Monday, 31 October 2011

Happy Halloween

Our first three kids were the happiest, lovingest, most outgoing balls of chubby sunshine you could ever hope to meet. Liz actually smiled SO much at people that we wondered if she was simple and didn't understand that she was supposed to play strange.

Eva hates everything.

When we had our fourth child, we assumed that she would be similar in temperament to the other three, as they, in turn, are similar in temperament to us.

Not so. When Eva was 4 months old, she realized that not everyone who was holding her was me. Being an equal opportunity hater, this gave everyone in our family and circle of friends who was NOT me an opportunity to not hold her when she cried. I got screwed in the deal, as, being me, I was the only person who could make her stop. I would have paid someone to be me, but no one wanted the job.

Eva was a stellar baby. From birth right up to the age of 4 months, she almost literally NEVER cried. We went an entire 10 day camping trip without hearing her cry (and not because we lost her). Then, suddenly, she realized what she had been missing.

To be fair, she had bowel issues. For some reason or another, Eva didn't poo. The turning point was that camping trip. In the same 10 days that she didn't cry, she also went 17 days without pooping. I don't know about you, but if I didn't poop for 2 weeks, I would start crying nonstop, too. The problem was, after 3 months dealing with her bowel issues, the nonstop crying had become a habit. Once the bowel issues were resolved, the crying continued.

Eventually, Eva decided to branch out. There are so many things in this life to hate, that to limit yourself to one or two seems like a waste. So from hating everyone who wasn't me, she moved on to hating all foods, toys, most clothing, diapers, and the outdoors.

We knew Halloween was going to be a challenge.

I run a dayhome, so I got to have a pre-trick-or-treat practice run. I got the other 4 kids in the dayhome dressed in their costumes in record time (including the 14 month old, who looked adorable in her kitty cat suit), and then I started with Eva.

Liz and I had picked out a bumblebee costume for her, with black bodysuit, tutu, antenna, buzzing wand, and wings. As I threw the black bodysuit onto her, the screeching started- Apparently, the feathery edging got in her mouth and bothered her. Note- wet it and smooth it down before we leave tonight. Check. The tutu was too stiff, so we rubbed it with a Bounce sheet and that seemed to solve the problem. Her wand annoyed her, so she threw it at her brother and we left it behind, and the antennae and fuzzy shoe decorations were, frankly, beyond my capabilities.

She screamed. The dayhome party started at 2, and from 1:45 till almost 2:30, while I got everyone else set up and organized, she screamed. She screamed so hard she forgot how to swallow her spit and it ran in rivers down the front of her outfit. She screamed at the other kids. She screamed at me. She sceamed until I took her out of the costume, sat her in her highchair, and gave her fruit snacks to keep her quiet. (Fruit snacks ALWAYS work. Something about the lack of any appreciable nutrient does that for a kid).

Jason walked in the door, and while I gave him a quick rundown of how this evening was going to go, we fed the kids a spinach salad to appease my guilt about all the candy they were about to consume. Jason distracted Eva with more fruit snacks while we got her dressed, and we were off. (After we mixed our 'coffee' in our travel mugs- we needed to fortify ourselves with liquor).

I don't even know if Squid knew Eva was upset. He was so wired at the THOUGHT of chocolate that we had to peel him off the ceiling just to get him out door. Even handing out the candy was an event to be written home about (Mom! WE just had TWO CUSTOMERS! And they were vampires! And I gave them Mars Bars AND Twixes!!!)

(Note to all those who came by our house while we were trick-or-treating: We save the real candy for when we're there to hand it out. If you leave a bag of chocolate outside while you're gone, with a sign that says 'Please Take One', they won't. Hence the crappy freezies. If you're super chuffed about it, stop by tomorrow. There may be some left. My 'coffee' is making me too sleepy to unwrap the Snickers.....)

We met some friends at the neighborhood hot dog & hot chocolate Halloween warmup before going trick or treating, and it seemed like we had it nailed. Eva was contented, ate her hotdog like a champ, and smiled at all the volunteers. We were so mistaken.

