May 29, 2016

Packing obstacles

The whirlwind of the last few weeks culminated in our looming vacation plans.  There were just a handful of days after our big graduation party to prepare for our lengthy road trip to Glacier National Park.  

While in a sleepy haze post party on Sunday, I gathered snacks for the car . . . for eight people . . . for twelve days.  No small task.  I boxed out the children if they approached my growing pile centrally located in the kitchen.  Food wasn't the only item I collected.  I tossed flashlights, bucket hats, and draw-string bags onto the vacation stash.  

Laddie and I flew to New York on Monday to visit a division 1 water polo school.  Because there were issues with the TSA, my mom suggested that we arrive at the airport three or four hours early.  I suspected that Mom was starting to lose her marbles.  Since I hadn't tuned into the news while I busied myself making the house appear like we weren't complete slobs for a graduation/communion party the week before, I hadn't heard about the airport security dilemma.  I placed a call to O'Hare to verify that her information was accurate.  My shoulders slumped as I realized that I had to sacrifice my busy vacation-prep morning to arrive at the airport ridiculously early.  Shit.  

Without boring you with too many details of our 11th hour college visit to a school that I was begging Laddie to attend for water polo in order to dodge the intensity of potential college football injuries, I will share with you that we stood in the TSA line for under five minutes.  With hours to kill, we found a gate with charging stations and I typed away at a blog post.  Lad failed to bring anything to read despite my suggestion, so he tinkered on his phone for an hour before deciding to find some food.  When hunger hit me, I wandered the terminal searching for decent gluten free options.  No luck.  I settled for a grilled chicken breast at McDonalds minus the bun and ice cream with M&M's.  This just so happened to be one day of many in my life marked by a constant famished sensation.  

We moved to our gate as the boarding time approached.  My recent lack of sleep was catching up with me and I knew I would soon require a nap.  A situration I assumed I could rectify during the flight.  It was a sunny day.  There were no threatening weather issues, but the captain announced shortly after we boarded the plane that an indicator light wasn't working properly and a mechanic was checking it out.  We waited for thirty minutes before he announced that we must deplane and hike to another gate and board another plane.  Bummer.  We marched to the opposite side of O'Hare and boarded another plane.  A few minutes later the pilot announced more bad news.  There was a dark spot on the tail of the plane.  They needed to take a picture of it and send it to Dallas to be inspected further.  Less than a minute later his voice crackled over the speaker once again.  They wanted us off the plane.  He announced which gate we were heading to for our third boarding.  Incredible.  He vowed to take care of us.  A man sitting a few rows behind us called out that he just really needed a nap.  I was in good company.

My wilted posture, my watery eyes, and my empty belly were begging me to eat and sleep soon.  After a short nap the flight attendant offered me a complimentary drink.  Instead of taking off at 12:50, we had finally become airborne at 3:30.  All I could think of was the intense workout that I had skipped to arrive early not to mention the hours wasted in an airport when my house needed a whole week of attention before Saturday's party.  

After an uneventful return trip Tuesday evening, I called home to tell the kids to thaw some chicken for me.  I needed to start whipping up my dinners and casseroles that I planned to bring on our trip.  Mini answered the phone and agreed to thaw two bags of chicken.  Imagine my surprise when I arrived home and discovered two individual chicken breasts in the sink.  Ugh.  Without the AC on, the 80 plus degree temperature threatened spontaneous combustion while I browned about 25 chicken breasts and boiled a huge pot of pasta as I proceeded with my Glacier menu plan.  

Because Wednesday and Thursday are days I babysit, my packing time was split between caring for two little boys and checking things off my vacation prep list.  I managed to complete my five dinners, bake 5 loaves of pumpkin bread, package it all for our drive, and freeze it.  I dragged the little guys to the grocery store and whittled away at the mounds of laundry littering the laundry room floor.  Before and after school I reminded the kids to gather one pair of jeans, workout pants, and shorts.  Additionally they would need a few long sleeve and short sleeve shirts along with a couple of hooded sweatshirts.  Once all of the laundry was done I told them to supply me with 10 pairs of underwear.  Three pairs were allotted to the hotel duffel bag for the drive out.  

