Tag Archives: Parenting

My El Capitan, “Actually”

Driving

By Jack Edwards

I belong to a pot-bellied demographic that doesn’t need to seek out thrills to satisfy my desire for excitement. I don’t need to climb Yosemite’s El Capitan free handed, run with the angry bulls or skydive from the edge of space to feel the rush of adrenaline. You see, I’m teaching my 15-year-old to drive. My daughter Emma has a “strong sense of self” and pretty much declared after her first lesson that she was good to go. Unfortunately, as much as I dread clinging to the passenger seat and praying for just one more day of precious life, I had to insist on additional lessons to fine-tune a few essential skills. Little things, like not ramming into stationary objects. My work continues, and the status of my situation can best be described using a term you hear a lot  at the US War College: fluid.
Things got off to a rocky start. At the beginning of Emma’s first lesson, she hopped in and began situating herself – not by positioning the mirrors, but rather the stereo. I, still clinging to the hope that I might survive the experience, flipped the stereo back off, only to be met with the type of reaction you might expect after zapping someone with an electronic cattle prod. Emma, with the type of energy only a high school sophomore can radiate, quickly and excitedly explained that the stereo helps her concentrate and, “actually” would help her drive safer (or more precisely, “Music helps me concentrate, actually.”) This is the same logic she uses when she studies, but because my life is not in immediate peril of slamming into an oncoming semi in those circumstances, I acquiesce. Here, no can do.
Timing is still an issue. One minute we are sitting at a stop sign waiting for a vehicle that has the right-of-way bearing down at a distance of three miles away – a speck on the horizon, really – enough time for us to finish our lesson and put the car back in the garage before it arrives. Sea creatures have crawled up on the shore and evolved legs in less time than she sometimes declares the road clear to turn. However, don’t let this apparent sense of over caution fool you, because the next minute she’ll see a light turn from green to yellow one town over and she punches the gas to try to make the signal – only to be deterred by my high-pitched shriek of terror.
The biggest mystery is her parking technique. My daughter has proven extremely consistent in her parking. She manages to turn into the spot and put her right tires directly onto the right divider line. Not occasionally. Every time. She’s 100%. Like a pirate lacking depth perception because of his eye patch. She has what I call Pirate Parking.
One thing I have to give her credit for is her ability to adapt to the changing environment. Case-in-point, and I don’t know why, I routinely tell her to turn right, when I mean left and vice versa. Not only does she know what I mean, which as I have said is the opposite of what I’ve told her, she usually just ignores my mistake. But when she does correct me, she does so politely, at least for a high-schooler, “It’s right, actually.”
Side note: If you are a person of faith, desiring to lead a diehard atheist to a belief in God, try letting them take your daughter on a driving lesson. They’ll be applying for seminary by the time they pull back into your driveway.
Well, I gotta go. It’s time for another lesson – actually.

Surviving the Blue Gatorade Tsunami

IMG_5724

By Jack Edwards

My wife recently informed me that I’d volunteered to help out at a fundraiser. This has happened before. So far, I had narrowly survived these bouts of my wife’s generosity of my time. In this case, they needed parents to staff the concession stand at our daughter’s school during a football game. Some vague percentage of the profit would benefit some vague aspect of her cross country team – perhaps paying off the coach’s gambling debt. (Official Lawsuit Avoidance Notice: My last comment is a joke. I don’t know if the coach even plays Go Fish. The fact that he was observed sitting at the high stakes Baccarat Table at Caesars last summer proves nothing.)

It turned out that my wife had volunteered both of us. She signed us up the same night as friends of ours, who for the purposes of this column I will refer to as “Lisa” and “Dennis” because their names happen to be Lisa and Dennis.

I decided to put on a happy face. If my wife was willing to devote her time to the cause, heck, the least I could do is stand shoulder to shoulder with her. My respect for her dedication to the cause continued to grow right up to the point she disappeared. Yes, the day before the event, she hopped on a plane and took off. (Some lame excuse about needing to attend a board meeting of an organization that helps needy children in foreign countries.)

