January 31, 2016

breakfast club . . . meet the cast

There were only a few others in the classroom when Sleepy and I entered.  The older bearded man ahead of me with a loud, grating, scratchy voice signed the paperwork and shared his ID with the teacher.  When it was my turn, it took me a fraction of the time to accomplish this same task.  I chose a seat on the isle and right away winced at the overpowering odor of cigarette smoke seeping from scratchy voice.  A few more characters filtered in and scratchy voice struggled with the simple instructions the teacher gave.  I leaned over at one point and asked the pony tailed Hispanic man two seats down from me what the scratchy voice was reminding me of.  Pony Tail chuckled each time he heard the voice, so I assumed he had identified the humorous source of the voice that I was struggling to put my finger on.  Pony Tail didn't hesitate.  'Slingblade.'  That's it.  Scratchy was a mini-me of Slingblade. I hoped his voice issues were his only similarities to this creepy movie personality.  In addition to his deep, throaty sound, his lack of volume control reflected a significant hearing loss.

The instructor, Barb, motioned for everyone to avoid the last row of seats, so we were forced to sit in close proximity to one another.  Sweet.  A few minutes after we began a couple of women entered the room.  I cringed anticipating the awkward conversation when the instructor would turn them away.  Barb agreed to check the women in late due to the in-climate weather.  Mary, a black Whoopi Goldberg lookalike, chose a seat next to Slingblade.  Her pivotal role as his instructional aide should probably have been recognized by the State with a shortened license suspension.  A young, black girl with a round face also came in late, minus the necessary paperwork.  I was surprised when Barb admitted Round Face, who sat in the front row between Sleepy and a Hispanic girl, who only spoke when her hand was inconveniently draped in front of her mouth.  Any hopes of plowing thru the material and being granted an early dismissal disintegrated thanks to Hand-Over-Mouth.  Our fearless leader asked Hand-Over-Mouth to repeat herself multiple times- dragging out an otherwise perfectly enjoyable experience.

Barb instructed us to open our books to a certain page.  She read from the text and then asked corresponding questions.  She asked for a volunteer to answer the first question.  I slid down in my seat a bit.  At this point, I felt I could choose my role in this new setting.  I could pose as the goody-goody and answer each question, or stare off in space and play the distant lost soul, or nod a lot at other people's responses hoping to look attentive but removed from participating.  It quickly became obvious that none of these roles would suffice.  Barb was asking for volunteers to offer a description of what their Saturday would look like if they hadn't been required to take this 8 hour long course.  She didn't let up after the first few volunteers.  Dear God, we would all have to ante up and share with the class.  Yuck.  At my turn, I admitted that I would have been cleaning my house in preparation for hosting a big crowd for Thanksgiving next week.  Even the cast of Breakfast Club wasn't forced to divulge anything.  That happened naturally over the course of the day.  Nothing about this day felt natural. 

Over 20 minutes into class a man came darting into our room breathless and agitated.  A startled Barb shook her head slowly at him.  He shrugged helplessly and offered his long commute from the South Loop and the horrible weather as an explanation.  She wouldn't budge.  This exchange was more painful than our ice breaking sharing session.  The desperate man adjusted the shoulder strap to his briefcase before sighing heavily and marching out the door.  Barb closed the door and tried to make peace with our empathetic faces.  She pointed out that the twelve of us had all made it there on time despite the snowy weather.  Some had traveled greater distances than Mr. Late.  It came down to planning.  Mr. Late clearly had not planned well.

When Mr. Late returned to the door less than five minutes later, my life flashed before my eyes.  He had to be packing.  Would the ridiculously frigid classroom would soon serve as a crime scene after he took out his frustrations during a shooting spree?  Mr. Late offered a new detail to his story.  He had attended a class recently and arrived on time, but he had been called away from the class when he received word that his father had passed away.  Barb suggested that he call the 1-800 number and ask for their permission to enter the class.  She wasn't authorized.  Mr. Late stepped in the hall and returned a moment later.  He handed Barb his cell phone.  While she verified that she should welcome him to the class, he strode back to take a seat at one of the long tables in front of Whoopi, Slingblade's assistant.  Now that our cozy group had grown to 13, the classroom discussion continued.  Great.  I longed to learn more and more about my high ticketed counterparts.

