I don’t like surprises.  It’s against my nature.

So I walk into the gas station down the street from our new house to get my 44 oz. Diet Pepsi which I get nearly every morning on the way to work.  If you’re a pop nazi and feel a burning need to start lecturing me about all the horribly destructive stuff pop does to my teeth and esophagus, well, suck it.  I’m drinking it.  If Hillary is elected she’ll outlaw it anyway.  My beloved 44 ouncer costs $1.06.  I go in with exact change every morning.  What?  I have too much change in my truck and I’m trying to get rid of it.  Seriously.  I bet my gas mileage improves with every 44 ouncer I buy.  Not to mention the fact that I like to pay with cash (or coins when applicable).  Why?  Because it’s nobody’s business what, when or how often I buy stuff.  Corporate America and the government ain’t tracking my consumer purchases!

Anyway, the pop costs $1.06.  Until today.  I reach over to hand the guy behind the counter my $1.06 and he  says “$1.58.”

Upon recognition of my look of both dismay and resigned realization of the inevitability of a cost increase, he – not surprisingly – says, “Price went up today.”

No sh*t.

I give him a $1.60, which isn’t exact change, and I leave.  I mean, they got me.  I’m going to this gas station to get pop.  I’m not changing my morning routine.  I like routines.  They eliminate decisions.  And right now, at work, I’m making decisions all freaking day.  So in the morning I don’t want to have to add unneeded and unnecessary decisions to an already decisiony  day.  So the question is, “who decided that 52 cent increase was justified for my 44 oz pop?”

I’m blaming Obamacare.  It has raised the cost of everything.  And Hillary.  Any day now there will be an email released detailing her role in the price increase.  Probably Kurt Cobain and all those assholes in Seattle who killed hair metal had something to do with it too.  The idiot who brought Emerald Ash Borer to the Midwest and killed all the ash trees is guilty too.  And while I’m at it…George Atkinson for prematurely ending Lynn Swann’s career due to concussions.  The mid-90’s for the general suckitude of the music.  Francisco Cabrera.  Smartphones.  The creators of MTV’s The Real World for coming up the genre of reality TV.  Millennials.  Big 10 commissioner Jim Delaney.  And whoever is responsible for the death of Saturday morning cartoons.



The School Permit

In Iowa once you’ve completed a certified Driver’s Ed course and are at least 14.5 years of age, along with having an absolutely clean driving record for the last 6 months, you can obtain a School Permit. The school permit allows the permit holder to drive, without adult supervision, between the hours of 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. to and from school and school activities using the most direct route to school.

We obtained such a permit a couple weeks ago. And starting this week, our 10th grader is driving herself to school and school activities using the most direct route. We’ve had several discussions on what exactly constitutes “the most direct route.” My definition, and I’m just spitballin’ here, is that most direct route is one in which you leave the house and, follow me here, you take the most direct route to the school or school activity. Rye’s definition is one which involves going, literally, the opposite direction from the school but allows her to go to a Starbucks. I feel pretty confident in my argument.

But all of that takes away from the point that we now have a child who is ACTUALLY DRIVING HERSELF TO SCHOOL. This seems odd to me. I still remember her first day of kindergarten. This is different. And by different I mean glorious. We’ve been freed from the shackles of transportation and logistics for one kid for a certain limited amount of activities. I don’t even know how to describe it. I mean imagine that for nearly your entire time as a parent you’ve been carting kids from one thing to another. Mapping out your mornings and evenings around where the kids are supposed to be. Arranging your own schedule around the kids’ activities. And then, suddenly, you’ve been handed something you really haven’t seen in years – time.

Now don’t get me wrong, you fill that time with a certain amount of worry and stress over all the dipshits on the road at the same time as your 15 year old daughter. And, pretty sure you’ll back me up here, there is a staggering level of dipshitty driving. Then think about that relatively normal level of dipshititude and apply it to a high school parking lot. Yeah, that’s approaching Obama/Hillary/Kerry foreign policy levels of dipshittiness.

