A Squeaky Clean Christmas Gift

by admin on December 11, 2012

This is a story my mother and I still laugh about years after it happened. At the time though, it was majorly insulting.

I was just starting out on my own house cleaning business. To start filling my schedule, I would accept every single job. A few years later I now have a waiting list. Now I can phase out all the boorish clients. (Thank God!)

When the holidays come around, it’s pretty normal for me to receive gifts from my clients. All of my clients are upper class so these gifts would be rather lavish sometimes. I never expect them, but I graciously accept and send thank you notes after the new year.

There was this one lady’s house I cleaned. Her name was Maggie, a friend of my mother. It’s a mansion, so by the time I’m done cleaning it I wouldn’t be as “fresh” as I was when I came in. I always wear my oldest clothes (it’s not as heartbreaking when they get bleach stains ). My hair’s always pulled back and I don’t wear makeup since I’ll sweat it all off anyways. I actually joke with my clients, “The frumpier I look, the cleaner your house!” My appearance does not reflect my hygiene as I bathe daily.

I get a call from my mother one day before Christmas. She let me know Maggie dropped off a present at her house for me. I get there and it’s probably the biggest basket I’ve ever seen! It’s full of soaps and sundries. I’m excited at first, what girl doesn’t like bathroom pampering stuff ?! As I open the clear cellophane, I see it’s “Dollar Store” bar soap!! Plus “Dollar Store” shampoos, conditioners, deodorants and face washes. To top it all off there was a note, “Give me a call when you get this! I’ll tell you how to use it!”

I have never felt so disgusting in my life. I would have taken no offense if they were from a “Specialty Store”. I don’t even take offense when clients buy me cleaning products for gifts! (It’s less money I have to spend on supplies.) I might not have even taken offense if the note wasn’t included, but that just took the cake. I sucked it up and sent a thank you note, explaining that I figured out how to use them (May I burn for my sarcasm!). I never called her back and phased her out. I will still try to force myself to believe her intentions were good. 1007-12

 

{ 82 comments… read them below or add one }

Angela December 11, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Here’s the reason I think the dollar store source of the stuff is relevant: When you give something “fancy” the message is “Pamper yourself! Have a nice experience on me” (although I don’t think I’d ever give that to the cleaning lady). Here, the price doesn’t matter: even if it’s a little soap or a small bottle of lotion, that concept comes across. Dollar store soap sends a message “well, now you won’t have to pay for soap for a while”. And again, here the price doesn’t matter: 1 bar or 10, it’s still condescending at best and rude at worst.

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The Elf December 11, 2012 at 8:18 pm

I understand Goldie. Maybe it was some ham-fisted joke. Or if this was the only problem than it would be easy enough to look the other way. I’m just saying that sometimes it isn’t worth getting offended over something.

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Cat Whisperer December 11, 2012 at 9:14 pm

Wow.

I’m straining to think of any explanation for that lady’s note that makes any sense at all. I’m inclined to give her benefit of the doubt and not impute actual malice or intent to insult, but if her note was serious, she’s clearly not firing on all her etiquette cylinders.

If she was trying to make a joke, as some people suggest, it clearly fell flat. And therein lies a cautionary tale for everyone: when giving gifts, it’s probably best to steer clear of any attempt at humor, whether in the gift itself or any note or card accompanying the gift, unless you are absolutely positively 100 percent sure that the recipient will “get” your humor and not take offense. If there’s even the teensiest bit of doubt about how humor will be received, best to not take the chance. Nobody ever went wrong with plain old “With best wishes, [name]“.

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Jen December 11, 2012 at 9:28 pm

I think the “Dollar Store” soaps meant that it was clearly not a real gift, but a message. A dollar bottle of bubble bath? Gift. A dollar bar of generic soap with a message saying “I’ll teach you how to use it” – an insulting message. So it’s not about the amount spent, it’s the fact that it was clearly a catty, passive aggressive gift.

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SCUlawstudent December 11, 2012 at 9:40 pm

@ DowagerDuchess It’s like a restaurant- if you can’t afford the tip, you can’t afford the meal.

I am sorry but this is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. It might be different in the US but in Australia the most we do for service industry people is a card, if you tried to tip someone in a restaurant they would think you were strange and if I handed my hairdresser even a christmas card I think she would think I had lost my marbles. Service people get paid for the jobs they do and thats the end of it. MAYBE for cleaning ladies, or dog walkers if you were REALLY close you would give them a voucher or baked goods.