Turns out her main joy in trick-or-treating stems from having the freedom to walk down the sidewalk with her brother and her friends. Normally she's in a stroller, so this kind of latitude went straight to her head. This meant that every time the other kids turned up a sidewalk to collect some candy, she lost it. After three or four houses, the adults picked up on what she was doing, and we and our friends started to simply walk ahead with her (Kim- you rule!!!), and she dialed the anger down to a constant low-grade sob. It was a good compromise, right up till she got cold and we had to put her in the stroller. Jason wrapped her up in a blanket, and tried to give her her sippy cup of milk and her soother, and Eva's mood went from mildly disgruntled to the kind of rage displayed by an angry bull shark on a three month starvation diet. Anyone in biting range was fair game.

I couldn't take anymore. I looked at my watch, to see how long we had been out- it had to have been hours. It had been twenty-three minutes. Not including the ten spent chowing down on hot chocolate and tubes of floor meat. Seriously? I hadn't even finished my first 'coffee'!

Sometimes, you have epiphanies. Mine came tonight. Some things just aren't worth the agony. This was one of them. Jason and Squid continued onwards on their quest to collect Squid's body weight in chocolate, and Eva and I went home. I wrapped her in a blanket, finished my 'coffee' while I cuddled her, and put her to bed.

Maybe next year, we can try again. She seems to be growing out of this anger thing. Only a few weeks ago, at Thanksgiving, my cousin remarked how Eva had just smiled at him for the first time, and wanted to know if we had given her a thimbleful of rum (to which I replied ''No- a bucketful of Prozac''). Maybe there's hope.

But I'm eating her candy. She owes me.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

(Quick note: Isaiah and Liz just came home from their separate evenings with pillowcases FULL of candy. I can't believe people gave my teenagers candy!!! Unless, being faced with a 6 foot tall man-eating clown or a 5 foot 6 woman in a full body morphsuit, people gave them chocolate because they were worried that the alternative was even worse???)

(I'm eating their candy, too.)

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Driver's Ed

Isaiah started driver’s ed classes at AMA last week. The classes consist of 18 hours of in-class instruction and 10 one-on-one hours in the car with a qualified instructor. Considering that it cost us $754 (member price for the basic package), it should also include dinner and a marriage proposal.  However, being a reasonable woman, I will settle for him not killing himself or anyone else when he is finally let loose on our city’s roads.
We tried to teach him ourselves, but ran in to a few major stumbling blocks. Most importantly, we are a busy family, and the rare number of times per week that one of us AND Isaiah are not busy at the same time leaves us with approximately one opportunity every 984 family hours in which to practice driving.
Secondly, Jason does not have the patience to teach. He is all over taking Isaiah out to practice AFTER I teach him the basics, but he has no patience for the endless repetition of circling the closest parking lot. That leaves me as the sole instructor, bringing possible driving time down to once every 54895 family hours.
Lastly, driving practice stresses Isaiah out. On our one outing onto an actual road, Isaiah did beautifully until faced with oncoming traffic, at which point he took his foot off the gas, stomped on the brake, took his hands off the wheel, and refused to move until the other car had passed us. (Luckily, it is a very lightly traveled street, and there weren’t any cars behind us. But the old gal at the bus stop had a nice laugh.) He needs time to recuperate between lessons. Now we are down to one good opportunity every 56395290732 family hours. It’s just not feasible to wait till he’s 86 to teach him to drive, so we decided to pay someone else to do it.
Isaiah is excited about the opportunity to learn to drive, and the ensuing freedom brought on by not having to leave your girlfriend’s house at 10:42 in order to get home by 12 using the transit system. Jason and I are excited about never having to go out to pick up pizza (or Liz) again.
I wonder if every kid who takes driver’s ed goes on to get their license. Do you think the actual lessons ever scare anyone so badly that they just never bothered to take the test? I bet they have. And I bet I know who….
(Disclaimer: Remember. I worked nights. I don’t drive this badly anymore.)
One winter, when Isaiah and Liz were little, I was on the way to the mall, when fate (in the form of stupidity) intervened. For years, I had driven a stick shift. I learned to drive on a stick shift, I taught JASON to drive a stick shift, and there is no earthly reason for me to have forgotten HOW to drive a stick shift.
And yet…..
As I turned the corner from Richardson Way onto Richard Road, while chatting away to the kids in their carseats, I, for no earthly reason I can possibly think of, pulled up on the lever to engage the emergency brake. In the summer months, this would have been followed by my forehead crashing into the steering wheel, a little bit of embarrassment, and a 3 week long headache until the concussion healed. This being winter, however, the results were entirely different.

