Friday, August 31, 2012

Welcome Back, Ren (Phew)!

So Ren is starting to feel better three weeks after his second major back surgery in five months. And, fortunately, recovery seems to be a little faster this time, despite the fact it was a much bigger surgery.

The kids are ecstatic to have daddy back. Because instead of this:

They get this:

And this:

Which reminds me of something that has been puzzling me for awhile now. What's with the bento craze? When I hear the word bento, I think of the boxed lunches that are part of every day life in Japan. When I first got married and we still lived in Japan, bentos were the bane of my existence. Why are they so popular here? Clearly the word doesn't reference the same thing, and it confuses me.

But, here, since I know many of you probably have a love for bentos that I just don't share:

A gratuitous bento box picture just for you!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


I know. I know. I know. It's been forever since I've written a "real" post, and instead of writing one today, I'm posting another letter of complaint.

To be honest, life's been a bit hellish lately--lots of things out of my control. But what I CAN control is my response to the little injustices.

Just think of these letters as free therapy.

Oh, and did you know that TOMS doesn't actually give a free pair of shoes to a child in need when you buy a pair? You can read about it in the letter.


Dear TOMS Customer Service Supervisor,

This summer, I purchased our family's first pair of TOMS, a pair of children's size 11, red Glitters, for my 4 year-old daughter. The day she started wearing the shoes, the glitter and red color started coming off the toe. Within a few hours, the shoes had two frayed white toes and looked completely tattered and worn. After being told by the retailer that they could not refund my money for the defective shoes, I contacted your company directly hoping TOMS would replace the pair since the problem was clearly with the product.

When I inquired with your customer service, though, I was told that TOMS would not replace the faulty shoes because I did not buy them at an "authorized" TOMS retailer. I find this response to be problematic for several reasons. First, unless I know to go to your website and record the list of authorized dealers BEFORE making my purchase, it would be impossible for me to know whether or not the retailer selling your shoes is authorized. Isn't it funny how retailers don't post signs saying they aren't "authorized" to sell something? It's also "funny" how customers assume the retailer is authorized to sell something since they are selling it.

Second, TOMS unwillingness to provide exchanges for faulty shoes indicates that TOMS is not willing or able to stand by its products. Regardless of where I purchased our shoes (or ‘how long they were in the warehouse’--the reason given for why you couldn't provide an exchange pair for our shoes), your company should be able to back its shoes and replace faulty products for customers. In fact, you should WANT to replace bad product so you don't have a bunch of customers walking around wearing tattered TOMS.

Third, it indicates you don't have a very effective (or customer-friendly) business structure. If you can’t guarantee, or aren't willing to replace, shoes purchased at the myriad non-authorized dealers where they are sold, perhaps you should stop allowing them to be sold there.

Finally--and this is the part that really irks me--in the e-mail I received from your customer service representative, I was told that our shoes, since they were not purchased directly from TOMS or an authorized retailer, did not qualify for your One-for-One program. Everything I've seen from TOMS proudly announces: “With every pair you purchase TOMS will give a new pair of shoes to a child in need.” There is no asterisk next to this statement. I checked. Nowhere on your website or in any other TOMS promotional material I've encountered, including the voice-mail greeting I heard when I called customer service today, does it say that the shoes have to be purchased at an authorized dealer. To be fair, I did find mention of this stipulation buried in the returns section of the TOMS website--not an obvious place, you'll agree. The problem is that TOMS promotes its shoes by telling customers that EVERY pair sold means a pair of new shoes for someone in need, and this is blatantly false advertising. Your advertising and public relations messaging should be changed to reflect reality.

As a customer, I feel doubly betrayed. Not only was I not supported in my effort to replace our faulty pair of TOMS, but I also learned that the shoes I purchased were not part of the One-to-One program. It’s heartbreaking to learn that TOMS' discussion of social conscience is more public relations ploy than social activism. As I’m sure you know, many pairs of TOMS shoes are purchased by people like me, hoping to help those in need, and it's shocking to learn that our purchases are actually only helping the company's bottom line.

I work at a university particularly committed to social justice and community service. Many of my students and colleagues, not to mention my kids' friends and classmates, wear TOMS because they believe that your company has a socially-conscious business platform and that you care about providing quality product. I admit it, that’s why I bought our pair of TOMS despite the fact they were much more expensive than what I usually spend on kids shoes. I hope that none of my friends, colleagues, students or blog readers makes the same mistake I did, so I will freely share the details of my experience with them.

As a fairly important side note, I'd like to also point out that my experience interacting with your customer service was also less than pleasant. After the first e-mail inquiry I sent through the TOMS website, I got numerous e-mails telling me I would eventually receive a response, but the actual response was slow to come and generally unhelpful. Then, today, weeks after I received an e-mail telling me that my shoes would not be replaced, I received FOUR unsolicited, automatically-generated e-mails from TOMS thanking me for my message and telling me I would receive a response shortly. This is perhaps the height of poor customer service--to refuse to help someone and then send unwarranted e-mails reminding the person just how unhelpful you are. For the record, I also tried online chatting with one of your representatives, but she left the chat mid-conversation and no one else picked up my chat, despite the fact I waited for quite some time. And when I called your customer service line to ask where to send this letter, it took your representative at least five minutes to track down that information.

