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. 

September 16, 2015

Summer job rivalry

Now that the 3 oldest boys are caddying and occasionally babysitting, they are raking in money hand over fist.  It brings back memories from my high school and college years when my brothers worked as caddies.  Dinners were spent listening to their entertaining anecdotes.  The family would be in stitches as my brothers rehashed the day at the course and the antics of the interesting, wealthy characters who they carried bags for.  The tradition continues.  Last summer, Eddie spewed milk across the dinner table while Laddie described an unfortunate event at the golf course.  Eddie had witnessed the mayhem, but found it so entertaining that he busted up laughing while Lad described the situation.  Apparently a caddy became a victim of poor footing as he veered too close to the lake while retrieving a golfer's ball.  The initial stumble and resulting splash proved hilarious, but we enjoyed a gut busting laugh when we learned that that this poor kid actually ended up falling all the way in after struggling for a few moments and failing to regain his balance. 

Of course as a teenager anxious to score some laughs, I typically added my own employment adventures to the dinner conversation in our family kitchen decorated in blue and white gingham wallpaper with a red apple border.  My time as a teenager was spent juggling babysitting commitments and shifts at the local Burger King.  Laughs were harder to come by when relaying stories from my line of work when compared with eventful loops.  I still gave it the old middle-child try.  I recall being rewarded with at least one muffled chuckle when I described a coworker who shoved an entire slice of pie in his face just before the manager appeared around the corner.  Drive thru instructions that included phrases like 'please back up' instead of 'please drive thru' seemed funnier in the moment than they did at the table.  Not surprising, the family tired easily when I insisted on sharing how tiny tots often said the darnedest things.  I guess my babysitting material was not considered original enough for the comic standards of our kitchen. 

My brothers and I would often argue about who had the tougher gig.  I made a fraction of what they made despite the long hours I devoted to babysitting jobs and Burger King labor.  While they worked outdoors, built an impressive farmer's tan, and enjoyed ridiculously generous tips, I slaved away in a greasy kitchen, made minimum wage, and clogged my pores.  Of my two jobs, babysitting typically proved more lucrative for me and while it allowed me to soak up the sun on occasion, it was not always a walk in the park.  These cocky teenage caddies claimed that I wouldn't be able to lift a golf bag and therefore suggested I stick to babysitting and burgers.  Imagine my frustration when I learned that a couple that I babysat for paid my brothers an enormous amount for carrying around their clubs.  That same afternoon I watched their two young children.  I kept the tykes safe, happy, and fed while their folks were out playing 18 holes while my brothers toted their bags around.  I was paid well, but I discovered that caring for their two children was not nearly as lucrative as lugging around a bag of their precious clubs.   

I learned the hard way that physical labor was appreciated in our home.  The caddies were worshiped for their service on the golf course while I was banned from sitting on any upholstered furniture after spending 8 hours in a fast food restaurant.  They were encouraged to nap.  I was ordered to shower.  They enjoyed the added perk of having Mondays off.  I was frequently informed that a desperate mom had called to request my sitting services on my day off.  While the course was closed on Mondays, my brothers and their caddy friends shot a free round of golf.  The friendships I made while flipping burgers frightened my parents.  I learned not to share some of the extracurricular activities with my folks that this questionable teen group engaged in.   

Location, location, location.  My Burger King job application process was initiated by my parents.  I was required to work once I turned 15.  Burger King was walking distance from our home.  That was where the conversation began and ended.  My older sister already worked as a checker at the grocery store next to Burger King.  The grocery wouldn't hire additional family members.  At least that's what I was told.  I was midway thru my freshman year of high school when I first donned a polyester uniform complete with visor.  This visor wreaked havoc on my unruly perm.  Once I removed said visor I was left with an outrageous indentation.  This visible 'visor crown' made it impossible to go anywhere directly from work.  While the location rule rung true for me, my younger brothers were issued no such parameters.  There was no golf course within walking distance to the house, but the folks had predetermined that caddying would prove to be a great summer job for their sons.  My parents rose early and drove the boys for years until my next younger brother got his license.  Do you see where this is headed?  The boys, whose special privileges knew no bounds, drove the spare car to and from the golf course.  I, on the other hand, 'drove' my bike.  In my polyester uniform.  Unless I walked.

In horribly cold weather I occasionally got picked up after my shift by someone from home, but there was no guarantee.  Senior year in high school (yes, I worked there that long.  Perhaps I should've offered a disclaimer at the start of this post that this story isn't so much funny as it is sad) I saw my dad pull up into parking lot in the big, red station wagon.  There was no denying whose car that was.  Our 1976 Chevy Impala wagon boasted loads of good family road trip memories under it's partially rusted exterior, and by my senior year there was not a soul in town who didn't associate this beastly looking automobile with my family.  Although my shift was ending, I couldn't strand the customer at the register and bolt out the door.  I completed their order and clocked out.  Turns out I was too late.  I promise you I was not goofing off with friends.  I knew how inadequate my father's patience was.  I longed to be in a toasty car listening to A.M. radio along with a few standard comments on how similar I smelled to a burger.  Instead, I walked home.  In the freezing, windy weather.  The next day a few of my classmates asked me if I had struggled with my blush that morning.    No, I assured them.  It was wind burn.  One cheek took the hit harder than the other which left me with a lopsided blush look.  It was noticeable enough for people to comment.  