When I pulled up on the emergency brake (immediately forgetting I had done so, by the way, until I tried to engage it later on, only to find it was already done….), I locked the wheels of the car, which then proceeded to slide on the icy road. I tried tapping the brakes, turning into the skid ,and every other defensive driving move I could think of (none of those moves, however, were designed to correct stupidity and sleep deprivation, so they were essentially futile). I looked up to see where I would end up, and, to my horror, saw a red sedan with the all-too-familiar plastic tent on the roof, indicating a student driver.
I leaned on the horn, trying to alert the driver ahead that I was out of control and on the way into the space they were currently occupying, but I knew it wasn’t going to do any good. No way was a student driver going to realize and react fast enough to get out of the way.
I slid forwards for roughly twenty minutes, unable to alter my course, and finally impacted with the car ahead. I heard that nasty crunching noise I have come to associate with higher insurance premiums, turned off the engine, and turned around to check on the kids, both of whom were cheering in the backseat. They seemed fine.
I got out of the car and started to assess the damage. Luckily, I had been driving our new (to us) Chevy Sprint, and the Driver’s Ed car was a sportier model with a higher back end, so rather than damage the other vehicle, it appeared I had simply slid underneath it, without even scratching their bumper. Sweet. I wouldn’t even have to make a claim.
As I approached the other car to make sure they were ok, since they were taking a little longer to get out than I would have expected (seriously- I had been going less than 30 when I hit them- there was no way they could actually be HURT, could they?),  I walked up to the driver’s window, which was slightly unrolled. I could hear the driving instructor coaching her student.
“OK- this is a perfect lesson. We have just been in a car accident. First we need to make sure we are pulled over to a safe spot (the impact had driven them to the side of the road, so that box was ticked.) Then we will exit the vehicle, assess the car for damage, exchange insurance information and contact information, and call the police if necessary.”
 “Nope.” said the student.
“It’s actually a good thing to learn.” said the instructor.
“Nope.” said the student, her tone changing not one teeny bit.
“Are you hurt?” asked the instructor.
“Nope.” said the student.
“Are you alright?” asked the instructor.
“Nope.” said the student.
I looked at her. There was no freaking way. She had obviously only turned 14 an hour and a half prior to the beginning of the lesson, and she was terrified. She had a shocked, frozen look on her face, and her hands were white-knuckling the wheel like it was the only thing between her and certain death. She wasn’t going anywhere
The instructor got out of the car, and walked around to the back with me. We checked the damage, and, thanks to the high-back-end factor, although I had torn off my own bumper and shattered both headlights, they were good to go. The instructor was sympathetic (I hadn’t told her why the accident had happened, lest her sympathy evaporate), and helped me pick up all my car parts and put them in the hatchback of my car.
As she went to get back into her car with the student, she opened the passenger side door, and we both noticed with surprise that the seat was already occupied. The poor kid was already buckled in, and had both hands braced against the dashboard, as though at any minute I would hop back into my car and continue to batter them with it. I leaned my head into the car and told her how sorry I was, and she nodded back weakly. I noticed she was a little pale. And a little green. Poor kid.
I apologized again, and got back in the car with the kids, who were imitating the sounds of a car accident (Crash! Crunch! No! It was screech!), and headed to my mother in law’s house, as she was the closest place from which I could call my husband.
I called Jason to let him know what had happened, and, as he always did, he asked if the kids were ok. Then he asked about the student driver. Then he asked about the car. Silly man! He was obviously distraught by the news of the accident and not thinking clearly. I’m sure he MEANT to ask about me first….
I would be willing to bet that girl never wanted to drive again. I’m sure she finished her lessons (since they cost so bloody much that if I was her mother, I would have forced her to continue even if she had lost the sight in both eyes), but I bet she thought twice about taking the road test. I would like to think she has fully recovered by now, and is happily driving gaggles of children to kindergarten on a daily basis. It HAS been 10 or 12 tears, so I’m positive she’s gotten over it by now.
I’m sure of it.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

The Year That Dell Wrecked Christmas

Before I begin today's blog, I know I owe everyone a HUGE apology. I started the blog in the summer while on holidays, and have failed to take into account the fact that during the school year, the computer availability ratio in my house increases greatly in favor of the kids, which leaves me with only about enough time to pay a bill or two, and check the due date on the library books. Even Squid's homework is posted online, so I have gone down to one blog a weekend, which I think is more manageable. Thanksgiving, however, was an exception. No one should ever have to type with that much good food in their bellies. It's a physical impossibility. I was too doped up on turkey and ham to stay awake to sit at our desktop, and the prime rib and yorkshire puddings prevented me using the laptop as, alas, I no longer had a lap. Now that I am back in (pear) shape, I can bring you my next installment. Please enjoy!