Learn, I did.  Not only could Hand-Over-Mouth communicate solely when hiding behind her trusty hand, but she also could not formulate a sentence without using a double negative.  She waggled her chin from side to side like a bobble head while she mumbled into her hand.  Some of the gems she uttered included statements about her expensive rims, her insistence at avoiding potholes, and how police targeted her.  She felt that if she been driving a minivan the cops wouldn't have pulled her over.  I cleared my throat to get Barb's attention.  Suddenly I longed to be called on.  When Barb gave me the floor, I reminded Hand-Over-Mouth that my pile of citations were collected as I drove around in none other than a minivan.

The man next to me sported an impressive beer gut, a foreign accent, and one eye that didn't seem to track with his 'good-eye'.  His literacy level was questionable as my reading services were required each time we were expected to complete the section summary questions.  Mr. BMW, who sat on the isle in front of Slingblade, spoke with a thick Indian accent, however, I strained less to understand him than I did Hand-Over-Mouth.  Pony Tail and Mr. BMW admitted to speeding for sheer enjoyment of it.  Apparently the nap Sleepy took in his car that morning proved insufficient.  He was reminded that if he was unable to stay awake during the class, he would not receive credit.  Perhaps it would have helped him if we had cranked up a radio nearby since he received one of his tickets for blaring his music and disturbing the peace.  Mr. Late got a ticket for failing to observe a pedestrian walkway.  Whoopi, who was recently promoted at her job, fell into the habit of racing home to get some sleep after putting in long hours.  She and a few others failed to notice when speed limits lowered along residential stretches of otherwise fast paced highways.  Somehow a very overweight young lady managed to work in the fact that her mother pays too much attention to a younger sister.  Perhaps she would have benefited from a different kind of class.  One young woman, who came from a large family, explained that she had been ticketed out of state, and had been suspended for only two tickets.  Ouch.  Another woman felt she had been targeted by cops who went so far as to say she didn't belong out in the suburbs.  Our instructor spent the hours helping us identify what kind of drivers we were and what changes we needed to make in our bad driving habits. 

Barb connected with me from the start.  I quickly whipped out my needle and thread at every opportunity and made progress on taming the ruffle on my panels.  She inquired about my project, my kids, and my hectic schedule.  Our chats took place during our short breaks while the others sped off for a smoke, a phone call, a cup of coffee, or a bathroom visit.  When it was time for my confession, I felt all eyes on me as my classmates rubbernecked to see who admitted to having six kids, driving a mini van, enjoying sewing projects, and receiving more speeding tickets than anyone else in the room.  This last realization made me shudder.

January 25, 2016

breakfast club . . . the beginning

It felt like a scene from a movie.  How could I be cast with this bunch of weirdos, misfits, losers, thugs?  I drive a minivan.  I am a mom.  I pay my bills on time.  I bake cookies as thank yous for people.  I teach religious ed to my son's 4th grade class.  I tried to take it all in.  There was just so much.  I jotted down some notes in my trusty notebook, so I wouldn't forget.  The teacher admonished me, and I quickly tucked my constant companion back into my purse.

I had opened the letter November 14th from the State of Illinois.  My driver's license was going to be suspended on January 4th.  I broke out in a sweat.  I tried to grasp the details of the letter, but ended up having to read it several time before I understood.  I could still drive on a suspended license so long as I took an 8 hour class hosted by the National Safety Council.  A 1-800 number in bold face was printed in the center of the page.  It read, 'Call soon, classes fill up.'  My hands shook as I shared the letter with Coach.

First thing Monday morning, I called the number.  The upcoming classes were offered locally on Dec. 5th and Dec. 19th.  Tetenka's and Curly's birthdays respectively.   How could I miss my kids birthdays?  I had no plans to tell them about the four speeding tickets I had received in the last six months.  I called the number again and learned that there was a class further away in Joliet on Nov. 21st.  Done.  Well, registering was done.  Surviving the ordeal would be another story.

Right from the start it reminded me of the movie, 'The Breakfast Club.'  Different personalities, issues, walks of life, all gathered for a long day of torture class.  The forecast was terrible for that day, so I woke early to allow myself loads of extra time to get to the class in the predicted blizzard.  When I paid for the class, I was warned that if I was even one minute tardy I would be locked out of the room.  No reimbursement.  I envisioned a retake date landing on Curly's birthday.  No way was I going to miss this class.

