Sunday, April 24, 2016

Minimum wage

As we wait at the end of our driveway for the school bus to arrive, my daughter paces around, scuffing her feet just enough to kick up loose gravel.

Hands in her pockets, shoulders inching upwards, her posture braces against the crisp air, giving herself protection from the wind the way a jacket with a tipped-up collar might have ...

If she'd worn one ...

I won't pick that battle, nor the one that should present itself an hour later when I stand out here with her brother, who will undoubtedly be wearing shorts.

The truth is I like being out here. I like that she still lets me stand beside her, cracking jokes and making a silly spectacle of myself when the mood strikes.

I know these days are numbered.

These days most of her friends require a buffer zone between their too-cool selves and their hot-mess parents.

Not her. Not yet, anyway.

She fixes her eyes on the ground and kicks up another pebble. It glances off the grass and disturbs a clump of wild violets.

Even though there was no harm, she recoils as if the rock had hit her.

"I didn't mean to do that," she says, apologizing to the weed.

She's fond of its purple flowers, she tells me, noting the pretty petals are closed up now because of the morning chill, but will open fully to greet her when she steps off the afternoon bus.

She's taken an interest in them because the lawn has recently become her "chore."

A chore for which she is paid handsomely.

For twelve years she has led an existence unencumbered by responsibilities other than the most basic and pressing:

"Feed the cat before she eats the walls."
"Clean your room if you want your friend to come over."
"Feed the cat!"
"Pick up your stuff."

But mostly her job has been this one, solitary constant –
"Feed." "The." "Cat!" – and a series of prodded peripherals. “Could you please, for the love of sanity, put your dishes in the sink?!”

Thusly, her economic situation has been financed by saving up Christmas cash and birthday money instead of an allowance, and cute-faced begging.

But that's getting old. She has needs that I don't see as such and therefore refuse to finance.

See we had always planned to give our children jobs, but we couldn't decide whether we should pay them for household tasks.

"I don't want to pay her to do her own laundry or the dishes, or setting the table," my husband interjects. "She shouldn't get paid for ... "

"... doing the things I will eventually do for free when I get sick of waiting," I finish his sentence.

And there's the rub: without the incentive of recompense, and in the absence of near-constant nagging, three out of four humans in the household have been miraculously oblivious to the mess.

Until now.

Now, since she's short on cash and big on shopping, she's been noticing things that need doing:

Loading and unloading the dishwasher.
Washing and folding laundry.
Cleaning bathrooms.
Raking leaves.
Mopping floors.
Vacuuming carpets. …

But it's her father who has the big jobs.

Building fences.
Welding ... stuff.

"Two-fifty an hour for housework," we agree after some negotiation. But her little brother, acting as her agent, wasn’t satisfied. "Five bucks an hour for general carpentry and landscaping. That's my final offer."

His intervention was worth the extra portion she’d shaved off her dessert that evening. We would have paid more; she would have settled for less.

And I have to admit, not being the only one who cleans the cat box would be a bargain at twice the price.

But twice the price IS calling her toward my husband’s directives.

Mom. … Can you pick up some grass seed next time you’re out? There’s a patch of lawn I want to fix.”

I think I may have to rethink my minimum wage if I want to keep her.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Heads Up

The subject is Animals.

And we are failing spectacularly.

“Ohhhh … wait … I know!” I say reading the words on the screen my daughter is holding up to her forehead. “It's another name for a bison.” *crickets* “Spicy chicken wings are called this.” *blank stare* …. It a place people shuffle off to?” *Blinking blank stare*


For pete's sake, BUFFALO! It was Buffalo!

She groans, gets up from the comfortable chair and hands me the game device. I push a button, it starts to tick and I hold it up to my forehead facing her.

Now it' was my turn to guess the clues.

Uh … You play this is a band.”
A guitar!”
No the other thing.
No the thing that sounds like a guitar but is a fish.”
A bass?”
But it's a fish so you can't tune it.”
A bass?

Ding Ding Ding … We have a winner!”


Now the boy wanted in on the action.


I hand over the phone.

This time, let's try Acting it Out!” says my son, whose internal mute button often seems to get tripped during times of high excitement.

He just can't get the words out fast enough.

But then … as he hops around and acts out the phrase that is hanging over my head, my internal mute button activates, too.

Everything he pantomimes looks like “Monkey,” and I know we've moved on from animals.

It's a monkey!
It's an ape!
It's a baboon!
Is it a primate grooming another primate?
Oh my ghaaad. NO! No already! It's not an animal. It's dad clipping his toenails.”

Dad, who didn't want to play, and who was trying to mind his own business holding down the couch positioned just a few feet away.

How come I am the only one in this house who clips his toenails?” he asks a little dejected. “And why do you always make ME look like an ape, when it's your MOTHER who insists on trick-or-treating in the gorilla costume.”
Enough from the peanut gallery,” I say to my husband, who can't see from his place of repose that his son has twisted his face into a mean little prune. “Let's move on.”

So for the next sixty seconds I miss interpret Gymnastics, Winning the Lottery, and Defusing a bomb.

After which my daughter tries but can non convey Getting married, Receiving a shot, and Pole dancing.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Snow-day give-aways

Even before a carpet of white landed with a thud on our elongated spring, my daughter had been snowed-in for days. Tethered to a mountain of quilts with unlimited access to WIFI, she had hunkered down in her room like a weather-weary ground hog.

