March 27, 2016

Avoiding sea monkeys and awkward moments

After recently recollecting how I survived the worst grounding sentence known to man as a senior, I pondered the reality of how I stumbled upon many of the lasting friendships created in high school.  Overall, my high school years were fairly typical, but they started out in a unique way. 

Having just moved to the area the day before my freshman year began, I spent several months meeting people.  Eventually I determined which group of girls I had most in common with, and I gravitated towards them.  This was no easy feat.

The very first day of school was a bit nerve racking.  The box containing my wardrobe had yet to be unloaded off the moving truck, or the movers had dumped it in the wrong place in the house.  Each room contained a maze of boxes and we had no luck finding my personal wardrobe.  I was forced to rely on my sister's generosity as she decided which of her outfits she would allow me to borrow.  She certainly couldn't be expected to wear the same outfit as her younger sister the very next day.  There were many factors to consider.  I was at her mercy.

My all-girls Catholic School kicked off the school year with a half day for freshman only.  The shortened class schedule allowed us to wander the halls finding our way around and familiarizing ourselves with our schedules. 

My lunch period was a bit awkward.  This 'fake' lunch occurred around 10 in the morning that day - half way to the half day mark when we would be dismissed.  Most of my fellow classmates knew girls from their grade school.  They recognized even more girls from area grade schools that they had competed against in sports, cheer-leading, or math competitions.  I knew no one.  Recognized no faces.

The assistant principal identified me from my recent registration process.  'How are you finding everything?' she asked from her post in the hall outside the lunch room.  She seemed to be guarding the glass doors leading to the academic hall as if some of us might attempt to escape the awkwardness of our 20 minute lunch period and bolt back towards the comfort of the classrooms. 

After all, the four walls of the classroom offered protection from social nightmares.  No one cared if you were a loner in class, because a teacher demanded everyone's attention while she introduced herself and summarized her class expectations.  Silence was expected- not feared.  My post outside the glass doors signaled how uneasy I was joining in conversation with a bunch of recently reunited former classmates. 

I responded that everything was going just fine.  There was another girl milling around nearby who was also waiting for the painfully unstructured non-lunch lunch period to end.  She eyed the glass doors anticipating freedom from our similar Hell.  That's when it happened. 

The funny thing is, I could see it coming but I couldn't stop it.  Ms. Assistant Principal was about to introduce us.  We were the only two freshman in our lunch period not overjoyed at gathering around endlessly long tables to rehash summer with old friends and play the 'Didn't you go to such and such school?' with familiar faces.  There was no place to hide and I cursed myself for leaving my initial bathroom detour too prematurely.  My timing was definitely off.

'Ernie, this is Marilyn Mupcheck.'  Marilyn's chia-pet hair sprouted like fine, soft peach-fuzz rising a few inches from her head.  The light color of her fluff was offset by her ruddy complexion highlighted by clusters of red blemishes.  Her round body reminded me of the globe with her waist serving as the equator.  She stood planted in a wide stance swaying back and forth from one foot to the other with her skirt hiked up unnaturally emphasizing her equator.  Her knee high socks stretched to their very limits. 

I reminded myself that she was most likely a very nice girl and I tried to keep an open mind.  I could hear my mother's voice in my head, 'Don't judge a book by it's cover.'  I'm not sure that my mother was able to complete her thought from the depths of my psyche before Marilyn's nasally voice interrupted.

'Do you have any pets?' she inquired.  My eyes darted around but there was no where to go.  The lunch room was too far and I couldn't think of any excuse that would require me to jog in the opposite direction.  No, I informed her.  I had no pets.  'Well, I collect sea monkeys,' she informed me. 

This couldn't be happening.  I had stayed up half the night giving myself a pep talk about high school.  It would all work out OK.  I intended to meet girls with similar interests who I could enjoy spending time with.  Wait, what were my interests?  Babysitting.  Art class.  Irish dancing.  Well, the Irish dancing chapter of my life ended when we moved anyway, I reminded myself.  Sea monkeys  - nope.  Not on my list.

