November 20, 2016

'kids are kids'

I just returned from a long visit to a local park with the three little boys that I babysit for.  Although it is November 17th, the forecast called for a high of 70 degrees today.  I struggled to decide between a trip to the zoo and a more efficient adventure at a park.  Since our outing yesterday included a lengthy stay at the park, I decided that we would test out a different park location today.

Years ago I brought my kids to this park from time to time.  While my memory of its offerings had faded, I remembered that it had always been a big hit with my offspring.  The awesome layout and incredible equipment did not disappoint.  I chased the toddlers around for over an hour.  Two of them were thrilled with the zip line while the youngest guy preferred to stomp his feet in piles of leaves.   At noon I gathered them up, washed their hands, and served them lunch at a nearby picnic table.

With nap time (ahhhhh!)  approaching rapidly, I intended to head straight home after lunch.  When two of the boys hopped down from the table and made a bee line for the playground, I decided to give them a few more minutes to play.  Who can enforce a specific nap deadline on such an unseasonably beautiful day?

I mopped the stickiness off of their pudgy hands and smiley faces and parked the strolled near the toddler-geared equipment.  I appreciated that the older-kid playground structure was a bit off the beaten path, so I could keep the three of them corralled in one area.  There was a sandy area that I had eliminated from our possible play space the moment we arrived.  Since tots have a tendency to roam, I kept the sand pit in the corner of my eye just in case one of my guys started feeling brave.  Dealing with sand in the summer bites.  I felt no need to introduce those pesky little granules into my kitchen in November despite the fact that I plan to wash the kitchen floor tomorrow.  Even with the well defined boundary approach to the layout, I still felt like I was swiveling my head back and forth as I monitored all three of my little constantly-in-motion charges.

J.J. shot out of a tunnel slide with a huge grin on his face.  A kid who exited the slide a moment later sauntered up behind J.J. and gave him a little shove.  There were a couple of moms chatting on a park bench adjacent to the park equipment when we walked up.  I recognized the little guy as belonging to one of them.  Now only one mom was perched on the bench.  She said nothing, so I told 'Lil Bully not to push.  Ignoring my instructions, the kid pushed J.J. a few more times before coming up behind him and shoving him off of the hill-like climbing apparatus.  I picked J.J. up off the ground.  He had only been on the bottom ladder rung, so he hadn't fallen very far.  Not the point though.

'Hey,' I hollered, 'Don't push him down.  Play nice.'  Glancing over my shoulder, I called to Ms. Passive on the bench, 'Is this your kid?'  No, she informed me that it wasn't.  She did know him and she called out to him, but she didn't move off of the bench to speak to him more directly or remove him from the playground for a minute. 

'Lil Bully was about the same size as J.J., but based on his speech and his behavior he was probably three or four years old.  J.J., who is a tall, solid beast of a kid for his age, is only 18 months.  Ms. Passive must have alerted 'Lil bully's mom, Ms. Inattentive, that I had pointed out that her kid was pushing J.J. around.  They exchanged words in their foreign language before Ms. Inattentive uttered very loudly, 'Kids are kids.' 

What a mind blowing statement!  Just when I had convinced myself that kids were aliens.

Moments like this remind me that I might be too old to be working as a babysitter.  Physically I can handle it.  In fact I'm quite sure that if I challenged Ms. Inattentive to a brisk jog around the recycled tire flooring of the playground, she would have collapsed before she passed the brick public restroom building a stone's throw away from where we stood. 

The real problem is that I'm too aged to give a damn what anyone thinks.  Besides, my additional years and experience give me a bit of a leg up on clueless, young parents that I encounter as an occupational hazard.

