December 20, 2015

what's for dinner?

Ah, the age old dilema of what to serve for dinner.  Recently my offspring helped me answer this never ending question.

When the kids were younger, I fixed dinner based on what available items appeared on the pantry and freezer shelves.  Although I felt like a master chef at the time, I admit that the meals I offered were limited to those that I could whip up without much effort since I was caring for little ones.  I didn't feel guilty that meal time wasn't full of unique dishes.  Instead. I took pride in the fact that we didn't rely on fast food for sustenance.  My grocery runs typically included those ingredients needed to create one of my 'regular' dinners.  Therefore, meals didn't require much thought.  At the time, dinners fed our small but growing family, so any 'real' dinner I whipped up stretched out for more than one night.  Those days are long gone.

Fast forward several years to a different house, a larger family of serious eaters, and a new approach to meal time.  Each week I map out our seven day menu.  Coach used to grill at least once a week.  Since he chose to take on the basement renovation two years ago and more recently a fellowship, his availability to grill has dried up like an overdone turkey.  Leftover night no longer serves much purpose except that it forces me to clean the fridge out of annoying little Tupperware containers of half servings.  By considering the amount of prep time I have, the number of dinner hour activities family member will be involved in, and what time food needs to be on the table, I methodically plot out which meal I will prepare each night for the upcoming week.

On Monday, December 14th, I was slated to cook dinner for the Small family whose son has been in the hospital for over a month.  When I filled out the online calendar, I committed to cooking our family favorite 'cheesy chicken.'  The recipe is easy enough to make and typically a hit with most appetites.  I wrapped up my Christmas card poem and emailed it to the printer.  (I swear this year end summary in rhyme gets completed later and later each year).  Next on the agenda:  start dinner for the Smalls.  Imagine my surprise when I couldn't locate the multiple bags of frozen, boneless chicken breasts that I had just purchased on Saturday.  I've never been one to freeze butter, but there in the freezer was a bag full of sticks of butter.  I opened the fridge in a panic suddenly fearing the outcome of asking kids to help distribute groceries to the downstairs fridge.

Four bags of boneless chicken huddled together on the top shelf of the fridge.  Still in the plastic grocery bag.  Eight pounds of chicken.  Thawed.  Although I believed this once frozen meat needed to be cooked and eaten immediately, I called the 1-800 number to verify.  My suspicions were confirmed.  Raw chicken couldn't be re-frozen.  Since this pile of chicken had begun to thaw approximately 48 hours prior to my discovery, it needed to get cooked asap.  Strap on the apron lady.  Grab the cook book.  Preheat the oven.  Unstack the glass pyrex pans from the cabinet shelf.  It was time to prepare more chicken than we typically eat in two weeks time.

My taco dinner was put on the back burner -figuratively speaking.  I assumed while planning the week's menu that I would need to avoid using the oven when preparing a dinner for our family, since the Small's dinner would occupy one of my few refuse-to-die appliances.  I made more cheesy chicken than I thought possible, and was relieved when Coach agreed to toss some chicken on the grill.  As I dumped cans of soup on the pink chicken breasts, I began to fret about how long it would take us to ingest this much chicken.

I was grateful that I had agreed to cook dinner for the Smalls.  Perfect night to unload some must-eat-or-soon-toss chicken.  While I longed to solve the mystery of who swapped the butter for the frozen chicken, I was relieved that I had stumbled upon the thawing poultry before it had spoiled silently cowering behind several gallons of milk.

The kids hadn't arrived home from school when the chicken cook off began.  As they entered the house, the finger pointing began.  I accused Tetonka first.  He insisted he hadn't delivered any groceries to the basement.  His alibi 'I-didn't-want-to-help' checked out.  I realized that the mystery child had even asked me to review the instructions as I raced out the door that Saturday afternoon.  Rummaging thru the grocery bags, I had ordered kids who were not accompanying me to my next errand to start storing the cold items.  I offered to do the rest later.  Although I was convinced it was Eddie, he reminded me that he was the one waiting in the car to go pick out new basketball shoes while I dealt with the groceries.  Mini, my final suspect, was the last one home on chicken fiesta night.  Fortunately for her, the raw chicken drama had subsided.  As the house filled with the smells of cooking chicken, I began to accept that a frantic chicken cook off against the clock would serve my menu needs for the remainder of the week.  Still, I had to know . . .

'Mini, why did you put chicken in the fridge and butter in the freezer?  Especially after you asked me to remind you of their cold storage requirements.'  She grew flustered, not wanting to cross into uncharted 'trouble' territory.  This was her brothers' turf.  Her response surprised me.  'I guess I got mixed up.  It's your fault, anyway.  I was only trying to help.  You should've just done it yourself.'  My ally, my good girl, the one I've always assumed would be willing to help out- refusing to follow in the footsteps of older brothers who shirk responsibility as often as they toss dirty socks around the house willy nilly.  There it was.  I felt cold.  Almost as cold as thawed chicken.

Oh, and my worries were wasted.  After dropping off chicken at the Smalls' house, our family polished off the remaining 6 plus pounds of chicken in a couple of days.  It was nice to not have to think about dinner for a couple of days, but I think I prefer that the kids don't dictate what mounds of meat I am forced to prepare on short notice any time soon. 

December 15, 2015

occupational hazard

I raced out the door at 2:35 yesterday and grabbed Reg and Curly from school just before dismissal.  Next we stopped at the high school to pick up Eddie.  I hauled the three kids to the dentist for our string of five appointments that started at 3:00.   At 3:30 by shuttling Eddie back to high school for his sports pictures, I temporarily avoided the vacant chair that awaited me.  Sports pictures ended up being planned for the same day that our dentist appointments were cemented on the calendar.  Semi annual dental cleanings are becoming increasingly difficult to schedule.  If I don't lock in early enough, I won't get a block of appointments together.  Being on the ball doesn't serve me well either.  By the time advance appointments pop up on the calendar they compete with countless other conflicts. 

