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Road Trip Rules

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I had to psych myself up to get back in the car this summer for another road trip. It goes without saying that children in a car for any extended period of time results in crankiness, hunger, and boredom. Ever since the size of my family grew, we began to drive everywhere. After we had our first child we realized the small fortune it cost to fly was the equivalent of feeding our family for months. Hence, we drive everywhere.

The youngest of our five children feels deprived. She is happy to share with anyone who will listen that she has never been on an airplane. She has never gotten the chance to wait in long lines, get stranded in airports, miss connecting flights, and contract thousands of germs inside a claustrophobic cabin with recirculated air. How sad.

There is one consistent problem with driving everywhere. I do not love the way my husband drives. It’s as though he is on a mission every time he gets behind the wheel. He wants to get from point A to point B in the shortest amount of time and feels he needs to conquer the road and anyone who gets in his way until we arrive. I attribute every strand of gray hair on my head to his driving.

For the sake of my nerves and basically, for the sake of our marriage, I choose to distract myself while he’s behind the wheel. My favorite thing to do is nap. He will tell you when it’s his turn to drive that everyone takes a nap. It’s true. You could hear a pin drop in our vehicle.

I also have completely strict and selfish rules while he’s behind the wheel. He can listen to music only while wearing a headset. I prefer he use the headset in only one ear so with the other he can hear our children repeatedly ask, “How much longer until we get there?” And, “Dad. Dad? DAAAD! I have to go to the bathroom.” (He tends to tune that last one out.)

This is also how he is granted permission to listen to the GPS system. For a few trips he had it set to a voice called “Boy Band” that sang every direction it gave. When our family first discovered this voice option it was hilarious. That lasted for about the first 20 miles or so. After that, the kids and I were completely annoyed every time we heard the Backstreet Boys sing, “Turn left.” It got old rather quickly.

I’ve since gotten into the habit of wearing earplugs. This is because I have bionic mom hearing. I can pick up any voice or sound, no matter how quiet, within a substantially wide radius. It tends to be a blessing and a curse. It was completely useful when our children were babies and now it’s useful with two teenagers and a college student. The downside is that I barely sleep. I’m always listening for the car to pull up in our driveway so I can breathe a sigh of relief that my children are safely home.

When it’s my turn to drive the rules drastically change. This greatly annoys my husband. The minute my butt hits the driver’s seat I suddenly feel the urge to talk…about everything! I feel instantly chatty and like I haven’t seen my husband in days. And, since the kids and I have been napping in the blissful silence, we are ready to listen to loud music, sing in a variety of pitches, and dance in our seats. It’s a party in a car.

After 20-plus years of driving across the country, we finally came up with a solution to my one-sided rules. Now when it’s my turn to drive, our teenage daughter sits in the front passenger seat because teenage girls are rarely short on words. We delve into conversation and sometimes sing (although a little more quietly) while my husband attempts to nap in the backseat. Never mind that he is squashed between a cooler, an oversized bag full of snacks, pillows galore, blankets, backpacks, one teenage son, and two little girls with enough stuffed animals to fill a zoo. Basically it’s a win-win.

 

(First published in the Atchison Globe 7.30.16)

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Roughing It

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It is clear God did not create me to suffer in any way. The other day my husband and I needed to borrow a truck to load something. My husband said he would just borrow one from work. I immediately asked, “Does it have air conditioning?” We were driving quite a ways and it was going to be a really hot day. I’ve learned from past experiences with my husband to not assume certain things. He assured me the vehicle had air.

We got in the truck. It felt like 110 degrees and once you have lived in Arizona you are clear on what that temperature actually feels like. My husband turned the air on. It blew hot air. Not the hot air that turns cooler after a few minutes. It blew the hot air that would only continue to blow hot air forever. I began to sweat immediately and we had not even left the parking lot. I started to have flashbacks from my childhood.

Growing up in Arizona, my father refused to turn the air conditioning on in the house until the temperature hit 105 degrees. (Not even remotely joking.) Friends would invite me to their house instead of hanging out at mine because it was so uncomfortable. If my sister and I ever complained, my father would say, “You don’t even know what roughing it is.” Since he served in Vietnam and experienced extremely rough conditions that usually silenced us. And, my sister and I didn’t want to encourage his war stories.

The truck’s vents continued to blow hot air the further we drove. I complained to my husband (because he didn’t serve in any wars so it was okay). He shook his head and said, “You’re such a princess.” I rolled my eyes like I always do when he says something dumb.

He continued our one-sided conversation. “What if you were called to be a missionary? You wouldn’t survive.” Well, duh! When did I ever say I wanted to be a missionary? I rolled my eyes with more emphasis to end the conversation. It was too hot to argue.

