April 26, 2015

The Great White

Fortunately, I am not one of those people who cares much about what I drive.  My first car was a green, four door, Plymouth Sundance.  The rear seat could fold down making it easy to transport boxes, small furniture, etc.  I am all about function and sensibility.  The day I arrived at the dealership to purchase my first car, I initially selected a Plymouth Laser.  It was on order from another dealership, so I could come and pick it up later in the week.  It was sporty, but not much for space.  I awoke the next day in a sweat.  One quick, nervous call later and I cancelled the order and arranged to pick up the versatile Sundance the next day. 

After a few kids we bought a maroon Cirrus from my father-in-law.  This transitioned us into a minivan, because I had been driving around for a few years forcing the door closed.  The Cirrus wasn't made to accommodate three car seats across the backseat, so the seats would shift a little every time we secured the door.  I drove the minivan for years.  I still remember how far away the kids seemed when I first started carting them around in it.  We still own the minivan, but it is now referred to as our small car. 

We spent a little over a year transporting all eight of us in a minivan that offered seating for seven.  Double buckling might sound cozy, but to a sibling it is the same as sharing a bed with two brothers in an overcrowded hotel room.  Our kids will probably grow up needing therapy after suffering from personal space deprivation.  Of course distances farther than Church and nearby cousins' houses dictated driving two cars.  At least this was back in the day when gas didn't cost as much as a week's groceries.  When Curly was about 15 months old, we buckled down (no pun intended!) and bought a used Chevy express van with seats for twelve.  I begged the dealer, who is also a good friend, to locate a van that was anything but white.  Despite his best efforts, the van he found for us is indeed white.  Thanks to a large number of basketballs banging into the sides, orange streaks give it a little flare.  When Curly was three, she pointed out all of the painter's trucks in neighboring lanes with chubby little fingers.  "That looks like our car!"  Our version of the painter van differs in that it has windows.  My sister doubled over laughing the first time she saw my 'new' car, because there is a sticker in the driver's window that says: 'Thank you for not smoking.'  Yes, it's true . . . our white van formerly functioned as an airport shuttle for a busy hotel. 

So maybe I don't drive a Mercedes or a BMW, but I really do enjoy my car.  Space is no longer an issue.  Large grocery purchases don't spill over into the kids laps any more.  Locating my noticeable car after a busy day at the mall is no big deal.  Bring on the large furniture hauls.  My car pool options are endless.  The size of my car permits me to utilize the road the way I see fit - don't mess with the great white.  If I want to merge, you better move your cute, foreign, itty-bitty car out of the way.

There are downsides to operating such a large automobile.  Parking my van should be a segment on Fear Factor.  My least favorite way to park is when the car adjacent to a vacant spot is occupied by a human being, specifically an awake, anxious looking human being.  I try to avoid eye contact, because if they look scared then my confidence starts to waiver . . . maybe my ride isn't going to fit into this spot?  I end up jockeying it back and forth ten times just to make sure that I don't get too close to their shiny paint job. 

Easy recognition is another drawback to owning such a unique car.  There isn't much that I can get away with in my town when driving our visible van.  Everyone knows the Shenanigan's car.  I occasionally become concerned that I just cut off someone that I know or that I'm following too close . . . and if they didn't know me before, they know me now.  On the other hand, on the rare occasion when I drive the nondescript, navy minivan, I wonder why I am not more recognized by my friends.  Then I realize they are ignoring the car, not me.  Friends in neighboring cars just stare at the stoplight, or fiddle with the radio while I sit waving from my 'other car' - a run of the mill mini(van).
I laugh at how far away the kids felt on my initial outings in the minivan.  Now in the big van, they are downright distant.  The kids' friends marvel at the van, and they debate which row of bench seats might appeal most to them.  Having so much space has led to a new issue.  I may be able to smell that there has been some improperly disposed of food item somewhere in the van's vicinity, but I can rarely see what is back there.  For awhile last year we discovered that we were hosting an unwelcome family of moths.  The kids would cheer each time they killed one.  Forget texting and driving, swinging at months is a slightly distracting past time for a driver.  Were they nesting in the rip in the seat?  A few kids reached into the exposed foam cushion but found no evidence.  Just when we thought they had disappeared for good, I would crank up the heat and a moth or two would stumble out of the vents.  So unpleasant. 

