Friday, March 30, 2012

The Disconcerting Look of the Big Eyed Bunny

    Many a child has been traumatized by the big eyed bunny who represents Easter and is known to sneak around our yards at night, depositing eggs filled with tiny candies and golden coins.  As good moms, we thrust our children upon this wily creature, somehow forgetting that even we would veer away from the false lure of chocolaty goodness if it was brought to us by an over sized mutant rabbit with craziness in his eyes.  Because fun is the name of the game,  many a community leader has donned this heavy headed costume that instantly blocks their vision and demands absolute silence.  Unable to speak words of comfort to intuitive toddlers who instinctively know this is absurd, these bobble headed creatures approach our children like walking zombies and we all smile at the great fun that is taking place.   The young man in this photo is now seventeen years old and I've seen this same look on his face throughout the years.  It is a look that says, "What the hell are you thinking?"

    I saw the same expression on his face on his first day of Kindergarten. There were toy trucks, tinker toys, and a giant dog at home, so why was he in this strange place, with me pinning the number "4" on him and placing him at a table with three big eyed girls with giant bows in their hair?  In the same fashion as that bunny from the past, they spoke no words to him.  They just stared with big eyes and bobbly bows.  He clutched his box of crayons and gave me the same "Save me from the Easter Bunny" stare.  

Even the baby knew something wasn't right
    As years moved by,  I saw this look again as I placed him on Santa's lap, on the lap of a crazy uncle, right before a series of vaccines, and when we brought home a new baby. It's a look of uncertainty, mixed with trust for the one who put you in this situation.  It screams, "Are you really doing this to me?"
   This grave look of concern can be given or received.  A young girl, who is much like another daughter of mine, was recently at church practicing her role in the Passion Play, a very emotional production about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is the real meaning of the Easter holiday and has nothing to do with big eyed bunnies.  Because children are blessed and have not forgotten how to have fun in all that they do, she was overcome with joy (and good cheer leading skills) and learned the hard lesson that one should not cheer the Arkansas Fight Song during Passion Play Practice.  I'm certain she was on the receiving end of the Easter Bunny stare with the attached message, "What the heck are you thinking, girl?"   I know God smiled down from heaven because He knows kids are kids.  But moms and dads are good at sending this look across an entire congregation of on-lookers, making even the most joyful child settle down and get back to their lines or tending of sheep.

     As parents, many of us brought this look with us into adulthood and have honed this stare into a true skill.  One eye is clenched tighter than the other and one eyebrow creeps higher on our brow as we attempt to send telepathic messages to our loved ones.  I can look across an entire gymnasium full of people and my children instantly know what this look means.  They put their cell phones down, tuck their fight songs in their pocket and pay full attention.  My mother claims she can give this look from three states away and we instantly sense we are on the receiving end of the Easter bunny stare.  An immediate reassessment of our situation is conducted and we jump back on the right track.  

  As I look back at the pictures of my children with celebrated bunnies, Santas and situations of uncertainty, I see past the looks of concern, and take pleasure in the fact that their trust in me was greater than their fear of a deranged bunny, bearded stranger or series of recommended vaccinations.  Trust is built from birth and can get us through the most concerning of times.   It allows us to face the unknown with a certainty that good things are headed our way. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Wrench In Our Plans