The two high school boys' cleanings were originally scheduled for last week during their study halls, and Coach managed to get a solo appointment one morning without having to drag any kids along.  So after swapping out the two high schoolers for Tetenka and Mini's cleanings last week due to a field trip, and two junior high basketball games, I was finally about to check this unpopular activity off my to do list.  First I had to survive my own cleaning.

Two hygienists manage the cleanings at our dental office.  Jan is thorough, fast, and energetic.  Lori is typically slow and far from careful.  In order to get all of us seen without making unnecessary additional trips, I divide our group up between the two of them.  As an act of kindness, I try to load up Jan's schedule with the kids.  Coach and I take the less comfortable time slots with Lori.  Jan can typically see three kids in the time it takes for Lori to inflict her uniquely styled cleaning on one patient. 

Perhaps I didn't see Lori for my prior cleaning, so I am unsure when I last felt her 'skill'.  My memory is failing me.  At any rate, I noticed a shift in Lori's performance this visit shortly after she started scraping away at my gums.  I had to wonder if perhaps Lori had recently been given a diagnosis.  Could she have just learned that she was suffering from Parkinson's disease?  Her hands shook like a nervous patient about to have a root canal with no Novocaine.  Pain accompanied each uncontrolled jab.  It was difficult to ignore the blood stained gauze swabs she dabbed at my mouth.  Curly popped into the torture chamber where I longed to be done.  Proudly displaying her prize, she stopped suddenly and gasped at the evidence of the crime scene trauma that my mouth had endured. 

There is such a thing as an occupational hazard.  This is why I do not work in the medical field.  A string of incidents that caused me to pass out influenced my career options.  My father wrote me letters in college and frequently reminded me that he thought I should study nursing like my sister.  I wisely chose to follow a different career path knowing that I could not be successful as a nurse.  I would need to request that patients insert their own IV lines or injections while I dabbed at my sweaty face in the hall.  Maybe it's time for Lori to reconsider her profession, or it's time that I tweak our appointments and request we all file into Jan's chair.  Maybe extra trips are worth it.

December 9, 2015

24 Hours

Inevitable.  Predictable.  Unreal.  Unfortunate.  Frustrating.  Mind blowing.  Those are just a few of the emotions I encountered yesterday.  It didn't take long.  It was bound to happen, but so fast?  Even I couldn't have predicted that one of my offspring could manage this.

With Coach wrapping up his basement renovation project after almost two years of blood, sweat, and tears (admittedly, I generated most of the tears as a result of living without a functioning basement for an extended period of time), we scheduled the carpet installation a few weeks ago.  It would arrive on a Thursday.  While Coach slaved away to complete a few of the tasks on his 'to-do-before-carpt-arrives' list, I counted the hours.  I longed to gather the large cardboard box of toy weapons from my once-walk-in closet and relocate them to the basement.  It gave me great joy to stack the generous collection of Lego bins outside my closet in anticipation of arranging them on basement shelves.  Housing the Lego toys is the sole purpose of these shelves tucked into a back corner of the basement.  Only smart, veteran parents arrange a basement layout to accommodate these awesome, tiny toys that easily end up EVERYWHERE.  Of course for months I had stumbled across small, colorful pieces misplaced from bins and strewn across my closet floor.  Evidence proving that sneaky hands had discovered the dozens of small stacking bins with snap on lids that organized these classic favorites.  Other bins chock full of the kids' play things were stashed in more mainstream locations throughout the house.  Now I tingled with excitement knowing that these space invaders would reunite in various corners of the soon to be newly finished basement.

Before I could reclaim my closet, my garage, and all four corners of my supposedly spacious, temporarily-not-so-formal dining room, I opted to assist Coach in prepping the dusty, tool ridden area for the carpet installation.  After a bit of time in the bowels of our home, I deduced quickly that even a partial, mid-construction, clean-up task had failed to take place during the 22.5 months of renovations.  The layers of dust were deep and relentless.  I enlisted the aid of the four youngest children on the eve of the carpet delivery.  The hell with firm bed times.  The damp dusty rags piled up quickly as they raced up the stairs for additional supplies and I directed them to other stashes of worn out towels.  It was a bit like Christmas morning when they uncovered the buried air hockey and foosball tables.   With each cleaned up cabinet, shelving unit, and floor space the excitement for the upcoming kid-friendly recreation area grew.

After school the appearance of the new carpet was greeted with shrieks of joy.  How easily the space had been converted in a few hours!  The kids rolled, laughed, and sprawled on the carpet.  I anticipated the joy of regaining my sanity, my closet, and my dining room along with a more available life partner who at times is cursed by a handy-man fixation.  Not sure which was worse, almost two years without a basement for six kids to hang out in or such a lengthy overhaul for a husband to be devoted to?  There was light at the end of the tunnel, and we all relished the end of this bumpy stage of our life.

That night the three older boys requested permission to watch a movie in the basement stretched out on the new carpet.  Although there was no furniture down there yet, they gathered up family room pillows and selected something to watch.  Coach and I settled into the family room browsing through channels on the TV.  We were excited to be able to watch a grown up show without worrying if inappropriate scenes would pop up while teenagers lingered. 

At some point a scuffle broke out in the basement.  Shouts including phrases like, 'Clean it up!' sent  me racing to the door.  Eddie answered my inquiry.  He claimed Laddie was dripping a red popsicle on the carpet.  I refused to investigate further.  I barked something down the stairwell along the lines of, 'That better not be true.'  The fact that we didn't own any red popsicles eased my mind a bit as I returned to the peaceful family room. 

The next morning I shuffled across the carpet in the basement in order to retrieve a gallon of milk from the spare fridge.  Just as I was relishing the fact that I no longer had to wear shoes thru the construction zone to get milk, I saw it.  Red.  Smeared into the carpet.  The sticky smudges appeared on the couchless-coffee table.  Less than 24 hours.  That is how long it took to soil the new carpet and christen the new kid area with gross stickiness.  My blood boiled and I felt my face grow the color of the stain. 