I spun around to face her.  Did she think that tossing a generalized blanket statement out about juveniles would excuse her kid's bad behavior?  'Kids are kids, but that's why you have to watch them,' I enlightened her.  That's when she shared with me that she was running after another one of her kids.  I completely understand how that happens, but her kid had pushed J.J. down several times in the span of several minutes.  If she couldn't be watching him for that long, then she should've dragged him with her to chase her other rugrat.  Since she was fortunate to be at the park with back up in the ill equipped form of Ms. Passive, she could've asked her to keep an eye on 'Lil Bully.  'I get that.  I'm watching three right now myself and I have six more at home,' I quipped.  'That doesn't make you better than anyone,' she barked.  'Of course not,' I chuckled, 'It just means that I know what it's like to handle crowd control.'

Please note that the entire time this short discussion occurred, two things happened. 
     1.  I never lost sight of the three boys I was watching, helping them up and down slides and up and down ladders. 
     2.  Ms. Inattentive never stopped reciting her mantra 'kids are kids'.  One thing that didn't happen was that Ms. Inattentive never reprimanded or disciplined her 'Lil Bully. 

When I announced to my little tow heads that we were going to head out in two more minutes for nap time, 'Lil Bully attempted to rub it in J.J.'s face.  He failed to understand that supersized J.J. was too young to understand his little taunt as he sat down to go down the slide.  Revealing his age and his understanding of the situation, 'Lil Bully called up to him, 'You have to go home for your nap time in 2 minutes.'

Each time Ms. Inattentive repeated her favorite phrase, I responded in some way.  She rounded up her little brat and moved her stroller to another area of the park where I'm assuming she continued to let him act unacceptably with no consequences.  A few minutes later I steered my gang towards the car. 

If I didn't love nap time so much, I would've skipped it so that I could follow her to the other side of the park and educate her with a little additional comment:  'Kids are kids, but parents who let kids be kids end up with kids who behave badly.'

November 14, 2016

shopping tips

 As we approach the busiest shopping days of the calendar year, I recently considered the many stages of my shopping life.  Back when I was single and living at home after college, my Mom and I hit the mall on a regular basis.  Two factors impacted my abundant free time:  an out of town boyfriend, and no kids to care for.  Decades later I find myself weaving my visits to the mall around my husband and six kids.  While so much has changed, one shopping habit that remains constant includes a strong focus on the discount racks. 

When we were newlyweds, Coach's full-time student status translated into years of forbidden mall visits.  Once kids began to arrive on the scene, I became an avid garage sale shopper.  This bleak situation was a far cry from my shopping preference, but I adjusted quickly to accepting the rush of a good deal regardless of whether or not it occurred in some stranger's dirty garage.  After studying the local ads, promising sales dictated which route I would take as I mapped locations based on sought after items.  I quickly learned which subdivisions boasted the best financial deals.  By diverting Laddie's attention I could sneak future Christmas and birthday gifts into the trunk saving our tight budget a bundle. 

Gradually I gravitated towards second hand stores.  Consignment shops, I discovered, offered great deals.  Many a good find was stumbled upon during my carefully planned trips to area stores where I shopped their inventory of winter coats, clothes with plenty of wear left in them, and fancy maternity dresses for weddings.  For years I wore a soft velvety name brand skiing pullover with a bedazzled zipper that I purchased for a steal at a consignment shop.  I received several compliments on the shirt, but always cringed hoping no one would ask me where I bought it. 

I am not ashamed to admit that I constantly returned gifted items in order to utilize the funds for outstanding deals for purchases that I felt served more of a purpose.  When Eddie was born, a woman I babysat for years earlier presented me with an incredibly generous baby gift.  In addition to an outfit for Eddie worth more than anything I owned in my closet, she chose a Kate Spade diaper bag for me.  While the diaper bag was beautiful, I cared little about parading around with a pricey bag loaded down with diapers, wipes, and storage for soiled clothes.  I was shocked at the amount of cash the Neiman Markus saleswoman counted out the day that I returned the status symbol diaper bag.  I felt guilty about not keeping the gift, but I fell in love with a beautiful, warm winter coat and I used the cash to buy it at Neiman Markus.  In my tight budget world, I decided that it made more sense to exchange the gift for something that I really needed.  The number on the coat's price tag still made my eyes pop out a bit, but knowing that I would use it for years to come helped me justify the indulgence. 