On the surface, Dell seems like a great company. You can pick out what's important to you, computer-wise, and they will put it together, pack it in those fun shipping peanuts, and send it right to your house. Any time I can NOT go into a store before Christmas, I am all for it.

I'm sure lots of people have great things to say about Dell. I will not be joining them. The following is a story about how Dell wrecked Christmas.

Christmas 2007 looked like it was going to be a great one. Squid was a year old, and just beginning to enjoy eating wrapping paper, I had been back at work for about a year, and we finally had some (small) elastic in our budget again. We were completely settled into our new place, and looking forward to having Christmas dinner in our nicely re-floored dining room. This boded well for the holidays.

The big kids had put up with a lot the past year or two. I had surprised them by telling them we wanted another baby, been pregnant with Squid, which I KNOW was no treat for them, and, although things had looked up for a while right after he was born, they had started to go downhill again the last few months after he learned that their stuff was better than his stuff and had decided that they should learn to share.

We wanted to do something really great for the big kids. While ordering a piece for our computer in late September, Jason noticed that Dell had a bunch of their video games and consoles on sale. Like REALLY on sale. Like it was almost stupid not to buy them. This was the perfect solution! Until then, we had told the kids that we would NEVER buy them a handheld game (I still think they're horrible things, and tend to get annoyed when I see them playing one), but considering all they'd been through, this was just about the best way we could think of to thank them.

We ordered a PSP for Isaiah, as they had just come out and were THE coolest things since sliced bread, and a Nintendo DS for Liz, since they had way more games geared towards girls. Then we ordered 5 or 6 games for each of them, sat back, and waited for the screams of appreciation to roll in.

When we ordered the games originally, they had told us that our PSP was actually on back order, since people were snapping them up as soon as they became available, and that they could either ship our entire order on the promised delivery date, or hold the whole shebang until the end of October, when the PSP could be shipped out as well. Not wanting to split the order into a bunch of smaller, easier to screw up bundles, I told the Dell kid simply to ship them all at once when they had everything.

The end of October came and went, and with it, no gifts from Dell. I checked online to find that the gifts hadn't even been assembled and shipped from the warehouse. I called Dell and found out that the PSP's had been backordered again by three weeks, but that we were DEFINITELY on the list to receive one as soon as they came in. The rest of the order was assembled and waiting in a box, and as soon as they received the PSP from Sony, they would ship it at supersonic speed (or some equally placating lie). I realized that even if it took until the end of November for our gifts to arrive, we would still have everything approximately a week prior to the date that we normally went shopping, so we were still ahead of the game. (Jason and I have developed a tradition of doing ALL our Christmas shopping last minute. Although we know what we're getting everyone and the list is laid out in a spreadsheet including gift recipient, type, size, store location and approximate price (with applicable coupons or discount flyers in an attached envelope should I need them), there is nothing like the Christmasey feeling you get when running around the city in the snow, battling through crowds at the mall, and enjoying a hard-won spiked eggnog (or four) at dinner afterwards. It's the one time of year that Jason ENJOYS shopping, and he will happily spend an entire day playing mall rat.)

November 21st arrived, and I checked online to see if Dell had come through. Thank God. I looked at my order summary and our boxes had been assembled, packed, and were on the truck. Since the warehouse was in Ontario, I knew it would take a few days for the gifts to arrive, but I felt so much better about the whole thing now that I knew they were on the way.

Feeling organized, Jason and I decided to do the rest of our shopping 'early', and had everything purchased by the beginning of December, when I again went online to check my order. Interesting. The boxes appeared to have been assembled, packed, and were on the truck. Somehow, this all seemed very familiar to me. I called the 1-800 number and asked to speak to the gentleman who had previously been helping me with my delayed order, and, to my surprise, it appeared he was no longer employed there. Of course. So I got connected with a new person who checked his system (apparently the same tracking system they have for their online customers), and assured me that my order had been assembled, packed, and was on the truck. he seemed a little confused when I asked him why it had been on that truck for a week and assured me it would be at my door in the morning. I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt, but informed him that the next day, when the package was assembled, packed, and on the truck and STILL not at my door, I would be calling back to speak to him again. The poor soul assured me it wasn't a problem, gave me his direct line (in hindsight, that decision ranks right up there with 'poke the sleeping  bear with a sharp stick'), and wished me a Merry Christmas.