Last summer the van came in handy once again.  We missed our Thursday garbage pick up.  Translation:  Coach didn't write 'garbage stickers' on my shopping list, and I didn't get out of bed early enough to race up to buy the stickers at the store before the freakishly early garbage men.  These sanitation employees have disposed of our trash without the necessary stickers a few times in the past, but perhaps our grace period ran out.  At any rate, who wants a couple of rank garbage cans fermenting in the garage in the middle of July?  The next morning, I had Coach load the cans into the back of the van.  I raced up to the grocery store and dropped off prescriptions (love killing two birds with one stone), purchased stickers, and drove with windows down to my folks house.  They live in the next neighborhood.  Their garbage day is the day after ours.  I yanked the cans out of the van, slapped the stickers on them, and sped off to my exercise class - all between 8 and 8:30.  I was even on time for the class.  (I find I am so much more punctual when I am on a mission.)  This adventure introduced a new problem:  fruit flies.  Fortunately, this issue was short lived, because I begged the kids not to leave a banana peel back there for at least a week.

I definitely prefer utilizing the great white to shuttle kids around, to stock up on groceries, and to hog the road compared with the glamorous task of hauling garbage across town, but what a lucky woman I am to have the option.

April 19, 2015

Easter Candy Tales from Years Gone By: The Sweet Spoils of Sibling Skirmishes

I don't recall Easter candy being that hot of a commodity when I was a kid.  My brothers and sisters and I always enjoyed our stash, but I don't recollect any disputes over our candy.  Each year the Easter bunny generously delivered marshmallow eggs, jelly beans, and peeps buried in a knot of fake grass.   Of course I do have a vivid memory of devouring all of my loot before the holiday was complete.  This memory is seared into my mind only because one of my four siblings ratted me out to my parents.  (Yes, I know who it was - I haven't forgotten).  My folks were not impressed with my ability to ingest so much sugar in such a short amount of time. 
This year we celebrated Easter in our two bedroom hotel room in Williamsburg, VA.  Before we left for our vacation, Curly drafted a letter to the infamous bunny detailing our whereabouts on the big day.  I had hoped to avoid traveling with baskets and treats, but Curly's disappointment that we wouldn't be home when the big drop off happened played on my heart strings.  Receiving the upgrade to a bigger hotel room aided the basket sorting and hiding the night before.  The Easter bunny scored big points for 'finding' us.  Who doesn't want their kids snacking on piles of candy during a long day and a half car ride?  I listened to the favorite jelly bean flavor comparisons and reflected on an Easter issue that arose four years ago . . .  

Easter 2011
In the Shenanigan home, tattling on Easter candy eating is kid stuff.  Easter candy stealing, however, has elevated into some nasty warfare:  "give me back my Reese's or I'll eat all of your candy while you sleep."  To protect their stash, there is an ongoing ceremony of hiding and re-hiding the Easter baskets.    If you discover a basket that you weren't supposed to see, sharing this top secret information can be considered a huge breech.  My clever older kids have even perfected the art of bluffing a sibling into revealing a hiding place.  Laddie teased a younger brother that he had uncovered his hoard of goodies sending him into a low blood sugar rage as he raced to his 'hidden' basket.  His candy was safe, but his basket's cover was blown.  This prank cost Laddie.  He was ordered to forfeit one Reese's peanut butter cup.  Ouch!  Eventually I confiscated the baskets and guarded them on top of the fridge.  Mini proudly produced her basket, explaining that she had only eaten one jelly bean.  Her strategy of saving the candy as long as possible backfired when someone retrieved her basket from the fridge and left it in the open.  I take some blame in this, because I had abandoned my post.  Upon discovering the basket on the floor, Mini conducted a quick inventory.  Uh oh.  Her peeps were missing.  Tears.  Inquiries followed.  Eventually her three year old sister, Curly, admitted to indulging on the sugary chicks:  "I didn't know I was doing that."  Not her most convincing defense.