    Past travel experiences have taught me that one cannot travel through security checks with more than three ounces of mouthwash, pointy scissors, nail files, lighters, or a half finished grande mocha cappuccino, no matter how tasty it is.  I am now highly aware that there are additional items that are frowned upon, as well.  This list includes a backpack full or wires and a giant wrench.   When you send that through the xray machine, you are guaranteed a free trip to a special area, away from passengers, who don’t travel with such odd items.  It’s certainly a genetic downfall that plagues my family as we simply can’t navigate the security checkpoints with ease.  
    On our recent trip to the Caribbean, my family began the three hour long boarding process on the Mariner of the Seas.  My brother had passed through the security checkpoint first.  It is not unusual for him to travel with enough computer equipment to operate a small business from his cabin.  This time he was traveling with a 27 inch computer monitor, several hard drives and a computer processor.   Most travel with an ipad or laptop.  Not us.  My son enters the line and sends his backpack through the screening stop and the conveyor belt shuts down.  The lady behind the xray machine yells, “We have a problem here.”   Without even looking, I knew it had to be us.  She pulls out my son’s backpack and removes a giant wrench, not unlike those used to build ships, or possibly take them apart.  It was retrieved from a bed of wires and cables housed within his backpack.  She looks at him and then immediately turns to the responsible adult, which would be me, and asks “Should I be concerned?”  I explained that he was a Disc Jockey and had obviously forgotten to take his tools out of his pack. We received a special escort to the island of misfit toys where his giant wrench joined a large collection of confiscated alcohol, lighters, and nail files.  We signed for our contraband material and then we were released. 
    I’m certain our on-ship profile includes a special note that we attempted to board with large industrial tools and enough computer equipment to attempt a small take-over of the ship.  My only goal was to get poolside with a fruity drink in hand, not reroute the ship or rob the casino.  Ironically, my friend Sam and I went to the casino and played the quarter slots where we managed to break the machine after hitting a small jackpot in the first few spins.  A gazillion quarters rained down and then the door of the unit popped open.  Quarter after quarter continued to trickle out until the attendant finally arrived to fix it.  He shut the door, banged on the machine a few times with his fist and secured the machine once again.  I hope they don’t think we did that with our giant wrench!   I imagine a second note was added to our family profile.   

    Upon arrival to Grand Cayman, my children left the ship and immediately sought out American food.  Within the first few minutes I had spent 420 Cayman Islands dollars on frozen lemon aid, mocha latte and a giant pile of french fries.   I should have been buying fajitas and pico de gallo, but I was toting around frozen Dairy Queen products.  As luck would have it, we had to enter another security screening station to reenter the ship.  While it is not unacceptable to bring drinks on board, I now know that you should not send a melted frozen lemon aid through the xray scanner.   I can add this to my list of things they frown upon, especially when it spills half way through.  I’m certain the notes on my family profile continue to grow and we’ll be lucky if they let us through any further check points.  There is the ship pool, though, and I can always stay there until we return home to the states and our giant wrench that waits at the port.  

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Vacation Fund

    My mother has always advocated hiding away little piles of money for a rainy day or possibly a Disney vacation.  Her vessel of choice is a small, white bucket that she places loose change in.  After retiring, she began making and selling gourmet cupcakes to friends and family.   The money earned from cupcake sales was placed in the bucket to wait for that rainy day, when it was needed.  I, too, have a bucket, but its contents have dwindled down to a partially filled tube of lip gloss and some quarters thrown in from doing laundry.   My bucket quickly became a community bucket where everyone reached for lunch money, cigarette money, movie money and more.   I realized that location is everything and that I might need to secure a different bucket and place it in an undisclosed location.

    Around Thanksgiving, my mother asked me to count her bucket money (a favorite hobby of hers) and as I passed a thousand dollars and still had stacks of twenties to go, I realized that people must really like cupcakes.   She suggested we pool our bucket money together and take a cruise.   This was a grand plan, except for the fact that lip gloss and quarters won’t actually secure passage on a real ship. It was time for a better plan. The solution… The Vacation Fund. 

    This cute ceramic container came with dreams of Hawaiian vacations and trips to exotic lands.  It was written on the outside, clear as day…. “Vacation Fund”.  How could I go wrong?  While the first container I used was clearly labeled “Folgers Dark Roast Coffee”, I can see how it was easily mistaken for everyone else’s funds.  I hid my new vacation fund container at the top of my china cabinet and tossed fives and twenties in as the days passed.  Unable to see the contents in the jar, I knew it must be turning into quite the little nest egg.    

    Cruise tickets were purchased with cupcake money and my vacation fund would be used to pay for the extras.   After comparing notes with other sea faring families, I discovered what those extras might actually be.  One family spent $600 on pictures and another had an $800 bar bill.  I can understand the bar expense if I had just learned that I owed $600 for pictures.    Excursions are extra and my mother insists that my daughter swim with the sharks.  I’ve explained to her how that particular activity is usually free and not actually a tourist favorite– it’s swimming with the dolphins that costs $200 a person.  Travel to and from the port is an additional expense and will include two vehicles on a nine hour drive with several stops at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store and Restaurant where we all become nostalgic and buy toys from our youth.  My son will procure a kazoo that will eventually be tossed out the window as we pass a semi and he has driven me to madness with kazoo tunes.  My daughter will have some dancing monkey or paddle ball that will fly back and forth from three rows back, hitting me in the head and breaking my sunglasses.  The cost for one trip to Cracker Barrel can be expensive when it includes emergency Optometric support.   All must be covered by the vacation fund.  "Extras" will also include several stops at gas stations that are more like mini-amusement parks than fueling stops.  We can easily drop $100 on gas, beef jerky, unnaturally colored drink products and foot long strands of red licorice that will be hanging from our mouths before we hit the highway.   