Thus began what I am sure were the longest weeks of that poor man's life. Every morning, I would call him to let him know that I had STILL not received the package. About 3 days into this, I started calling every evening to ask if it would be shipped tomorrow. Despite his repeated assurances, by December 5th, I had given up completely.

"That's it." I told him. "I want my money back. Right now."

"I don't blame you," he told me. He was just as irritated as I was at this point. He had been on the phone with the warehouse staff, on the phone with the order desk people, and essentially doing everything he could to get me my kids' gifts. And we were still waiting on that damned PSP, so everything he tried was ineffective. I understand he was doing it only out of a deep-seated desire to never hear from me again, but at least he was trying. And a refund seemed like it might just accomplish all those things for him.

"Let me get the order desk people on the line and we'll get the refund set up." I breathed a sigh of relief. Although it would probably end up costing me more money, at least the kids would still get their gifts. As soon as I got the refund in my hot little hands, I would haul ass to Wal Mart or EB Games and do what I should have done in the first place. Let this be a lesson to everyone out there. I had now wasted nearly 3 months on this Dell fiasco, and I was eager to get out of it.

"You're not going to believe this," said an uneasy voice as it came back on the line. "The accounting department can issue you a refund cheque, but it will take 2-4 weeks to get to your house."

What little self control and dignity I had managed to retain went flying out the window.

"Are. You. Kidding. Me????" I whispered, too shocked even to raise my voice. "I have spent almost $700 on gifts and been waiting almost three months while you guys screw up, and now I have to wait till after Christmas for the refund cheque???"

"Uh. Basically. Yeah."

"But I have spent my entire Christmas budget for the kids on those games. Unless I get the refund, I can't GET them anything else!"

I was stunned. Yeah, I had their stocking stuffers, and their other gifts, but this had cost so MUCH money that I literally had no budget left. I was reduced to having to wait for Dell to possibly get organized and ship the gifts before Christmas.

"Fine." I told him. "I give up. Just get the gifts here. Can you at least ship the REST of the stuff, so we're only waiting on the PSP?"

"That I can do." he said "I am so sorry about this."

I went to bed that night angry, but still functioning. After all, they were going to send everything else, and even if we got the PSP last minute, it wasn't a big deal. At least the gifts would come.

After a week or so of waiting, the rest of the gifts hadn't arrived. It was now WELL into the second week in December, and my anger was now being drowned in panic at the thought of my kids having nothing (relatively speaking) under the tree when they got up Christmas morning.

I called the guy at Dell, who seemed much less happy to hear from me than he had on previous days. I explained that the gifts still weren't there, and he made a quick call down to the warehouse. When he came back on the line, he sounded as though his best friend had died. Apparently, although the request had gone through, the order did not ship as I had asked because on the ORIGINAL order slip, there was a note that the customer did not want the package shipped until all the pieces were complete. (Really? Out of this whole mess, THIS was the thing they did right?) The conversation ended with the guy from Dell apologizing profusely and promising, no matter what, that my partial order would arrive the next day. He was personally having it shipped rush by Fed Ex.

The next day, when they showed up at my door, I breathed a giant sigh of relief. At least they had shipped SOMETHING. I opened the box, eager to see what I had received, and could have cried. Dell had shipped the covers for the DS and PSP, the extra styluses, two carrying cases for games, and the computer part we had originally ordered and had since forgotten about.

I held out hope that by some miracle the games would get here by Christmas, but on December 23rd, when I called the guy at Dell, and he put me on hold and never came back on the line, I knew it was a lost cause.

We sat the kids down that night and explained to them that we had screwed up. They were going to get gifts they had always wanted, but that somehow, the company we had ordered from had blown it, and their gifts wouldn't be here by Christmas. They would be here soon after, we promised, and they would still get their other gifts from the rest of the family, and there would still be stocking stuffers and stuff, but the majority of their gifts would be missing.