I decided to do the only thing I could. I started practicing my cough. When you call in sick you have to slip in at least one authentic sounding cough, two if it’s a really important event. This was a one cough event. Unfortunately, my wife was one step ahead of me. She had somehow developed an inkling that I might skip out. This was perhaps due to my negligently telling her that I was planning to skip out. She contacted Lisa, and they jumped into action like tag team professional wrestlers, only instead of climbing up on the ropes with folding chairs and flying off to body slam me, they used text messages.

Defeated, I showed up. To my surprise, the time flew. My shift started at 7:30, and before I knew it, I looked at my watch and it was already 7:35.

I was relieved to find that Dennis was not given a candy-related assignment. I felt very strongly that his selling candy would be a direct conflict of interest. You see, Dennis is a dentist – a Pediatric Dentist. I would have had to have intervened.

My assignment was to stand behind the guy taking orders at the window, and when someone ordered a drink, to retrieve it. Only I didn’t need to listen to every drink order, because every drink order was the same. We had every soft drink available, but the only drink anyone ever ordered was blue Gatorade. I don’t drink Gatorade, but if I ever do, I’m going to drink the blue flavor. They must put crack cocaine in it or something. We sold gallons of it. By then end of the first quarter of the football game, we had to call the Gatorade hotline for emergency reserves. Three forklifts worked in unison offloading pallets of blue Gatorade though the back of the concession stand. We were ceremonially placing the bottles in the cooler and then retrieving them before their temperature had dropped a degree. We were serving lukewarm blue Gatorade. And the masses were guzzling it down like camels.

So, once again, I survived my wife’s generosity. But I sense that wherever she is right now, I may be volunteering for something even more challenging. So I’m doing the only thing I can. I practicing the perfect cough.

My Middle-aged Marathon

Marathon

By Jack Edwards

Few things are more fundamentally wholesome than a high school fundraiser – a bake sale, a bottle drive, or, in the case of my daughter’s cross country team, a forced run of out-of-shape parents over a grueling 5K race course. And if you aren’t a runner or haven’t used the metric system lately, five kilometers in miles equals three heart attacks and a stroke.

Some number of years ago, a group of demented high school runners at my daughter’s school, which should remain nameless, so I’ll only reveal its initials – Sheldon High School, hatched a cunning idea. These young minds, with as yet undiagnosed psychotic tendencies engineered a scheme to recruit unsuspecting and wholly unprepared family and friends to participate in a 5K run at the bargain price of $25, or $5 per “K.”  And, like a fungus, it spread.  I personally found out that I had signed up three days after I had signed up.  One little problem – I had not “technically” run in 35 years.  The good news was that I had four days to train.

The first challenge I faced was that the closest thing I had to running shoes were a pair of leather wingtips, which feature all the impact absorbency of granite. So my wife took me (yes, like I’m ten) to a specialty running store.

A female clerk approached us and asked if she could help. Of note is that it was 100 degrees outside, and she was wearing a giant stocking cap.  No, it wasn’t 100 degrees inside, but it was like talking to someone at the North Pole who was wearing a bikini.  She told me to walk across the room while she kneeled down like she was lining up a putt – except she was looking at my feet.  Understand that I had no idea who this woman was.  I wasn’t 100% certain she even worked at the store.  Then she stood and announced that I was rolling my ankles.  She told me that the solution was a pair of running shoes that will push my retirement back three to five years.

Upon arriving home, I immediately announced that I was going on a run. My run consisted of bolting from my driveway like Prefontaine and maintaining a blistering pace for a full five yards before remembering that the final remnants of my knee cartilage parted company with me during the Carter administration.

Finally, the Big Day arrived.

My wife and I arrived for the race thirty minutes early. People were jogging around warming up.  I walked slowly to the check-in table, strategically reserving my energy for the race.  I signed in, they issued me my “bib” (the paper number you pin to the front of your shirt so they can confirm you came in last).  After a period of milling about, we lined up (or really “grouped up”) behind the starting line.  I positioned myself toward the back, so I wouldn’t get run over by all the skinny moms who had a take-no-prisoners gleam in their eyes – one of which was my wife.