She actually has to park across the street at a church because there are not enough spots to accommodate all the student drivers and school staff. Which is interesting since this high school is more or less a small college contained within a single building. Not kidding. 2,100 kids in grades 10-12. It has a performing arts center with a hydraulic lift under the stage. Because, I assume, the performing arts center doubles as a loading dock thereby justifying not the lift but also the expenditure of taxpayer cash.

The building is so big that she doesn’t even use her locker. You remember high school. When you had a chance you’d run by your locker exchange books, notebooks, etc. and then head to the next class. Rye can’t do that. She gets to school and pretty much loads up her backpack with the entire day’s worth of stuff and lugs it around. That. Must. Suck. I mean we walked her schedule last week and I had to pull off to the side because I was getting a cramp in my hip. They should have golf carts. It’s like a 9 mile walk between her 8 classes. I wasn’t even hauling around a big heavy backpack. Plus all the rest of those kids are dragging around their backpacks too. I’m guessing that you really have to keep your eyes peeled and senses on red alert to avoid getting taken out by some kid’s backpack if they round a corner too quickly and the torque generated from the turn transforms the backpack into a mini wrecking ball.

But maybe I’m overthinking this…

Almost Back to School

So what do American Eagle jeans, school supplies, school fees and combination locks have in common?

Funny you should ask.

Mom and I decided to take Rye out for a drive. Or to be more precise, we thought it was time for her to break the 45 mph barrier at this point in her development as a driver. Guess, you know, eventually she’ll need to get somewhere fast. So we let her drive us to the mall because American Eagle has a sale on jeans. And its time for some back to school shopping. So to recap…Rye got to drive. To the mall. To get herself jeans. Best day ever for her.

Then we entered American Eagle. Have you been there recently? If you have, did you spend any time actually looking around? I mean really looking around. Observing. Scrutinizing. Its like some sort of weird retro cross-pollination of 80’s preppy and hair metal faded shredded jeans. Its like Alex Keaton went to a Motley Crue concert. Rye says it fits her new 9th grade personal style. Which she has coined Chill Prep. To which I have counter coined it Very Stale. I was, and I’m exaggerating, walking around the store with one of those half grins chuckling to myself. Faded, shredded jeans? Popular. Jean jackets? On display. Plaid shirts? In the front of the store. Faded jean shorts cut off and then rolled up at the knee for dudes? On the mannequins. Faded denim shirts? Right there next to the shorts. Seriously. WTF is going on? Is it 1989? Is Love in an Elevator back on the charts? Did Herschel Walker just get traded to the Vikings? Is Hasselhoff singing on the Berlin Wall? Anyway, since we were there getting Rye new jeans, Mom and I couldn’t’ help ourselves. We both got a pair. I got mine, walked out of the dressing room, showed Rye and said, “Hey we should wear our new American Eagle jeans on the same day so we can be twinsies.”

We thought it was funnier than she did.

I’m looking around the store at all the high school kids in there, many of whom are also walking around with their parents getting some new back to school clothes, and all I’m thinking is – “these guys have no idea there is going to be a crap ton of 40-somethings dressed just like them this fall. Awesome.”

The jeans shopping with Riley went far, far better than the school supply shopping went a day earlier with all three of the girls. I don’t know how it works in your family, but in ours, Office Depot brings out the absolute worst in Bails. We’re walking around with three distinct lists for each kid. In an ideal world each individual supply list would enumerate each distinct supply in the same order so we could pick up the right thing for each girl as we move through the store in an orderly and somewhat reasonable fashion. That’s not what happened though because 5th graders and 9th graders do not need the same stuff.

