Dollar stores are awesome, and I love them dearly. In my forthcoming novel, Agents of the Internet Apocalypse, the main character tells a story about a dollar store that happened to me in real life. Once when I was in college, I saw a young dad who couldn't have been older than 30 walking through an Ithaca mall with this three young daughters, ages ten through five. His clothes and accent made clear that he was scraping at lower middle class at best. But as he and his girls approached the dollar store, he proclaimed, "OK, girls, you can have anything you want," and they squealed with delight, running into the store like they'd won the lottery. And I cried, just as I'm crying now, because I can't even summon this memory without crying. This father with only three dollars to spare was able to create a magical moment for his daughters. For a moment, they felt pampered and spoiled. And for that same moment, he got to be his children's hero. So turn your nose up at dollar store ghetto, but there's magic there.
I paid a buck for this. How much did you pay for yours, loser?
Today, I use the dollar store mostly for arts and crafts. You can buy three huge pieces of oaktag and three sets of paint for six dollars. Most of these places carry some stupid craft of some sort or another -- mask making, birdhouse building, paint-by-numbers stuff. But what you buy there really doesn't matter. When you're broke, it's important to make the destination the event. You go to the store, you walk the aisles knowing your kid isn't going to be dying for you to buy any one thing you can't afford. You weigh the options of various purchases. And then you take your booty home and get to work. You make a project. It doesn't matter what. A drawing, a painting, a sculpture of your most annoying creditor getting sodomized by by goblins. It doesn't matter.
Plush Studios/Bill Reitzel/Blend Images/Getty
Also, Cracked.com in no way encourages sodomy-based art projects for children.
If you are a parent struggling to entertain your kids in an economical fashion when the weather keeps you indoors, I hope some of these tips are helpful. Maybe seeing them written down in list form will make them seem more legit to you. Because that's really the problem, right? That nagging voice in the back of your head that says, "Is making a game out of throwing balled-up socks into a garbage can a waste of my kid's time? Is this stupid? Shouldn't I be able to spend 50 bucks taking us all to the movies?" No. Nothing is stupid. These are real activities, but it's the doing, not the actual activity, that matters. Doing anything with your kids is the part that makes memories. It's the journey more than the destination. And even if that's not true, even a bad journey is better than sitting at home climbing the walls.
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