To simplify our quick stops at hotels en-route to and from Glacier, I informed everyone that we would only unload one bag from the car.  Underwear and toiletries.  That was it.  No one was excited about the prospect of wearing the same outfit layered over clean underwear for three days.  Coach kept threatening to remove a set of two seats from the benches in the back of our Chevy Express van that formerly served as an airplane shuttle.  Less seats meant kids would be sitting in closer proximity to one another for 26 hours.  Not a promising recipe for a smooth ride.  I was bound and determined to eliminate any excess to avoid that scenario.  

On Thursday, the day before our departure, I experienced moments where I was confident that my efforts were being timed perfectly and that a packing all-nighter wouldn't be necessary.  Unfortunately, there were moments where I flipped into extreme panic as I suspected that I couldn't pull it all off.  That was before I ran into a serious, time consuming issue . . .   

May 28, 2016

Life is never dull

Life is busy in the Shenanigan household.  This is not an exaggeration.  The last few weeks life's hectic pace increased to light speed leading to chaotic days that were difficult to manage.  

A division one water polo team coach reached out to Laddie and expressed an interest in having him play for his east coast school.  This exciting opportunity sparked a few time-consuming events.  The coach requested film of Laddie playing.  Because I video most of his games, I spent an entire weekend reviewing my footage.  Thanks to my habit of recording countless hours of home movies of the kids' activities, vacations, and funny moments, the hard drive on our computer where our family videos are stored was busting at the seams.  The computer begged me to eliminate 50 gigabytes.  Until I accomplished this task, creating a highlight film proved impossible.  More time.  

My eyes burned as I witnessed Laddie's senior year season repeatedly ensuring that I had captured his most impressive moves, goals, and steals.  Meanwhile the state of the house took a turn for the worse.  Laundry piled up.  The fridge's disarray interfered with meal prep.  Bedtimes were ignored.  Reggie shone in a few baseball games with no family members available to witness his success.  Complaints were lodged about the lack of sorted socks.  Sleep eluded me.  At last the job was done.  The highlight clips refused to email.  Youtube wouldn't load them.  I saved them to a flash drive and Laddie delivered it to his high school coach Ms. Ball.  Although Ms. Ball had mentioned that she could overnight a flash drive to the east coast, she ended up following a different path.  Lad told me that the division one coach wasn't able to open Ms. Ball's email of the files.  I invested more time in the project and successfully uploaded them to dropbox. 

Meanwhile, as I sat glued to the computer screen waiting for downloads to complete and files to save, I wasted no time.  I multitasked by printing invitations that I designed on the computer for our upcoming combo graduation/first communion party for Laddie and Curly.  Once the college coach texted Laddie to say that he was able to see the highlight movies on dropbox, I switched from video editing guru to house organization mode.  The task was daunting and it made me grouchy to constantly clean up after my sloppy offspring.  Shortly after congratulating myself that one room looked polished, the kids shuffled in from school and destroyed my order.  

There were lists of things to accomplish prior to the party, but regular life plugged away at what seemed like a record pace.  In addition to studying catering menus there were errands, laundry, meals, games, and chauffeuring duties.   The three youngest needed new sneakers.  Coach's efforts to complete the basement before the party meant I took a few detours from shoe stores and grocery runs to Home Depot to select a sink and faucet.  In my spare time I emptied the entire refrigerator and mudroom, carefully selecting the items that could be reintroduced to these fresh-smelling, newly rearranged spaces.  My heightened radar honed in on kids leaving a trail of belongings and half eaten food.  My shrieks of frustration caused sulking, pouting, and scurrying away as the kids tried to cope with my wrath.  