The closest thing I’ve ever done to living in missionary-type conditions was camping. I went camping two times in my life. The first time I was a child. My mother refused to go. My dad made it sound so fun I didn’t understand why she would want to miss this spectacular adventure with us. I couldn’t wait to “sleep under the stars” and “really experience nature” like my father would say.

The place where we camped was nicknamed “Scorpion Gulch.” (I don’t like scorpions. That was the first red flag.) My Godfather and his kids went with us too. He slept while holding a gun on his chest like he was ready to fire it at a moments notice. (Second red flag – were we camping next to people that were dangerous? Escaped convicts maybe?) So, this is why my mom stayed home.

The second time I tried camping I was in my 20s. I thought I’d give it another shot or that somehow I had changed and would suddenly love leaving every comfort of my home to sleep on the ground and not take a shower for days. Afterwards, I was still the same.

My need for comfort may have influenced my teenage son a bit. When he was younger, he and his buddies pitched a tent in the backyard one summer and camped outside for the night. In the morning I woke up to find the back door open a crack with an extension chord plugged in. I followed the chord all the way outside to the tent. He said he and his friends got too hot and couldn’t sleep. (Yep. I ruined him.)

Needless to say, all this suffering was for nothing. After a long, hot day in a truck with no air conditioning we didn’t end up hauling anything. But, since I had sweated profusely and looked like I had been camping, I decided to count this as attempt number three. Big surprise – I still don’t like it.

 

(First published in the Atchison Globe 7.2.16)

Press Pause

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There are several remote controls in our house. We even have the kind that is supposed to be “universal” so essentially we would only need one. That isn’t the case. They all seem to only have one function no matter how we program them.

In my family I never seem to be the one in control of the remote that can fast forward, rewind, or pause the TV. I’m the queen of the remote that solely controls volume. Since life with a family of seven can get really loud at times, it’s the one I usually prefer. Now that’s changing. I want the one that has the pause function but I want to pause more than a television show. I want to pause life.

I want to freeze time right where it is and even press the rewind button a bit. With the school year about to begin again, I know it will only fly by. It will feel like life is in fast forward mode. I prefer to stretch out summer time so I can have the kids at home a while longer.

My oldest daughter is already halfway done with college. I feel like we rarely get to see her any more. I have a son who will be a senior this year and another daughter who will be a junior in high school. Thankfully I still have two children in elementary school because I know if I even blink it will be time for graduation.

I remember when the oldest three children started school. Some days as a stay-at-home mom it seemed like that day would never come. It was on the days I felt completely overwhelmed with toddler tantrums in the middle of the grocery store aisle, children refusing to eat their vegetables or anything relatively healthy, and the days when potty training felt hopeless. It was back when naptime was more for me, the exhausted mom, than for them.

Now they are on the other end of the spectrum with school and I cannot seem to slow time down. Before I know it I will be ordering graduation invitations and my son’s cap and gown. We will be shopping for dorm room essentials that he will care less about but I’ll insist he’ll need. Then his sister who is just a year younger will be walking across that same graduation stage in no time.

I want the days back filled with light saber fights, dinosaurs, and Legos. I want the days back when my two older daughters wobbled in my high heels and played dress up instead of borrowing my shoes because they fit.

Where did that boom box with the CD and cassette player go? The one my son used every night at bedtime to play the Toy Story theme song “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” over and over again. Now their music is downloaded onto phones and everyone has headsets.

I may not be able to press pause or rewind but I can choose to live more in the present moment and take it all in while it lasts. I still may need the volume control occasionally but I’ll take the clamor over quiet any day.

 

(First published in the Atchison Globe 8-13-16)

Mrs. Incredible a.k.a. Elastigirl

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We often have houseguests and usually give them a key to our house so they can come and go as they please. When we stayed with my brother-in-law a few months back, his wife offered us a key. I said we didn’t need one because my brother-in-law had already given me the keypad code to their garage door and their code to disarm the security system. I didn’t know how much I would regret this.

We were driving back to their home from a wedding late at night. My husband, a.k.a. the Bathroom Nazi, would not stop for his wife or any of his children to use the restroom on the two-hour ride back. I should be used to this by now, but after giving birth to five children any time I have to use the restroom is pretty much an emergency.

We finally arrived at their house and I jumped out of the car to enter the garage door code. I entered the numbers, the pound sign, and then pressed enter. The garage door didn’t move. Instead the entire keypad started blinking. I tried again. This time without the pound sign. Still nothing just a blinking keypad mocking me.

My husband got out of the car and immediately started questioning my ability to enter a garage door code. “Are you sure you did it right? Here. Let me try.” No success. He then repeatedly texted his brother to try to wake him up. (Knocking wasn’t an option since we didn’t want to wake their children.)

By now my teenage daughters were getting impatient and they were confident their parents did not know how to operate a keypad. My oldest daughter stomped out of the car in her high heels and demanded the code. (Did I mention she and my husband are very similar?) Nothing happened. I smugly felt good about this except that by now my need to go to the bathroom was far outweighing my need to be right.