    Afraid to calculate the true cost of the extras, I decided to bring down the vacation fund jar and see just what size vacation it would be.  Surely those twenties had added up over the months.  In an almost ceremonial fashion, we gathered at the table and allowed my daughter to count the funds.  She pulled out a one dollar bill and I was certain it must have just been placed there on top of the stack of twenties.  Then came a five dollar bill.  With one giant smile, she retrieved the first of the twenties.  Unfortunately, it was also the last of the twenties.  My vacation fund had $26!  My daughter cheered at our new found wealth.  My mother laughed.  It looked like we would be swimming with the sharks!

    I secretly thanked God for the savings account at the Credit Union that could not be touched by those seeking theater tickets, nicotine or "Two Ball Screw Ball" frozen treats from the ice cream man.   I gathered  my funds that would enable me to head south to lounge poolside.  I instructed the children not to smile at anyone’s camera but mine.   If the ship photographer comes along, they were instructed to instantly make scary faces.  This plan would save me some money and allow the children to swim with docile mammals while their mother sits on the shore sipping tropical goodness through a straw.  It’s a good plan, I think! 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Business Is Good

Give a kid a camera and they'll take a thousand silly photos.  Give them encouragement and they'll set up an office, build a web-site, crank out audio-visual material and have you delivering dinner to them while they work.

At the age of two, we stuck a computer in front of our son and said, "Here, you can't tear it up.  Try every button and have fun."  He first met "Reader Rabbit", a Disney software character, who led him down the proverbial rabbit hole where he discovered his love of all things high-tech. While he was supposed to be learning phonics from this rabbit who threw random letters on the screen, Joey learned color schemes, layout and effective user interfaces. He just didn't know it at the time.  Knowledge of all things computerized came quick.  By the age of ten, he was banned from on-line gaming for real world trading and turned to building

his own web-site.   His toys had turned into capital purchases and were no longer the kind you can share with the neighborhood kids.  By the age of sixteen, he had an established DJ business and was playing for private parties and corporate functions around the state. Cheerleaders discovered his ability to mix music and soon started arriving at our doorstep for Joey to crank out original dance tracks.  Joey discovered that cheerleaders were nice customers to have around and that business segment thrived.  One Friday night, when I thought we were attending a football game to hear the music he had provided, I noticed my son out on the field with the coaches, filming the oncoming players.  He had no permission to be there, but he learned early that nobody questions a kid with a camera in hand.  He used his skills learned from one Reader Rabbit to create a "Media" badge and soon was spending every game out on the field capturing great shots of our team.  He was preparing the music for the cheerleaders before the game and getting paid.  He was filming the players and editing great plays for college application videos and getting paid.  And then he was DJing the after game dances and once again, getting paid.  This kid can figure out more ways to make money in a single night than I once made babysitting all summer long.

Business was booming and since cell phones aren't allowed in school, he was texting clients from under his desk during Chemistry and AP History.  This plan worked well until people began to drop their deposits off with the school secretary.  Once again, employing the philosophy that it's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, he found an empty closet at school and converted it into his office.  First time he called me from the school office, I just knew he was in the trouble until he explained that he was in "his" office.    Coaches began to see the value of his videos for their players and they never questioned his use of this unofficial office.  It wasn't long before the mayor discovered his talent and one day the police chief, mayor and Chamber of Commerce president came to the school to find Joey.  He wasn't in trouble for his unauthorized use of school space and secretarial staff.  Instead, they wanted to take him to lunch to discuss business.  I learned, just today, that instead of being in History class, he was busy working with a local business on how to promote their Wednesday Night Chicken Wing special.  I'm not sure how this will help when he takes his college entrance exams, but I feel it is a worthwhile learning opportunity.  While my funds disappear quickly and my 401K doesn't earn what it should these days, I figure I've invested wisely in the tools my kids need to be successful.