I am only stating how it is over here, not saying the way you do things is bad, tipping is ok if you can afford it and I know service people in the US earn less BUT but saying that if you cant afford to give the waiter free money you shouldnt go out to eat at all? thats just… wow… what if you are poorer than the waiter and are out having a treat?

Sorry I just dont get it.

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LT December 11, 2012 at 9:59 pm

People are also being overly generous when they posit that the giver is just frugal. The OP cleans her bathrooms, she would know if this woman was a dollar-store toiletries sort! I seriously doubt she would have taken insult to being given the same brands the woman uses for herself.

I think it much more likely that the woman buys normal drugstore products, or even expensive brands, but thought that cheap items were good enough for the help. If she gave a huge basket, it isn’t the money being spent that is the issue, but the quality of goods it is being spent on. You could easily take the $20 needed to fill a basket with cheap items and instead spend it on a nice soap set or bath salts from Sabon (or whatever brand the gifter uses). In that case , the issue would have solely been that horrid note. It would have still said, “I think you’re unclean” but it wouldn’t have also said, “you’re beneath me, so these poor quality soaps that leave you all filmy are good enough for you.” Or, as another commenter posited, “You need help so badly only mass quantities will do.”

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Goodness December 11, 2012 at 10:40 pm

For those who are having trouble believing a wealthy woman would do something like this: I was visiting the YWCA shelter for abused women in a business capacity, and, as I exclaimed over the lovely if down-at-the-heels old building, I was given a tour. The stage of the wonderful old ballroom was piled with Christmas gifts, and I commented on that. The shelter director told me that if anyone gave a wrapped gift, they had to open and examine it, because some years before a group of wealthy women from the ‘best’ families had given beautifully-wrapped gifts that when opened proved to be used and unwashed underwear!

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goddessofpeep December 11, 2012 at 11:05 pm

While the monetary value of a gift is never important, I think the “Dollar Store” type of toiletries is. There are two kinds of toiletries: gift toiletries and everyday ones. They make nice soaps, lotions, shampoos, etc that are perfectly lovely to give as gifts. There’s a big difference between getting an inexpensive set of nice scented soaps and getting a pack of Dial antibacterial soap bars. One is a nice general gift, the other will probably be interpreted as trying to send the receiver a message about their personal hygiene.

I’ve given and received various soaps, lotions, shampoos, and other toiletries over the years. I would never think to give anyone I knew a gift basket filled with “everyday” toiletries. Some things just don’t belong in gift baskets. Deodorant, plain shampoo(particularly anti-dandruff shampoo), plain bars of soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and anything that one would consider medical or private in nature(wart remover, foot spray, etc) will all be received very, very badly. The “Dollar Store” part of the story probably isn’t about the amount spent, but to indicate that these were not gift toiletries.

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Ergala December 11, 2012 at 11:22 pm

Sorry but I am so hung up on the dollar store stuff. Has anyone ever smelled half of it? It’s so strong and floral or perfumey that it gives me a massive headache just thinking about it. I admit I would be insulted, especially in the OP’s situation. I had a friend who would insist my home smelled like urine every single time she came over. I’d ask my other friends later if it did and they’d think I was crazy for even thinking that. We moved and she came for a visit and before we had even unloaded boxes from the truck she was saying our new home smelled of urine. I’m not friends with her anymore. Especially after she would offer me cleaning tip after cleaning tip and my home is absolutely spotless.

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Mer December 12, 2012 at 2:57 am

Politrix: Be thankful of the people you know, because there really are those around that would spent money and time just to insult someone. Though with this one I would suspect a case of patronizing, which is always rude and insulting even if the actor does not recognize this from his/her own actions. They often think they are kind and caring when actually their actions are tainted by the fact that instead of just wanting to make someone happy they think themselves as better persons and human beings and the receiver of this “charity” is somehow less than them. Stupid enough not to know how to shower.

