Monday, June 22, 2015

"You can take the girl out of the city, but...."

Forgive me. I haven't been posting lately as my life has been whizzing by at warp speed. This spring (2012) I was preparing to retire. Boy was I looking forward to that day. Not that I haven't enjoyed my career as a university professor because I have. It's the greatest job on earth. Beautiful surroundings, interesting colleagues and students, exciting conferences both in and outside of the country, etc. However, since four of my grandchildren came to live with me in 2008, I have been up to my PTA with kid activities and responsibilities. Anyway, I built my home in 2004 some 50 miles from Montgomery in one direction and Auburn, Alabama, in the opposite direction. It's located in a Lake Martin development with rolling hills, lots of ponds, and four seasons, including a beautiful fall with splendid leaf colors of reds, golds, and orange from September until late October when the first cold winds start to blow through. Now mind you, I always considered myself a city girl. At the age of three my family moved to Daytona Beach, and while it was small at that time, Daytona had plenty of Yankee visitors (I myself was born in the Midwest)and even visits from famous entertainers. I recall that my best girlfriend at the time invited me to go with her to her dad's hamburger joint "Kirbys," located just outside of the Daytona 500 speedway today so that we could sit in the seats that Elvis Presley and his entourage occupied when they came to perform in Daytona Beach. He really was there with his band and his pink Cadillac. From Daytona Beach, my family moved to Winter Park, Florida, which adjoins Orlando on the north side of the city. Winter Park still is a small, compact, town, with high-end shopping where all of "the beautiful people" come to see and be seen. Orlando, on the other hand, was a small city without definition in the pre-Disney days. Nevertheless, we only had to drive a few blocks to experience great shopping and a selection of restaurants, as well as visit friends in one of the surrounding neighborhoods of suburbia Central Florida. If we needed a hospital, it was four blocks away, as were banks and other elements of suburban life. I walked to school, picking those ubiquitous closed-petal hibiscus flowers from the hedges that lined the walkway to school, because as every 11 year old in Florida knows, those flowers had the sweetest nectar at the stem. So when I accepted a position with the Auburn University system to teach one of its graduate programs that was only offered in the capital city of Alabama, Montgomery, I found myself in somewhat of a unique place. Alabama in many ways really epitomizes the "Old South." Montgomery was the first capitol of the Confederacy and its beautiful large white government buildings reflect the grace and grandeur of structures reminiscent of ancient Greece and Rome-both of which are part and parcel of our current legal system. In Alabama, one needs to know the unwritten codes of behavior in order to understand the what makes native Alabamians "tick." Alabama's southern food is rich in calories and tradition. Its people are among the most savvy when it comes to politics and business, but with a souther flair that often belies their sharpened skills of persuasion and determination to prevail in all things. When I built my home some fifty miles from both Auburn and Montgomery in seemingly "the middle of nowhere," I never dreamed that this would be the place where I would end up raising a second family. But four of my grandchildren came to live with me in 2008, just four years after my house was completed. It was a wonderment to me that folks actually chose to live in a little house or mobile home tucked away back in the rolling hills of central Alabama, which was only accessible by a narrow red-dirt road. I'm not sure today, that I truly understand what it means to grow up in a rural community, but my "kids" sure do. While I'll never lose my love of city living, the four children who came to live with me know nothing else. Rural life can be a blessing when rearing children. All four are very involved with school and after school activities. They know everyone in our one-stop-light-town and everyone knows them. It is still a place where a young boy can build a fort and walk down paths to the lake and fish with friends. As for me, it didn't hurt that I had taught (graduate school) a third of their teachers who always felt comfortable sharing the kids progress with me. Yes, rural life is good. I just wish I could have driven around the corner and picked up that gallon of milk I always seemed to need!

PROMANIA and other Frightful Experiences Grandparents Aren't Fit For!!!