We thought the logical and seemingly easiest solution is simply to have the kids walk around with their own lists and get the stuff they need. Bails is almost 11, Kinz is 12 and Rye is 14. They can do it. Sure they’ll likely miss something forcing a return a trip but its way easier than trying to manage the purchasing ourselves while they each bark at us about what they want. The issue is that the girls base their purchasing decisions based everything other than price. A one inch binder for $4 or a sweet pink binder for $8? Damn sure they’ll pick the $8 one. Zebra print folders for $2 or solid color folders for 25 freaking cents? Yup that zebra folder will find its way into the cart.

This means Mom and I have to manage this process. And it is a process that for some reason triggers a behavioral response in Bails that disables the electronic relays between her ears and her brain. Additionally, there must be something in the Office Depot ventilation system that blocks all memory of discipline and respect. Not kidding. She walks around the store with complete disregard for just about everyone, talks over everything you say, ignores instruction…so I guess what I mean is she behaves exactly like Chris Matthews.

You’d think that spending $354 on the three of them would, at the very least, make them appreciative. That’s a lot of stuff. It didn’t. But it did make me mad. Like when I found out Sharna isn’t going to be on DWTS this season. Sure Peta is still on and she’s smoking hot. But she’s also scary as freaking hell. Seriously, she one of those women who you can’t stop looking at but they also scare the crap out of you. Sharna’s just hot without the scary. And listen when you have a 9th grader who is on two dance teams and a wife who spent most of her formative years in dance, you spend a lot of nights watching DWTS. So if you’re going to doing that, you damn well have an interest in the hotness of the dancers.

But that’s just me. Whatever.

So, when I told them that if you take the $354 dollars in school supplies and combine it with the $600 I just paid in school fees for Rye and Kinz, it at least go them to pause briefly.

Yeah, we go to the 9th grade registration for Rye and I’m fairly certain that I pre-paid most, if not all of the school fees. Paid the $80 book fee. Paid the $25 for the year book. Paid the $55 for the all-sports athletic pass. Well, turns out, that property taxes do not pay for a whole plethora of stuff at public schools. Like the school bus. I still needed to pay the first quarter of bus fees. $118. Then there’s the plethora of other school fees including a crap ton of dance team stuff. $237. Then I had to add about 40 lunches to her balance. $112. Also present at 9th grade registration are other 9th graders. Including one whom Mom pointed out and labled a “cutie.” Rye agreed but added that he’s kinda full of himself. I took this all in decided that from thence forth he’ll be known as “toolbag.” Soon after that we enlisted the help of two soon to be 10th grade girls to show us around the school so Rye could find her locker and classes and other things of that nature. How it go? Here’s a sample:

“Where is your first class?”

“Speech in Room 107.”

“Omigosh, that is like the hardest class ever. It’s soooo hard. Like the hardest.”

“No it’s not. I got, like, a 96 in that class. Just pay attention and your teacher will love you. L-O-V-E you. I’m not even kidding.”

“Oh, right, here’s Room 107. It’s like super easy to find and all the English type classes are down here. You’ll totally be able to find it.”

I just went ahead and assumed that whole thing helped Rye.

The next day I had to take Kinz to 7th grade registration. Another $100 for lunch fees. But that was the least aggravating part of the process. Rye and one of her friends went with us to help show Kinz around the school. They’re walking her through the building, pointing out where her classes will be when we walk by her new locker. No big deal right? WRONG!

Kinz needs to learn how to correctly operate a combination lock. You may be like Kinz and be in possession of a brain that simply does instinctively know how to process the steps required to open the lock. Like President Obama and foreign policy.

So combination locks are pretty straight forward. Approach the locker. Make eye contact with the lock. Either commit the combination to memory or write it down. Place your dominant hand on the lock and spin it a few times. Then turn the lock to the right, without stopping, until reaching the first number. Upon reaching that number, turn the lock to the left past the second number, without stopping, until reaching that same number again and stop. Then turn the lock to the right, without stopping, until reaching the third number where you again stop. Open the locker.