For the not being insulted if the products were from specialty store, I think it would be easier to try to understand the message differently. For example I’ve received products (from my sister who knows I like them) for which I really needed instructions from her, such as “this must be first crumbled and then drop some water on it and that one will be used as it is, just rub it on your face and don’t rinse. Or just to suspect that with some luxury item the advice would be more like “we liked your work, now take some time to relax”. Dollar store shampoos and soaps without note, not that insulting, even if it might cause some embarrassment (as giving hygiene products often does due the personal nature of the gift) but might be brushed away just with simple “well, maybe she thought I must go through massive amounts of hygiene products with this messy job I have”. But dollar store items and note really cannot be nothing else than insulting. We all know how to use basic soap and shampoo.

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Goldie December 12, 2012 at 9:52 am

@ Ergala, I can only think of one rational explanation for your ex-friend’s behavior… did she, perchance, smell of urine herself and did not know it? If so, no wonder everything smelled of urine to her!

@ LT – great point, I hadn’t thought of it. You’re right, had the OP received the bath products that she knew Maggie herself uses, she probably wouldn’t be pointing out that they were from a dollar store at all.

@ Goodness – back when I was a member of a church, every year the church used to host a festival that included a flea market. Members were encouraged to donate to the flea market and received a tax write-off. The parish members ranged from middle- to upper-middle-class, including a few really wealthy upper-class families. I volunteered at the festival every year in various capacities, and one year my job was to prep the toy section of the flea market: unpack the donations, set them on tables, attach price tags etc. I was shocked at how many donations I had to throw out because they were so heavily used and in awful condition. For some reason, people had donated an inordinate amount of used paints. Like, children’s paint sets with the paints half depleted and some of them completely gone. It just boggled my mind. To reiterate, people used these donations to write money off their taxes for that year!

@ SCUlawstudent – yes, it is different here. I haven’t worked in service industry in the US myself, but from what I understand, waiters are being paid less than minimal pay, something like half the minimal pay to be exact, on the assumption that they will make up the rest in tips. Then in April when they do their taxes, they have to report the tips as income, *regardless of whether they have actually received those tips or not*. So over here, not tipping a waiter is the same as taking money out of his or her paycheck to keep for yourself. It is a weird system, I agree, but it is what it is.

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Library Diva December 12, 2012 at 10:05 am

@SCULawstudent, as an American, I agree that our “pay waitstaff less than minimum wage and force everyone to tip” system makes no sense, but we’re unfortunately stuck with it for the moment. So yes, eating at any restaurant where the food is brought to your table means you should add about 15 percent to the bill for the waitstaff. Here, it’s considered incredibly rude not to do it, unless the service is extremely bad (and there are still many people who advocate tipping every time, even if you’re made to wait 20 minutes before getting your menu, the food is burned, cold and not what you ordered, and they refuse to let you send it back). So if you’re in the US and you can’t afford a couple of extra dollars for the people who served you, I would agree with the sentiments that you should either stay home or go to McDonald’s or a similar counter-service sort of place.

The tipping of service people gets murkier, to me. I did give money the year I lived in an apartment complex that had a manager. She kept that place absolutely spotless and did a great job in keeping everything in working order. If I had a hair appointment in December, I might add a little more to my usual tip, but I’ve never explicitly gone in with the purpose of giving my hairstylist money, nor do I leave anything for my mailman.

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Angela December 12, 2012 at 10:35 am

SCUlawstudent: the deal in the US is that most of the waiter’s pay is “outsourced” to the diner rather than included in the meal charge. However, the waiter’s pay is taxed as though he or she is tipped (I believe about 8%). So if you don’t tip a waiter, it actually costs him or her money to serve you.

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Nikki December 12, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Funny – I interpreted the “specialty store” comment as meaning that it wasn’t as if this were some unusual item that the OP might have been unfamiliar with, or maybe that it wasn’t a collection of items meant to be a “pampering” sort of set (which IS different, IMHO, because it’s given as a treat).
I didn’t get the impression that the OP meant at all that the fact that it came from a dollar store was offensive, but rather the idea that her empoyer (and mom’s friend), found it necessary to give her a gift that basically came off as charity – basic soap, deoderant, and shampoo? When given to someone you don’t know well – especially with the note that came attached – it rather gives the message that you think said recipient is 1. Incapable of buying such items themselves and 2.Not smart enough to know how to use said items.
It is offensive, and I’m happy for OP that she didn’t need to keep this lady’s business.