Well, where do I begin. It's prom time, you know, that time of year where life is suspended for weeks on end until the dress is purchased, tux fitted, flowers ordered, and the new camera is purchased. With two attending prom this year, my budget is "tanked." The granddaughter wants a dress that no other girl could possible purchase and wear to the same dance. I informed her that outside of a world-class designer her chances would be considerably reduced. I suggested that since she was a size 00, she try to find a dress that no one else could fit into. My grandson had his own ideas about what kind of a tux he should wear. I was relieved because I figured "how expensive could a rental tux be?" Wrong! It can be very expensive when the tux in question has to be all white with white patent leather shoes in order to match the dance theme--"dancing in the dark." The white ones, of course, are twice as expensive as the standard black tuxes. His first lesson in economic theory--supply and demand. More than $500 later, they were both outfitted and flowers ordered. I must say, both of my lovelies were breathtaking. Fortunately, the mother of Jake's (grandson) date had made arrangements for a photo shoot at the Shakespeare Festival Theater. Whew! One less thing I had to do. However, I was responsible for Taylor's photo shoot. Now please understand, I didn't give her the nickname Madam Wu for no reason. Wu was called "the first woman emperor" of China for a good reason. She and Machiavelli I'm sure were kindred spirits! Taylor, or Wu as I called her at times, wanted a first-rate photo book of the occasion, but wanted to tell the photographer exactly what shots to take. Sorry Wu, it doesn't work that way. To say the least, the photo shoot was a contest of wills. In Wu's favor was the fact that the child has never taken a bad picture. God gifted her with a drop-dead gorgeous face and figure. Even her brother several years after the prom commented to me one day as we were driving, "you know Oma, Taylor is really a knockout, but when she was in sixth or seventh grade, I didn't hold out any hope for her in the looks department." Good thing that I had the car under control. Owing to the fact that Jake rarely made a favorable comment about one of his sisters, so I found his words to be toooooo funny! It's been three years since that particular prom and Taylor's prom book lies on my coffee table at my home in Florida. I would give a lot just to go back in time and relive prom day with my two "babies."

Monday, March 12, 2012

Bedsores and Broomsticks

Hi everyone in Bloggerland. Sorry to have abandoned you for the past few months. Like Rosalind Russell said in "Auntie Mame," I can't possibly be a wife, I'm too busy being a mother," so it goes with me. I can't possibly be a grandmother, I am far too busy being a mother. I have bedsores on my bottom from sitting in the driver's seat of my car schlepping this kid or that kid to something--softball games, softball practice, baton, or soccer games in far away places such as Birmingham. Just this past Saturday I reluctantly crawled out of bed at 5:45am, washed my face and brushed my teeth, I think, then made my way to my suv. When my four grandchildren came to live with me, the first thing I needed to do was to buy an suv so that I could cart them, all of their sports equipment, and friends, all over creation. So, my sleepy-eyed 16 year-old grandson placed himself in the passenger side of the car and immediately nodded off while I sped ahead to the school's field house in order to pick up his new soccer uniform along with one of his soccer buddies. A group of boys and girls huddled outside of the field house waiting on the coach to show up. They, of course, were riding the school bus to Birmingham for the games unlike Jake, my 16 year old, who convinced me that he really wanted me to see him play. Just between us, the real reason that he wanted me to go to Birmingham was so that he didn't have to "ride the smelly bus" (his words). Riding in Oma's car also had other advantages like being able to quickly pull through McDonalds and jump back on the highway. I must say that watching him play made my heart quicken just a bit. He is so tall and handsome. I ruminated that this is how potters must feel after they have crafted an elegant plate or bowl from an unformed block of clay. However, Jake remarked to me the other day that I talk about him as though he were one of my portfolio investments (now don't get excited, the "portfolio" is massive in his mind, but in reality, as my grandfather often said, "if chicken were 3 cents a pound I couldn't kiss a hummingbird's behind)." I told him that he was my investment. He is the future. I suffered through raising his mother (my stock market crash) so that I could invest heavily in him and his future. Just like many grandparents, I often wonder if we couldn't skip the kids and go directly to grandkids. Oh the promise of cloning. Anyway, Jake took my words with a grain of salt. As for the soccer game, a grand time in Birmingham was had by all, especially me. We drove home, the boys slathered themselves with sunburn ointment, and crashed. I, of course, got out my broomstick and began to fly around the house with my hair on fire wondering why the girls left their hoodies on the floor in the foyer, sticky pecans with yellow cake crumbs on the kitchen counter, and the ever-present-mountain of white towels on the bathroom floor. I checked to see if my backside's integumentary system was intact, then shuffled off to bed with dreams of seniors-only cruises drifting in and out of my subconscious.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Teenage Taboos--parents, grandparents, and the dreaded sex talk.