Everytime Kinz tried she would start turning the lock to the left to start. And we’d tell her, nope stop, start over. And she’d get frustrated…and then she’d turn the lock to the left again. This kept happening until she finally said, “Why do I have to turn it to the right!?”

Wait, what? Did you just ask why? Why? Exactly how does knowing the philosophical underpinnings of lock mechanics help you here? Nobody knows why. But more importantly, nobody cares. No one. Not a single person. You know why? Because, much like any show that is on at the same time as Walking Dead, it is completely and totally irrelevant to anything anyone cares about. Locks are just locks. There isn’t a platform on which the lock’s tendencies are detailed. Just turn it to the right!

Eventually she figured it out. Although I’m quite certain she has since forgotten about how to correctly perform the procedure so it is entirely likely we’ll be heading back to the school to have her try it again a few times and walk her around the building to help her get comfortable. Because that’s what you do when you’re the Dad and your 7th grader is nervous about starting at a new school building.

Jury is still out on whether I’ll have to pay any extra fees for access to the building…

8th Grade

As previously mentioned we are presently the parents of our first 8th grader. My folks went through this in 1981 with my older sister. I don’t really remember much of it. Mostly because I was in 6th grade. And at that time, I was pretty damn certain that 6th graders were pretty cool. Also that I probably ranked at or near the top in the coolness rankings. Just saying.

Aside from that I have mostly fond memories of 8th grade. I liked it. In my school, it meant that you were the oldest kids in the building. Or to paraphrase Rizzo in Grease, we ruled the school. Not that the nuns agreed to or with this assertion. I went to a Catholic school. And just to be clear, I loved Catholic school. Really did. Wish everybody could have the experience I had in grade school. But that’s another story, or really a short book. How Catholic school, a two-parent family, the 80’s, the suburbs and over two decades in politics turned me into a totally normal dude. Hmm…

But I’m wandering off topic. 1983. The year in which I began 8th grade, Tom Cruise was making All the Right Moves and Cliff Stoudt quarterbacked the Steelers and by quarterbacked I mean the opposite of being good and winning games. So he’s kinda Mark Sanchez. But without all the talent and success. Anyway, I actually remember what I wore on that very first day of 8th grade. And no, it wasn’t because my school required uniforms. Which it, of course, did. But 8th graders were allowed to deviate on the colors. Normal uniform consisted of navy blue pants and a light blue polo. We were allowed to wear a navy blue sweater if we wanted. And that was it for boys grades 1-7. It did make the decision making process in the morning rather uneventful. But in 8th grade we could wear other colors than navy blue for our pants. I focused on khaki. A trend that has extended into, well, now. We also could wear polos consisting of colors other than light blue. And if you recall, back in ’83 polos were more awesome than the moonwalk, Eric Dickerson’s rec-specs and parachute pants….combined. And now that I think about it, I pretty much wear the exact same uniform to work every day in the summer now. Hmm… But, and this is a big difference between then and now – not that I would actually do this now but I could, you know, if I wanted to – the uniform requirements prevented us from flipping up our collars. Damn you Catholic discipline rules! Anyway, again, in 1983 Izod polos had reached the peak of their powers. Kinda like Studio 54 in 1979, the British Empire in the mid to late 1800’s and James Carville in 1993. But I was 13 and my Mom wasn’t about to spend cash on Izod polos in every color. So I was stuck Hunt Club polos from JCPenney. Whatevs. Still cool. Khaki pants, white JCPenny polo on the first day of 8th grade. Pretty sure I was rocking a pair of these too:

8th grade shoes

But we’re just about two weeks into 8th grade. So I’m not real sure which 8th grade boys need to be…um…put on my own version of NSA surveillance and be pre-approved for the list of idiots on which counter-measures and the use of uneccessary force have been authorized. I’m just spitballin’ here but I have a feeling that list will include all of them.