I underestimated my kids. As I sat at the table, sobbing so hard Jason had to take over the conversation, Isaiah looked at me and said,

"It's actually ok, mom. I really don't care so much about the gifts. I like having dinner with your family and dad's family, and sitting around on Christmas morning talking and laughing and going out to look at the lights. It really actually IS about spending time with the family, so please don't be sad- it's ok!"

"That's right!" piped up Liz, "and it's not like the gifts aren't EVER going to get here. So we'll be even more excited when they arrive. Although.. " she said, ever the pragmatist, "maybe next year you should buy us even bigger stuff, just to made up for it."

What an awesome reaction. 

Inspired, I invited a few friends of ours to meet us at the Festival of Lights in Airdre on Christmas Eve. Originally, we had decided it was too cold to take them, but if lights were what my kids wanted for Christmas, by God, I would give them lights. It was -76521 degrees out, with a wind chill of -32456789, the roads were a sheet of ice, and your breath froze so quick in the air it actually hung in front of your face and choked you a little bit. And I didn't care one bit.

When we arrived at the Festival of Lights, our friends handed the kids a pile of presents.

"These are for you guys." said Lyndsay, "We know your Christmas presents aren't here yet, and we heard from your mom how well you reacted, so we thought you should have a few more things to open." The kids were thrilled. They piled the gifts into the backseat of the car and we were on our way to see the lights. About halfway through the display, while we were riding Santa's train around the venue, Isaiah turned to Lyndsay and thanked her again for the presents.

"No problem!" said Lynds. "I can't believe how good you guys are being about this! If I was getting a PSP for Christmas and had to wait for it, I'd be a WHOLE lot more upset than you guys are!"

"I'M GETTING A PSP???????????" shrieked Isaiah, in a register normally only heard by dogs. "COOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

I had to laugh. Like hysterically. Lyndsay sat in the train seat next to Isaiah, in tears, whispering "Omigod. I'm so sorry. I thought they knew. I had no idea..." as Isaiah bounced around next to her, dancing in absolute glee. All I could do was howl in laughter. This had to be the single most screwed up Christmas in the whole wide world. The very LEAST bad thing to happen had been Lyndsay telling him what his gift was going to be. We finally got her calmed down, after she apologized eight or ten times, and it became a funny story in its own right. I'm pretty sure she STILL feels bad.

Christmas Day dawned with no gifts in sight, and the kids opened their stocking stuffers and gifts and watched Squid open his. They visited with Grandma and Brian and Grandpa, and Nanny and Auntie Coreen and Uncle Kelly and the cousins. They laughed, and ate eggs and sausage and ham and potato bake and turkey and chicken fried rice and all the things that mean Christmas in our family. And they were ok. They didn't need giant gifts (although they were greatly appreciated), they just wanted to be around friends and family and enjoy the togetherness.

I actually heard the sounds of all the Whos in Whoville singing their Christmas songs, dancing emptyhanded around the village square, with the Roast Beast nowhere to be seen. We had been so busy thinking about the material things we had completely lost sight of what mattered, and had to have it explained to us by a 10 and 12 year old. Somewhere along the line, my kids had gotten a giant dose of the meaning of Christmas. They understood what mattered and they taught us what was important. We had ruined their Christmas and they, somehow, had saved ours. What a humbling and wonderful lesson for our kids to teach us.

But when Dell finally sent the gifts, a week too late, and accidentally sent us an extra Nintendo DS, I kept it. I'm a slow learner.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Dirty Night Out

We have 4 kids, all of whom play soccer (well, not Eva yet, but there's only 18 more months to go, and we have already been teaching her to kick a ball). We have attended 13 years of soccer games and watched our children chase butterflies and pick flowers in goal rather than stop the opposing team (most of whom were laying down on the field or squirting juice boxes at each other) from scoring. Thirteen years of 1/2-hour long arguments preceding every morning practice or skills session, and thirteen immeasurably pleasurable years of soccer bingos. (Please note sarcasm.)

Luckily, because of our status as 'lifers', Jason and I have moved up the ladder enough where we can pretty much pick and choose what positions we would prefer to work at a bingo. We hate selling tickets. It's boring, and you have to handle money, which is covered in germs spread by icky people who don't wash their hands after using the facilities. Most of the people you have to sell tickets to are highly superstitious, and want their tickets from the middle of the stack, 3 tickets from the right, and want their change in low denomination coins forged in years ending in the digit '7' (this last bit is a lie, but you get the picture).