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Bint December 12, 2012 at 2:05 pm

I don’t think my cleaner would appreciate getting money from me for Christmas. It would be quite weird, could well imply I think she is beneath me, poor and my servant, and would be incredibly hard to gauge.

This is why I give her a present I think she will like instead.

Understanding the American waiting staff system, I still don’t understand why one would be expected to tip a hairdresser, a postman or a bus driver at Christmas, or that not to do so is somehow unfair.

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Ergala December 12, 2012 at 2:06 pm

@Goldie I never got close enough to tell if she did indeed smell. I believe in personal space and unless an odor is so strong that it signals a possible infection or medical condition I don’t say a word. I know I have had days where I most surely don’t smell very fresh and it’s because of a medical condition. However I maintain it to the point where you can’t tell unless you are right on top of me. I absolutely obsess over how I smell because I am so self conscious about it. Typically people say I smell really good and ask what perfume/lotion I use. But the days were I am ripe I don’t leave the house. Her comments always stung and the way she’d sniff the air within minutes of entering our home, it made my hackles go up. She had 3 or 4 cats and I could smell the cat box whenever I sat in her living room but I never said a word. I have a very sensitive nose.

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NostalgicGal December 13, 2012 at 3:28 am

Catbox not tended, that odor will cling and stay with you… no wonder the lady always thought she smelled urine everywhere she went.

The note the OP got with the contents of the package was a real snub. I do agree with OP if I am going to get totally filthy in other’s muck, I would not be smelling like or looking like I was going out for cocktails either. Write the giver off as needing a clue. And it was up to the OP on whether or not she stayed in the client service list or not. Being gracious and thanking for the gift anyway is a point for the OP.

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GleanerGirl December 13, 2012 at 9:55 am

In my opinion, if you want your cleaning lady to wear nice clothes on the job, you can jolly well provide her with a fresh uniform every day. And if you want her to be fresh and clean when she leaves your home, you can also provide her with a shower.

Some people do just that, and their maids are always presentable. If there is a messy job, then as soon as it is over, it’s hit the shower and change to a fresh uniform, and they are once again presentable. It’s fine to demand that of your employees, as long as you are providing both the shower and the clean uniforms.

If no uniform is provided, then you take what you get, and just be glad the house is clean.

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GleanerGirl December 13, 2012 at 9:58 am

Dina, I understand your point about giving people the benefit of the doubt. However, as my mother taught me, the rules of propriety are there to protect you from doing something truly stupid. This also applies to the rules of etiquette.

When people follow the rules of etiquette, they rarely offend or need the benefit of the doubt. If they break the rules of etiquette, but with a good will, they may or may not offend. You pays your money, you takes your chances.

This is an etiquette site, after all, and that is the focus, not whether or not it was intended as a joke. Even if both parties knew it was a joke, it would still be bad etiquette.

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GleanerGirl December 13, 2012 at 10:19 am

I’m all for being frugal in gift giving, as well as life, in general. However, when giving a gift, one should not skimp on quality. Treat yourself to the cheap stuff, if you like but a gift should be the best you can afford. If your budget is $10, then buy a small, but good quality $10 item, rather than 10 poor quality $1 items.

Anyway, a really good rule of gift-giving is to never give someone something that you would not appreciate receiving yourself. The only exception to this is if you KNOW the gift-giver loves X product, which you just can’t stand. Then, if you give X, anyway, the giftee knows that you really were thinking of them. For example, I hate coffee, and can’t even stand the smell, but I will give my sister coffee, frequently, because I love to see how much she enjoys it.

So, unless the gift-giver knows that you just ADORE the $1 items (there actually are a few “cheap” brands that I prefer for specific items, because the formulation just works best for me, personally. Walmart brand yogurt is actually quite tasty.), then they should have stuck to fewer high-end items.

Sending oodles of cheap stuff sends a message, and it is not “I was willing to spend this much money on you – see how MUCH you got?” It is “You don’t deserve high quality, even if I have budgeted enough for it.”

As for the thank you note – say thank you, but don’t say that you donated it to the shelter. It’s yours now, and you can do what you like with it, including shredding it and pouring it down the drain, if that’s what floats your boat.