I stuffed several panels of the sheer curtains in a large shopping bag and lugged them with me.  I intended to hang them in the living room by Thanksgiving, and I hoped to snag some time during our breaks to finish basting the ruffle headers into place.  Because the heavy, decorative curtain panels that I had recently made for the living and dining rooms had no header, I preferred eliminating the visible ruffle on the store bought sheers.  Arriving about 30 minutes early, I stitched up one panel while I stayed cozy in my car.  Eventually it was time to face the reality of the day.  I got out of the car and trekked thru the snow trying to find the best entrance to the junior college.  A black man who had been dozing in the running car next to me headed in the same direction.  I assumed he and I were about to become classmates because the campus was almost void of people.

I wondered how the class would be structured.  Would we sit and listen to lectures?  How many other people had gotten themselves into a similar situation and were now trying to dig themselves out of it during an 8 hour course?  I was anxious for the whole experience to be over, but it had yet to begin.  

January 17, 2016

no New Year's Eve plans

We've skated through the social pressures of having plans on New Year's Eve for years.  With infant Laddie in tow, we once attended a fellow physical therapy student's party.  Six month old Lad mingled with the guests until he dozed off in his car seat and was tucked away in a spare bedroom.  Since the next several years were a blur, New Year's Eve was no exception.  We added more kids to our brood and typically fell asleep on the couch watching a rented flick.  Eventually we hosted a sibling function where little ones were welcome.  A couple of extra portable cribs, some tasty appetizers, and plenty of alcohol translated into a grand time.

Eventually there was a shift in our desire to hang with people we chose to socialize with.  We hosted New Year's Eve party and invited our friends to bring their kids.  Our kids were happy, and parents weren't stuck struggling to afford a pricey sitter for a night out.  Then we hooked up with Coach's sister and her husband for the next several years.  Once their New Year's itinerary shifted to include a De Paul basketball game, we decided to make other arrangements. 

Last year we were fortunate to bump into neighbors the day before New Year's while out for breakfast for my crappy, too-close-to-Christmas birthday.  While most 'run ins' with our neighbors end in frustration and force us to question why we haven't contacted our Realtor yet, these neighbors live down the street and are a blast to hang out with.  The Nilleys couldn't irritate me if they drove their minivan on my lawn, spray painted my garage door, or littered my lawn with empty beer cans.  The mom and I exchanged the typical 'how are you surviving the break' conversation and then she asked, 'What are you guys doing tomorrow night?'  Hearing that we had no plans, she promised to let me know if they ended up having people over.  Casual.  Kid inclusive.  Fun.  Perfect.  I crossed my fingers and the kids crossed everything they could think of. 

Sure enough, the Nilleys ended up inviting us to their house following a kid themed bowling event at the local bowling alley.  Laddie hung out at our house with a friend, and we dropped Eddie off at his friend's house.  The remaining kids bowled while we chatted with other parents.  The alley celebrated a 5:00 pm countdown.  Yippee!  Kids were pumped, but we were happy to head out to the next step of our last minute evening.  The adults cracked open some adult beverages, while the youngsters entertained themselves in the basement.  A hilarious card game ensued.  Gut splitting, adult humor generated non stop laughter. Our well entertained kids bopped around happily, impressed that we stayed out past midnight.  This last minute evening created lasting memories and exhausted participants.

It wasn't until we were shopping in Target for appetizer ingredients on the afternoon of Dec. 31st 2015 that Curly learned that we weren't repeating last year's party.  There were tears.  Sad that an eight year old holds such high expectations for this annual late night party day.  We hadn't heard from the Nilleys.  No one else had reached out to us.  I blamed the size of our family.  Coach blamed his not-always-terribly social demeanor.  I wanted to throw an 8 year old tantrum and blame someone in Target's produce isle, but I just told Curly the truth.  I was bummed too.

Laddie asked a few days after Christmas if his friends from Green Bay could stay with us.  No problem.  If Laddie had friends over, we needed to be present and accounted for.  The days of leaving teens home alone with friends for an evening have slipped away just like an unrealistic new year's resolution does by Feb. 1st.  I stocked up on groceries and reminded myself that it really didn't matter that we hadn't been invited anywhere.  We couldn't go anyway.