Over the summer Mini had rummaged thru an enormous box of ice cream bars in the basement freezer.  She hauled up enough treats for her siblings and all of their visiting friends.  In the process, she neglected to put one of the boxes back in the freezer.  After sitting at room temperature unnoticed for about a day, I stuck the lone strawberry box back in the freezer.  Of course Laddie would realize that this box of deformed ice cream bars existed and were fair game now that they had refrozen into oddly shaped edible desserts.  Perhaps their new make up made ingesting them challenging.  Could that account for the mess created by our 17 year old?

Laddie insisted he hadn't left a trail of ice cream across the floor.  Despite witnesses.  Seriously?  Fortunately when he finally cleaned up 'someone else's mess', the dark pink color disappeared without a trace.  Still . . . 24 hours!!!!

November 30, 2015

appliance graveyard

The clock on our current microwave stopped displaying the digital time over a week before it finally zapped it's last plate.  Initially I thought the kids messed with the panel and accidentally erased the time.  I reprogrammed it.  More than once.  Speaking of time, is there a worse time to lose a microwave/convection than just before hosting 27 for Thanksgiving?  Despite my background with appliances that sputter out just as the one year warranty expires, I still didn't suspect that the hub of energy in our kitchen was going to bid us farewell last week. Certainly not days before I prepared to utilize it for my food preparations.  I'm either dumb, or too trusting.  Never trust an appliance.  Lesson learned.  If I agree that I've finally learned this lesson, am I still dumb?  (That's a rhetorical question).

This top of the line micro we'll call 'Lemon' was added to our kitchen about four short years ago.  Replacing the original built in, above-the-oven microwave was a no brainer.  (Well, our house was built in 1985, so it wasn't the true original, just the appliance that came with the house 7 years ago - so original to us).  After living in the house for less than a year the handle of 'Original' microwave melted.  The home warranty company wasted my time by coming out to explain to me that they wouldn't be replacing the unit because it was installed improperly.  They claimed there was insufficient space between the cabinet the micro was screwed into and the oven.  I would have preferred that they inform me over the phone that there was very little chance that they would fix anything.  Warranty or not.  I assume that this 'improperly installed' loophole was built into their contract, so that they wouldn't actually be expected to make a repair.  For the next 18 months we dealt with 'Original's' misshapen, melted handle.  Eventually the entire handle fell off creating a handle-less, sleek look.  We felt very cutting edge.  Maybe that was just because for the next few years we kept a butter knife positioned on the edge of the counter top.  Every sitter and guest who arrived at our house encountered a brief tutorial on how to utilize the knife to pop open the door of our microwave.  Grabbing the knife prior to heating anything up became second nature, and when 'Original' was eventually replaced I continued to reach for the butter knife out of habit.

Old habits die hard, and 'Original' died ugly.  Handle-less.  Eventually even our 'ole familiar, oh-looks-like-you-forgot-to-put-some-of-your-cutlery-away knife failed to connect with the hidden release buried inside 'Original's' door.  The door opening process was beginning to take so long that the food was room temperature by the time we freed it from the 'hot' box.  When we had finally accepted that probing around inside the door with the butter knife would no longer produce the desired 'open sesame' effect, we discussed our options.  It took some convincing to get Coach to agree to upgrade to a unit that also functioned as a convection oven.  Cooking a dish in the oven while the microwave cooked a side dish promised endless culinary options.  In the end, I think it was his taste buds that caused him to cave.  So Coach and I set out on a date night slash microwave shopping expedition.  On our way to a local Italian place, we selected a GE Profile micro/convection, now referred to un-affectionately as 'Lemon'.

Initially, I was thrilled with our purchase.  It was costly, but I could produce twice as many cookies utilizing the convection function alongside my regular oven.  Main dishes no longer cooled on the stove top wrapped in an unsightly beach towel to conserve heat while waiting for a side dish to cook.  My luck ran out on 'Lemon' in less than a year, which seems to be the average time I can get an appliance to function properly.  (Have you read about my dishwasher disaster?  Ugh, it pains me to think about it).  We spent the next few years repairing it regularly.  At one point a small army of repairman arrived and after a few trips to Home Depot for small parts and additional specialized screws, they rebuilt my newer appliance in my own kitchen.  Somehow I felt like 'Lemon' should have been priced to sell, labeled as a handy-man's special, or donated to science.  The manufacturer would not agree that we had been stuck with a lemon.  The company did agree to give us an extended one year warranty after 'Lemon' was rebuilt.  Exactly a year after the date that the extended warranty expired, 'Lemon' faded.  At first it was the failing clock.  Then I had to really jiggle the handle in order to get it to start cooking.  Finally the power only buzzed when the door was open.  Not many heating type tasks could be performed with the door open.  Once it was closed, the power fizzed out.  No amount of sweet talking or loud cussing would jolt 'Lemon' into function mode.  It was over.

The repairman I have on speed dial encouraged me over the phone to move on.  I wasted no time shopping on line and visiting a few local stores before I selected a new model.  While we waited for the delivery date, the leftovers piled up in the fridge and I prepared my morning oatmeal on the stove top.  The delivery guys arrived and measured from the bottom of the cabinet to the top of the counter and shook their heads.  Apparently the warranty would be void if they installed this appliance in a space less than 30 inches.  Our space measured 29 3/4 inches.  Seriously?  The guy insisted that this quarter inch could have caused 'Lemon' to break down consistently.

Over the past two and a half weeks I've polled a variety of handy men, builders, and appliance gurus with no solutions.  We've become very creative in how we heat up our leftovers.  Crockpots working as hotplates.  Tinfoil packets crowded into the oven for over an hour.  In a pinch, food placed under the broiler heats up with an added crusty texture.  Finally last night our plumber devised a plan that will raise the bottom of the cabinet enough to please the appliance gods.  On Saturday he will return to perform surgery on our cabinet.