It seemed as though I woke up one day and my grandson (you will recall that four of my grandchildren live with me) had grown six inches taller and his voice sounded funny. I dwelled on this new awakening and it hit me like a bolt--he's clearly in the middle of puberty; you know, that strange age when that cute little fellow with a fishing pole in his hand is facebooking for hours on end and with a certain secretive look in his eye. Around the same time my 13 year old granddaughter came into my bedroom one night and said "Oma," "yes," I said. "I think that I have a problem, I think that I started ......" to which I simply pointed to my bathroom door and said, "I'm prepared. You will find supplies under the counter. Let me know what works for you and I will stock up." Boy did she breathe a sigh of relief. She headed off for the bathroom then on her way to the living room she said, "don't tell mom." I said, "OK." You see, Taylor is a highly private person, unlike me. I am noisy and will tell anyone what they want to know. Keeping secrets in my estimation is just too much work. Now that doesn't mean that I am likely to say something like "no I don't like your new hairdo, it makes you look like a freak," but it just means that most things don't require secrecy on an FBI level as most teenagers think. When you get to me my age very few things are shocking. Anyway, what about the topic--sex talks with teenagers. The fact that two of the four kids who live with me are in the throws of puberty, I figured that I should talk to them about sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Without airing ALL of my dirty laundry, I should tell you that they have seen plenty before they came to live with me. I wasn't sure what they knew, what they wanted to know, or what I should tell them. I remember hating the sex talks with my mother, a former nurse. I got the clinical explanation first, followed by a welling of tears in my mother's eyes as her quavering voice told me how my life would be ruined if I didn't listen to her warnings about sex. Gosh, no wonder teenagers hate sex talks. Drugs too. Surely there must be more pleasant topics; however all the health magazines and TV shows say the same thing--talk to your kids about sex and drugs. So as I tried to think of a good approach, I said to myself, "Karen, how did you talk to your kids about these topics?" I thought real hard and recalled my coversation with my then sixth grader Jamee. As the eldest child, I wanted to get this parental chore just right. We were visiting my parents summer place and Jamee was in the bathtub. I thought, ah ha, perfect time. I walked into the bathroom and sat down across from the tub and said to her, "Jamee, you're getting older now and I suppose there are some questions about things that you want to know, but haven't asked," to which Jamee said, "no, I can't think of anything." So I turned up the volume and said, "I'm sure if you just think about it you will realize that at your age, things in your life are changing (how cryptic is that?) and you would like some answers." "Nope," said Jamee. "Can't think of anything." Feeling deflated, I just sat there and looked at her with one of those piercing looks that only parents can give. She must have realized by now that she was expected to come up with an answer that was pleasing to me as a parent. And well she should. I was sitting there waiting to be an A+ mother and she was not cooperating. After a period of silence, she said, "well, there is one thing that I have been wondering about." RELIEF! Now I get to be a really good mother; one with all the answers to life. I said, "go ahead Jamee and tell me what's on your mind." "Well," she said, "I've always wanted to know what the term Environmental Control meant." I braced myself from falling off of the stool and answered her with the most sober face that I could muster, left the bathroom, and decided that I wasn't competent enough to talk about sex matters with teenagers. But now, here we go again. A second set of kids to raise with the same needs. But alas, I am older and wiser. Besides, I really lacked a burning desire to talk about sex with anyone, much less a fourteen year old. So as the two topics--sex and drugs--loomed in my future, I devised a new approach. I would wait until I went to the dentist's office and my Gyn's office to set my plan in motion. The first opportunity came when I went to the dentist for a routine cleaning. As I sat in the waiting room, I scoured the rack with informational pamphlets. I gathered the one entitled "Meth Mouth," which showed a young girl with rotting teeth and deformed gums. Voila! Just what I wanted. I took one and stuck it in my purse. The next pamphlet was entitled "Tongue Piercing." That one was terrific. Swollen tongue, description of surgical procedures to repair the damage. Excellent!!! Just for the heck of it, I threw in a few others on healthy gums and teeth whitening. When I got home, I simply threw the pamphlets on the counter with the mail. When the kids got off of the bus, they all clammored into the house, plowing around the kitchen looking for something to eat as I was preparing dinner. As I knew they would, they spotted the stack of pamphlets on the counter, walked over to them thinking that perhaps they were advertisments offering something interesting to buy like snowboards, or Xboxes, or whatever. My grandson picked up the first one and said "OMG, what is this?" I innocently said "what are you looking at?" He replied, "this picture of a rotting mouth, where did you get this?" I said, "Oh, it's just some stuff the dentist had in his office, I was looking for information on teeth whitening and just picked up a bunch of pamphlets out of the rack." "Well," he said, "this stuff is awful." I said, "what do you mean?" "Oma, this is stuff about meth and tongue piercing, it's all gross." It had the effect I was looking for when my granddaughter--a hippie wannabe--said, "what's that Jake?" To which he said, "It's a bunch of junk that Oma brought home. It's gross. She needs to throw it away." "Wait a minute Jake," said Taylor. "I want to see it." Success I thought! "Oma," said Taylor, "look at this picture, this girl's teeth are falling out." I replied, "well, if you think that's gross, you should see the brochures at my Gyn's office on venereal warts." As I turned from the stove to see where the kids had gone, I notice that the Dell mini was missing from the counter. Isn't the information highway wonderful?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What grandparents won't do for their grandchildren