The race was pleasant enough with the high school team members lined up along the race to make sure we didn’t accidently veer off course and end up sitting in a bar someplace. Their common refrain being, “Keep it up!  You’re doing great!” which was code for, “We can’t believe you’re still alive!”

I managed to “finish strong.” I blazed down the homestretch into the shoot like a lightning bolt as a result of my clever strategy of walking long stretches of the course along the way.  As proud as I was with my performance, however, next year, I’m begging them to hold a bake sale.

 

My Dad’s Weekend Extravaganza

Dad's Weekend

By Jack Edwards

My daughter attends a university which is conveniently located two thousand miles away. This year, I didn’t think I’d be able to attend “Dad’s Weekend” until the last minute, which meant that scheduling flights was a challenge, but luckily, I was able to book an airline itinerary which only included 25 legs. The good news is that when I finally landed in Tulsa, it was raining.

My daughter belongs to a sorority at Oklahoma State University, the name of which I cannot disclose, but its initials are Kappa Kappa Gamma. She and her sisters took preparing for this weekend very seriously. Meetings were held. Plans were made. They agonized over how they should best use those precious final few hours on the Friday evening before their fathers arrived the next day. Then they put that plan into action. And that plan involved attending an all-night toga party.

If you look up “Dad’s Weekend” in the Encyclopedia Britannica, it says: “The visit a father makes to his child’s college, where he experiences both PTSD flashbacks and a deep longing to be a student again.”

The big day began with a complimentary lunch at the sorority house. It was a football game day, so the menu was tailgating fare. Hotdogs, hamburgers, traditional sides. It was all every tasty and lovely. At the same time, as I munched down my meal, I couldn’t help but calculate the cost of my hotdog at just north of $20,000. (But who’s counting?)

Later we attended the game. Security at Boone Pickens Stadium was tighter than a tick in a pig’s ear. The security lady at the front entrance made me lift my baseball cap. She thought I might be hiding something. I’m not kidding. She made me show her my bald spot. Though in her defense, my bald spot is getting pretty shiny these days, and I’m sure that a clever terrorist might be able to configure a chain of strategically placed middle-aged men throughout the stadium and bounce a laser beam from one bald spot to another, building up a concentration of energy that led to a horrific catastrophe.

Following the game, a traditional problem emerged. Both parent and child want to take off and recreate into the late night hours, but, for too many reasons to list, certainly not together. And that instinct is for the best. Case-in-point is a friend of mine who I will refer to as “Tom,” because his name happens to be Tom. Tom attended a Dad’s weekend at his daughter’s college in Minnesota. He decided to join in his daughter’s postgame celebratory activities. And he, being the only celebrant over the age of 21, ended up buying the beer. What happened next is best summarized in the arresting officer’s police report: “As smoke billowed out of the upper window of the apartment building and a flood of inebriated occupants fled into the night, emergency first responders heard a low crying sound emitting from the building. They strapped on their respirators and reentered the blazing structure. Once back inside, they discovered a small herd of pigmy goats trapped in a rear bathroom. All the goats were treated and released.” Tom later pled down to a misdemeanor charge of Animal Endangerment and got probation. His law license was suspended by his state Bar association for 90 days.

All kidding aside, Oklahoma State University is a first rate institution. And Kappa Kappa Gamma is, in my bias opinion, the finest sorority in the country. But I’m not kidding when I repeat that that hotdog I cost me $20,000. It’s a good thing that it went down smoothly.

Parenting Fundamentals – Lesson One

Cow Final

By Jack Edwards

Parenting is difficult. It requires numerous skills, not the least of which is gazing into the innocent little eyes of your child and lying. But, unfortunately, not everyone is born with this skill, it takes practice.

When my wife and I were preparing for our first child, we bought a copy of Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care Book.[1] One big problem – nowhere in the book does he explain how to lie to your kids. At first, I thought our copy was missing a page. Did he just forget? Was his editor hung-over the day he proofread the manuscript?

