Sunday, April 27, 2008

Back off, ice cream man!

Published April 27, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

As we head toward the beginning of May, I look forward to my first paycheck and my 5th installment of our new monthly tradition. Payday for me means payday for the kids. That’s right, folks, allowances have made their debut in the Wilson home. (And there was much rejoicing.)

The allowance thing has been a long time coming. I wouldn’t say I was ever dead set against giving my kids spending money each month. I plead ignorance more than anything. Prior to a few months ago, what I knew about allowances consisted of what I’d seen portrayed in TV and on film. Kid gets allowance…kid asks for raise in allowance…kid breaks neighbor’s window…kid must pay back window from allowance…kid seems to do fine despite being saddled with a nickname like Beaver. No offense to Ward, but there had to be more to it than that.

I had questions that needed answering, and I wasn’t sure I could trust a fictional father who couldn’t even remember his own kid’s name. I turned instead to the man in our lives…the very person who encouraged me to institute an allowance (he did get an allowance as a kid but was never referred to as a woodland mammal of any kind). After some much needed info, I felt confident enough to give this allowance business a try.

The kids and I agreed on a system of graduated allowance amounts based on age. I have no idea if they’re meager, fair, or exorbitant (I’ve had all three reactions from friends), but the good news about kids who’ve never gotten an allowance is that they’re happy with whatever you put into their deprived little hands.

We took the plunge on my first payday in January. I remembered to ask for cash back at the bank, changed that cash into smaller bills, placed it into waiting palms with a smile, and then turned them loose.

And then the ice cream man came. In January. In the cold. They can smell allowances, I think.
After three consecutive visits by the ice cream man, and the dwindling funds his appearances produced, I decided to be proactive and called a meeting to discuss a little money management. We talked about impulse shopping, budgeting, planning ahead, and the principal of supply and demand. We thought of fun and durable items each child could set money aside to buy. We talked about the ice cream man. “As long as he knows you have money,” I admonished, “he’s going to keep coming back. You don’t have to spend your money on ice cream every day just because he comes here every day.”

My newly taught pupils nodded their heads, solemn eyes conveying their understanding. I was very proud of myself. Then, the tinkling strains of “It’s a Small World, After All” could be heard outside. Five pairs of solemn eyes flew wide, and five pairs of excited feet raced for the Tootsie Roll banks.

“HOLD IT!” I hollered over the jingles and shouts, throwing my arms up to block their way out the door. “THERE WILL BE NO BUYING ICE CREAM TODAY!” I did the same the next two days, much to the consternation of my independently wealthy crew, until the persistent ice cream man got a hint and stopped coming. I have no idea if this is within the rules of allowance giving. Did I cross the line between teaching and controlling? Would they be better off learning the hard way that blowing their allowance money the first day means no money for a month? I’m giving it some thought. I may ask around. I’m not to the point of asking, “What would Ward do, but I’m close.

I’m trying to remind myself that we’re only 5 months into this new way of doing things. I’m sure some amount of crazy spending is to be expected from kids who’ve never had their own money before. (Actually, I’m sure a large amount of crazy spending is to be expected of kids, period.) As with all things, it’s a process. We have several years to perfect it.

That’s good news for one of my kids. He’s borrowed so much ice cream money from his sisters, it will take at least five years to pay it all back.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Five short columns

Published April 20, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

As I considered my options for the topic of today’s column, I performed a ritual I’ve done nearly every week since getting a cell phone with a memo feature. Listening to the 12 second recordings of the various column ideas I’ve stored over the last few months got me nowhere...probably because I’ve been listening to the same ideas very week since December.

I usually transfer the recorded ideas to my computer and erase the recordings to make room for new ideas. A super busy life combined with fast flowing new ideas over the past few weeks has kept the idea pool stagnant for too long, and I’m at a loss as to which one to choose. One thing is certain, though. The pool needs to be emptied and a column needs to be written. (Hmmm...that sounds like two things.)

Having no more time right now to transfer these ideas to the specified folder than I’ve had since Christmas, I’ve decided to do something absolutely ingenious. I’m going to write ALL the columns, in shortened form, and present them here for your reading pleasure! (It will either come off as ingenious or very lazy and stupid, but I’m banking on ingenious because it gets me more sleep.)