She ventured out for meals (if you can call scrounging the kitchen for snacks "meals"); and phone calls; and twice-daily showers, one of which served to provide deep-conditioning treatments for her ever-lengthening locks and to clog up the drain with aforementioned "gunk."
I don't want to give you the impression she is self-sufficient.

She'd find me and make requests for provisions. We are out of celery! And shrimp! And those chips that taste like bacon!

I smile a tight little smile and lift my shoulders and hands in unison. "Oh well …"

I try to give her space.

Time ticks forward. Her brother takes up her space with a double volume of noise.

But every now and again I miss her voice and pre-teen presence (as shocking as it seems,) so I wander into dangerous territory to make contact.

I stood by her door and listen for sounds of life.

Mostly I hear teenaged voices narrating the opening of packages and the excited recitation of the things that are within. I gather she is watching videos, and has been for hours.
She scoots over when I walk in, clearing room for me to sit down. She shifts her tablet to the center. For better viewing.

"OOOOH ... this is AHHHHHHMAZING! I love the colour!!!!" A disembodied voice says from behind the camera.

I gag at the pronunciation of European spelling.

Or maybe the sour taste in my mouth was from the flavor of bacon macaroni-cheese potato chips she had offered if I'd just close my eyes and open.

It all leads me to believe that most of what we think of as growing up might be based on a dare.

But she doesn't expect me to understand ... Because I am old. And set in my ways. And have no need for make-up to accentuate my otherwise ghastly appearance.

I've peeked over her shoulder on occasion and found bubbly blondes in blemish-free surroundings gushing out superlatives.
What am I watching?” I ask my daughter.

She just points to the screen, and, as if on cue, the vlogger explained:
The rule was that we could send each other ten cosmetics that would cost a total of about $25 … or we could send more or less. Or it could cost more or less … it depended on the translation of the dollar … or something. I don't know. I'm so exCITEed!!!!”

I look at her. My tight little smile returns.

She looks at me. Her eyes prime for a full summersault.

"I just don't understand. Do people really enjoy watching other people open boxes and describing the contents? It seems like watching paint dry."

She just smiles my tight little smile and lifts her shoulders and hands in unison. "Oh well ..."
Are we at an impasse?

Is shutting off the internet all I have left at my disposal?

I think not.

I pull out my phone ... and in seconds I find her.

A pretty girl, sans makeup, giving a tutorial about how to make backpacks for Syrian refugees using three tools and yards of reclaimed materials out of the rafts they swept in on.
It's just a small thing. But it makes a big impact.

"See ... this is a girl thinking outside of the box."

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Power-lifting may tend to corrupt

My head was pounding. Adrenaline was rushing through me, raising my blood pressure and heart rate. Sweat beading on my brow. I couldn't breathe. My muscles twitched as every fiber of my being seemed to seize and contract.

This anger feels like a workout.

See, I have been on the phone now three times trying to cancel my gym membership. And each time I heard the same response.

You must come in and sign a form in person.”

It wasn’t inertia keeping me away. It was a sign that the owners had plastered to the front door of the club. A sign that seemed a harbinger of all that could go possibly wrong in a world filled with fear and firearms.

Guns are welcome on premises. Please keep all weapons holstered unless need arises. In such a case, judicious marksmanship is appreciated.”

It wasn’t a joke.

As I waited for a return phone call, I seethed. I should have ended this relationship last summer when news surfaced about a shooting accident at this very gym. The owner himself fumbled a gun, and, in an attempt to catch it, sustained a minor wound. Lesson learned. Or so I thought.

That’s what the police report said, anyway.

I had averted my eyes that time because I thought caution would prevail. But this sign reminded me some people prefer to throw caution to the wind.

My phone rang, Finally. The owner. His answer was more of the same: You must show up in person coupled with the assertion that he’s trying to work with me. These are just the rules I refuse to follow. Stop resisting.

But I didn’t want to go back. I didn’t want to set foot in a place where grunting people in sweaty clothes were now welcomed to bring their guns as sidekicks. 

And I certainly didn’t want to face the man with the gun. Especially now that he was reading me the riot act over the phone, saying I was the one who was threatening him. … All because I’d promised to let Better Business know there are probably better businesses.

All I wanted to do was cancel my membership. I didn’t want to cut off someone’s life support.

But I also wanted to stop being a doormat and a bystander. That skinny kid who gets sand kicked in her face.

I didn’t want to accept the threat of a cancellation fee that should have already expired on my mature membership. I didn’t want to accept the idea that a paper trail was necessary to end a service that no longer suited me. I certainly didn’t like being threatened with collections if I directed my credit card company to stop making payments.

As I listen to all the barriers being erected in the way of my departure, I fell disbelievingly silent. Why would a business owner prolong the inevitable? For his pound of flesh? Why am I trying to reason with irrational?

I just didn’t want to belong to a club that would have guns as members, why did this feel like breaking up with the worst boyfriend I never had?

All I could come up with were these three words …

You. Are. Insane.”

Which I said aloud, and which I instantly regretted.

Not that I have any medical objectivity to level such a diagnosis, the power struggle playing out over the phone just struck me as being an exercise in futility. 

I just didn’t want to belong to a club that would have guns as members.

I should have been nicer. “You get more flies with honey … didn't your mother tell you that?”

Nope. My mother was a realist. “Flies will flock to the smell of death, too. Who wants more flies?”

So I took the path of least resistance, held my breath , walked through the gun-welcoming door and signed the paper. Lesson learned.

It was time to lower my impact. Power-lifting – like power itself – might tend to corrupt.