I struggled to enjoy the Easter aftermath myself.  The arguing about "I know I still had two red jelly beans" is only the tip of the iceberg.  My home became a field of little foil wrappers discarded willy-nilly all over the house.  Not only did it infuriate me to pick them up all day long, but it also served as a slap in the face that my children clearly inhaled candy before the sun was up, and did so in rooms where melted chocolate was strictly forbidden.  I appreciated the Bunny's sense in not lining the baskets with annoying plastic grass, because that pesky stuff seemed to multiply and turn up months after the baskets had been tucked into storage.  The plastic eggs on the other hand were strewn across every surface of the house.  One of the younger kids even filled a bowl with water, submerged three water filled plastic eggs in it, and hid it behind my toilet.  The objective on this maneuver still remains as mysterious as the belief that a big bunny hops from house to house on Easter eve.

Getting the kids to school the day after Easter break proved interesting.  It wasn't so much the weird way that seven year old Mini was walking, as it was the look on her sweet, innocent face that drew my attention.  She was flitting around in her gym uniform, with her sweat pants pulled up higher than normal and her shirt tucked into her pants.  There was also a little swishing noise when she scooted past me . . . her eyes locked on my face nervously waiting to see if I would catch it.  In the hustle and bustle of the morning, I hesitated just long enough to ask her what was happening.  "Nothing."  Unconvinced, I resorted to administering a pat down.  There, tucked into her pants, where her hands kept awkwardly resting, was a Ziploc bag of jelly beans.  Being the child that normally steers clear of trouble, tears were quick to form.  "I didn't want the boys to eat them," she admitted.  I whispered two words to her while I shook my head disapprovingly.  "Underwear drawer."  It took a minute before she realized that this was not the name of a new punishment, but consent to hide her snack in a place her brothers would never look.

My parenting style has evolved from that of my folks, because I now encourage all of our kids to take a page out of their mother's play book and devour all of their candy before the day's end. 

April 7, 2015

Can I be a real kid?

Image result for pinocchioMost children probably never utter the phrase 'Can I be a real kid?'   Mini coined this phrase while we were on our recent spring break trek to D.C. and Virginia.  She begged me to choose her to be 'a real kid'.  No, we weren't role playing parts in an upcoming Pinocchio play.  She wasn't hallucinating while suffering from a high fever either.  (Thank goodness!)  We were simply checking into a hotel . . . big family style.

In order to travel and not blow our life savings on hotel rooms, we generally fudge how many members we include on our reservation.  The kids know the drill.  After a long day of driving Coach and I might be relieved to finally disembark from our 12 seat, white, former-airport-shuttle van, but the kids groan as we roll into the hotel parking lot.  Rather than pull up to the front door and spill the whole gang curbside, we park and plot our mission.  Typically the older kids are charged with making a delayed, casual entrance.  Their instructions usually include an acceptable time stamped entry, alternate routes in case the main lobby is compromised, and where they should wait for the coast is clear signal or the actual room number.  All the kids hate playing the 'I don't know those people' game.  Odd, because there are plenty of times when they successfully tune me out.  Not sure why it is such a stretch to go from not wanting to hear me to pretending not to know me?

Perhaps it goes along with the 'we don't get out much' fame of mind, but our offspring crave a bazaar sense of satisfaction supplied by catching the first glimpse of the room, flopping on the bed before another sibling, and inspecting the bathroom layout.  Apparently no one likes to waltz into the soon-to-be-overcrowded space after the rest of the excited bunch has given it the once over.  Competing voices share with the kid who posed as a non-family member what TV stations have been discovered and whether or not the pool looks inviting.  The late arriving siblings play it cool and act uninterested in the 'look-what-we-found' conversation.  Envy at being 'a real kid' is tough to disguise.