The only thing that makes working a bingo fun is the people watching. There are some seriously weird specimens at these events. Jason and I do all our volunteering at an Indian Casino which still permits smoking in the building. There is nothing funnier than watching Grandma wheel in her 32 gallon oxygen tank, bedecked with a customized dauber (dabber?) caddy, and plop herself down in a 'Non-Smoking' seat. Since the 'Non-Smoking' tables are identifiable only by their gold decals, emblazoned with a black cigarette with a red line slashed through it; and not because they are located in a hermetically sealed, glass-walled enclosure, it's debatable whether any of these tables are really 'Non-Smoking'. Perhaps they should re-designate the areas 'Smoking' and 'Less-Smoking'. The world needs more honesty.

Jason and I recently worked as verifiers at a bingo (for the less informed, these are the people who run over when someone yells 'BINGO!!!' and makes sure they have the correct card for the correct game, and haven't marked off I22 instead of O74). Halfway through the evening, at the intermission between the early and late night games, the year 1985 (in the guise of four twenty-somethings) walked through the door. I kid you not. One of the guys had on giant gold chains, one of which had a clock dangling from it (Really? You can still get those?), and huge white plastic sunglasses. His date was wearing tight acid washed jeans, an artfully ripped t-shirt with a wide elastic belt, and had her bangs teased sky-high. The couple they were with were equally adorable, him in dock shoes, short denim cutoffs, and a silk Spiderman dress shirt, and her in white jeans, Keds (or a reasonable facsimile thereof), and a lime green striped sweater. It was like the Breakfast Club had gotten lost and needed somewhere safe to wait for Marty and Doc Brown to arrive in the DeLorean so they could go home. I wanted to take a picture, but Jason wouldn't let me.

At the first bingo we ever volunteered at, I once accidentally (and trust me- you only EVER do it once) wished a player good luck. Apparently this is like the Bingo version of the kiss of death, and people get really angry about it. I can understand them reacting violently to my saying something like "Hey- congrats! How much money did you have to spend to win that $17? Did you have to mortgage your tooth???", but all I said was "Good luck." And I meant it- I honestly (in my naivete), wanted the lady to win. And I was rewarded for my kindness by having the ticket thrown in my face. For the rest of the night she glared daggers in my direction and refused to buy any of my Bonanza tickets. I never made that mistake again. Some of these people are seriously disturbed.

The only problem Jason and I ever really have is that since we don't ever PLAY bingo, anytime anyone asks us a question about how the game works, we stare at them with a blank look on our faces, and have to go get a grownup. The game is COMPLICATED. It's not like when you were in kindergarten and were given one card and a handful of tiddlywinks and the teacher called out the numbers slowly so that no one missed anything. This bingo involves 31 different kinds of cards, digital machines, special games, satellite games, and troll dolls. Each game involves different patterns, and the type of card you buy dictates how much you can win on each game. Holy crap. It's impossible.

Jason and I have joked for years that one day, we will go play a game of bingo, just so that we know what's going on, but we were never really serious about it. I've seen some of these people. I don't want to end up that way.

The other night, we went out for his birthday. We had planned to have dinner and go see the movie 'Straw Dogs' (a thriller, of course), but about halfway through dinner he looked up and remarked that we never get time alone together. To guarantee that I would make the 'Awwwwwwww!' sound, he followed up by telling me he missed me and would rather spend the evening talking to me than staring at a screen. (At this point, he could have suggested naked bowling and I'd have been in.) We wracked our brains trying to figure out what you could do in Calgary that a) didn't take us far from home (we try not to suck up our time alone together with travel time), b) didn't cost an arm and a leg (error #1A), and c) didn't happen in a dark room which required silence, which would therefore make us fall asleep. Jason jokingly mentioned how we always say we're going to play bingo some night, and as we talked about it, the idea took on bigger and bigger appeal until we finally downed our drinks, paid the tab, and practically sprinted out the door. This was an awesome idea! It was something we would never normally do- like buying a lap dance, or checking into a shady motel for an hour. This was NASTY! We would be slumming, experiencing life on the trashy side. This would be WICKED! (As long as we didn't see anyone who recognized us.)  As we got into the van, we made a solemn promise to each other that we would never reveal our dirty little secret to anyone. (Said solemn promise lasting until approximately 1:15 this afternoon, when Jason blabbed to our best friends during brunch....)