Well here's the deal. Over the past several years I have taken my four youngest granddaughters to the American Girl doll store in Atlanta in January for their birthdays. In the same car mind you. I did this because it is something I would have liked to do if they would have had American Girl stores when I was little. Two of the birthday girls were actually born in January, while the other two claim October and April for their birthdays. The cousins usually have a great time and I end up renting two suites at the Mariott right behind the store so that we can just stroll over there when we like. It is a fun weekend with madcap shopping for dolls and accessories, then eating at the American Girl cafe with dolls in highchairs at the table with us. In the evening the girls stay up to all hours playing with their dolls and things, then we head back to Alabama the next day. Great fun! This year, however, I decided to treat them to snow skiing. Mind you, none of us except for my grandson Jake has ever snow skied. Well, I did actually twice. Once at Sundance, Utah and once at Mittenwald in Bavaria. These events were 20 years ago, so they don't count. On Friday, January 21 (Karen's b'day is the 20th and Nicole's is the 22nd), we loaded up and headed for Mentone, Alabama. Mentone is located in the N.E. corner of the state and borders Tenn and Georgia. The ski run is short, but plenty of snow. We stayed in a chalet that smelled of many generations of mold families. The kids didn't care and were excited about skiing the next day. We must have looked like the Klampetts from the TV series as none of us had proper ski attire except for Jake. We didn't care, we just trooped over to the ski lodge (a shack with a fire pit in the center), paid an ungodly sum for our skis and lift tickets, put on our stuff, and went to ski school. There must have been 20 nubies like us. The first one to graduate was Nicole. She hit the pony lift and was off like a pro. Unfortunately, she sprained her ankle after an hour or two and had to go to the ER. I managed a couple of runs down the slope in the pizza pie position (beginners learn this as a stopping method). At least I didn't fall, but I must have looked ridiculous. Taylor (the 14 year old) did fantastic, while the two little ones, Karen and Madalyn, wanted me to pull them up the slope and then let them ski down. Now I will tell you, this is where you find all of the muscles that you lost over the last 40 years. Foregoing anymore skiing, I ended up helping them onto the pony lift, running in my ski boots up the hill and snatching them off the lift before they got to the top, then turning them in the right direction so that they could ski down the hill. After a day like that, I took an Ibuprofen, ate nothing, and flopped into my lumpy mattress in chalet heaven. I was counting my muscles the next morning as I tried to pull out of my twilight sleep, staggared to the shower, packed the car, drove home, and wondered why I thought this was a good idea. Then I uploaded the pics that I took from the ski trip. Kids smiling as they tried to ski, happy faces standing on the deck of the chalet, and little ones and big ones, flying down the slope without a care in the world. Then I knew why it was a good idea.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ruminations and Retirement