Before any of you purists climb onto your high horses, I’d like to take you on a walk down memory lane. Here is an example of how my parent’s lying to me played a critical role in my development. To do this, I must introduce Brownie the Cow.

I grew up in a logging town.[2] We had a few acres, and my parents bought calves which we raised. We named each one, and my favorite was Brownie, who, not surprisingly, was brown. One day Brownie mysteriously disappeared. Coincidentally, our freezer became brimming with beef. When I asked my mother where Brownie went, she made a critical error – SHE TOLD ME THE TRUTH! The tears flowed like Niagara Falls.

Fortunately, I wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. Each time I sat down for dinner, I would tearfully ask, “Is that Brownie?” And my mother answered in a steadfast voice, “No.” Now, that’s what I call responsible parenting.

Later, I was able to observe my oldest sister, put these skills to good use. In her young adulthood, she found herself with two kids and an unruly dog. Now, I cannot state the following with what one might call “actual knowledge,” and I was the one who bought that Brownie story night after night, but I’m pretty sure what I’m about to tell you is another example of “good parental lying.”

One day I visit my sister and the dog is gone. My young niece and nephew explain to me that it went to live on a farm. Keep in mind that this is in Oregon. The zoning laws are draconian. Land use regulations prohibit people from buying a few acres and starting a little farm. As a result, there just aren’t that many farms. So right off the bat, I’m suspicious. I’m young and single at the time and have no kids. I haven’t pondered the importance yet of lying to children. So I express my skepticism to my young niece and nephew. And WHAM, my sister slams into the conversation like a marine hitting the beach at Normandy, strongly attesting to the accuracy of the farm story. Then the kids, sensing that Mom is under siege, chime in with their support. I push back a bit, grilling the kids, then let it go.[3]

So, here is the short and sweet on laying on the baloney to your kids: Keep it tight. Any unnecessary details will come back to bite you later when you mix them up: “The dog’s on the farm.” And, a flat affect greatly enhances believability: “No. It’s not Brownie.” In conclusion, Dr. Spock’s brother Mr. Spock would agree that there are times when lying to your kids is absolutely the right thing to do. In fact, it’s logical.

 

[1] No, not that Spock. That was “Mr. Spock” from Star Trek. Dr. Spock was Mr. Spock’s younger brother.

[2] Refer to Wikipedia for the meaning of the word “logging” and its role in our nation’s formerly robust economy.

[3] “No,” they had not seen the farm. “No,” they were not told the location of the farm.

Three Secrets to Successfully Confronting an Ugly Baby

 

Baby Final

By Jack Edwards

I have never served in the military.  I have never experienced the nightmare of fighting for my life in hand-to-hand combat.  But I have experienced my share of struggles.  Not of the least among them is the unspeakable horror of confronting an over-exuberant parent brandishing an ugly baby.  Okay, save the lecture.  Yes, I know every baby is precious, sweet, dear, priceless, et cetera, et cetera, blah blah blah.  I get it.  But let’s face it, a certain percentage of babies are born with mugs better suited for showing at the Westminster Kennel Club than a suburban mall.  No.  I’m not talking about YOUR BABY.  YOUR BABY is shockingly adorable.  The cutest baby on the planet.  The cutest baby ever to grace the earth.  YOUR BABY emits an ethereal glow of beauty, and indeed, if I may add, a sense of grace.

But I think you’ll agree with me, that at least once or twice you’ve been left speechless after being blindsided by a baby closely resembling Rocky Balboa – after the fight.  Fear no more.  Jack is here with three simple techniques to glide you safely through your next encounter.

Number 1:  Stop.  Remind yourself of the first universal truth of parenthood – Every parent thinks his or her bundle of joy is the Gerber Food Baby.  Not most, every single one.  This means that whatever you say, no matter how patently absurd it may seem to you at the moment, it will be eagerly accepted by the parent.  They’ll lap it up with a spoon.  They’ll start nodding in agreement the minute you begin laying on the baloney.