In the meantime, the repairman for the new Bosch dishwasher that joined the family in mid May returned for his third visit.  I purchased the Bosch to replace 'Dirty' our Christmas gift dishwasher from my folks a few years ago that only cleaned dishes for a few short months at a time before calling it quits and demanding countless repair jobs.  The Bosch has required a new heating element and electrical board . . . since May.  Still not guaranteed to complete an entire cycle, I called the Sears guy back to see what the issue could be.  After tinkering with it for some time, he called the home office.  The door latch had been recalled.  So relieved to have an answer, because I was starting to feel crazy . . . crazier.  I wondered aloud to Coach if perhaps a new kitchen might lift the appliance graveyard curse we can't break out of.  Fingers crossed.

November 27, 2015

Officer Friendly

I'm a slow reader, a quick study, and a late bloomer.  These labels don't cause me a fraction of the trouble that my tendency to drive above the speed limit does.  Over the years, I've been nabbed for speeding now and then.  As a college student I applied for supervision knowing my upcoming study abroad plans left little chance that I would be detected by domestic radar.  Bullet dodged.  A few years back with a car packed with kids, I managed to sob my way out of tickets left and right.  I assume that driving a car brimming with sweet, staring faces helped my cause.  After sharing with Officer Friendly how one unruly kid's behavior had disrupted my ability to transport the clan to an activity, he typically took pity on me.  In about 12 months time, I was pulled over 6 times.  Eventually, yellow warning pages littered the floor of the car. 

One morning an 8th grade Laddie requested that I drive him to school early for a review session.  Recognizing that I could not clone myself and knowing that adding an additional driving route to our morning was recipe for disaster, I created a rule to protect my sanity for this newly occurring situation.  Any kid who needed an abnormal a.m. departure time must assist me in some way with the morning routine before getting in the car.  After packing some lunches, I hollered to Laddie over my shoulder to help his little sisters with their breakfast while I darted off to get dressed.  After all, how could I spend time driving one kid to school while the remaining younger kids' morning was stalled?  An extra set of hands dedicated to prepping kids for the day proved necessary to keep some momentum going before I stepped out to haul a kid somewhere early.  Moments later the girls whined up the stairs because Lad had refused to pour milk on their cereal.  Too much to juggle and too many prior Laddie-responsibility-refusals led to the pressure of the morning erupting inside of me.  I grabbed Laddie and pinned him to the kitchen floor.  I slapped at his shoulder and screamed in his face.  Not my proudest mommy-of-the-year moment.  Knowing that his academic situation would benefit from a review session, I chose to growl at him to get in the car while I added milk to the girls' bowls.  Looking back I wish I had calmly refused to transport him.  Let him deal with his crappy grades and his teacher's wrath.  Rookie-parent of a teenager move.  Forever the early riser, Reg appeared fed, dressed, and ready for the day.  I corralled him to the car in order to remove one of the 'moving parts' from the home-alone scenario. 

I expressed myself loudly for the first few miles of our trek to school.  Then I noticed the lights.  How long had they been there?  Being pulled over driving the great white, I struggled to find an adequate spot on the shoulder for my big rig.  I shared a few more choice words with Laddie before the officer approached.  When the cop questioned my speed, I broke down.  I explained how my teenager in the back seat had interfered with the morning's progress.  I briefly described my 'flying solo' morning, my big brood, and Laddie's nonsense. By refusing to encourage a stay-on-task-breakfast, he had derailed the morning.  I even pointed out that I left four kids under 11 at home under-supervised to drive Laddie to a review session.  These kids were now in jeopardy of arriving tardy to school.  Wouldn't be the first time.

Not only did I skate out of a possible ticket, but the officer took up my cause and drove home the point with Laddie.  He leaned close to my open window and pointed at Lad in the back seat.  'Is this the teenager?' he asked.  Then he began to bellow his disapproval.  He demanded that this 8th grader clean up his act and help out his busy mother.  He hesitated to ask me if Laddie was able to hear him.  Recognizing that my left ear drum was suffering from his booming volume, I assured him that his message was being heard.  Laddie continued to stare straight ahead and appear frozen.  Eventually the cop explained to us that he didn't want to hear that these issues were continuing.  He instructed me to have a good day and strolled back to his vehicle.  Perched on the bench seat next to Laddie, 5 yr. old Reggie's mouth hung open and his eyes bulged.  Laddie muttered that he should have told the officer about the child-abuse-like beating he had received that morning.  That was the most fulfilling pull-over I've ever encountered.

Unfortunately in addition to being a slow reader, a quick study, and a late bloomer, I'm also apparently a slow learner.  My warnings have since evolved into citations.  Laddie's willingness to pitch in at home issues have persisted, so I suppose he takes after his mother in the slow learning department. 

November 10, 2015

counting to six

Each time we added another baby to the family there was an adjustment period.  Someone needed more attention.  Laundry piled higher than I ever thought possible.  Logistics of herding little people in the grocery store or other solo parent trips where I was grossly outnumbered proved dodgy the first few times around.  I even wondered about the school's expectations of my homework involvement.  I hoped my lack of time checking their work wouldn't impair my kids academic success long term.

After Curly arrived there was a new skill I needed to focus on.  It seems silly, but at the time I remember chuckling to myself . . . counting to six was a challenge.  Accounting for six little heads was somehow a huge leap from five.  The targets were always moving.  I often held two in my arms, not just one.  It was easy to forget to assign numbers to the small bodies I held in my grasp.  The first time I realized how different it was to keep tabs on all six was when we were at a children's museum just after Christmas 2007.  I believe I ventured there with the crew by myself.  Not sure what prompted that little bit of insanity.  Perhaps our membership was about to expire.  Curly was born December 19th, so maybe we just had cabin fever.  Being at a children's museum with so many other small fries and tying to track those that belonged to me was maddening.