The younger kids helped me deliver a variety of chips, dips, and pops down to the basement.  I crossed my fingers that these kids from Green Bay didn't sneak anything unacceptable into my house in their overnight bags.  Coach and I watched a movie with the rest of the gang in the family room.  They munched on our share of the tasty treats I had whipped up, and I dozed on the couch.

Laddie and his friends raced off to another party at 11:00.  Was this cool?  Should they really be out driving on the roads?  Did the other parents expect them to remain at our address for the duration?  Were we dropping a major parent-of-a-teen-host party foul?  What curfew was common for high school seniors on new years?  I suppose we will learn to be experts at this eventually, because I'm guessing we will be stuck at home for New Year's Eve for the next decade plus.

I must admit, I felt better about our lame situation when I discovered that the Nilleys didn't host a crowd again this year.  They rang in the New Year at their high school friend's house.  New Year's resolution:  next year don't bother fretting about the invite you didn't get.  Just blame being strapped to teenagers for your lack of plans . . . indefinitely. 

January 10, 2016

a memory making Christmas re-gfit

Christmas 2015 marks the first time the Shenanigan children chose to purchase gifts for each other.  A few years ago, I shared a couple of shopping adventure stories from my childhood, so this year the kids decided to embark on their own quest for a sibling gift.  Nothing like a new tradition to create lasting family memories. 

When I was a kid my four siblings and I exchanged gifts by partnering up and pooling our money. Not only did this joint effort increase our purchasing power, but it also doubled our brainstorming efforts.  The result was the ability to deliver an amazing gift.  The nearby K-Mart provided ample affordable items for our shopping pleasure.  This annual ritual kicked into high gear once we requested that my mom drop all five of us at this popular bargain paradise.  After all what 6th grade girl doesn't dream of a gray faux leather purse? 

We frequently recount the year that Pat wanted to purchase a panda bear stuffed animal for our youngest brother, Mick.  An employee climbed a ladder to inspect the price tag on the toy at Pat's request.  Pat's disappointment that he couldn't afford it was short lived.  A moment later an announcement bellowed over the loudspeakers that all stuffed toys handing from the ceiling were now on blue light special.  Oh, the excitement.  The employee returned to release the panda from its ceiling perch.  Of course while all of this unfolded, one sibling was assigned the task of keeping Mick occupied in another part of the store.  Once our mission was complete, we hurried to the register, paid for our finds, and stuffed our bags inside our coat or behind our back in order to maintain the element of surprise.

Mini requested that all of the Shenanigans exchange gifts this year.  Although the suggestion was made in the eleventh hour, everyone was on board.  Moments before Coach whisked them all to Target, we laid the ground rules.  Names were drawn from a hat, secret Santa style.  A ten dollar limit was set, and those with cash flow issues were guaranteed a parental loan despite shaky credit history.  Laddie decided to shop on his own time.  No one objected, since he enjoys driving privileges.

The kids rushed into the kitchen a little over an hour later.  Each whispered to me what gift they had chosen for their brother or sister.  A few nights later on Christmas Eve they scurried around scrounging up spare scissors, tape, and wrapping paper.  This new tradition seemed to be taking shape until the unexpected happened.

Every year our youngsters hurry into our bedroom when they wake up on Christmas day.  Our room serves as a holding cell.  Extra bodies crawl under the covers and we search for a Christmas show to watch while we wait for the sleepy heads to wake up.  With a growing number of teenagers under our roof, the wait has grown lengthy.  I sacrificed my cozy spot in bed and raced downstairs to get a jump start on the breakfast casserole that I make each year.  With time to spare, I showered and finally welcomed the older guys into our room. 

A few of the kids retrieved their secret Santa gift from their room as we prepared to go downstairs and check out the tree.  Before we even left the master bedroom, Eddie and Lad exchanged words in a heated outburst.  Eddie moved away from Lad at my command and mumbled something about how ridiculous it was that Lad hadn't bought anything for 'her'.  Laddie wasted no time in demanding that Tetenka find 'it.'  I remained in the dark until I cornered Laddie and asked for an explanation.  He reminded me that in early December when he had helped me move Curly's bed he had found a Hello Kitty camera.  I vaguely remembered what he was referring to, but was still fuzzy on why this was relevant on Christmas morning.  The camera, which I had assumed was a toy, actually functioned and had been left behind by a playmate. 

