Archive | February, 2012

Living within my means

10 Feb

It occurred to me tonight, after I repeatedly misspelled occurred, and once misspelled misspelled, that I worry way too much about making spelling errors.

But also, as I was packing up Cal’s package (no, not that package — brownies for his birthday, you sick bastard) that this time last year I would have left Postal Pack and Ship crying, as I no more had $22 to ship a last-minute package than I had personal cabana boys to tuck me in every night for the past year.

That is to say, a year ago I was broke. Beyond broke. Desperately, heinously poor. A series of job changes, student debt, credit card debt, and moving left my little family crippled by what it owed and unable to scrape up much more than what we could eat. I don’t think I bought any new clothes for a year, and what I did get came at the kindness of my parents and friends. We spent the summer months at the lake on my father in law’s boat, filling it up with gas from his credit card, eating peanut butter sandwiches we packed and brought from home.

I am not exaggerating when I say that we lived hand to mouth for more than a year, and I would not change that experience for the world. Then suddenly, last summer, a chance to teach at the university came open, and we both got jobs and a huge pay bump. I’m proud that we used that extra income to pay down our debts, and are close to being free of all IOUs (except the house — is anyone ever free of that behemouth? Oh, wait, yes, every other Byrne ever).

So it’s not a crisis anymore to buy an occasional dinner out, or get a new pair or jeans, or make an offer on a healthy white child from the black market (I can only assume you get healthy black children off the white market?).

But again, I wouldn’t trade that time for the world. It made me so much more grateful for what I have now, and I realize that while a lot of people go through their broke phase in their younger years, I feel like mine came at a perfect time.

Because now I can feed my healthy white child, all the while keeping an eye out for a nice new black one.  So happy birthday, Cal, and happy brokiversary!

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“How mush fer a rib?!”

9 Feb

The longer I teach storytelling in my classes, the more important I think it is that I only blog when I have an actual story to tell. Or a Vivian story to tell.

Today I was in Postal Pack and Ship, once again late in sending Cal’s Valentine’s Day birthday present. I’ll skip the story about how I spent all afternoon trying to find a $6 flat-rate box and ended up paying $22 to ship a box of brownies, a check and a card.

MUCH more interesting stuff happened. Stuff that makes me, the world’s biggest adolescent and young adult proponent, worry about all our futures.

(And just so we’re clear, while this story demonstrates alarming behavior by “youths,” it’s CLEARLY their parents’ fault. As it usually is.)

While I was at the counter of the friendly shop, a college-aged couple came in, and they wanted stamps. I feel like the dialogue is really better than any retelling I could come up with, so here goes:

Pam (the owner): “May I help you?”

College Boy: “We need stamps.”

Pam: “OK, what kind? (laying stamp samples out across the counter) We’ve got cars, jazz, plain ol’ American flags … which ones do you want?”

College Boy: “Whichever are cheapest.”

Pam: “Ummmm, all stamps are the same price, so …”

College Girl: “OK, the rose ones are pretty.”

Pam: “OK, how many?”

College Girl: “Um, eight?”

Pam: “OK, eight books or eight stamps?”

College Girl: “Oh, just eight stamps. Right?”

She looks toward College Guy, questioning, then back at Pam.

College Girl: “How many do you need for a card, like two?”

Pam: “Like a greeting card? Usually just one. Unless it’s a funny size or extra heavy …”

College Girl: “No, it’s just like, birthday cards.”

Just, like, birthday cards.

I got into the car and immediately quizzed Vivian on how to address an envelope, where to put the stamp, and what those blue boxes that say “USPS” on them are for.

When I teach college students, I try to be accessible and friendly, and when they don’t, say, know how to use a Mac or understand what I mean by “thumb drive,” it’s totally understandable! I work with them, because they are attending college to expand the knowledge base granted to them by their secondary education and the life lessons instilled in them by their parents.

But for me to imagine that someone who’s probably 21 or 22 years old  has no idea how much a stamp costs or how many go on a birthday card? That’s just odd. It makes me kind of feel dumb, like I’ve totally overestimated the entire 18-22 demographic of Stillwater. Do I have students like this in my class? Are they confused about the rest of the world? Do they understand that voice in the drive-thru isn’t trapped in a tiny box? That the dirt goes into the vacuum bag and not through the cord into the socket? Have they ever even run a vacuum, or did they think the carpet just used dry shampoo on itself until its nap gleamed?

Mom and Dad — yes, I’m talking to you, People With Small Children — you simply CANNOT be the helicopter parents you feel tempted to be. Right now it’s playgrounds and sandlots, but I am telling you that if you don’t let your kids do stuff, screw up, learn from examples and do their own thing, they are going to grow up to socially and emotionally retarded.

Was I a complete moron in college? Absolutely. But that wasn’t my parents’ fault. They made me do stuff like clean the house, fill the car with gas, balance a checkbook, understand the difference between beer and mixed drinks, and just generally experience adult life AS A TEENAGER STILL LIVING AT HOME. Where they could help and guide, but not DO.

So I’ll get off my soapbox now, but remember, parents and someday-to-be parents: It may be hard to watch your precious little ones make mistakes, fall down, and get hurt, but it sure beats the peals of laughter I shared with Pam after those two left (God bless their little pin heads).