Number 2.  Go for it.  Lay it on as thick as frosting on a Christmas cake.  Trust me, it’s impossible to overdo it.  Some lady wanders up to you with a baby that looks like a gorilla?  Fire at will: “Wow, she’s the spitting image of the Mona Lisa!”  “Have you considered contacting a baby modeling agent?  This little gem has got a career ahead of her!”  Have at it – you’ve got complete immunity!

Number 3.  Remember the FAILSAFE.  This is the technique you must immediately engage in the event of an actual emergency.  Practice it like an airline pilot practices for an emergency landing.  Here is the scenario: There are cases, although rare, that upon meeting an ugly baby, you are struck absolutely speechless.  Without hesitation, engage the three-step FAILSAFE procedure.  Step 1: Relax.  Do not panic.  Step 2: Continue to breathe as normally as possible.  You will need as much oxygen as you can get in order to improve your odds of surviving the encounter.  Step 3: Lock onto, and embrace the word “sweet.”  Force it through your teeth.  Keep repeating it.  Put it in difference sentences, but don’t stumble or lose focus.  “What a sweet baby.”  “She is so sweet.”  “I can’t believe how sweet she is.”  The more times you repeat it, the easier it becomes.  Then, once enough oxygen has reached your brain and you’re beginning to feel more relaxed, toss in the word “precious.”

Side note:  All of these techniques work equally as well for grandmothers, although use them with caution with grandfathers.  Especially ones named Bud.

That’s the lesson.  Thank goodness, none of this applies to your beautiful baby. What an angel.  Have you considered contacting a baby modeling agent?  You’d make a bundle!

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Tips for Lying – Lesson 1

Final Fibbing or No

Every major civilization and religion throughout history has frowned on lying.  And I wholeheartedly agreed – generally speaking, that is.  Nevertheless, I was taught that if you are going to do something, do it well.  Take pride in it.  Give it 100%.  It is in this spirit, we begin Lesson 1.

Whether you are 14 or 40, few skills are more important than effectively lying to your parents.  Remember, not everything is about you.  Not everything is about your needs.  There are times when you need to put your parents’ wellbeing ahead of your own.  Is it really going to do them any good to know the real reason you didn’t get home until 3:00 a.m.?  Do they really need that kind of aggravation?  I’m not saying you should lie often, but the occasional white lie, or fib as it were, has its place.  Think of it this way – it’s a win-win.

Tip #1.  When concocting a whopper designed to relieve you from attending school for the day, attention to detail is critical.  For example, never feign illness by simply saying: I think I got food poisoning.  While food poisoning is an excellent choice of illness, because unlike the flu, you can announce later in the day that you have recovered and go out with friends, the lie lacks the necessary specificity.  Your parents are far more likely to believe you, and grant you that much needed day off, if you say instead: I think I got food poisoning from the expired Tuna Helper I ate last night.  This statement directs your parent’s attention away from you, and to the Tuna Helper.  And even if they don’t think the Tuna Helper is the culprit, they will immediately begin painstakingly cataloging everything you’ve eaten in the last 24 hours.  The key is to get them thinking about anything other than you, and how completely un-food-poisoned you appear.  And also why all your dramatic retching, to put it bluntly, isn’t producing any actual vomit-like substances.

Tip #2. You may have heard the old adage that the three most important things in buying real estate are location, location, location.  A similar principle applies to the delicate art of lying.  Please write this down: “Deny, deny, deny.”  Practical examples:

  1. You are confronted with three eye witnesses accusing you of lying?  Deny, and state emphatically and without hesitation, “They must really hate me.”
  2. You are confronted with incontrovertible video recorded evidence that you are lying?  Deny, and say while scratching your chin in contemplation, “Wow, I guess they really can doctor any electronic recording these days.”
  3. You are confronted with DNA evidence linking you to the scene of a crime?  Deny, and reveal your darkest secret, “I have an identical twin who was stolen at birth.”

Homework (due prior to our next lesson):

Develop and successfully implement a detailed and believable lie which gets you out of attending an unpleasant family function, such as visiting Great Aunt Jennie at the old folks’ home.  Note: Up to half credit available if you are caught lying, but effectively deny it.