For years I shopped in spurts at various department stores.  While I still maintained my strong tendency to inspect the sales racks, my opportunities to shop were dwindling thanks to our busy household.  Running to close locations with good deals became my shopping spree focus.  I refused to commit too much time to searching racks for clothes so I narrowed my radius to places where I was sure to make a few quick purchases. 

I don't remember when my first visit occurred to my current favorite store.  It reminds me of a friendship that has been relied on for so long that it is now hard to recall what life was like without it.  My appreciation for the store has developed into a weekly visit that I rarely miss.  I'm confident no other store can replace its priority in my shopping agenda.  After repeated trips, I discovered that further reductions on already reduced items are scheduled to be marked down on the same day each week.  If I crave an item on the sale rack, but I still can't afford it - I simply wait until the next week in hopes that it gets marked down again. 

In addition to learning to be patient, I have devised a few other strategies to secure the best possible price for my selections.  This department store requests sizes from other locations and shipping is complimentary.  If I suspect an item might be reduced the following week, I can request it from another store if my local store doesn't have my size in inventory.  Once my request arrives at thee nearby mall, I have five days to get to the store to pick it up.  I cross my fingers in hopes that by the time I get to the mall to collect my item, it has been reduced since the previous week.  I hesitate to wear my new clothes as I wait to see if the price becomes more acceptable.  Sadly, at times I return a beautiful sweater that hasn't become the low price item that I had hoped it would be. 

Sales ticket for a reduced item.

Price adjustments might be my favorite aspect of this awesome store.  Once I have purchased something on sale, the store will adjust my receipt and credit me the difference if the price is reduced again in the next two weeks.  Needless to say my wallet and purse overflow with saved receipts that I keep on hand in case the purchase price I paid is reduced on the weekly reduction day.  By requesting a sales item from another store that I have already purchased from my location, I buy myself more time for the price to drop.  If the requested item is reduced from the time I made my request, then I simply return the original, pricier version. 

It can be embarrassing to ask a sales person to review a receipt in order to check whether or not a prior purchase has been further reduced.  Recently a sales woman in the juniors department refused to conduct a price adjustment for me.  Apparently she could see on her computer that I had already received my sanctioned eight adjustments for the year.  I almost fell over.  Eight?  Since when were price adjustments limited to a specific number?  No one warned me about this.  Although I admit to perspiring a bit more than anticipated, I simply walked my receipt down to one of my favorite and more familiar salesmen in the young men's section.  I help my breath as he agreed to adjust my receipts not paying any attention to the fact that I had benefited from eight adjustments that week, let alone the year. 

Please don't be confused and imagine me as a sharply dressed woman.  Despite my successful bargain hunting, my constant shopping routine, and my price adjustment rituals, I typically resemble a frazzled mom wearing a thrown together ensemble chosen more for comfort than for style.  A few weeks ago, I tried on a very cute sweater at my favorite store.  I asked the sales woman if the brand tended to run large as the sleeves seemed excessively lengthy.  She shrugged and informed me that I should definitely consider myself a size small.  The extra length in the sleeves was due to the new trend to hide hands

Just when I think I have mastered the art of shopping, I realize that it isn't enough to be an expert deal-achiever.  I now have to worry about understanding trends.  Who has time to read fashion magazines and watch trendy TV programs with a fashion focus?  I cannot be expected to make weekly visits to the mall, sneak limitless price adjustments from favorite sales people, and stalk desirable sales items in addition to carving out time for that kind of nonsense.  Now I learn that I have to attempt to hide my hands? 