Fourteen was such a weird age.  I was still trying to figure out who I was.  What was I into?  I needed to meet a group of fun girls.  I cared little about being considered one of the cool girls. The popular girls.  I knew I didn't have the wardrobe (unless the movers lost it entirely and replaced it with hip clothes instead of hand-me-downs), the hair style, or the self confidence.  Popularity wasn't for me, but neither was Marilyn. 

Marilyn's 'book cover' that I had tried not to judge had acted as a total spoiler alert.  I knew how this book ended - and I wasn't going to hang out with her because that would be the end of me.  Does that mean I was judging her?  I hoped not.  I'm sure there would be girls interested in learning about how sea monkeys could be ordered thru the mail.  I just wasn't one of them. 

After a few minutes my fierce stares willed the bell to ring compelling Ms. Ass-Principal to prop open the glass doors offering me an escape route and a new mission to try harder to meet some main stream girls.

March 20, 2016

a grounding to learn from

By the spring of my junior year in high school, I had acquired self confidence, built strong friendships, and achieved good grades.  My involvement in student council allowed me to branch out and meet new people and enjoy countless exciting experiences.  As an active participant and leader in organized school retreats, my faith grew while the leadership opportunities challenged and strengthened me.  I knew who I was, and I didn't feel compelled to conform.  Teenagers are rarely perfect, and I was far from perfect.  As it turns out, so were my parents.

Something happened at school that day.  If my memory serves, and freakishly it usually does, I believe I was less than thrilled with the outcome of the student council elections.  I would serve on the board, but I had fallen short of receiving enough votes to be selected for an executive position.  My good friend, Self, urged me to join her at a party near her house that night to relax and take my mind off the situation.

Self and I shared the same first name.  As sophomores we sat kiddie corner from one another.  Our history teacher, Ms. Smiley, had called on Self to answer a question.  Because of the angle that we sat at I thought that she was pointing at me.  After I had successfully answered the questions, Ms. Smiley turned and sarcastically asked me if my name was indeed Ernie.  'Well, yes,' I pointed out in my best wise ass tone, 'My name is Ernie.'  The class erupted in laughter and good natured Ms. Smiley laughed so hard she struggled to resume her composure to lecture.  It was a coincidence to end all coincidences and from then on the other Ernie and I had referred to each other as 'Self.'  I agreed with Self that a night hanging out with friends was definitely in order.

Everyone new I didn't drink.  It didn't really interest me.  I had friends that drank, but I was content to spend time with friends and steer clear of alcohol.  No big deal.  I told my Mom that I wanted to attend a party with Self.  My mom was hesitant to let me go.  The area I was headed was both far from home and notorious for a higher crime contingent.  Eventually she agreed.  I don't know how Self knew the people hosting the party, but it was a big one.  There weren't many people from our high school there, and because it wasn't my idea of great fun I left in plenty of time to make it home before my assigned curfew.

I was surprised that Mom was waiting up for me when I got home.  She looked upset.  'So . . . was there drinking at this party?' she grilled me.  'Well,' I stumbled, 'I didn't see anyone drinking.'  This was a lie.  Self and I had been hanging out in a basement room a few feet from where the keg was placed.  I didn't ingest a single sip of beer, so I felt like my little lie would at least keep me from trouble.  I didn't believe that I deserved to be in trouble anyway.  The inquisition continued.  'Were the person's parents home?' came the next question.  Now come on.  Why had she not asked these questions before I left?  I froze.  Had she talked to someone?  Did she know more than I thought she did?  We were only on her second question but I felt perspiration forming in my armpits.  'I think they were upstairs, but I never saw them,' I lied thru my teeth.  No way were there any responsible adults in the building, but hey - I was home on time.  Early even.  Why weren't we focusing on that?  I thought of all of those kids getting hammered.  I hadn't done anything like that.  Everyone knew I was a sober party girl, why was Mom struggling so much to accept that concept?  My vague responses failed to impress her.  My innocent lifestyle and smart choices succeeded in frustrating my Mother, who I felt should be proud of me.  How was this happening?

Grounded.  Before she stomped off to bed she slapped a steep, socially-limiting, 6 week sentence on me.  Six weeks.  I was grounded for six weeks.  That was hard to process.  Of course in the '80's teenagers were expected to survive without cell phone as communication tools.  I couldn't even text Self to tell her how this evening had blown up in my face.  It would have to wait until school on Monday.