Next lesson:  Tried and true methods to land your dream job by lying on your resume.  Bonus material: How to expand on that lie during your interview.

Thank you for enrolling in this course!  Trust me, these techniques really do work.  Would I lie to you?

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Seven Secrets You Need to Know to Hire the Right Lawyer –

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Five Reasons Miley Cyrus Should Adopt Justin Bieber

Miley and Bieber Child

The hoopla surrounding Miley Cyrus’ artistic performance at the Video Music Awards show is quickly dissipating.  Experienced media experts predict her foam finger will stop making headlines in only three to five more years.  Unfortunately, I missed the VMA show.  A scheduling conflict prevented me from enjoying this year’s program — I had to clean the lint from my dryer.  But like Michigan mosquitoes in July, Miley’s spectacle was impossible to ignore as it swamped the mainstream media.  I was practically forced to watch it at gun point.  Having now seen it, and as a marginally responsible adult, I call on all other marginally responsible adults to step up and assist this wayward young woman.  And by this, I mean encouraging her to adopt a child.  But not just any child.  Justin Bieber.  There are five reasons.

First, it would provide both Miley and Justin with much needed media attention.  Each has been “acting out” as of late.  This may be due to their wallowing in the shadows of less talented musical performers for too long.  Living in the shadows with pent up talent is a recipe for disaster.  Justin’s adoption could prevent another explosion… of bad taste.

Second, Justin could use positive guidance.  According to the tabloid headlines I am forced to march past when I buy my groceries, it appears that the fresh-face tike has gotten irascibly sassy as of late.  He could use the solid grounding that someone like Grandpa Billy Ray could provide.  They say that the proof of the pudding is in the making, and all you have to do is look at how Miley turned out…. ummm.  Okay.  So, let me switch to another tired phrase: Second time’s the charm!

Third, being a single mom has done wonders for so many millions of American girls, and there is no reason it wouldn’t have the same character-building effect on Miley.  It’s unlikely that she’d have the energy to offend millions of viewers after helping Justin with his homework and overseeing his household chores.  In no time at all, we’d be enjoying a performance of “Miley Unplugged.”  As a side note, I think I speak for America when I thank MTV for giving us “16 and Pregnant” to help promote the benefits of teenage single parenthood.

Fourth, it is unlikely to require the display of very much nudity.  It’s not even likely to require the faux nudity that the 13-year-old producers of this year’s VMA show hoisted upon Miley.

And last, the arrangement would finally allow television producers to make good on creating that semi-retro comedy series they’ve bantered about for years: “Leave it to Bieber.”  Oh, the jocularious hijinks those two could present given 30 minutes a week (well, 20 minutes after commercials).  We’d all be lapping it up like hogs at the trough.

I’m not saying that Miley shouldn’t first consult with her father, Billy Ray Cyrus, to make sure he was “cool” with being a grandfather.  It would be a big change for him, what with all the little league practices and fishing trips.  But it would be something that Billy Ray and Miley could enjoy together.  It would strengthen their bond.

So there you have it.

Is it too early to set the TiVo for next year’s VMA show?  I fear the lint in my dryer is building up again.

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Seven Rules for the College Playground –

https://buff.ly/2IqXxgn

Seven Secrets You Need to Know to Hire the Right Lawyer –

https://buff.ly/2roFIov

 

No Mud Balls on the Menu

No Mudballs on the Menu

It doesn’t take long once your oldest kid enters those joyful teenage years to realize that, for all practical purposes, you have unwittingly engineered a panhandler into your home.  Sure, the kid doesn’t carry a cardboard sign saying, “Anything Helps!  God Bless.”  (Frankly, most parents wish their kid would throw in a God Bless now and then).  Another difference being that many of them are deeply antisocial and struggle to interact in normal society – the teenagers I mean.  Other than that, they’re DNA twins.