I turned to this informed sales woman, who was working in the hip-clothing section that I had ventured into, perhaps erroneously.  She had certainly celebrated more birthdays than me.  I rolled my eyes.  'Yes, hands.  Those nasty appendages.  I rarely use mine and I definitely think it would be best if they were hidden away.'  She and I shared a chuckle about how absurd it is to wear something that would hide your hands.  Then I met her at the counter where I fumbled around for my MasterCard in my purse overflowing with receipts waiting to possibly be adjusted, . . . and I bought the sweater. 

November 11, 2016

'Get your shit together!'

Coach and I began dating the summer that I finished college.  That fall he returned to college to begin his senior year.  We had known one another for years.  My family moved down the street from Coach the day before my high school career was launched.  When my mother and oldest sister toured area schools in preparation for our move, Ann clearly remembers Coach being called on by one of the grade school teachers as they observed his class.  'There is a cute, Irish-looking kid who is going to be in your class,' she shared with Pat, who cared little about the looks and heritage of his future classmates.

Although I had never set foot in the high school until the first day, I was relieved not to be in the same boat as my 8th grade brother, Pat.  Starting over as an 8th grader didn't appeal to me in the least.  During Pat's first and only year at that school, he became good friends with Coach.  Both my folks and Coach's folks were busy raising five kids, and they quickly became friends.

While I knew Coach a bit from the time he spent hanging out at our house when Pat had a group of friends over, I became better acquainted with him that fateful summer after I graduated from college.

Growing up, we often sat near his family in Church.  I knew his parents to say hello, but I didn't know them well.  For years I thought that his father, Senior, was actually an older brother because his youthful appearance, intensified by his good genes, misled me.  The seemingly dramatic difference in the ages of Coach's folks was exaggerated by his mom's struggle with her choice of hair dye and wardrobe selections.  An older appearance than I'm assuming she desired became the unfortunate end result.

There were stories about how Senior behaved and about how his wife, Saint, tolerated it.  Senior often lost his temper.  He was opinionated and outspoken, occasionally causing embarrassing situations at his kids' sporting events.  I don't think I attended any of the basketball games when Senior lost his temper.  The reality of how this man conducted himself escaped me.

After spending much of the summer of '93 flirting, Coach and I eventually began to go out on legitimate dates.  About a month later, he returned to college.

Labor Day weekend, he returned home for his sister's wedding.  As his date, I met some of his relatives and a group of his college friends who were invited to the wedding.  My parents were also guests, and I stood chatting with them while we watched Coach pose for pictures with his family on a gazebo at the reception site.

The photographer arranged and rearranged his subjects and snapped many pictures.  Suddenly without warning, Senior peeled himself away from the center of the group.  'That's enough, I'm done,' he shouted over his shoulder as he marched off in the direction of the bar.  The many bystanders froze exchanging uncomfortable glances.  Coach's sister, the bride, was reduced to tears at her father's lack of cooperation.

The rest of that eventful weekend flew by as Coach and I  hit the bar scene with the out his out of town cousins and other guests after the early afternoon reception ended.  I offered to drive Coach to O'Hare airport for his return flight to school.

In 1993, individuals without tickets were still allowed to accompany passengers to their gate.  Coach and I selected seats off the beaten path while we waited for his flight to board.  The row of empty seats faced a window looking out at the planes taking off and landing.  Behind us a wall divided the small area from the rest of the gate.

We spoke in low whispers, held hands, and shared kisses in our little private corner of O'Hare.  When it was time to board the plane, we stood up and began to walk towards the counter.  Much to our surprise, an agitated Senior stood near the airline employee who was checking in passengers. 

Coach had forgotten to pack the remaining pills of an antibiotic prescription for a recent bout of bronchitis.  His Dad drove all the way to O'Hare to deliver the pill bottle to Coach.  He grew frustrated when he was unable to locate his son.  Never exuding patience, he had waited at the counter until Coach showed up to board the plane.  When he saw his senior in college approach, he slammed down the pill bottle on the counter with a loud bang.  He shouted, 'Get your shit together!' alerting most of the passengers in the terminal of his disgust.