That eye opening trip occurred almost eight years ago.  I've adjusted to the fact that there are now 6 bodies that belong in my field of vision, or at the very least registered in my mental radar.  Nowadays our gang attends birthday parties, friends' houses, high school sports, jobs, band practices, and Irish dancing classes to name a few.  I typically have a pretty good handle on where everyone is supposed to be.

A few weeks ago, I planned to head downtown for the afternoon.  A college friend was coming in town for a destination bachelorette party and I was meeting part of the group for lunch.  At this point, I think it goes without saying that I don't get out much.  I intended to work my butt off in two back to back exercise classes, shower at home, choose something hip to wear, and drive downtown.  I woke up and decided to investigate hopping on the train.  This option would allow me unlimited wine consumption (seriously I'm maxed out after two glasses, so I wasn't anticipating anything wild but always good to be able to kick back).  Before I could fully exam this new possibility, I needed to survive the morning.  Coach was already at work.  

Reggie and Curly raced off to the bus and barely made it.  This drill is accomplished with the help of a special skill my children have adapted.  They are able to run short distances with their shoes untied.  Occasionally homework is clutched to their chest, backpack is unzipped and wide open, and a coat is tucked under their arm.  At times Curly is still spitting toothpaste on the driveway.  I am trained in quick-Curly-prep.  Translation:  I can wake this child up at 7:21 and have her fed, dressed, and out the door by 7:35.  It isn't pretty, but my success rate is improving.  I enforce a no return policy, which means she isn't allowed to return up the stairs once she has descended.  Her teeth are brushed in the downstairs bathroom and her clothes are placed on her chair before I go to bed.  If there is an idle high schooler nearby, I delegate a duty or two to him.  'Throw me her shoes, shove her lunch box in her backpack.'  Of course I have extremely cooperative teens, so this is no trouble at all.  Without fail, Reggie calls over his shoulder on his jog to the bus stop that he might starve to death based on the provisions I have placed in his lunch.  Unless I have already closed the garage door, I offer my canned response, 'Then pack your own damn lunch.'  Growth spurts in 9 year old boys can be ugly.

After a bit of extremely repetitive morning combat with the high school guys, which included the standard:  'wipe that up, put the milk away, why haven't you made your lunch yet, get off your phone, you should've left already, I'll take your keys and you can take the bus tomorrow,'  I pulled up the train schedule on line in the study and placed a call to Coach's clinic.  Coach's office manager, Rebbecca, assured me it would be no big deal for her to drop me at the nearby train station after my workout.  I asked her if she thought she should check with her horrible boss.  We chuckled.

So my little downtown excursion was shaping up to be less stressful and more relaxing, which is right up my frazzled alley.   A trip downtown with no traffic, no one way streets, and no parking garage searches.  I heard Mini and her best friend, Lily, call out a good bye as I returned to the kitchen from the study.  Lily gets dropped at our house most mornings so her mom can get to work, and the girls walk to school together.  The high schoolers and the bus riders are usually gone by the time Lily arrives, but there was a morning last month when the teenagers had a scheduled late start.  Lily witnessed a brother-brawl at our kitchen table when Laddie accused Eddie of wearing his shirt.  If she was a bit groggy that morning, the unavoidable energy of our house woke her up.  I called after the girls to have a good day, and took a moment to finish my breakfast.  That's when I counted.  Two on the bus, two driving to high school, one walker to junior high.  No one went early to band.  Uh oh.  Someone was missing.

Tetanka was sound asleep.  School starts at 8:45 and it was 8:25.  Oops.  I flew up the stairs and stood on the bottom bunk so I could shake him awake in the top bunk.  It occurred to me at this point that I would need to choose a hip outfit (not always the easiest of tasks for me) and pack a bag to shower at the health club before my train.  Yikes.  I tried to get T started on breakfast.  He wouldn't agree to any of the quick options I offered.  Instead he stood rubbing his eyes and asking me what kind of mother forgets she has a kid sleeping?  I assumed it was a rhetorical question.  This mom was planning out her fun afternoon and lost focus (or at the very least lost count) of the kids.  Sue me. 

I side stepped the adult size Gumby and Pokey costumes that are housed in my master closet, gathered up an armful of wardrobe possibilities, stuffed them into two bags, selected 5 pairs of shoes, and threw my hair products into a side pocket.  I yelled down to T to get into the car and dug around for a different purse and gluten free munchies in case the lunch menu was too limiting.  Tetanka's face was a map of creases outlining his recent sleep.  I barely slowed down near his school as I begged him to jump out.  I refused to sacrifice my workout class for my last minute transportation changes, or for a 12 year old who insists on ignoring bedtime parameters.

Thankfully a friend was available in the locker room to help me select an outfit after my classes.  I chatted a bit longer than intended.  Shock.  Fearing I would miss my train, I jogged to Coach's attached office and called Rebbecca.  'Meet me in the parking lot.'  We got to the station with a few minutes to spare.  Note to self 'Tell Coach to give Rebbecca a raise.'  I did nothing on the train downtown.  Nothing.  So freeing.  The rest of the afternoon was refreshing and enjoyable.  My friend, her sister, and her sister in law.  Great conversation and lots of laughs.  Of course there was delicious wine too.  I enjoyed a few glasses.  But who was counting?  For once, not me.

October 13, 2015

Not just kids doing the dumbest things

I have come to expect my kids to do dumb things.  Growing pains.  Goofball behavior and the learning curve complement one another until one wins out.  Of course, there is always hope that lessons learned from stupid mistakes eventually outscore brainless actions.  There are no guarantees.  I believe buried in the stack of paperwork I signed off on at the hospital before they would release my babies was a page asking me to swear to show them the ropes, educate them in life's important lessons, and hope for the best.  Not sure where Coach was when some of life's lessons were shared in his house growing up.  I'm banking on better results for our offspring, but at times it's clear that I need to take the lead role in this department.