Wow- I didn't intend this to be a Burger King employee of the month post, but I digress.  I will have to follow this up with future posts about my many other fast food memories.  How could I forget about how the nickname I was christened with at Burger King just so happened to stick?  Of course there is so much to say about how I grew as a person after cleaning urinals, serving Chicago Bears' celebrities, and dealing with so many different personalities.  Not sure that the discounted food perk outweighed the disadvantages.  Cheap food at B.K. couldn't measure up to babysitting perks.  I was taken on vacations more than once.  Plus I was able to avoid frostbite because these families drove me and picked me up in in-climate weather.  I still walked or rode a bike to certain jobs -when my skin wasn't in danger of being scarred for life.

In spring of my senior year, I was grounded for a ridiculous amount of time.  In fact, I recently shared this story with Laddie to demonstrate how life isn't as bad as he thinks it is - particularly when it comes to being punished.  Again, I'll leave the meat of that story for another post.  During my virtual life sentence grounding, one of my favorite babysitting families requested that I sit for them on a Saturday night.  Knowing my grounding situation, they encouraged me to invite a friend over while they were out.  So Fozzy joined me at my babysitting job.  Once the baby was asleep, we ordered pizza with money the couple left for us and settled in to watch movies they had rented for us.  Not a bad deal.  I'd say hanging with friends and getting paid surpassed waking up before the sun and caddying in the brutal heat.  I was careful not to share the humorous aspects of this scenario during any subsequent family meals.  Instead I laughed along with the rest of the caddy worshipers, knowing I had a better deal.   

September 1, 2015

Absence not making this heart grow fonder

New friends.  No uniforms.  Walking to school.  No tuition.  These are just a few of the perks we encountered three years ago when we transferred the kids from Catholic school to our public school.  Despite all of the bonus features, it was still a dreaded transition.  We all accepted the new situation . . . eventually.

As the mom, it was painful for me to watch the kids grieve the loss of the familiar atmosphere of their cherished school.  (I have chosen to assign the name 'St. Old School' to our former Catholic school.  Because of their refusal to offer us any financial assistance when our large, Catholic family could no longer afford tuition, this is the kindest label I feel comfortable with.  With so many other options, I feel I am being generous.)  I busied myself creating a positive attitude towards the change.  I encouraged the kids to invite new friends over and pointed out the public school perks whenever possible.  At some point, I began to suspect that the change was hardest on me.  After dedicating countless hours to volunteering at St. Old School, I had come to enjoy the challenges presented by my work.  I missed the connection I had with St. Old School.  It was hard to separate from a place where my sense of identity had grown from simply 'the mom with six kids', to 'the mom who helped out at the school and accomplished things'.  I had a purpose there beyond dirty laundry, groceries, and chauffeur.  

At the time, it was hard to imagine life without the friendships we had built with many St. Old School families.  Most vowed to keep in touch, and reassured us that we would continue to see them regularly.  We were, as we kept reminding the kids, not moving away - just enrolling in a different school.  Eventually it became clear that there were only a few couples who we could continue to count as real friends.  Although we still reside in the same town, not long after we switched schools we ceased receiving invitations to many of the parties and regular, non-school functions we had always been included in.  It wasn't until our transfer that I recognized how clingy, clicky, and exclusive many of the families at our former school had been.  For example, many of the St. Old families cluster together at the neighborhood pool.  They enter the pool and search longingly for someone from their private school 'club' to wave them over.  While the kids were able to maintain many of their friendships, Coach and I gradually developed new relationships with parents from our public school. 

I must admit to one additional perk I stumbled upon as we drifted from St. Old School.  I neglected to share this benefit with the kids.  Moving to another school meant it would be easier to sever ties with annoying individuals.  I didn't miss regular encounters with those that were on my personal try-to-avoid list.  It wasn't a long list, but I welcomed the opportunity to avoid consistent contact with the few odd ducks that caused me to bristle.  Think about it, what if one of those St. Old's pool moms just so happened to rub you the wrong way with her beckoning, inclusive, hovering habits?  Imagine how hard it would be to avoid being suffocated by her in that close knit circle.  Our emancipation from tuition payments was coupled with my freedom from 'that' mom.  We will call her 'Andrea'.

I will admit that Andrea's heart was usually in the right place, but her socially inept, overstepping tendencies frequently landed her in the wrong place . . . usually on my toes.  She and I worked together on many of the school's marketing efforts.  There was much to be done as this area had been overlooked for some time.  As a result, enrollment was suffering.  It felt great to be a contributing member of the school community verses the home bound mom, whose first priority was accommodating nap times.

Eventually I caught on to the fact that Andrea was not always dependable.  If her interest waned on a project, I would be left to deal with more details then I had committed to originally.  She would always be ready and willing to supply me with ample excuses for her 'flake-out'.  In reality, I enjoyed the volunteer work but attempting to get results for both of our roles at the expense of my laundry and other family related tasks was frustrating.  When we decided to leave the school, Coach and I appreciated her efforts to request financial contributions from school families in order to support our family's tuition costs for the upcoming year.  This was a genuine, thoughtful act.  In the end, we chose to turn down the generously pledged donations because we felt it would delay the inevitable.  We simply could no longer afford Catholic education.