I stewed all day in my room over the weekend.  Eventually I saw the ironic humor in my story.  I changed my tune and created a plan.  Our school uniforms consisted of plaid skirts and solid colored polyester blazers.  Students expressed their individuality by attaching pins to their blazer lapels.  Catchy phrases, funny sayings, and smiley faces displayed on these ugly uniform articles caught the attention of friends and helped girls distinguish whose blazer was whose after leaving them in a heap during lunch.  Using a blank pin left over from my recent student council campaign, I inserted a hand written message inside its plastic flap.  My new pin simply read:  'Eat, Drink, and Be Merry . . . for tomorrow you too may be grounded.'  Word traveled fast about my virtual house arrest.  Classmates were baffled.  Many girls I knew had crossed the line between good and evil and come out with a less stringent sentence.

I secretly blamed my sisters.  Neither of them had ever done anything wrong.  In fact, they had not really done much of anything.  It's hard to break the rules when you don't venture out into the world around you.  Thanks to their limited social encounters, my parents considered me a rebel.  My sisters should have broken my folks in a little.  That was their job, right?  Nope.  Now I had to suffer.

My perspective had shifted.  From then on I followed my new pin motto.  When there was a party to attend, I attended.  If I was going to be grounded for admitting that I was going to a party and not drinking, I decided I may as well pretend I wasn't at a party and actually drink.  I sampled the alcohol.  Of course, I wasn't a huge fan of beer- so I never over did it.  I made arrangements to stay at friends' houses if we were going to drink.  I was careful not to be caught.  I lied about where I went and what I did.  Older people I worked with even purchased booze for my friends and I.  All because I told the truth.  Sort of. 

Coach and I rarely know what Laddie's plans are.  We have a difficult time confirming what he does and where he goes.  Lately I have reflected on the lengthy grounding sentence I received in the spring of 1988.  I am mindful that if we aren't careful in our assumptions, we too can drive Laddie to drink.  Literally.  

March 9, 2016

are we smarter than a high school-er?

Although he may be pushing the envelope and making Coach and I crazy, Laddie has never gotten into any real teenage trouble . . . yet.  In September our oldest texted us from our friends' house where he was babysitting.  He was seeking permission to swing by his friend Buddy's house after his sitting responsibilities were complete.  Permission denied.  The next morning Eddie alerted us that Laddie was struggling to get out of bed to caddy.  Coach informed me that he heard Lad come home at 3am.  We contemplated letting him off the hook from caddying since his sitting job ran so late.  Coach, a former sneaky teenager extraordinaire, suggested that our friends weren't really out until 3am.  Perhaps Lad had disobeyed and driven to Buddy's house after all.  I decided to call his bluff.   he went to his friend Buddy's house straight from a babysitting job and landed home at 3am.  I decided to call his bluff.  I poked at my snoozing lump of a son and leaned in close enough for him to hear my whisper.  'I will verify what time our friends arrived home last night, so if you went to Buddy's house you better haul your butt out of bed and prepare to caddy.'

'I went to Buddy's house,' he moaned as his I-babysat-so-late fake-out was discovered.  He undoubtedly pondered walking the golf course in the hot son on a few hours of sleep.  He balked when I insisted on phoning his friend's folks to apologize  for Laddie's late 'hang out' time.  He played right into my hand begging me not to call Buddy's parents.  'You are ruining everything,' he mumbled as a big bagel bite dropped out of his mouth.  'What exactly am I ruining?' I wondered aloud.  'I want to be sure his parents understand that you didn't have our permission to show up at their house after midnight and hang out until 3.'  The truth spilled out of him like an open beer can dumped in the yard when someone's parents pull up unexpectedly.  Lad admitted it.  Buddy's folks were out of town.  That was it.  His biggest teenage sneak.  Epic fail.

We haven't had any other major incidents -just the standard lack of respect, ignoring basic rules, and neglect of responsibilities.  I attribute his ability to stay out of trouble to his busy sports schedule and school assignments.  Although . . .  knowing his grades, I suppose sports should take most of the time consuming credit.  As a senior in high school, his choices are becoming increasingly questionable and his impulses less and less sensible.  It seems that at every turn he tells us less and we worry more.  Could he and his friends really hang out at Portillos restaurant as often as he claims?  College could not come soon enough.