Just happen to be ruminating about my retirement plans. I've been in retirement mode for some 30 years now, plowing money into a portfolio, buying and selling property for a profit, working at a state-level job with those wonderful state pension plans, etc. Feeling sorry for myself these days because who knew that when I was approaching retirement, the economy would go belly up and also that I would inherit four kids to support as well as my adult daughter (though I must also say that she works full time as a hairdresser and is doing much better than even my predictions) who is struggling to build up a clientele, I started to think about my parents and grandparents and asked myself how they made it through the hard times. My parents were depression era kids and so growing up I heard "turn off the lights," "eat everything on your plate, kids in China are starving," and "no you can't do this or that, we only have enough money to go to the drive-in theater with homemade popcorn." I can't even remember how many times I heard my mother tell me the story of her father, my grandfather, a likable fellow named Angus, who quit school in the third grade and by the age of 10 was working in a lumber camp in the north woods of Michigan. Seems that during the Great Depression, he supported my mother and grandmother by going to a warehouse in Flint, Michigan, and buying what he called "little stuff," to trade or sell. The "stuff" that he purchased were things like chore boys for the kitchen, little sewing kits, small household items, etc. Then he went to the dump and picked through the glass bottles. He brought the bottles home, scalded them in a galvanized wash tub, and then pasted labels on them. One set of bottles he filled with homemade vanilla, which my grandmother made in a laundry tub and the other set was filled with white liniment for whatever ailed one. My grandmother made the white liniment as well. I'm sure it cured most ailments because it smelled powerful. My grandfather would load up the car and drive throughout the Michigan countryside trading for meat and vegetables or selling what he could for cash. He stayed out for about a week at a time, plowing through farm country. He was always a talker so I am sure that he loved every bit of the challenge.  My mother remembered that when he came home on Friday nights, there were crates of chickens tied to the running boards of the car, while the trunk and backseat were loaded to the rooftop with potatoes, onions, apples, and other assorted vegetables as well as good ole fresh farm eggs. They didn't have much of anything during the Depression, but they ate well and even shared their bounty with neighbors. It is with these stories in my memory bank that I ask myself, "do I have what it takes to make it through the tough times?"

Saturday, December 4, 2010

First Post - How it all began

Ya know, I struggled financially as a young person like many of you. When my first child was really really young, my biggest thrill in the world was the day that I bought a pair of cheap tangerine colored (I can't believe I would pick anything like that, but oh well) 63" curtains for my apartment with a brass colored rod. I thought they looked beautiful with my beige, second-hand, plastic sofa that graced my first apartment. I was only 19 when my first child was born so money was practically non-existent. Struggle, struggle, and four years went by. I now had my first home (bought without any help from parents at the age of 21) and a second child. Divorce from husband #1 loomed ahead. After my divorce, I married my former junior high and high school boyfriend. Wow! I thought, now I can get some traction and move forward in life. Bought my second home at age 26 and had my third and last child. I went to nursing school and worked for four years part time and raised my children. Did all the usual--drove three kids to music lessons, kung fu lessons, dance lessons, etc. Kept head above water, but that was about it. Three kids and no money. Somehow I made it until the kids were middle teens and then, you guessed it, my high school boy friend, now husband, decided that he needed a sports car and a teenage girlfriend. Fast forward twenty years. Kids are grown and doing well. The third, a girl went off the rail after the divorce and could not pull herself together for a number of years. While all three kids had their ups and downs, they are all working and struggling like the rest of us to get ahead. There aren't enough blogs to cover all of the experiences we have been through, but I intend to insert tidbits of the ups and downs in upcoming blogs as I blog about what it is like to raise grandchildren and try to prepare for retirement at the same time. One caveat: I am currently a university professor who also happens to be a parent and grandparent. I have taken off the somber robes of the academy and am just wearing my jeans and pullover to write this blog. I hope that it is humorous, readable, and engaging. If anyone anywhere learns anything from it, it's unintentional on my part. I just want to share with you what it is like to raise grandchildren as it can at times and at the same time be both a blessing and a curse. Most of all, it is great fun and a real privilege to play such an important role in the life of a child. See you tomorrow or whenever.