One morning a week and a half before the party, I woke early and took the time to make a detailed list of all that I planned to accomplish that day.  Lunch boxes sat empty on the counter while I hid in the study examining my list in the adding items to it.  Suddenly I heard the garage door open and little voices.  'But it's Tuesday,' I thought to myself.  Turns out I had blanked on the fact that I had agreed to babysit an additional day that week.  Crap.  My kids' faces froze in half smiles as they welcomed the two little guys who were being dropped off in my care.  Eddie whispered out of the side of his mouth, 'Did you know they were coming today?'  Nope.  One more road block in my attempts to prepare for a huge party followed less than a week later by a family road trip to Glacier National Park.  My plan to prepare most of our dinners in advance and bring as much of our food as possible complicated the packing process.  

Days before graduation the east coast water polo coach invited Laddie and I out for a visit.  I shopped for last minute flights and ended up choosing to utilize our frequent flyer miles.  In order to squeeze this quick school visit in before our Glacier adventure, we would depart on the Monday after Saturday's combo party and return on Tuesday.  Successfully sandwiching the trip in before the our lengthy road trip when I had not yet recovered from my sleep-deprived, party-prep state made my head spin. 

A few months ago, I hoped to create an all encompassing movie/slideshow to be shown at the party.  I imagined video clips focused on Laddie ranging from entertaining to sweet, from memorable to humorous together with several photos set to the perfect music.  The only issue was carving out the time to make the plan a reality.  Days before graduation, I began to plug away at this project all the while convincing myself that somehow the house would be clean before the party.  I searched iTunes for the songs I hoped to include so that I could burn the movie to a DVD hours before graduation.  A glitch with my iTunes account caused me to get in touch with a woman named Amanda at iTunes technical support.

Amanda and I struggled to decipher why I was unable to download music.  While I was on the phone with her, I heard Coach come home from work.  Because I was anxious for him to pitch in and reinforce my cleaning efforts, I cringed a bit when I heard Coach invite Reggie into the yard to practice his pitching.  While Amanda plugged away at my iTunes issue I scurried around the house with the phone clutched at my ear attempting to get a few things accomplished.  Each time Amanda instructed me to try something else to unlock my account, I jogged back to the computer.  

I sat in front of my computer in the study following Amanda's guidance when Coach called to me from the hallway that he needed to see me.  'Not a good time,' I whispered.  'I'm on the phone with iTunes trying to get the music for the DVD to download.'  That's when he informed me that it was an emergency.  I poked my head around the computer desk just in time to see him jerk his head back.  I noticed there was blood on his face and he held his hand near his chin.  I jumped out of my chair and stepped into the hall.  My new buddy, Amanda, waited while I attended to Coach.  My first thought was that he had missed a pitch and broken his nose.  He extended his hand and displayed a tooth with a long wire attached.  The ball hit the ground in front of him and took a bad bounce.  I stared in awe at my husband's toothless smile realizing that graduation was in two hours. 

'What do I do?' he asked.  Amanda heard my muffled sobs as I looked up the phone number for our dentist.  Coach called on his cell phone while I urged Amanda on our landline to help me wrap up the movie.  The dentist had no hours on a Friday, but he called Coach back and told him that he was headed to the office.  Before Coach headed out the door, I hollered to him to bring clothes for graduation.  I had no idea whether or not Coach would make it to Laddie's ceremony.  I was losing hope that the DVD would be complete, and by taking a quick glance around the first floor I struggled to imagine how the house could be presentable for our impending party.  

My emotional state crumbled.  I shoved all of the kitchen chairs into the family room so that I could wash the kitchen floor.  The phone was still at my ear.  At last Amanda determined that I simply needed to reset my password.  She walked me thru the process as I revealed how my frustrations ran deeper than Coach's cracked tooth root.  'My husband has been largely unavailable for day to day tasks as he devoted two and a half years to refinishing our basement.  He walks in from work the day before we plan to host a huge party, and since he recently wrapped up the most significant projects in the lower level I assume he is finally able to help me,' I shared through my sniffles.  'He surprises me by making a quick exit so that our youngest son can practice pitching.  Twenty minutes later he walks in with his tooth and bridge work in his hand.'  Amanda felt my pain.  Her job at apple suddenly included duties as a therapist.  