I recently enjoyed a relaxing morning.  My workout was complete before 7 am.  Kids were out the door to school and my groceries for the week were not only purchased, but stored away neatly in cabinets that almost closed.  I mention this because groceries can be a two day affair for me.  Once I carefully select the $300 worth of provisions that I hope will last us the week, it sometimes takes me a few days to find a place to house all of it.  Certain items require a bit of creative hiding on my part.  If this tactic is successful, the good stuff doesn't all disappear in 24 hours.  My day remained somewhat open.  With nothing pressing on the schedule, I was afforded additional time to focus on the house.  Boy, did it need it.  I chose to enter 'clear' mode.  I scurried around my kitchen like a squirrel looking for nuts as I leveled one heap of excess stuff after another.  The good times included grabbing at dirty stray socks from the mud room, scooping up stinky soccer socks from the kitchen, eliminating grade school papers decorated with stickers, emptying forgotten draw string bags, and gathering week old newspapers for the recycling.  Most discoveries were uninteresting.  Until I unearthed Danny's recently worn, pricey suit. 

Coach was still home when I stumbled upon it.  I moaned about how this lack of care would force me to drop the wrinkled mess at the cleaners.  What's one more errand?  Coach puzzled over this thought.  Why, he wondered aloud, would I not just toss the suit in my very own washing machine?  There it was.  A comment I couldn't believe came out of his mouth.  I wrinkled my face up and asked him to clarify.  What adult man believes that a suit can be washed in a standard  machine?  Without glancing at the tag, I pointed out that the suit was wool.  How did I know?  Coach questioned.  If we eliminate the fact that the '70's are over and suits are no longer created exclusively from polyester (thank God), then the remaining reason I know this is simple.  It's because I have a brain.  Coach was offended that I felt this information should have been so clear to him.  Seriously?  The man sports business casual ware for work, so he is unaccustomed to caring for wool suits and shopping for power ties, but still . . . isn't this pretty standard info for an adult male?

It reminded me that our children may at times find me annoying, bossy, and demanding but at least I will impart the kind of knowledge they will require to not ruin expensive clothing.  Assuming they listen.  Additionally, I hope by sharing my knowledge they will avoid most forms of food poisoning. 

The 'let's wash the suit' thought process reminded me of another near miss that surfaced a few years back.  I was taking three kids downtown to stay in a hotel for the National Irish Dancing Championships.  In order to try to save some dough, I plotted out a frugal meal plan that included transporting leftovers to the hotel in a crock pot.  Once the crock pot was plugged in and set on warm, I anticipated serving a warm meal a few hours later.  Since organizing countless other tasks at an exhausting Irish dancing event leads to major brain drain, I welcomed sorting out one less necessary task.  This genius idea would eliminate the cost and wait time that would no doubt accompany a restaurant visit. 

The only complication I could foresee was a delay in checking into our hotel room.  It was July.  Crazy hot weather.  Without access to an electrical outlet, the food would not be kept warm.  Lugging dresses and dance shoes was complicated enough, so my plans didn't include hauling a huge cooler downtown.  Coach's answer left me speechless, but only for a moment.  He thought leaving our budget vitals in the car was a handy solution.  The food would be kept plenty warm in a roasting car.  It would be the same as plugging it in.  No worries.  Shock and horror.  I looked at him in disbelief as I pointed out my safety concerns with his proposed plan.  Different kind of warm.  Different kind of issue than the suit.  Frightening.

My new biggest fear was whether or not I should be leaving the non dancing children at home in Daddy's supervision for the remainder of the weekend.

October 5, 2015

My sitter crossing the line

My sitter crossed the line Saturday.  He picked my kids up from Irish dancing class.  He inadvertently stepped over the invisible line that separates our comfortable, mainstream universe and the alternate, Irish dancing school universe that my kids drift into regularly.  In this unpredictable universe, dancing teachers dictate the actions lowly people are allowed to make and create unique, unsettling rules that they expect their subjects to live by.  And we pay for this service.

Perhaps I should have warned him.  I did not know if he would necessarily pop his head into the studio, or if he would just wait in the parking lot for the dancers to scurry out into the light of day.  Allowing the picking-up-dancer adult to remain safely in his or her car is always preferable to crossing the boundary.  I suppose I should have described this scenario when I wrote out my pages of instructions for him.  Coach and I were going to be out of town, and I made every effort for the dance class portion of the weekend to run smoothly. 
The friendly atmosphere of dancing school has changed over the years, but what aspect of Irish dancing hasn't?  Years ago when I was an Irish dancer, parents sat at tables in the rented halls, gymnasiums, school basements, or wherever else we danced.  Their quiet conversations served as the background sound to our dancing.  Since being banned from observing classes long ago, moms today gather around open car windows and chat in the parking lot.  Not all conversations focus on dancing drama.  Enough friendly banter exists to convince one another that Irish dancing hasn't consumed every thought we process.  I usually remain in my car blogging or napping, or I run errands during class.  Tonight I shared with another mom the nonsense that has ensued since Saturday.  

You learn something new every day.  Since Saturday I have discovered that one of the dancing teachers MUST have the last word, her dancing teacher sister probably needs to be medicated, their dancing school-founder teacher brother keeps his distance to avoid any upheaval and maintain his sanity, and the one non-sibling teacher is literally incapable of apologizing despite the fact that most of his actions are reprehensible. 

The nonsense started about a month ago when I dragged my kids to a class taught by the non-sibling.  I do mean drag.  While his classes may provide dancers with a competitive edge, they are far from pleasant.  My kids were registered for a competition over Labor Day Weekend, so I encouraged them to go to the studio for some fine tuning.  During that fateful two or three hours, the non-sibling told my kids that they 'dance like special kids with their tongues hanging out of their mouths' and proceeded to inform the entire class that my offspring 'dance like crap'.  My dancers who endured this assault are 7, 9, and 11.  They are far from crap.  Mini cried most of the lengthy drive home.  

