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Walmart vs. birthday party parents: Who’s got the most hysterical overreaction?

By Lenore Skenazy

Readers--Here's a story from the NY Daily News that highlights two of the things that drive me craziest about our culture:

A family in Maine was serving a Walmart cake at their 2-year-old's birthday when they found a paring knife baked into it, on the bottom, clearly left there by mistake. Said the traumatized dad, the incident "put a dampener" on the party and people started to leave.

As if folks usually stick around for hours after the cake. Nothing more fun than the dregs of a party with over-tired toddlers! But the dad, sounding weepy, added, "We're not going to get that second birthday back ever."

Ohmigod--he’s right! How is anyone expected to recover from a blow like that? The family will NEVER get back a non-paring-knife-marred-cake-cutting-moment when their kid is two again! Naturally, that kind of thing is so unfair, so deeply disruptive to the natural order of things, that the dad said he may sue.

If he does, I hope he is thrown right out of court, and into a cake. (And if, ironically enough, there's a pointy thing in there, well...)

For its part, Walmart sounded almost sane and strong for a second, offering the family only its apologies and a replacement cake. Right on! But then a spokesman added that the chain was "now banning the use of pairing knives at its bakeries across the country."

Wha!? Just because ONE person in ONE Walmart screwed up ONE time with a paring knife--not an AK47--now the chain is banning ALL paring knives at ALL times in ALL Walmart bakeries? Are apples going to peel themselves for the pies? Is the store going to ban cleavers from the meat department, too?

What's disturbing about Walmart's response is how quickly and cravenly the corporation was willing to pretend that the problem was X, and now it is solved forevermore, by X banishment.

But the problem is obviously not paring knives. The problem is that human beings screw up sometimes, and this shouldn't be a sue-able offense unless there was gross negligence or malice, or some really unconscionable filling, like prune pudding. If a minimum wage bakery employee spaces out, it's time to talk to that employee, not issue an across-the-board edict.

So my ideal punishment for the Walmart legal team? Send them a cake. Prune pudding filling. No one goes home till it’s eaten. - L.

Lenore Skenazy is the author of the book and blog “Free-Range Kids,” which launched the anti-helicopter parenting movement. She’s going to be posting here from time to time on issues of interest to Common Good supporters. As Lenore puts it, she’s ready to make “America the Home of the Brave again, not the Home of the Bureaucrats So Stupid that a Hazmat Crew Gets Called to a High School When a Student Brings in a Mercury Thermometer. (Which really happened a few months back, in Florida.)” And here’s her outrage of the week. Chime in!