I wrapped things up with my new BFF at Apple and shoved a couple of kids into Laddie's backseat as he drove to graduation.  I needed a couple of warm bodies to save us some seats at the stadium for the ceremony.  Time had slipped away during the craziness of the afternoon.  In my hopes to empty the fridge of leftovers to make room for the party food, I grabbed a hunk of meatloaf wrapped in tin foil from the fridge.  I chopped up a few slices on a plate, heated it, squeezed some catsup on it, and handed it to the kids in Laddie's backseat seconds before he drove away.  

Coach called from the dentist and told Curly that he was done and would meet us at the graduation.  He instructed her to bring a bag of ice for him.  I finished washing the kitchen floor, and realized that I forgot to go to Costco to pick up the cakes.  I mentally reassigned my Costco run to the party day.  Swell.  I admit to glancing at my watch repeatedly thru the chilly graduation.  I was distracted by my mental things-to-do list.  Coach sat on the other side of Curly with a baggie of ice clutched to his throbbing face.  Normal?  Not exactly.  

Thankfully the next day proved to be a beautiful, sunny day which was a welcome change from the prior weeks of unseasonably cold weather.  Before I ran to Costco, I downloaded my desired music from iTunes and plugged it into the nearly complete DVD highlighting Laddie's seventeen plus years.  Once the computer promised to burn my project to the inserted disk, I raced around and accomplished tasks while calling out orders to Curly and Mini.  The three oldest boys were caddying and Reggie was at his baseball game.  Between my housework duties, I checked back occasionally at the computer and breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the 'Done' message, but I remembed that I had been fooled before.  A 'Done' message didn't guarantee that the DVD would play on the TV.  I carefully stuck the disk into the TV and stood back with my fingers crossed.  Curly stood next to me and clutched my hand.  As the images I selected began to flash across the screen and the upbeat music blared, I broke into a joyous, energetic dance.  Curly giggled at my antics.  

We captured the glorious celebration with several photos.  If you look closely, you will notice Coach's scabby lips.  A little reminder for posterity that life is never dull.

May 23, 2016

Parental Mistakes: Hard to Ignore

Coach and I have yet to be awarded perfect parent certificates.  Try as we might, our efforts are far from noteworthy.  With Laddie's 18th birthday rapidly approaching next month, I feel we've developed and enhanced our skills over the years - but we are still learning.  Our offspring never fail to outsmart us, surprise us, and teach us. 

Having said that we basically suck at times, I have stumbled upon a few instances lately that make me wish I could lawfully shake a fellow parent.  The episodes presented themselves at two totally different ends of the spectrum.  One parent was in diaper changing/ stroller pushing mode.  The other parent had years of experience but failed to figure out when to keep her big mouth shut. 

While my crew is at school, I babysit three days a week for a toddler and his infant brother.  Occasionally I am mistaken for their mother, but I usually assume that people are aware that there is very little chance that these youngsters are genetically linked to my middle aged body.  During the winter months I frequently loaded the boys up and hauled them to the local library for story time.  It doesn't seem that long ago that this ritual was a central part of my kid-centric week with my own bunch.  While the familiar recipe remains the same: books, songs, felt boards, children, props, and germs . . . I noted a few updates.  Nowadays each session ends with a heavy dose of bubbles shot around the room with an electric bubble blower.  Very high tech.  The story time facilitator's reference to the other participants as 'our friends' seems to be a new, politically correct development.  When one toddler becomes a little too frisky, the library leader gently reminds the entire group to be more aware of personal space with one generic comment.  'Let's be careful of our friends,' she'll utter in order not to single out the actual perpetrator.  All in all it was the same set up with different faces, fresh books, and both new and retro sing-alongs. 