Without saying a word, my son calmly got out of the car and started opening the gate to the backyard. I have no idea where he gets his calm demeanor. He definitely did not inherit it from me or my husband.

I didn’t have time to question whether or not going in the backyard after 1 a.m. was a good idea. I was pretty confident it wasn’t. In this case there were two obvious reasons why it made me a little nervous. One, my brother-in-law is a police officer and I was worried he would mistake his nephew for an intruder. I didn’t see that ending well. And two, they had a dog. Max was a fat bull dog with large, scary bottom teeth. Lucky for us, Max had a doggy door. Bingo!

It was clear my husband and teenage son would not fit through the tiny doggy door. I don’t even know how Max gets in and out to be honest. My teenage daughters and I were wearing sleeveless, cocktail dresses and heels, and our little children weren’t with us. Argh.

Although I was wearing a white dress (of course, the one time I opt for something other than black), I felt responsible for our situation. Unfortunately, by now the bathroom situation was at a mock 10 level. I told my husband he had to take me to the nearest gas station before I could even attempt to squeeze through that thing.

After returning and finally able to exhale, I said a quick prayer that Max wouldn’t eat me and that I wouldn’t set off the home security system and wake up the entire neighborhood. I slipped out of my high heels and ignored the fact that I’m a little claustrophobic. Instead I channeled my inner Mrs. Incredible and squeezed through the small opening as fast as I could.

No alarm went off and the dog was snoring in a corner. (Why was I ever afraid of him?) I stood up, looked at my family and was tempted to wave good-bye and go to bed since the majority of them were angry with me. Then I saw the look on my husband’s face. He was in complete disbelief by what I had just accomplished. It was like I had saved the world from destruction just in the nick of time like a super hero. He was totally impressed. I had to let him in. He was so proud of me.

The next morning we learned my brother-in-law gave us the wrong keypad instructions and he felt terrible. As for me, from now on I will always opt for the house key and save my Elastigirl skills for another time.

(First published in the Atchison Globe 6-4-16.)

Loads of Fun

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Just as I was finally going to get new carpet for some of the bedrooms in my house, the washing machine went on the fritz! I’m not a believer that when it rains it pours. I’m just discouraged. I don’t believe things are made as well as they once were. I’m seriously considering getting a washboard and metal tub. Replacing those items down the road would be pennies compared to the prices I’m scouring over the Internet for a new washing machine.

When we moved halfway across the country we contemplated whether or not our washer and dryer were worth salvaging. They had already been repaired a few times and weren’t exactly efficient. We could move them and take up a lot of room in the moving truck and pray we could get a little more use out of them, or we could start new. I opted for new.

Now at year 10 in the Midwest, I have been searching Google for hours trying to find the best washing machine for the money. The fact that my dryer is the same age makes me a little nervous. It’s been working overtime due to the washing machine problems.

In the last nine minutes of the spin cycle, my washing machine thinks every load is uneven, or at least that’s the code that flashes on the control panel. All I know is that it refuses to spin the water out of the clothes. My son just helped me wring out towels so I could at least attempt to get them dry in a reasonable amount of time. I have completely expanded what I once considered a reasonable amount of time from 45 minutes to somewhere in the arena of three hours. I really don’t want to see my next electric bill. I’ll let my husband open that one.

As I search the Internet I’m now seeing I’m not the only one who has problems with my current model. On the bright side, I’ve had very few compared to the unfortunate buyers I’ve read about. Nonetheless, I’m a little overwhelmed about the amount of information. Most are rated on an average of seven loads per week. We are well above average in that category! Between school uniforms, sports uniforms, and a general desire to wear clean clothes, my family washer usage is more like 10 to 12 loads per week.

When my husband looked into the price of paying someone to fix the washer, we quickly found out it was a better choice to buy a new one. In the meantime, I’m hopelessly searching for something within my budget. (Did I mention I hate budgets and a new washing machine is not even in the budget?)

I could always just purchase a clothesline. When I asked my mom for her advice she said, “Well, you do have a lot of birds. Your grandmother said every time she hung sheets on the line birds would s#!t on them!” Fabulous! One look at my deck and I can only imagine the amount of bird poop that would be on my clean sheets and clothes. So, it’s back to my Internet search for the right machine. In the meantime I’m having loads of fun wringing out wet clothes before throwing them in the dryer.

(First published in the Atchison Globe 6/18/16)

Siri

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For the record, I never wanted a smart phone. I was fine with the simplicity of my phone that I had to slide open to answer. I didn’t mind that I couldn’t check my email 24/7. I didn’t care that when I sent a text message there were no emojis to add expression and pictures to my words.