On March 4th, Coach and I traveled to Arizona for a long weekend.  Coach attended a course for a few of the days and I relaxed by the pool and wrote.  The logistics of managing adequate supervision for the kids while we were away was mind boggling, but I thought we had all of our bases covered.  The kids were farmed out to friends' houses for the weekend, and one of Coach's employees-who is like family -was going to watch the gang for the part of our absence that overlapped with school days.  I enlisted my mom to lock the dead bolt on the interior garage door (which we rarely use) once the kids had all vacated the house for the weekend.  Without a spare key available, reentry would not be a possibility.  This brain child plan was in place solely for the teenager contingent.  I made it clear that everyone was to be out by 5 pm.  I wanted to avoid a teenage party or even a small gathering of teens on our property while we were away.

Our house sits on the corner and faces the culdesac while our driveway juts out towards the perpendicular street.  My mom called to let me know that she had locked up the house.  Before she made the 2 minute drive home, she drove into the culdesac to convince herself that the front porch lights were left on.  Confident that the lights were burning, something else in the culdesac caught her expert eye.  Having rarely missed an episode of Angela Landsbury's popular detective series from the '80s, Murder, She Wrote, she realized that Laddie's car was parked in the culdesac.  Odd.  He usually parked on the driveway, and besides he wasn't home.  Or was he?  Mom returned home and called me in Arizona to find out if there was a reason his car would be on the street around the corner from the house.  After a short conversation, we concluded that he was still in the house.   Hiding inside while my mom secured the perimeter would allow him to unbolt the door and have free reign over the house while we were out of town.  She returned to the house with my dad as her backup and found him in the basement.  He had tossed aside the video game he was playing in the basement when he heard her come back inside the house.  He hid in the storage room.  A real life squatter.

Turns out his friend was given a concert ticket for that night, and he wouldn't be home until late.  He claimed that he was trying to avoid the awkward situation of hanging out at his friend's house minus his friend.  Although we initially suspected that he was planning a party or at the very least hoped to invite some friends over, we decided that his 'just want to chill at home' story sounded very believable.

I confided in Coach that perhaps we needed to stop suspecting Laddie of the worst possible behavior or he would choose to do exactly what we accused him of.  I'm all too familiar with this scenario.  I survived the most unreal, over the top grounding in high school for something I hadn't done.  After surviving my ridiculous house arrest in the '80's (which I blame in part on my siblings who never gave my parents any reason to even raise an eyebrow), I chose to sneak around and break rules at every opportunity.  Turns out, as a high school-er I was smarter than my parents.  Learn about my rebellious streak in my next blog entry . . . a grounding to learn from.

March 2, 2016

a full day

A few weeks ago when my drivers license was still suspended, I busied myself making lunches, popping bagels out of the toaster, and ordering kids to get dressed for school.  At 8:30 that morning I was slotted to appear in court.  My lawyer was meeting me to request that the court vacate one of my speeding tickets.  My good friend was scheduled to pick me up at 8:00, and I wanted everyone ready for school before I left for my 'appointment'. 

Laddie awoke and realized that I had dumped his mislaid belongings on the deck off of the kitchen the night before.  The vision of his pile of stuff in a heap on the deck incensed him.  He grabbed my purse and ran out on the deck in his socks where he proceeded to shake it upside down until the contents of my bag were scattered in the fresh snow.  Nice. 

I'm not quite sure why my 17 year old thinks that he is entitled to live in our house without following any rules or paying us any respect all while he conveniently utilizes all of our resources, ie: car, phone, laundry, internet, WiFi, insurance, etc.  To say that I'm fed up is an understatement.  For the past few weeks, I've enlisted the aid of the outdoor deck in my endeavor to shape up the kids.  It just so happens that Lad and Tetenka are our biggest clutter makers.  Their stuff is everywhere.  They leave a trail wherever they go.  To reserve my voice and my sanity, I have chosen to toss whatever isn't put away properly.  Backpacks, shoes, coats, and hats typically litter my kitchen floor.  The children must walk thru the dedicated mud room in order to enter the kitchen.  They typically bypass their individual lockers and drop EVERYTHING in various parts of the kitchen. 