At our last class of story time for the spring session, a little boy named Donnie with consistently horrible self control issues grabbed at another boy slapping at his chest and face.  I suspected from early on that the Donnie suffered from autism or a delay of some kind.  Perhaps a diagnosis had yet to be confirmed, but I feel strongly that it is only a matter of time.  Watching the boy run around in circles while his 'friends' sat listening to a book or mimicking the leader's hand movements to a catchy tune was a red flag.  Not always aware of those around him, he seemed intrigued by the lighting in the room - staring up at the ceiling during his mini marathons circling the group.  Donnie's mom tried to convince him to sit still.  She held him in a tight bear hug at times.  Her discomfort was palpable.  I wondered if she was beginning to recognize a difference between her child and his peers. 

Ned, the boy Donnie had an altercation with, arrived at class every week with his shirt tucked in to his corduroys.  His buttoned up, perfect order demeanor was mirrored by  his baby brother.  Ned's appearance screamed 'sheltered friend.'  He seemed reluctant to wander far from his mother and brother.  This guy needed to escape his comfort zone a bit.  His mother didn't seem able to cut the cord though.  Perhaps my simple observations during the 30 minute story time could have been too quick to judge, until evidence presented itself.

My suspicions about Ned were confirmed when Donnie shared his aggressive side with Mr. Mama's Boy.  Ned hadn't provoked Donnie in any way.  He was just enjoying a bubble storm when he crossed paths with Mr. Pent Up Energy.  Donnie's grab didn't seem malicious.  Mismanaged maybe.  Ned's mother, president of the mamma's boy club, reacted with lighting speed.  Her protection radar was working on over drive.  She raced across the room to where Ned had chased a bubble and whisked Ned away from Donnie's reach.  'No hitting,' she ordered, 'That's not nice!'  Her jerking movement and loud volume startled Ned more than Donnie's fumbled attack.  After Ms. Over Protective Parent of the year guided her future nerd back to their stroller, his emotional state unraveled.  He was reduced to a puddle on the floor where he sobbed uncontrollably. 

His mother's eyes darted around the room searching for a sympathetic parent.  I avoided her glance even though I longed to tell her that Ned needed more encounters like this.  Being roughed up a bit would benefit him in the long run.  She should have let him handle the situation himself.  While the overused mantra 'Use your words,' gets under my skin, it was probably appropriate here.  Encourage him to say something like:  'Don't do that!' while resisting the urge to act like this was a crime of magnificent proportions. 

A few months later another parent ticked me off in an entirely different setting.  Coach and I sat at Laddie's high school sectional water polo game hoping that our team would pull off a win against a tough opponent.  My stomach was full of butterflies.  Laddie leads the team in goals scored and is an overall standout.  While most kids committed to their choice of college by May 1st, Laddie put his first choice football school on hold until he had time to consider playing division 1 water polo for a team on the east coast that began recruiting him this spring. 

During the first minute of the game Laddie made a bad pass.  The ball overshot its intended target and the opposing team scooped it up.  The mother behind me whose son is playing his first year of water polo as a junior on Laddie's team moaned loudly, 'That's going to be costly!'  Momentarily frozen by her negative 'cheer', I shook it off and continued to concentrate on the game.  Later in the first quarter, Big Mouth's son attempted to swim after the guy he was guarding on defense.  This junior is not a swimmer.  He competes at the high school level for diving, but is not known for his swimming speed.  Unable to catch his man, the guy scored a goal at a pivotal point of the game.  I continued to cheer on our team with an encouraging, 'All right Hornets, let's go!!  You can do it!!'  I never even had to bite my tongue to avoid slipping up and shouting something negative, because that would be so  WRONG.  Laddie's turnover didn't compare with Diver's inept swimming stroke, but I knew better than to open my mouth and criticize a player on our team.  Big Mouth had no excuse.  Diver is her youngest son.  She's had other kids compete at high school sports.  Why would she think it was acceptable to begrudge a player on our team for making a mistake? 