Column #1: "Caramel steamers are my new mommy." So, I decided to try a "coffee free" version of a tasty hot beverage at a local coffee shop the other day (um, in December). Apparently, when you take the coffee out of a Caramel Macchiatto, you create what they call a Caramel Steamer, a cup full of smooth and creamy caramel love. It’s basically hot milk and caramel and it’s at least a dollar cheaper than a "Coffee Free Caramel Macchiatto." I’m going to call it the MacchiNOTo from here on out, just to annoy them...and I’ll be waking up three times a night to have one.

Column #2: "The bad thing about sleeping in: the potential for bladder explosion." Moms can’t sleep in. It’s the most terrible secret of Momdom. I have nowhere to be on Saturday mornings, and I have children quite old enough to get themselves breakfast. You’d think Mother Nature would smile down on me as I lounge in bed until 9 or 10. Instead, I’m up by 7, convinced if I don’t make it to a bathroom within 30 seconds, my bladder will explode inside me and I’ll be stuck explaining it to the ER docs. Yes, I know I’d probably have an accident before my bladder would ever come close to actually exploding. At this point, I think the ER visit is preferable to that.

Column #3: "Mom de plume." Now, that’s clever! Show me a mom and I’ll show you a woman who’d like to change her "name" once in awhile. When you find yourself turning around ten times in the grocery store and you haven’t even brought your kids, you get the feeling the mom moniker has taken control. It would be great if every "Mom, she hit me!" or "Mom, I want that!" were balanced by a "Mom, you’re the best!" I’m taking matters into my own hands. From now on, every Saturday from 10 am until 2 pm, I’m going to hide in my closet under an assumed name. I’m working on a few ideas. I’d go by Sarah, but they’ve figured out how to use that one when I stop responding to Mom.

Column #4: "My car is like Christine’s annoying little sister." See, she doesn’t want to actually kill anyone. She just likes to irritate me. When I need to get into the driver’s side quickly, the remote access opens every door but that one. When I need to get something out of the passenger’s side and am glad the driver’s side door won't be unlocking, she unlocks that one. No, I don’t think it’s strange that I’m comparing my lock irritation with a homicidal fictional car possessed by an evil spirit.

Column #5: "Inside Maaaaaan. Richard needs to give me 75 thousand dooooooooollars." I have no idea what this means. It was saved to my cell phone at 1:25 am on March 15th. I hear my older sister, Maria, laughing in the background. This kind of misuse of my cell phone’s memo feature is highly unprofessional. I’ll be having a few strong words with myself shortly.

Unless, of course, Richard does decide to give me $75,000.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Published April 13, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

When I was in the 7th grade, I read the book Cheaper by the Dozen (no relation to the awful movies). It became an instant favorite, and I've read it many times since. One passage, in which the mother of these many children experiences a hospital birth for the first time (a product of the shift from home to hospital at the time), is particularly funny. Having never thought a hospital was necessary for such a thing, then being kept there a week, she immediately falls in love. Never in her life has she been allowed such repose, kept away from the incessant requests of her large brood and waited on hand and foot by caring professionals.

Though I thought it was funny, I never got that part of the book until this week. I have never been a lover of hospitals. I've always felt inpatient recovery is an oxymoron. I could never, ever imagine finding a hospital stay relaxing. I mean, they put you in the most uncomfortable beds known to man. They feed you food that's so bad it's very name has become the standard of bad food in conversation. They wake you up at regular intervals to give you pills, inquire about your "pain number," and poke you with things to make sure you're still alive. Who can relax in that kind of setting?

A single mom of five, that's who!

When I met with my doctor about the surgery I had this past Wednesday, he mentioned the procedures I was having were usually done on an outpatient basis. The deeply imbedded hospital hater in me nodded her understanding head and thought, that's good. Outpatient surgery makes sense...gets people home where they can really feel comfortable and get rest in their own environments. The single mom in me was near tears and thought, how in the world will I be able to recover at home with five kids to care for?

Fortunately for me, the doctor's next words were, "But you've got this blood disorder, and I'm just not sure how it will affect things. I'd like to keep you overnight to monitor you, if that's all right with you." I don't really know what my response was, because I was too busy saying a silent prayer that went something like, "Dear God, thank you so much for giving me Thalassemia which keeps me safe from malaria and keeps this doctor nervous. I will never complain about it again. Runty red blood cells and chronic anemia are fine by me! Please let my Italian ancestors in Heaven know how grateful I am for these genes."