We all make mistakes.  Perhaps mine was not sending an email directly to the non-sibling.  Instead I chose to address the three sibling teachers.  I assumed that they would handle this awful, unacceptable situation.  Because I grew up dancing with them at Dennehy School of Irish Dance, I thought I knew them.  That was a long time ago.  A lot can happen in 30 plus years.  I wonder if the siblings' mother is disappointed in how her children conduct themselves.  If she isn't, then she should be.  Her mission to raise good people failed.  Maybe she is unaware.  Kind of like I was unaware that they were capable of being completely nuts.  My other mistake, admittedly a bigger one, was that I transferred my young children to this dancing school a little less than two years ago.  I was guided by trust.  'Misguided' might be a more suitable term.  I believed that I could trust the sib teachers.  The school I pulled the kids out of was run by a pair of the rudest sisters you could ever hope to encounter.  Favoritism was the name of their game and they robbed you blind while you attempted to figure out how to level the playing field.  In hindsight, I see that being raised with honesty and integrity, as I know the siblings were, doesn't necessarily mean that those values win out over other influences.  

The sibs probably recall that I was a quiet, tall, awkward kid.  Remember, a lot can happen in three decades.  Most people who know me now, don't want to tick me off.  I'm not the mousy, subpar dancer that they remember.  I suppose I am still a b-list dancer, but you get the idea.  When they chose not to respond to my email, I chose to stop sending my kids to the non's classes.  Dancers file into his class each weekend despite incurring an additional fee and the guarantee that most in attendance will be screamed at, ridiculed, or both.    

The email detailing the team schedule for the upcoming Midwest Championships held over Thanksgiving weekend arrived in my in box just weeks after my email was ignored by the teachers.  The schedule of when the kids needed to be at the mandatory ceili and choreography practices was accompanied by a threat.  Any dancer who did not participate in the Thursday and Saturday classes each week would not be allowed to attend the non-sibling's classes for that weekend.  Non's superior lessons tweak the dancer's technique and perfect the steps for competition.  I know no one at our school who attempts to compete over Thanksgiving without attending as many of these draining classes as possible.  The sisters don't have the same impact on the dancers.  They need Non like a dancer needs a knot in her laces.  

I recognized right away that we would not be able to attend every team class.  Mandatory or not.  Dancers at our school are prohibited from competing in solos unless they agree to represent the school on teams.  Most schools enforce this rule now, because no one would volunteer otherwise.  Team dances are just one more commitment in the already busy life of a dancer.  These mandated classes also come with a hefty price tag . . . of course.  

Mid September I sped off to Notre Dame with Reggie and Curly in tow.  As I set up my tailgater I received my first irate text message from Ms. Medicate-Me-Or-Keep-Your-Distance teacher.  I called Coach at home, who steers clear of all things Irish dancing, and begged him to intervene.  He forwarded me more of her messages from time to time, and later clued me in that the texts continued all afternoon.  The week prior I had allowed Curly to skip ceili in order to play in her soccer game.  I offered no email or text explaining the whereabouts of my children either weekend.  This choice was met with much frustration.  How does some of your-own-medicine taste?  Bitter, is my guess based on the reaction.  

Last week, I suggested that Mini share with Ms. Last Word teacher that she was going to miss the Saturday ceili.  She would be at the ND game with my dad, and Kevin and I would be there overnight with his family.  She climbed in the car after class, and told me that Last Word wanted an email anyway.  I told Mini that Last Word could bite my ass.  Mini was appalled.  She likes the rules to be followed.  Last Word emailed me to tell me that Mini claimed she wouldn't be at the upcoming ceili class.  I confirmed.  Last Word followed that up with a last-word email stating that she would need to cancel the class because it was not possible to practice teams with one person missing.  I've witnessed many a practice where the missing kid is either subbed with another dancer, or treated as a ghost -invisible hand clenching and all.  I recognized her threat as a lie, which believe it or not still strikes me as odd because I know her parents.  This is not how they raised her.   Other mothers confirmed that the practice had not been cancelled.  Lie.  Caught.  In.  It.

So last weekend, I gave Sitter a brief overview of the cast of characters and the new ceili schedule that came out.  Class was from 11:30-12:30.  Curly would have to miss another soccer game, but they could bolt from ceili and get to  Reggie's 1:00 game.  The studio is a 30 minutes hike up the expressway.  Coach and I were enjoying the tailgater when our phones spit out another irate text from Medicate Me.  Coach responded.  I didn't bother.  Drinks were flowing and a good time was had.

Medicate Me was upset because Sitter arrived to get the kids from class at 12:20 instead of 12:30.  Rather than just ask him to wait until class was over in 10 minutes, she told him that class technically ended at 1:00.  Upon hearing this the next morning when we got home, I raced to my computer and pulled up my email.  Nope.  Medicate Me needs a higher dosage.  She lied.  Class was ending at 12:30.  The sitter was not about to stay until 1:00 and force Reggie to miss soccer, so he yanked the kids.  Ten minutes.  Curly cried in the car as Sitter drove away because Medicate Me shouted at her to get out of class when Sitter insisted that they leave rather than stay until 1:00.  After all, he had a tight schedule to keep.   

I chuckled that Medicate Me had texted that our 'sitter/brother' was attempting to pick up the kids early.  I firmly believe that she would have spoken to him in a different, more acceptable manner if she had realized he was not part of our family.  Instead she assumed by default he was a peon in the universe she bravely rules.  