Just like with the Overprotective Mama, I refrained from asking what she was thinking.  Until I hold a certificate praising me for being a stellar parent I will continue to keep my mouth shut. 

May 10, 2016

Mother's day lesson: timing is everything

Saturday, May 7th was one of those days.  I awoke with an abundance of hope that I could accomplish most of the priorities on my never ending to do list.  The night before I voluntarily scratched my favorite early morning weekend workout from my list.  Part of me felt I had surrendered before the day had even begun.  While I typically ignore over-scheduling road blocks and attempt to squeeze everything in despite the clock, I recognized that time would not be on my side.

Laddie had conference water polo games about 25 minutes from home.  The first game on Saturday started before 9 am.  His next game would be played around lunch.  Coach and I both planned to attend.  I couldn't pawn two kids off on other people empty handed.  Opting not to burn any bridges, I knew I would wake early to prepare a lunch for each of them to bring to their respective hosts.  Extra homemade cookies to share couldn't hurt.  Reggie had to be suited up in his baseball uniform by 8 am and Curly had to be dressed and fed for a 7:30 am pick up time by Nana.  I was convinced that none of this would happen if I was working out from 7-8 am. 

While Reggie avoided a lengthy day of water polo thanks to the legitimate conflict of his game, Curly's emotional plea as she sulked off to bed Friday night inspired me to organize a more desirable day for her.  After a few calls to my mom and my sister, I successfully secured a place for Laddie's great-but-exhausted fan to spend the day free from water polo whistles, bad calls, uncomfortable  bleachers, and exciting shots.  Meanwhile, Coach had delivered Eddie and Tetanka to the golf course before 6 am to caddy, and Mini was out of town at an Irish music competition.

Originally I planned to attend the out of state competition with Mini.  As the date grew close and I considered missing Laddie's senior year conference games, my stomach flipped and my mouth went dry.  I hated to disappoint Mini, but I couldn't bear to miss Laddie's final games before graduation.  I had made an extra effort to cheer for the team all season missing very few games.  This was no time to skip the most important contests of the year.  This group had broken school records by dominating teams on the schedule that their school had never come close to beating in the past.  They were making history.  Mini understood my dilemma and assured me that she wouldn't mind traveling to Ohio with my brother and his family, who were also attending the competition. 

At 10 om Friday night moments after I agreed not to force the workout into the crammed morning, I decided a grocery store run seemed to make sense.  My adrenaline rush after watching Laddie's team beat our cross town rival for the second time that season expired as I lugged the bags of food inside from my car.  I hoped these essentials would last longer than last week's purchases had.  Before collapsing into bed I regrouped by charging the video camera and jotting down all of the things I needed to do before we departed the house a little after 8 am the next morning.  My adult godson, who played water polo professionally in Italy, hoped to make it to the morning game.  Since it happened to be his birthday, I left notes on the counter to remember to bring his gift to the game along with food for Coach and I.  Optimistic to a fault about how much I could squeeze into a day, I added to afternoon haircuts for my boys to my Saturday post-water-polo-game to-do list.  A plan to mess around with a file on the computer that I had been struggling to burn to a DVD was scribbled on the page beneath the haircuts.  What was wrong with envisioning a productive day after an exciting water polo conference tournament? 

Saturday's games ran late and ended in disappointment.  Coach and I vented about the biased refs as we drove home.  How unfortunate that our boys weren't allowed to play the game because the refs limited them at every turn.  Their uneven calls were blatant and senseless.  I tried to let it go as I reached out to my sister and Reggie's baseball coach to let them know we could claim our youngest kids shortly.  At home, I whipped up a hearty snack, listened to the caddys' stories, and decided I could no longer fight off my exhaustion.  I shuffled off to bed for a quick nap. 