So on this morning, Laddie chose to rebel against my newest system.  Grrr.  His phone had already been confiscated for an indefinite period.  He wanted the phone back.  Newsflash:  this isn't the way to score points.  Before racing off to the bus stop, Curly tip toed out onto the deck in her sneakers and retrieved my purse and all of the damp papers that had fallen out of it.  It's reassuring to have one kid that still likes me despite the new 'dump it on the deck' procedure.

Curly followed my directions and delivered my purse junk onto the shaggy, thirsty brown rug in the front hall where I squeezed her into a giant hug before sending her to the bus.  She has promised me over and over that she will never behave like Laddie when she's a teenager.  Sticking my nose into her fluffy locks I sighed knowing her days as a sweet, devoted daughter are numbered. 

Court was quick and painless.  On our way home, school called to let me know that Mini had just thrown up.  Fortunately, my friend agreed to cart me three blocks past my house to pick up Mini.  My 6th grader looked pale and upset when we arrived.  Once we were outside she burst into tears and confided in me that she really didn't think she was sick.  'I just got really grossed out in health class when the teacher showed us a disgusting video.'  I was relieved that she wasn't sick, but we took her home anyway.  My friend offered to drive her back to school after a few minutes, but I decided to let her chill out for a bit to make sure she wasn't really ill.  After a half sandwich and a Gatorade she perked up and wanted to get back to school in time for a test.  Fortunately, our painter had been working at the house for a few weeks updating some of our rooms.  He needed to run out for some supplies, and I asked him to drop Mini at school on his way.  Apparently on the way, he shared with Mini that he thought she might be crazy.  Who gets out of school and then opts to go back?

Later that evening, another basketball mom picked me up to take me to Eddie's basketball game.  Her son was playing at the same time.  I fed the four youngest before I rushed out the door .  My brother showed up to watch Eddie play, and we sat together at the top of the bleachers.  My phone rang during the first half.  Tetenka wanted to let me know that it wouldn't be possible for him to finish the chores I had assigned him and complete his homework.  This was not a problem.  I simply pointed out that he shouldn't expect to watch any TV when I returned home.  I continued to cheer for Eddie after I hung up.

My phone rang again about 10 minutes later.  I answered the phone using the sarcastic greeting that I reserve for my children when they call me nonstop, 'Hello, what's your emergency?'  Tetenka was on the other end, 'Um, Mommy, I accidentally called 9-1-1.'  Oh crap.  I asked him if he was kidding, and then informed him that prank calling 9-1-1 can be serious.  I understand that they can levy fines for such nonsense.  'It's OK,' Tetenka insisted, 'They were really  nice about it.  They just wanted to check that we were OK.'  Oh brother.  They actually drove over to the house.  'Do you want to talk to the police officer?' he asked.  'They're still there?' I  whispered loudly, 'Well, does he want to talk to me?'  I cringed a bit as Tetenka put officer friendly on the line.  The civil servant assured me that everything was fine and that I had four happy healthy kids.  As I apologized profusely, he assured me that it was not a problem.  I listened to him with half of my brain, while the other half tried calculated how old Tetenka was.  Had I broken any laws leaving him home in charge?  No, 13 years of age was old enough to be home without a parent present.  Well, at least most of the time.

When an officer walked into the gym, I commented to my brother that the local authorities were checking to see if I was in fact at Eddie's game as I had claimed to be.  A few days prior, Laddie and Eddie had gotten pulled over for driving with expired license plate stickers.  The officer approached the car and asked if one of them was Erin.  Apparently after running the plates, he was concerned that Erin, whose license had been suspended, was driving the vehicle.  The boys quickly explained that Erin was their mother.  Between my suspended license, the kids' crank call to 9-1-1, and the neighbors call to police in the fall when Laddie and Tetenka got into a physical brotherly brawl, I have to wonder if my face appears plastered on a poster at police headquarters.     

Eddie keeps teasing me about falling asleep on the couch every night.  It's hard to explain to a 15 year old, but days full of this kind of excitement exhaust me.