Somewhere along the way I caved into peer pressure. There was an old, unused smart phone that sat in our kitchen drawer for over a year. My husband nearly gave up asking me if I wanted to use it. Mr. Technology found it hard to accept that I was completely satisfied with my no frills phone that’s sole feature was to make and receive phone calls. Imagine that! Oh, how I long for those days again.

Now I have an iPhone like the rest of the world and although I’ve had it for quite some time, I still don’t know all of the features it offers. All I know is that it stresses me out a bit, or at least one feature does, and her name is Siri.

Siri and I do not have a good relationship. We are not friends. At the moment, Siri and I are barely speaking. I never knew a phone could have feelings but I could swear Siri is passive-aggressive. Some days she pretends like she can’t even hear me. It’s like when I tell one of my children it’s their turn to take out the kitchen garbage. No response. Or when I ask my husband to get something out of the attic for me. Crickets.

Certainly by now Siri should be recognizing my voice and “getting to know me” as Apple advertises. We’ve been in a relationship for a couple of years so how do I not take what she does or does not do personally? Hard to believe I’m offended by a handheld computer. I should have been born in the 1800s! These are just some of things she says to me.

When I ask Siri to call my husband she always responds, “Which husband?” Not only should she know I only have one husband, by now she should know our anniversary date, how he proposed, and how many children we have.

Once I asked her for directions and after driving for over an hour she said, “When you reach your destination you will have to get out and walk.” I believe that’s why I asked her for directions in the first place. The purpose was to arrive by car not on foot!

Granted I may be a little geographically challenged but when I ask Siri for directions home, she should not ask me “which home address for Lisa Baniewicz?” I only have one home.

It’s getting worse. I knew our relationship really took a dive this past week. While out of town I missed an exit and needed directions. I have no idea what Siri thought I said but she literally responded, “Well, you’re certainly entitled to your opinion.” At that moment I was not only dumbfounded that some how I managed to offend a phone, but also convinced Siri definitely hates me.

My relationship with Siri is hanging on by a thread. It’s rocky to say the very least. I’m contemplating going back to my now out-of-date, no thrills phone. For now instead of enduring her smart remarks, I changed her voice to the male version. Maybe he will be nicer to me.

(First published in the Atchison Globe 5/21/16)

Airport Security

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How many times does it take one normal, college-age girl to get through airport security? Just ask my niece. A few years ago while traveling home from college to enjoy Christmas break with her family she found out even the littlest things affect the alarm at the security checkpoint. In her case, it was an abundance of little things.

There’s nothing quite like an airport during the holidays to add stress to one’s life. Not to mention adding in lack of sleep from cramming for final exams right beforehand. A holiday traveler requires an abundance of patience and prayers that they will make it to their destination in time for the actual holiday. Successfully making it through security in a timely manner is part of that equation.

The first concern is usually liquids. Three ounces of any liquid, especially for a young woman, is like a teaspoon compared to what she would normally use. Three ounces wouldn’t even cover Barbie’s golden locks. And then taking into account anything you think might be considered a liquid should be in a clear plastic bag is a must. My motto over the years has become: If in doubt, keep it out.

But liquids were not the issue for my niece. Her problem was walking through the metal detector. She set off the alarm four times! The TSA officers were completely stumped. She had already emptied her pockets, removed her belt and shoes, taken off her watch, and her earrings. She told her parents she basically took off everything aside from her clothes. I’m sure they were thrilled.

I was glad she didn’t get “patted down” as the TSA officers call it. That happened to me once at airport security. In my case, they told me I was “randomly selected” for this fabulous opportunity. Afterwards I felt like I should at least exchange phone numbers with the employee. They certainly knew me intimately after that experience. My first clue should have been when they asked me if I wanted a private room. Foolishly I thought why?

Finally, after my niece went through the metal detector a fourth time and set off the alarm yet again, she told the security agent she had bobby pins in her hair. She was asked to remove them. I’m sure they were ready to move on to the next traveler by this point. Little did the airport personnel realize how long this process would actually take. My niece’s only concern was what her hair would like after removing every bobby pin. (When she recalls the story she describes it as “horrendous.”)

I’m guessing she wasn’t exaggerating because she literally removed 50 bobby pins from her hair! The employee couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it until this past weekend. My daughter went to prom and had her sister style her hair. She used 80 bobby pins. 80! Thank goodness bobby pins cost relatively nothing. Regardless, that adds up to a lot of metal in anyone’s hair.

After my niece’s airport security bobby pin fiasco (as I like to call it), she is happy to report she has airport security down to a science. She now announces that she has bobby pins in her hair before going through the metal detector. She said, “Now all they have to do is fan my head with the wand instead of having to mess up my hair.” And good hair is bound to make anyone’s travel experience better no matter what time of year.

 

First published in the Atchison Globe 5-7-16