Someone asked me one time,  "How does he know how to do all of this?"  I think it's because he learned early that we trusted him with the tools placed in his hands.   And of course, he figured out that girls, in front of the camera, love the guy behind the camera.  That helps, too.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Making Time Stand Still

   I love the smell of airports.  They are inviting and give promise to fun filled journeys ahead.  My early days of travel were at the hands of my grandparents who were constantly putting my brother and me on airplanes across the country.   They wanted us to experience everything and made sure we had met the pilots, pinned on wings, and read the emergency cards so we would always be prepared.  By the age of five, I had a drawer full of wings and memories to go with them.  

   Once, after leaving the Las Vegas Auto Show, which in the 60’s was similar to attending the Oscars, we made our way to the airport, armed with toy slot machines and miniature roulette wheels.  Developmentally appropriate child toys, I might add.  I loved my little roulette wheel and somewhere at an airport in the Midwest, I dropped this treasure as I journeyed forward, hand in hand with my grandfather.  We changed planes and just as we were to take off, I realized my missing gambling device.  My grandfather ran to our last plane to search for my toy.  My grandmother and I watched from the window of the plane as the men below moved about the tarmac with flashlights.  She convinced me that they were all frantically looking for my toy.  It took me forty years to realize that wasn’t probably true, but I enjoyed the belief that my grandfather stopped time just for me and everyone had one single focus.  That only happens a few times in one’s life.  Just before the door to the plane closed, my grandfather jumped in with a tiny, red roulette wheel in hand. 

   We flew all over the country, but we always returned to the Indianapolis Airport which was near our home.  I’m uncertain, now, where we were returning from, but it was icy outside and as we trudged through the open parking lot to the giant Cadillac that waited for us, I looked down and spied something shiny in the snow covered ice.  I took my boot and dug it out only to discover the ugliest, metal watch in the world.  It was, in fact, an old lady watch.  It was dead and was certainly beyond repair, having been buried in ice and driven over multiple times.  I cleaned it off and tossed it in my tiny jewelry box when I got home.  And there is sat.

   Move the clock forward forty something years……  Christmas was upon us and when asked what I wanted, a good watch came to mind.  I suggested a Cartier, until I discovered the price.  I’m more of an $80 watch kind of person.  The shiny Cartier that caught my eye was $4000.  It would stay in the catalog. I remembered the watch I had found as a child and wondered if it might still be in my old jewelry box that was housed in the top of my mom’s closet.  I wandered over to her house to take a peek and found great treasure waiting for me there.  Inside this box was a tiny necklace with a miniature 7-up can on it, a wide leather wrist band with flowers on it, an add-a-pearl necklace that must have lost importance when I reached the age of 11, and one silver looking watch with 42 rhinestones on it. 

   I picked the watch up, admired it from the perspective of an older woman and not a child, and thought how pretty it was.  I had hoped it would say “Cartier” on it, but it only read, “Hamilton.”  I had never heard of this company.  I flicked it to see if the battery might kick in and nothing happened.  Realizing there was no battery, I pulled the pin on the side and carefully wound the springs inside.  Like magic, the hands began to turn after forty years of silence.   I took the watch to a jeweler who quickly realized I had no idea what I possessed.  He opened the back of the watch and tiny red, ruby jewels sparkled in the light.  He offered to buy it from me for $1500 and I suddenly realized that those rhinestones weren’t rhinestones after all.   I took my prize home and did further research to learn that I had been sitting on a Lady Hamilton Diamond Platinum watch from 1909 complete with diamond bracelet.  The asking price for such ranged from $3,500 to $9,000.   I realize the value of anything is only what someone is willing to pay for it, so I don’t actually believe I have $9,000 around my wrist, but I do have quite a story, which is worth more than any of that.

   I’m keeping my watch, wearing it proudly, and wondering whose wrist it fell from as they trudged across the airport so many years ago.  I wonder if their husband, father or grandfather, stopped time to try to find this lost item like mine did.  While they never retrieved their missing watch, I wish I could place it in their hands today.   Can you imagine the surprise?  It is in mint condition, minus the tiny scrape on the face, which I won't replace because I believe the small imperfection may have come from my boot when I dug up this treasure so very long ago.  It is a direct connection to my youth.  It took an adult perspective to appreciate what I had and while time stood still for forty years, a new pulse beats from this watch that is now over a hundred years old. I suppose there is a time and place for everything and sometimes things must wait until the need for them is understood and fully appreciated.

Early Retirement and the Great Resignation

        At the age of 57, I stared at my 35 year career, whispered a polite thank you to the heavens and hit the send button on my retiremen...