Passing the buck on school marketing plans was one issue, but the bigger issue became more and more obvious the longer I knew Andrea.  The longer I knew her, the more comfortable she became with me.  One day I was racing around in my bedroom preparing to go somewhere with the entire family.  I don't remember where we were headed, but I know that Coach was sitting in the garage in the large white van with all of the kids.  As usual, they were waiting for me.  The next thing I knew, Andra entered my bedroom hauling a collection of hanging clothes in dry cleaning bags.  Her excuse for arriving UNANNOUNCED in my upstairs bedroom was that these clothes had belonged to her mother.  Her mother was tall.  I was tall.  She thought I might be able to use her mom's castoffs.  That is how she connected the dots.  These dots she was connecting developed into the spots that I saw as I grew dizzy with confusion.  Feeling violated, I recall being grateful that I was clothed.  After she tossed the hefty load across my bed, I ushered her downstairs remarking how I was holding up the whole gang to go to God knows where.  She waved to Coach as she continued to chat nonchalantly on her way to her car.  I was following her, and I made sure Coach could see my raised eyebrow 'what the Hell' look.  After she left and I hoisted myself into the passenger seat of the former airplane shuttle, I gave Coach the formal, 'You got lots a 'splaining to do' glance compliments of the I Love Lucy Show.  Turns out he was as dumbfounded as me.  She apparently entered the garage and asked where I was.  As he was explaining that I was upstairs getting ready, she darted in the door with a quick, 'Oh, I'll just drop these off up there.'  We were flabbergasted.  It was tough to draw a line with Andrea, because when it came to lines she had vision issues.  And, yes, her mother's clothes were dropped off at a Goodwill.  I have standards. 

This summer majority of the St. Old families joined a different pool.  Unable to make a decision without the group's overall approval, the St. Old lemmings flocked to the newer pool across town that boasts multiple slides, a cheaper fee, and unparalleled crowds.  Happily able to locate a chaise lounge without a problem, I didn't miss watching the click of private school families huddle together in one area of the pool.  It was a relief not to witness the crippled looks that flashed across their faces when they failed to recognize anyone from their posse.  I recall the summer we announced that we could no longer afford to educate our gang at the Catholic school.  One day at the pool a group of moms filed over to my chair from their gathering spot to express their sadness that we would not be returning.  It reminded me of a group of people paying their respects at a wake.  Even then, while I was very connected to the school, I chose my pool chair for the exposure it offered to the sun verses the opportunity to be within arms reach of familiar moms.

I was at the pool last week, when this avoid-at-all-cost peep showed up.  Because she is not a regular, I did not realize that Andrea had chosen to stick it out at the old, familiar haunt.  I had just approached my friends' table in the concession area when Andrea tapped me on the shoulder.  Having approached the Johnson's table from behind them, I was squatting down, leaning over their chairs chatting with them about their daughter's upcoming wedding.  I was explaining Mini and Curly's fascination with the show 'Say Yes to the Dress.'  I think Andrea expected us to hug it out, but since we hadn't spent any time together in YEARS, I felt a simple 'hello' would suffice.  After I offered the obligatory 'hey there', I returned to my conversation aware and annoyed that Andrea was lurking at my elbow.  Eventually I released the Johnson's from my conversation grasp, although I was desperate to keep it going to escape the clutches of Andrea.

She had moved away from my left hip, which was a relief, but she reappeared as I made haste for my lounge chair where I planned to fake a sudden-onset nap.  There we were.  Getting caught up.  I briefly filled her in on college searches, kids activities, and ended with an overall 'all's well' tone.  She launched into a description of her daughter's recent ADD diagnosis.  (Couldn't have been all that recent, because the last time I bumped into her after my escape plan failed me - about a year prior, she shared the new medical diagnosis withe me).  She went into detail about how the doctor had to test her daughter so many times before he could believe it himself.  Turns out Andrea Jr. has such a high IQ it was hard to believe that she had ADD.  Well, well.  Andrea knows that I have two kids with ADD.  I no longer cared about maintaining a great relationship with her.  Obviously.  The full-of-shitness that comes with spending any time with her is overwhelming.  I told her what I thought.  'Frankly, I'm surprised the doctor would have said that to you.  I thought every good doctor knows that kids with ADD tend to be extremely bright.  That is why it is so frustrating that they struggle to attend.  I don't even believe they test IQ at the same time they test for ADD.  Not sure what kind of doctor you went to.'  Point.  Made.  Does she really think she is fooling me that her daughter is brighter than any other kid?  And by the way, who cares?  Classic over sharer (And that is coming from an over-sharer extraordinaire.  My oversharing tendencies don't typically relate to selling people on my kids' strengths, but more frequently on the nutty stuff they do and the humorous situations that are created because of it.)

I finally reached my chair.  It thundered and lightninged.  More than once.  They closed the pool.  A moment too late.