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GleanerGirl December 13, 2012 at 10:28 am

SCUlawstudent – yes, it is different in the US. Tips are expected for service people. As for waitstaff in a restaurant, they are practically mandatory, and I will tell you why. America has a minimum wage, required by law, but it is NOT applied to wait staff. Wait staff are routinely paid less than minimum wage, because they will be getting tips to make up the difference.

But wait, there’s more!

The IRS (the department of government that collects and enforces taxes), actually ASSUMES that restaurant waitstaff will receive 18 percent or more in tips, and TAXES them on it, whether they got it, or not. So that means that if you do not tip your server, your server may actually be PAYING to serve you!

So, yes, it’s ridiculous, but that is the fault of the IRS and employers who do not pay a decent wage, in the first place. I love those places who say “We pay our servers a good wage, and tips are NOT expected.” They’re rare, unfortunately.

I spent many years in Europe, where tipping was quite rare, never expected, and meant that the service was extraordinary. Here in the US, even Miss Manners says that you should ALWAYS tip, even for poor service, because the IRS expects it, and taxes on it. If the service is bad, tip as normal, and then talk to the manager. If the service is excellent, tip more than normal, and tell the manager that the server deserves a raise.

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Gianna December 13, 2012 at 10:38 am

I wouldn’t actually do this but it would be fitting to send her an etiquette book and include the note “Give me a call when you get this! I’ll tell you how to use it!”

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Anonymous December 13, 2012 at 11:34 am

1. About tipping, I’ve seen tip jars at counter-service places like Pita Pit and Starbucks. Any thoughts on that?

2. Yes, Maggie was rude. I’m sure I’ve told this story before, but when I was in high school, I played in the band, and we had a “social night” every month or so. The December social would always be a Secret Santa swap, usually with some simple snacks (cookies with red and green sprinkles, for example). Anyway, the spending limit was pretty low (I think like, five dollars, circa late 90’s/early 2000’s), and we were mostly all friends with each other, so naturally, some people gave “joke” gifts, including obviously cheap, dollar store soap. However, we were friends, we were all on equal footing, and none of us had a (real or perceived) problem with personal hygiene, so we thought this was funny, WITHIN THAT CONTEXT. Outside of that context, a “gift” of cheap soap, etc., with a note saying, “Call me and I’ll tell you how to use it” is a blatant insult.

P.S., One year, a friend of mine gave her Secret Santa, who was a friend of hers, a book about potty-training that was written for toddlers. That was also a joke, but again, know your audience.

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Kendra December 13, 2012 at 5:38 pm

I’m sorry, GleanerGirl, but your information isn’t quite accurate. According to the IRS website, those who receive tips, the IRS bases their tax liability on how much they actually get in tips (which they are required to declare). What you are describing is called “allocated” tips. This only happens if the grand total of all the declared tips of all the tipped positions is less than 8% (not 18%)of the gross receipts of the establishment. The shortfall percent is then “allocated” among all of the tipping positions to make up for the shortfall. For example, if all the tips of all the hosts/ess, servers, bussers adds up to 7% of the gross receipts in a month, then each person is allocated a percentage of the 1% they are short to bring the tips up to the 8% of the gross receipts of the establishment. They don’t have to pay that one percent, but they will be taxed as if they had that additional percent of 1%. Also, the owner of the establishment can petition the IRS for a lower percentage, all the way down to 2%. If the owner chooses not to ask the IRS to lower their percentage, the employees can get together and petition the IRS to lower their tax liability. Also, when the establishment fixed a gratuity, as in groups of more than 6 people will be charged a 15% gratuity, those are counted as wages for tax purposes not tips.

As far as your assertion that tipping is practically mandatory. I know a lot of people try to push this, but I don’t agree with it. Tips (gratuities) are gifts/bribes for good service. If you don’t get good service, you don’t give a tip, that simple. If you don’t agree with two different minimum wages, 1 for non-tipping and 1 for tipping, then DO something about it. Write your congressman, lobby for fairer wages, protest the worst offenders. Just throwing a couple of bucks at the “poor” servers just perpetuates the unfair system you claim to be so against.