Oh and if I see one kid wearing a pair of Pony’s with feathered hair and an Izod polo, well let’s just hope for the kids’ sake that he’s fast. Because if there’s one thing experience has taught me, its that you can’t trust an 8th grader in Pony’s with feathered hair and an Izod polo…

Back to School

School started this week. But a strange thing happened…we seem to have avoided the normal painful transition. The only thing of which I am certain is that this is simply a cosmic conflagration of luck and biorhythms and has absolutely nothing to do with good parenting.

Sure we tried to get the girls to get up earlier for two weeks leading up to the first day. We explained in annoying detail how they had to reset their body clocks or they’d be miserable for a few weeks. We went through the rules for the morning getting ready routines and the after school before Mom and Dad get home routines. But after the first week, it appears that this year is the year without the recurring torture of morning tribulations brought on by the summer to school transition.

Here’s what I mean; last year Rye moved from 6th to 7th grade and her wake time moved from 6:30 to 5:30. In the a.m. That meant she not only was making noise in the bathroom much earlier but she also moved up to the middle school building. Our district does K-6 in all the elementary schools, 7-8 in two middle schools then brings everybody together for one year in a big 9th grade building until finally shipping everybody into the high school building which is 10-12.

When we first got married and were the pre-kid version of ourselves the stand alone 9th grade seemed kinda dumb. If you’re going to build a brand new building just go all out and add a second high school. It’s a big freaking school district. But the old guard won out and they simply built the 9th grade. We continued to think it was kinda dumb. Right up until sometime early in Rye’s 7th grade year. That’s when it became obvious to us that she was in close proximity to older 8th grade boys. Suddenly the idea of having 9th grade girls separated from 11th and 12th grade boys by miles of real estate, brick walls and locked doors became a really damn good plan.

Anyway, this year Rye is in her second year at the middle school. There’s virtually no transition. Other than her going out for the cross country team. She rides the same bus, the bus comes at the same times, she knows her way around the building, the same friends are at the same school. She slept late all summer, got up super early the day before school started and has seamlessly shifted back into school mode. I’m really kind of envious. Seriously who can do that? Not this guy. I suck at transitions. Mostly because I find transitions uncomfortable. Especially transitions on the front end. You may also feel this way. But my aversion to front end transitions borders on loathing. Abhorrence. The thing you feel every time Nancy Pelosi is part of any public policy decision that affects your day to day existence. But not Rye. She finds the 7th graders a bit amusing now that she’s not one of them. But repeat of last year’s activity schedule would be too easy. So she decided to go out for cross country. To be honest, I thought this was great. It’s active, she represents her school on a sports team, and its over in mid-October so it doesn’t really force us into Herculean logistics efforts. I know you’re tired of reading this but transportation and logistics not only dominate a large portion of our non-work time, they pretty much have replaced breathing as the thing I do most.

Kinz and Bails entered 6th and 4th grade respectively. After a week both like their teachers and don’t seem to be whining about going back. But this should not be confused for some authentic enthusiasm for school. Kinz, after an entire summer at home with Rye, needed some space. Those two needed some time apart. Because girls, especially sisters, in this age range are exploring their inner…umm…well I don’t want to offend anybody’s sensibilities here but it rhymes with schmitchiness Sorry. But it’s a stone cold fact. Water is wet, hair metal is awesome, sisters fight.

Bails on the other hand was just bored. Yes, I said it. She was bored with summer. Two weeks before school started she said wished it already had. She’s 9. If you’re 9, and summer bores you, that means one of the following: 1) you love school and learning and homework and cafeteria food, 2) you’re parents tried to save money on day care and left you home with your moody soon to be 8th grade sister in charge, or 3) you’re 9 and after a month of school you’ll be bored with that too.

Or a combination of 2 and 3.

Although Bails did let me know that she’s not having any trouble with the front end transition into the fall months with this exchange:

“Bails are you ready for school and to see all your friends and ride the bus and everything?”

“Nope! But man am I ready for Christmas!”

Gave me her list and everything…