Laddie's master plan to regift the camera to Curly backfired when he discovered it wasn't where he had hidden it.  The next thing I knew, Laddie was holding Tetenka hostage insisting that he produce the camera.  Tetenka was digging thru drawers in his room under Laddie's watchful eye.  Eddie offered his two cents once again- reprimanding Lad for not actually shopping for his assigned sibling, Curly.  Laddie, clearly frustrated that he might be the only sibling without a gift, started punching Ed in the gut.  Sine Lad is 6 foot 2 and over 200 pounds, this was no laughing matter.  Instead of calling out 'ho, ho, ho', I was hollering, 'no, no, no!'

Eventually Tetenka involved his roommate, Reggie, in the search.  Hello Kitty resurfaced, Laddie wrapped his re-gift, and our bumpy Christmas morning smoothed out.  Curly was thrilled with the camera.  She started snapping away capturing moments on her 'new' Hello Kitty camera.

While I was mashing 10 pounds of potatoes to bring to my parents' house for dinner, Curly approached me and showed me some of the pictures she had taken.  Then she skipped back a bit farther and stumbled upon a photo of an extreme close up of a child's face.  Neither of us could identify the kid.  Another picture showed a slightly hunched over grandmother, who we didn't know.  Curly asked me who I thought the camera belonged to before her.  I had no idea.

Later at my folks' house, Curly solved the mystery.  'This is my friend Mandy's camera,' she declared.  She pointed to a photo in the digital display.  It was a man with long hair.  Because Mandy's father has long hair, it was impossible to deny his image.  Curly was crestfallen knowing that she had to return the camera to her friend.  I assured her that Lad would take her to the store to select her own kid's digital camera.

Creating family memories thru a sibling gift exchange seemed like a great plan.  While the Hello Kitty camera may not have been the most legitimate of gifts, it will certainly be a memory stand out for years to come. 

January 3, 2016

getting it all done!

Accountants are notoriously increasingly busy leading up to the April 15th tax deadline.  Teachers' schedules ease up over the summer months.  Various other professions are well known for hectic stretches during the year.  As a stay at home mom to six kids, I maintain a jam packed pace throughout the year but the month or two leading up to the Christmas holiday are particularly chaotic.

This year's list making, gift shopping, cookie baking, card designing, gift buying, envelope licking, gift hiding, card mailing, menu preparing, well-hidden gift searching, kid's church performance practicing, house decorating, gift wrapping, dressy wardrobe organizing, and sleep deprived surviving just about put me over the edge.

Coach maintains his typical work schedule.  Long hours.  His confidence in my ability to manage all of the extra holiday themed tasks along with my usual making dinner, doing laundry, carting kids to practices, and cleaning up after everyone is clear based on his ability to relax while I get it all done.  My Christmas gift from Coach in 2005 was a book titled, 'Happy Housewives:  I was a Whining, Miserable, Desperate Housewife - - But I Finally Snapped Out of It . . You Can, Too!'  In response to my disgust, he swore that one of his patients found the book entertaining and recommended that he pick up a copy for me.  I was over 8 mos pregnant with Reggie at the time and had just lost a 36 year old cousin in a tragic car accident.  I couldn't believe he was unable to choose a more sensitive gift for me.  I was quick to point out that accepting gift suggestions from patients was dangerous considering majority of these virtual strangers don't know me at all.  Ever since that disastrous, insulting, thoughtless gift, I have selected a gift that Coach can present to me in front of the children that won't cause my head to spin around.  Just one more duty to add to my long list.

My envy of Coach's responsibility free approach to this annual frenzied season grows each year. In December, a few of his comments or assumptions boiled my blood.  I came to realize that he really can't grasp how I get it all done.  It calls to mind an Oprah Winfrey episode that I saw years ago.  Oprah awarded a busy mom with a spa day and designated the care of the couple's three young children to her typically very busy husband.  Certain assignments had to be accomplished, one of which was purchasing a birthday gift, wrapping the gift, and delivering said gift and child to a birthday party on time.  The experience proved to be an eye opening one for the dad, who was exhausted and befuddled by the end of the day.