And as to the “poor” servers, have you ever run the numbers? I thought it was interesting. Lets take a mid-range restaurant in NV for example on say a busy Friday or Saturday evening. Assume for the math that each server has 5 four-tops, and each table turns over once each hour. Also, assume each person spends an average of $20. Minimum wage in NV is $7.25 per hour with health benifits. Since it is the lower number, I’ll use it. So each table spends $80 x 5 tables = $400 x 10% tip = $40 per hour. So our hypothetical server earned $160 in tips in a four hour shift or $47.25 per hour at just 10% tip rate which many people consider to be too low. To put it in perspective….I work for a temp service and I average $11 per hour when I’m working and I don’t get tips. Who makes more money in this senario?

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Vicki December 13, 2012 at 8:45 pm

I see that Nevada minimum wage applies to all jobs; that’s not true everywhere. I looked up New York (because I live here), and the minimum wage for most hospitality workers in New York is $5.25/hour (less for resort hotels). Also, most states don’t have a higher minimum wage for workers who don’t get health benefits.

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Enna December 14, 2012 at 7:28 am

The note was rude, it could have been ajoke that fell on it’s face but it is still rude.

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NostalgicGal December 14, 2012 at 10:47 pm

The first year they enacted the IRS tip law, I dutifully reported my tips (night shift in 24 hour restaurant in college town) and I was getting like 3%. So was everyone else running the floor. At the end of the year the IRS told me I had to pay on 8% and said I owed about $1000 more in taxes and penalties. Mind you my gross income for the year WITH that three percent was like $8k! Um yeah….

Then the stories started to come out about things like employers forcibly withholding for that 8% and some waitresses literally resceiving zero paychecks. Then a lot of bodies sued or countersued about it and a month later the IRS wrote me back and said okay I didn’t owe that $1k… Gladly I found a non tip related job not long after that!

I wished I worked in someplace like that mythical NYC place where you could turn those kind of tips. Reality is $5 lunch specials and someone left you 50c after dawdling over three cups of coffee…..

Anyways, I still agree that the note was rude from the employer to the OP no matter how expensive the items in the basket, and the OP had the right to edit her client list any way she chose.

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Kit December 16, 2012 at 5:09 am

@Mer, don’t such special products as you describe come with an instruction where you live? I think here everything except for the most usual soap does. :D

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NicoleK December 16, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Wait, why do you have to buy cleaning supplies? I buy cleaning supplies for my house, and the cleaning lady uses them, I would never expect her to spend her money to clean my house!

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Kris December 19, 2012 at 2:07 am

@Kendra that’s because Vegas/Nevada understands for the most part that the workers are the backbone of the company. The same can’t be said for other states, where tipped employees ARE paid less than minimum. And that still doesn’t change the fact that the legal minimum wage for tipped employees is 2 freaking dollars and 13 cents. Many service workers do survive on tips and having had a parent who worked industry I always tip. The only exceptions are when there is poor service on the waiters part, i’m not going to bend them over because the cook is being a twit.

Tipping is good courtesy, no matter how much one assumes the person serving them is making.

@Anon: It’s not at as expected compared to say tipping cabs, delivery drivers, waiters etc, but still it doesn’t hurt. I personally throw whatever change plus a dollar or two in, if I grab something on the run

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Mer December 23, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Kit: Usually yes :) But my sister likes to shop in place where many of the products and soaps are sold by weight (and are more… ‘handmade-like’, though not really handmade I think). So you just buy a 200g piece from larger soap cake and have it wrapped in pretty paper. Sometimes they have sticker to add but not always. So they might give the instruction in the shop verbally.

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rachael December 31, 2012 at 1:15 am

… And the vindictive an impolite response, after the boor was phased out, would be a basket of dollar store cleaning supplies, and the same note. Not the high road, I admit, but emotionally satisfying to imagine.
All of the hating aside, I actually bought a great deal of dollar store things for the approximately 50 gift bags I made this year for co-workers, bus moms, neighbors, and my son’s teachers. The school has a strict “no food” gift policy (or so they said, but he brought home bags of candy the day before break) so I made his two primary teachers, the school secretary, and the nurse gift bags with fake flowers and pencils made into a bouquet and tied with a ribbon, then put in a red organza bag b/c the pencils kept slipping off. The bus moms are the moms who I wait with for my son and their kids to get on and off the bus. I gave them each a little bag of candy and pens. When dealing with kids I only know peripherally, I always give them to the parents directly, so they can decide when or if to give it. My coworkers got the same thing, each in a little reusable bag. We can never find pens at work, we must have pen-gnomes.

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