After our attempt to fly under the radar was discovered a few years ago, we have learned to be more careful.  We splurged and took all six kids to Disney World for 5 or 6 days when Laddie was in 8th grade.  Because we stretched our budget to include a hotel on Disney's property, we decided to stay near the airport on our arrival and departure days to cut down on the cost.  The airport shuttle gathered us from Orlando's airport and delivered us to the near by hotel door around 8pm.  We were the only hotel guests on the shuttle.  Any fool could do the math and calculate that these six children all belonged to us.  Therefore the one room we had reserved would not be adequate as far as the fire marshal was concerned.  The front desk gently informed us that it would be against their policy and safety regulations to allow us to cram into one room.  Ouch. 

The complimentary breakfast feature is typically a big draw when we hunt for a room to reserve, but we typically divide up and instruct the kids to avoid eye contact during the continental breakfast in case some over eager hotel employee is counting family members.  If the breakfast area is crowded, I give the kids the go ahead to switch back to family mode.  This allows them to compare notes and offer recommendations to teen age late sleepers about what food items deserve four stars. 

Now that a few of our family members are the size of full grown men, assigning beds and floor space is increasingly challenging.  Certain combinations won't work.  Some prefer a sleeping bag to fighting for space in a double bed.  I've found myself up a creek without a paddle before by paring off all of the bedmates and rewarding floor space requests only to discover that I'm left with two kids who can't possible share a bed without major issues.  On our latest family adventure, Laddie and Tetonka were in the bed opposite Coach and I for one night.  Mini and Curly were on a pull out in the living room portion of our room.  Eddie and Reggie stretched out in sleeping bags.  By morning Coach and I were reminded of what it felt like to survive on barely any sleep due to the constant disruptions of a newborn.  Laddie and Tetonka argued all night about who was hogging more space or pulling too much blanket real estate.  Lesson learned.   

After staying in hotels in Pittsburgh, Erie, Montreal (OK, perhaps this shouldn't be considered part of the list because only Reggie and I each enjoyed our very own double bed while we were in Montreal for the World Championships of Irish Dancing before rejoining the rest of the gang in DC.  Meanwhile, Coach was in a hotel in Erie with the other five kids while looking at colleges with Laddie.  Still, the Canada pit stop was part of our very convoluted and multi-layered trip), and DC we headed to a Sheraton Suites in Williamsburg, VA.  I spent a great deal of time investigating what hotels we should stay in on our forced march through this historic part of the country.  As I mentioned, a complimentary breakfast was weighted heavily.  Location was paramount.  Knowing that uncomfortable sleeping arrangements make for long nights and grouchy days, I researched establishments that offered a suite with a pull out in the living area.  Two kids sleeping on the floor beat four bodies strewn every which way in a cramped room, making a late night bathroom visit a dicey adventure.  Thanks to some incorrectly input information on mapquest, our drive to Williamsburg was lengthier than anticipated.  I invited a few kids to join me as I checked in.  Mini jumped at the chance to be real, and Tetonka lost the opportunity to Curly once I discovered that he had no shoes on.  It was after 10 pm, I wasn't waiting for him to scrounge up a pair of shoes.  Coach admitted that he was nervous seeing as it was so late.  How could we sneak kids in without raising eyebrows when there was very little foot traffic? 

I overheard the manager explain to a woman ahead of me in line that the hotel was full and so was the hotel across the parking lot.  This unfortunate woman left in search of a vacancy.  Then the manager turned to me.  Despite my reservation, I was informed that the hotel had oversold.  The girls stared at me blankly waiting for me to lose it.  Fortunately, the manager was quick to resolve the situation by promising us an upgrade at the Residence Inn across the parking lot.  We would still have access to the Sheraton's pool, since the Residence didn't have one.  There would still be a complimentary breakfast.  Our room would include two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a full kitchen, a pull out in the living area, and three TV's.  Bliss.  The manager smiled and assured me we would be more comfortable because the girls would have more space in the upgraded room.  I flashed a smiley look at the girls, but they knew better than to spill the beans to this lady about their four 'unreal' brothers who were hiding out in the car.