In all fairness, I suppose I should mention that my hubby does contribute to the holidays by hanging a few strands of Christmas lights each year.  In addition, he reluctantly shops with us for our fresh Christmas tree.  He prepares the tree, and sets it up in the stand.  Last year in the middle of the night, about a week after we had place it in the living room and decorated it, the tree crashed down.  Not only did this create a giant mess, but we lost several ornaments.  Coach is opposed to the live Christmas tree, because it requires him to participate at a level he is not accustomed to.  This year after setting up the tree, he shared with me that he would like us to purchase a fake tree to use in the future.  I consider myself a sane holiday person.  Translation:  I don't set up decorations in early November - in fact I am lucky to have them in place by mid December.  Our home is not transformed into a winter wonderland.  I tackle the additional decorations with a minimalist approach.  For this reason, I feel that continuing the tradition of a real tree is not asking too much.  I informed Coach that if we don't get a real tree next year, I will convert to Judaism. 

One day a few weeks before Christmas, Coach and I attended one of Eddie's home freshman basketball games at the high school.  In order to fulfill our family's volunteer requirement one of us needed to work the concession stand during the varsity game. I sent Coach home and offered to relive my Burger King days by serving people drinks and food, and making change for them.  Tetenka hung out with me to lend a much needed hand.  I had opted to stand during Eddie's game, because the lack of support supplied by the bleachers would result in unwelcome back pain.  After shuffling around the concession area on my feet for another couple of hours, I collapsed on the couch when I returned home.  Eventually I moaned about my intention to whip up a batch of cookies before bed.  Coach rolled his eyes at me.  Why had I flopped on the couch and not started cookies right when I walked in?  Why wait until it was almost 10 pm to start baking?  I didn't respond.  Clearly this is a man who wouldn't grasp my need to refuel.

A little over an hour later, my perfect cookies cooled on the drying racks.  I cleaned up the kitchen and loaded the cookies into dated with sharpie freezer bags.  The kids complained all month that I was depriving them of cookies, but I refused to spare even a half dozen despite their gripes.  My master plan was in motion.  My stockpile of frozen cookies would be ready when it came time to defrost them and deliver them to the kids' teachers.  When school dismissed for two weeks, my kids marched into school with several festive goodie bags loaded with my infamous chocolate chip cookies.  Coach did apologize for scolding me about my baking timeline.  I knew it was because he had no idea what I accomplish 'behind the scenes.'  And by 'behind the scenes' I mean: what happens right in front of his face.

The next issue that cropped up isn't really a holiday related incident.  I audibly made mention to Coach and Mini of the practice that Mini needed to attend at Church at 6:00.  More than once.  I was returning from another errand when I called the house and asked Coach if anyone had dropped Mini off at the 6:00 mandatory readers' practice.  No.  She was still home.  It was 6:15.  Coach's ability to tune me out when I am speaking is not exclusive to the holidays.  He gets lots of practice all year long.

A week and a half before Christmas, I took our minivan to the mechanic.  One of the tires had been losing air.  Coach discovered a screw in the tire, and we were hoping that the mechanic could patch the hole.  I learned after a few minutes of arriving that all four tires needed to be replaced.  Don, our trusted mechanic, showed me the evidence.  They weren't bald yet, but it wouldn't be long.  Additionally the damaged tire was housing a screw in its wall, which meant it wasn't eligible for a patch job.  Swell.  Don did some searching on the computer, and was able to get the necessary tires to the shop by the next afternoon.

That evening I discussed our options with Coach.  How would we handle being down a car for the day?  I suggested that one of Coach's employees follow him to the shop over their lunch break, and drive Coach back after the drop off was complete.  After all, the shop was only a few miles away from the clinic.  Coach had another plan.  Wasn't there something I could do while sitting in Don's waiting area for 3 or 4 hours?  3 or 4 hours!!!  There it was.  Yet another way that Coach proves he doesn't understand how I get it all done.  How could I accomplish anything on a day when I wasn't babysitting by sitting in a waiting room for hours?  No oven to bake in.  No gifts to wrap.  Christmas cards had already been mailed out, so no cards to stuff, stamp, and lick.  I was baffled.

Where is Oprah when you need a spa day and a learning opportunity for a husband to attempt to accomplish a fraction of what I do leading up to Christmas?  I'm just too busy to reach out to her, as I continue to get it all done.