The ten minute early departure issue escalated.  Coach and I were called into a conference with Last Word before class on Monday.  She explained that neither she nor her siblings could respond to my email because they couldn't speak to what went on during class as they weren't there.  I was quick to point out that I wasn't asking her to 'speak to what went on'.  That wasn't in question.  I knew what words Non spoke, because my kids told me.  I am raising my kids not to lie, and I expect that will stick.

I didn't hold anything back.  I pretended I had never set foot in her universe.  Last Word even created a new lie.  Sitter didn't drop the kids off until noon.  They only danced for 20  minutes.  After Sitter assured me via text that he delivered the kids to the distant studio at 11:35, I drafted another email.  I pointed out the discrepancies in the timing-lies I was hearing from Medicate Me and Last Word.  This email was not ignored.  I shared Sitter's number so they could offer him the apology that he was owed.  Last Word had to be heard.  We went back and forth until she finally stated that she would not be apologizing to Sitter.  That was a given.

During the meeting before class on Monday, Last Word instructed me to reach out to Non myself via email.  She stressed the obvious talent in our children and therefore their need to be at more practices each week, aka Non's class.  I suspect that my refusal to play by the rules of the alternate universe impacted Non's response to my email.  I told him that belittling children is never a motivator, and that we would need him to change this behavior if he wanted our kids to attend his classes again.  He emailed back from his throne in the alternate universe.  Rather than apologize or admit fault, he simply told me not to send them to his classes.  The message was clear that I had crossed a line by speaking up. 

I'm assuming that Sitter misses the days when the worst part of his experience with our children involved dealing with dirty diapers.   How does the saying go?  Same shit different day?  I'm guessing for our sitter this was different shit and he wishes he hadn't crossed the line and stepped in it that day, or ever!

September 20, 2015

Cell phoneless grandparents

My parent refuse to get a cell phone.  It's basically my mom's stubbornness that prevents them from being accessible, and able to communicate with their 5 children and piles of grandchildren.  They aren't too old to learn the basic uses of a cellular phone.  Instead, I believe that my Mom likes to inform people that they don't have a phone.  So, I guess you could say it is a matter of pride.  It's also terribly inconvenient. 

It would be one thing if my folks enjoyed living an isolated lifestyle burrowed away in some distant mountain cabin, but that isn't the case.  They are up to their eyeballs in kids and grand kids.  My Dad likes to take kids to museums, baseball games, and Notre Dame games.  All awesome memory making activities, but traveling without a cell phone to these destinations might prove to be a safety issue for someone his age.  We were raised under the premise that we were a close knit family.  That is the image our family presents to the outside world.  Staying in touch has always been a central component of our big, Irish family.  (Of course, as a middle child I have my own perspective on this reality, but if you are a regular reader of my blog, then this isn't news to you).  It just so happens that the current form of staying in touch typically includes subscribing to a cell service.

Coach and I were most likely the last two adults on the planet to invest in smart phones.  Prior to that huge technological leap, we managed with pay-as-you-go phones.  It was an exercise in frustration.  I hoped my cell wouldn't ring because I could run out of minutes at any time.  Why did the rest of the population insist on sending wasteful, unit-devouring, pointless texts like 'OK'?  I'm really not someone who is constantly on my device, but with 6 kids I must admit it helps me keep track of everyone while on the go. 

Of course, Coach and I don't allow the kids their own phone until the day before they begin high school.  My thoughts and opinions on kids and teens with access to phones is most likely going to set me on a 10 page tyrant, so suffice it to say:  I am totally opposed to kids with phones!  I see very little good coming from it.  As long as we are on the subject, why the hell can't adults limit their teens abuse of these handy communication devices?  Oh, don't get me started!

Grandparents who offer to pick grand kids up from events or practices could perhaps use the phone to COMMUNICATE.  For instance, late this afternoon Eddie failed to locate my Mom, who was his ride home.  I explained that I told her to pick him up at the same spot I go to after practice.  He pointed out that I hadn't picked him up at practice in 'forever'.  Being the cruel, ruthless parents that we are, we insist that Eddie wait for Laddie to finish football practice so they can drive home together.  I see no point in making a trip up to the high school when Lad is heading home in 20 minutes anyway.  Ed informed me last night that his practice was scheduled to end early, and he would like me to arrange a ride home for him.  Hauling kids to a mandatory Northside Irish dancing practice meant I would be unavailable to pick him up.  My parents were at the White Sox game last night, so I had no way of contacting them until this morning to see if one of them was available to give Eddie a lift home.  Once my Mom agreed to the favor, I texted Eddie at school to let him know she would meet him where I always wait for him.  I didn't think it mattered that the last time I waited for him was earlier in the school year before we created the wait-around-for-the-sibling-with-the-car rule.  For the 30 minutes that Eddie searched the parking lot for her, he reminded me that just the night before I hadn't picked him up at the field.  I countered that I picked him up where the bus dropped him off after his away game.  Wise ass. 

It would have been nice if Eddie could have called my mom to ask her which lot she was in, but she doesn't have a phone.  On the other hand, kids have ceased to be resourceful.  They no longer are know how to a). wait  b). look  c). think  d). accept that you messed up the meeting spot.  All of these valuable lessons that occurred countless times when I grew up cell phone-less, a middle child, and frustrated remain unchartered territory for today's youth.  Instead they call the helpless parent who has a phone but who isn't in the vicinity. 

For the record, I don't ask my parents for favors very often.  Not all of my siblings subscribe to this same concept.  My divorced sister relies on my parents often to shuttle her kids around.  It's great that they are available and willing to help her out.  Last summer an ugly incident occurred.  I requested that my dad pick Eddie up from the local, nearby pool while I was on the Northside at Irish dancing.  He agreed to grab him for me.  As instructed, Eddie departed the pool in advance so that my dad didn't have to wait for him.  Still as they headed for home, my Dad shared with Eddie, "I'm not your taxi driver."  Unreal.  Of course if my parents were actual taxi drivers, they would most likely be reachable by radio, or phone.  Just saying.