I went away from that appointment nearly giddy, putting on a mask of appropriate annoyance or defeat whenever anyone expressed their sympathy over my plight. I'd hear things like, "You have to stay overnight? Tough break," or, "Oh, that's too bad," and I'd nod in a slightly sad way and say, "Yeah, but what can you do, right?" Inside, I'd be doing a little happy dance the likes of which would never do in polite company.

Truth be told, I didn't lose much more blood than the average person. I wasn't in a great deal of pain (my most oft reported pain number was, " there a number for just sore?"). I could have gone home the same day. The doctor even asked whether I thought I might want to. I replied, "Five kids." He responded, "Yeah, that's what I was thinking too. You should stay." I would have kissed him had this conversation not taken place over the phone.

My hospital stay was as I knew it would be. I adjusted my bed often, trying find comfort where none is possible. The food wasn't the worst I've ever had, but it was hospital food nonetheless. I was awakened every couple of hours and presented with pills and blood pressure cuffs. But...there was no six year old nudging her way into my bed at three in the morning. I did not have to lift a finger to prepare, serve, or clean up the meals, and the nurses were friendly and kind, and all the quiet hours in between were completely my own to rest as I saw fit. I might as well have been at the spa.

A day later, I can say I'm happy to be home. Being a typical mom, I'm wondering if I'll end up with some guilt over admitting how wonderful it was to be away from the kids for a night. At this point, I don't think it's likely. Everyone needs a break now and then, and as the sole provider, financially, physically, and emotionally, for my five, I think I've earned it.

Now, if I could just get my dentist to keep me overnight when he takes my wisdom teeth out...

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Proud to be TV free!

Published April 6, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

"Hey! Did you watch American Idol last night?" "Did you catch the last episode of Supernatural?" "Did you hear about [insert current event here]?" "How do you feel about the current presidential candidates?"

My answers to the above questions are no, no, no, and uhhhhhhh, respectively. Psssst. I have a secret. I'm in the dark. I'm out of the loop. I'm living in a proverbial (or is it metaphorical?) cave.

In January of 2006, prompted by the sudden need to drastically reduce my monthly expenses, I cancelled cable TV. Having no antenna and no luck with rabbit ears, that decision created a complete television blackout in my home. That blackout has continued for nearly two and a half years, and I have come to to following conclusion: This cave is comfy! I think I'll stay!

A few years ago, I would have been the last person to say that I, Sarah Wilson, could ever live without TV. People these days throw the "A" word around more often than is needed, but I can say without hesitation that I was addicted. I was addicted to The Amazing Race, ER, Survivor, The Apprentice, Medium, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and (am I really going to admit this?) Desperate Housewives. At this point, I don't even know if these shows are still on the air.

Kicking the TV habit cold turkey was a tough proposition for an addict. I initially looked for substitutes. I binged on every video and DVD in the house. I freebased TV show summaries online. I hate to admit it, but I went on a Lost bender one weekend when I saw all of season one at a local movie rental store.

The good news is that I've come back from withdrawal a new woman, very happy with my TV-free lifestyle, and I've found a new family in my house to boot. Gone are the glazed eyes, the drooling, and the shuffling steps of the Zombie Children. They've been replaced by the bright eyes and playful, creative minds of my kids today. (Actually, the kids made the transition much more easily than I did. In the insanity of withdrawal, I suspected body snatchers had stolen them when I found them contentedly coloring one afternoon. Fortunately for all of us, a friend talked me down.)

And Zombie Children they most certainly are not. Without the distraction of TV, my kids explore (my make-up). They create (new food concoctions involving garlic, paprika, raw eggs, and chocolate syrup). They invent (new uses for duct tape). They build (ever taller structures formed from couch cushions, throw pillows, and random food storage items). And they imagine. They dream. They laugh. They play.

There is a tiny downside to living life without TV. Current events aren't as easy to come by without the cable news networks. If new laws have been passed that affect me, I'm sure I don't know about them. If disasters have occurred far away or even close to home, I've been blissfully unaware.

The upcoming presidential election is a source of anxiety. I'm not nearly as informed as I usually would be this far into an election year. I'm ashamed to say I missed voting in last year's primary election altogether. I may have to invite myself to a friend's house to watch the debates (and the subsequent parodies on Saturday Night Live). I'm looking for alternative sources of information to rectify this situation as soon as possible.

If only there were some way to receive news and current events...and perhaps some comics and puzzles...on my doorstep every morning...