Apparently all my cheering wore me out.  A few hours later a groggy do-it-yourself hair dresser  surfaced and delivered buzz cuts to the males of the family.  It was time to get dressed for church.  While I couldn't wait to peel off my sweats matted in hair, I opted to take a stab at Laddie's game stored on the computer.  It was his best game of the season, and Coach had missed it because he was at work.  I kept trying unsuccessfully to burn it to a DVD so that we could play it back on the TV.  Taking a new approach, I clicked 'burn' before racing off to change my clothes. 

Coach feared that I would run late for church (not sure where he got that idea) so he decided to drive in a car separate ahead of me.  A few minutes after he left, I ran down the stairs and called out to the remaining bodies to jump in the minivan.  Fifteen minutes later I sat in the pew and began to count - between prayers.  In my head I reviewed everyone's location.  Mini was due home from Ohio the next day.  Laddie was at the movies with his teammates.  Something was off.  I glanced down at the kids sitting to my right and those sitting on the other side of Coach to  my left.  My headcount wasn't adding up.  I leaned over and asked Coach, 'Where's Curly?'  He shrugged.  'She didn't come with me,' he reported.  I grabbed my keys and headed for the parking lot.

The church is walking distance to our house, so after I screeched out of my parking space it took me less than a minute to reach home.  Just before I pulled into our driveway, I spotted Curly.  Her red, puffy face was streaked with tears.  She was making her way towards our neighbors house to ask for help finding her mom.  I felt awful.  She described in a horse voice how she had stood in the kitchen screaming for me.  She tried my cell, which was silenced.  She called my folks, who were at mass too.  She considered walking to church, but thought she might get in trouble.  It turns out she had been playing outside when she realized we had all left.  She accessed the inside of the house because she knows the garage door code. 

After several hugs and a quick splash of cold water on her face, she and I marched into church.  Our seats towards the front of the congregation gave fellow church goes a good view of our family mishap.  It just so happened to be the night before Mother's Day.  Perhaps this mom needs to be sure to make time to account for each of the kids before racing out the door. 

May 4, 2016

Last minute prom date

As a junior in high school, I represented my class by serving on student council.  Traditionally at my small Catholic High School, the junior class board organized the junior/senior prom.  I enjoyed being involved in the prom planning, but as the date for the dance approached my dateless status annoyed me. 

I can't say that failing to receive an invitation to prom shocked me.  While my oversized glasses were in style at the time, they added no aesthetic value to my face.  To give you an idea of what I'm referring to, I've inserted an image of the popular character 'Carol Seaver' on the sitcom 'Growing Pains.'  Carol benefited from being cute with or without glasses.  I suspect if my morning ritual included meeting with my hair and make up people each morning like Carol probably did on the set of her show, there would have been hope for me. 

Truthfully, my hair was cropped so short, I doubt even a professional could have helped upgrade me.  Of course, a  wardrobe coordinator to outfit my tall lanky self with suitable clothes other than those my shorter sisters had outgrown wouldn't have hurt either.

Because I was equipped with a sharp, self-deprecating wit, my classmates were aware that I was bummed at not having been asked to the prom.  My pathetic situation became a running joke that most of the school was in on.  My willingness to laugh at myself openly  endeared me to my friends and classmates.  This arrangement functioned perfectly thanks to my unique school setting. 

I thrived on attending this particular high school, which segregated the girl students from the boy students.  Although our classrooms were housed in the same building, the clear separation between the two sides of the building was a constant reminder of the two distinctly different schools. 

Both sides of the school shared a library, gym, auditorium, and cafeteria.  While we were able to utilize most of these important places during separate times of the day, both boy and girl students ate lunch in the cafeteria at the same time.  In the first few weeks of my freshman year, I learned quickly to avoid using the girls' bathroom during lunch unless completely necessary. 