I do hope that you will work to improve your customer service and make infrastructural changes that will enable you to stand by your product no matter where it is sold. More importantly, I hope you will edit your One-for-One campaign so that it reflects the reality of your business practices. Finally, I’d really love it if you would replace my daughter’s size 11 red Glitters.


Mom on the Edge

UPDATE: As of December 16, 2012, still no word from TOMS.

You can see the outcome of an earlier complaint here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Mom in Two Cultures: The Comic Version

I've been messing with Comic Life in preparation for a new semester and perhaps some super cool student assignments. As a result, I present:

Mom in Two Cultures: The Comic Version

(Click to enlarge image. Created with Comic Life 1.3.6.

This comic references the following posts:

Phalluses and Other Inapprpriate Symbolism
The Family Portrait
Sky in Motion
Back to School
Halloween is Coming Panic

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Back to School

School started today. Like everyone else, we went on a wild goose chase for school supplies: washable markers for Pink P but not for Sky. Eight-pack of crayons for Pink P instead of the standard (and much cheaper) 24. Four reams of copy paper and three containers of disinfectant wipes between the two of them.

Normally, I forget to start early and find myself desperately buying, and then sharpening, ten number 2 lead pencils in the wee hours of the morning the day school starts. But not this year. This year, in anticipation of Ren's back surgery, I got everything early. So early, in fact, I forgot that I'd gotten it. Then, I inadvertently bought everything again. Apparently, I have an uncanny ability to remember everything on both supply lists and no ability to remember I bought the stuff already. There's nothing I love more than another trip to the store just to return stuff I bought twice. Really.

When we roll into Sky's classroom for the first time, we come with a little more baggage (and a few extra supplies) than the other kids. Each year our list of "extra" supplies grows as we become more adept at figuring out Sky's sensory issues. Here is some of the gear he'll be using at school this year:

(Drat! That's supposed to say "The Frugal Mom's Guide to a Weighted Vest," but PSE won't let me fix it. And I don't have time to start over! Sigh.)

Sky and I always meet with his new teacher a few days early. This gives us a chance to drop off (and explain) our Sky gear. It also gives him a chance to quell his anxieties about the first day and me a chance to give his new teacher a crash-course on life with Sky. I used to try to be more "hands-off" and less "helicopter-y." I'd love for his teachers to organically come to understand how Sky ticks, but frankly, that takes too long. So this year I went "all in" the first chance I got. I was unmistakably clear with his teacher about about what she's up against.

He will become overstimulated.
He won't always hear you.
He will interrupt.
He won't respond well to frustration.
Part way through the semester, he will regress, and when he does, you will feel like everything you tried up to that point was useless.
It wasn't.
You know, two steps forward, one and a half steps back.

Welcome to my world. I hope you enjoy the ride.

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Thousand Tiny Bombshells

Stow had his first speech appointment today. In usual fashion, he was happy, curious, and engaged with the therapist who visited our home. He pointed and grunted and squealed and vocalized some vowels--pretty much his entire repertoire of communication.

Toward the end of the session, against my better judgment, I asked, "So where does his current communication fall? What age is it comparable to?"

"Six months," the therapist responded.

Six months.

Stow's fourteen months. Though you might not know it. He doesn't really talk. He doesn't really walk. The therapists tell me it doesn't mean he's on the autism spectrum. But he's got low muscle tone, motor planning issues, and speech delays. People tell me not to worry. That I am overreacting, maybe even projecting things onto Stow that aren't really there. I hope that's true, but somehow, I doubt it.

It feels like the last fourteen months have been filled with a thousand tiny bomb shells. Some of them just words. Harmless words. Words like: "Six months." Each phrase seems so innocuous. Individually, none of them are catastrophic. But combined, they threaten to destroy our very sense of well being, our ability to right our ship and navigate our way into another day.

But, then, just when I am about to be overwhelmed with this nagging sense of despair, I encounter tiny glimmers of hope. My children giggling. A bright blue sky. A good night's sleep. A joke from Sky. A picture from Pink P.

And I decide that maybe, just maybe, everything will be okay.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Who's Got the Skillz?

Ren told me not to post this:

He said if I posted it, you all would know I couldn't sew.

I admit it, I can't sew. Well, that's not entirely true. If pressed, if a dire situation called for it, I could sew. It wouldn't be pretty, but I could do it. But the beauty of it is that I don't have to. Ren likes to sew, and he's totally willing to take on a challenge (in this case, shortening curtains to fit the living room windows). I don't, and I won't.

So it turns out we're perfect for each other.

In case you're worried, I'm not without skills. Check this out:

That's right. That's some of my special homemade toddler mush: daikon radish, carrots, seaweed, peas, and bonito flakes, all mixed with tri-color rotini.

The babies, they love it.

Apparently, it's positively irresistible.