agree with Sara, your son will likely never forget this Christmas. "That mom" is the one who races around to twelve stores looking for the hottest toy that everyone wants. What you did was search out a long desired, quality toy for a boy who will likely LOVE IT. Good job, Mama.

Pregnantly Plump said...

How funny! I'm glad you found it. I did the opposite, and got Little Elvis what he wanted in October -- guess what? He doesn't want that stuff anymore, but he said he'd still take it.

twisterfish said...

Good for you! If you had hit another mom over the head with your purse or bumped her with your shopping cart to get the toy, then maybe you'd be "that mom". Even if you drove all over the county searching for it you would not be "that mom". You only went to one store ... Bonus!

My son is like your oldest was, in that he doesn't play with toys. So a few months ago I did a major purge and it felt so good! My living room does not have one plastic item in a primary color anymore! Yahoo!!!! I always did want to be architect, maybe that's why this brings me such pleasure.