Choking on the clouds of hairspray generously applied by the girls who were prepping to encounter boys could kill an appetite - if not the ozone.  As an awkward teenager with hair styled too short to be attractive, my high school years were dedicated to building lasting relationships with my quirky, fun girlfriends.  Romance was not on my agenda.

A half day of attendance was scheduled for the Friday of prom.  After a student council meeting that morning, I noticed a guy student exit my homeroom and walk off in the direction of the 'boys' side'.  Guy sightings on the girls' side were rare, so his appearance caught my attention.  Although school hadn't begun, I was at my locker when he walked by.  Before heading for the lounge to hang out with friends before the bell rang, I stopped in to see my french teacher who was also the student council moderator. 

I asked her why Bill had just been in her classroom.  She shook her head and gave me a sad little pout.  'He was selling me back his prom tickets, because he and his girlfriend broke up,' she explained.  'Oh, that stinks,' I winced.  Even though I could almost see the light bulb brighten over her head, I was still shocked at what she suggested. 

'Ernie, you know him?!  You called him by name.  You should go over and ask him if he wants to go to prom with you,' she squealed.  I erupted in a fit of nervous laughter.  'Oh, I just know him because he comes into Burger King often.  His best friend works with me,' I told her.  The truth was, I doubted that Bill would know my name if I wasn't wearing my maroon, polyester Burger King uniform and name tag.  That's right . . . in addition to bad hair, ill-fitting clothes, social awkwardness, and enormous glasses, I also worked at Burger King.  I was living the dream.

The wheels of my brain began to spin.  It didn't take much imagination to consider what fun it would be to land a last minute date to the dance I had whined about not attending.  Ms. Frenchie wrote me a special pass granting me permission to walk to the boys' side. 

In the boys' office, the secretary looked up what classroom Bill was in.  The moment of truth came rushing at me when I left the office and practically ran right into Bill.  While I was happy to avoid the embarrassment of knocking on his classroom door and requesting his presence in the hall, there was no time to procrastinate now. 

'Hey Bill,' I muttered.  He nodded in my direction before realizing I wasn't just greeting him.  I stopped walking and he noticed I was attempting to start up a conversation.  'So, I heard you aren't going to prom,' I stuttered.  At first he looked insulted as if I was just planning to remind him of his agony. 

'Well, I'm not going either, and I wondered if you would like to go together,' I rushed through the rest of my plan.  Bill's face lit up.  He agreed to bring me as his date, since we both wanted to go.  This was his senior year, and all of his friends were going.  His tux was rented too.  We exchanged phone numbers before I raced off to my familiar territory on the other side of the building. 

The hallways buzzed with prom talk.  Fellow students raced out the door when school dismissed at noon.  Most girls had nail appointments to keep and big hair to tease.  My agenda presented a different pre-prom check list. 

First I called my mom at the school where she taught 4th grade.  I needed to make sure she was OK with me going to prom.  Mom, the eternal matchmaker, was overjoyed that I had a date at all -  much less to prom.  There was no mention of the small technicality that could have interfered with the entire deal . . . I was supposed to be finishing up the longest grounding sentence ever administered in the Chicago area.  If she wasn't focused on the tail end of my 6 week grounding, then I sure as Hell wasn't going to remind her. 

I tried on the dress that each of my sisters had worn to prom.  It fell shorter on me than it had on them, but why would this occasion be different than any other?  The satin pink dress with a gathered band across the shoulders would work fine.

Thanks to the reduced school day, school let out shortly after I had finalized my date.  Many girls weren't informed of the new plan.  They hadn't expected to see me that night.  Bill pulled up to a stoplight in his father's Cadillac en-route to prom.  A classmate, who found my life particularly entertaining, was driving in the car next to us with her date.  Her chin dropped and her face delivered a priceless expression.  After managing to pull off a last minute date to prom, I had the last laugh.