At this stage, fathers begin reminiscing to their children about their first jobs.  Stories to inspire their children for the rough road ahead.  I was no different.  At every opportunity, I interjected a comment about one job or another, often to my little panhandlers chuckling in response.  They baahed like sheep, “Daaad!”  It was ancient history.

My mini lectures featured three jobs of my youth.  The first was carpet shampooing.  Not normal carpet shampooing, like driving a van to somebody’s house and cleaning some old lady’s living room while she shuffles around and fusses and you do ten minutes of work.  Then she offers you a piece of rhubarb pie.  Not hardly.  No, my shampooing job at the ripe old age of way the hell too young, was shampooing dormitory carpets at a local state university.  This is in the summer, so the buildings are empty.  Floor after floor, building after building.  Conservatively, a billion square feet of carpet.  The good news was that this was before state institutions were required to pay the federal minimum wage.  So I was raking in like 18 cents an hour.  At least I received training my first day.  Some old guy who moonlighted as Father Time pointed his boney finger at this honking machine that I had absolutely no idea how to operate and said, “There it is.  Soap’s in the closet.”  It wasn’t until late that first morning that I realized the shampoo was supposed to be diluted at a ratio of one cup per gallon of water.  Until then, I didn’t know that water played any part of the equation.  Yeah – pure shampoo concentrate.  I must have burned through ten gallons by the time the light went off in my head.  Thirty years later, the place probably still smells like shampoo.  (This is why you don’t save money hiring untrained labor.)  My second job was advertised with a very specific description: “Manual Labor Needed.”  Perfect, I thought, I can do manual labor, anything’s better than subminimum wage shampooing.  The screening process was intensive.  I was hired about one nanosecond after I called the number and said the first half of my name.  I was told to show up at a house in a suburban neighborhood.  Once there, our boss, a guy who announced that we would get paid in cash at the end of the day, directed me and three other young laborers to the backyard.  We walked around to the back and then stood in awe.  The boss never explained how a mud ball pile the sized of Mount Everest got there, only that we needed to move it to a truck out front.  At first we tried using shovels to pick up the balls and put them in a wheelbarrow, but it didn’t work.  They were too sticky.  We were left with no choice other than to actually grab these basketball sized mud balls and set them in the wheelbarrow one by one.  We looked like creatures from the black lagoon by the end of the day.  So, at that early point in my life, I’m thinking, this is it.  I’ve hit the bottom of the mud ball barrel.  But I’ve always been one to reach for the gold ring.  And unfortunately, I managed to grab it.  The local school district was remodeling a building.  In retrospect, a chiropractor must have been on the school board and actively engaged in the planning.  Our task was clearly designed to exact an almost intolerable amount of pain from us “construction assistants.” I use this term loosely because those of us who were fodder for this particular cannon weren’t helping to construct anything.  We were actually cogs in what I have ever since referred to as the Human Conveyer Belt of Rubble.  Numerous brick walls were demolished in the building’s basement, thus leaving piles of old brick with abrasive angles of 100 year old mortar still attached to them.  It was reminiscent of the mud ball job, only with stairs and without a wheelbarrow.  We piled bricks into two five gallon buckets and then hauled them up to ground level.  I’m not sure what was worse, climbing up with the crushing weight of a bucket in each hand, or walking back down for another load, which created just slightly more mental anguish than waterboarding.  You may have seen this type of activity if you are a fan of films depicting mid-fifteenth century China.

With my children well versed in the mental, physical and financial challenges of entry level teen jobs, I stood back and waited to see how my oldest child fared.  What indignities would arrive at her doorstep?  And then it happened.  Her first job.  The horror of it.  All I could do was shake my head.  No shampoo, no mud balls and certainly no Human Conveyer Belt of Rubble.   Much to my crushing expectations, she landed a job as a hostess at an upscale restaurant.  Not only was it devoid of cancer causing chemical agents, dirt and debris, it was required to be so.  It was inspected by the government to ensure it.  And she was earning well above minimum wage.  There was only one thing I could do.  When she came home after her first shift, a grin on her face no less, there I was standing just inside the front door holding my sign:  “Anything Helps!  God Bless.”

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