We stopped at the ATM on the way in (by the way- the ATM in Grey Eagle Casino charges $2.95 per transaction- is that NORMAL???), and encountered our first obstacle- how much did bingo cost? Did they not talk about nickle cards or something? Did I need $20 or $1000? We settled on $200, not because we thought we would actually NEED it, but because we didn't want to have $40 and have to come back for more and pay another $2.95. (That was error #1B.)

We walked into the hall, and up to the cashier. Having arrived there at 6:30, and being completely unaware of when bingo started, weren't even sure they wouldn't let us play (Note to self: As long as you're willing to pay them, they will let you play anything. It's a casino, dumbass.) We looked at the cashier and realized that we really, actually, did not know the first thing about what we needed. It was like a first time drug user jumping into the deep end feet first- they know the desired result, but do not have the language skills to communicate it. ("I'd like a bucket of your finest happy dust, please, sir!"). I finally decided on complete honesty. I looked her in the eyes and (read carefully here, so you don't miss error #2) told her we had no idea what we were doing and wanted to learn how to play.


"Well, do you want to play digi or paper?" she asked. This at least was a question we could answer- there are paper bingo tickets or you can play all your tickets on a digital machine which finds the number that has just been called and marks it for you, in order to prevent screw ups. This was easy. We were almost guaranteed to screw up. Plus we don't own a dauber (dabber?). Digital, please.

"Combo 1, 2, or 3?" she asked, "Tonight's all you can play night."


"No. Really." I said, "We don't understand you."

She looked at us like we were an entirely new species. "You volunteer here? And you've NEVER learned how to play?????"

It was embarrassing. I even recognized the lady. I had sat next to her in the prize cage for years. I was desperately hoping that they had so many volunteers that she didn't recognize me. She will now. We were that stupid.

She proceeded to explain that the combo you chose (as well as the color of the cards you won on) dictated how much you would get paid if you got a bingo. I stared at her in desperation. This was becoming too difficult. Jason saw my panic and, in typical male fashion, made the most expensive choice.

"Did you want to play special games?" she asked, "You can either put the tickets on your digi now or buy them separately later. Digi is easier."

Done. I was incapable of doing anything harder than what I was currently doing. If it got worse than the pain of ordering the tickets, I was going to fall apart.

"Pots?" she asked.

What??? I was back to the drug dealer analogy again. What was she talking about??? Finally seeing that I had had enough, Jason told her just to put 2 of each special game and the 'pots' (we actually still don't understand what those are) on the machines. He also decided against the Satellite bingo because, somehow, playing bingo against the rest of the province when we weren't even sure how to turn on the machines seemed like more than we could cope with.

The woman (who had now been occupied with us for the last 15 minutes) explained how to use the digital machines. Every time the caller calls a number, you hit the 'Quick Dab' button and if you get a bingo, the machine flashes with multicolored lights and the dab button changes to the word 'Bingo'. Then you grab your orange bingo card, wave it in the air, and yell "Bingo!" Ok- I had seen THAT part at least- I could do that last bit. She handed us a pamphlet explaining how to use the digital machines, should we forget any of her instructions, and gave us the total.

Seventy-eight dollars.

Know how much dinner cost??? About seventy-eight dollars. So now the required bingo enjoyment factor had escalated to 'needs to approximate the enjoyment experienced while drinking Rickard's Red, vodka and cranberry juice, and consuming fajitas, fish and chips, and some SERIOUSLY kickass calamari'. I braced myself for disappointment.

We sat down and started playing with the digis. You could customize the color of your digital dauber (dabber?), and the shape that it made when it marked the card, but we weren't ready for that yet. We got the machines unlocked and ready to play, and Jason got up to go the washroom and get us a pop.

At that moment, to my horror, the bingo caller started speaking. Turns out bingo starts at 7 p.m. Sharp. They're not screwing around. These people are serious, and expect their bingo halls to run with all the precision of a Swiss watch. The caller called the first number, and I pressed the 'Quick Dab' button on Jason's machine, which immediately dabbed the required number, and faded to black, waiting for the caller's next move. That was easy! I turned to my machine, and hit the same button. Nothing happened. I hit it again, and again, nothing, The caller called the next number, and I hit the button on Jason's machine, again producing the expected result. I turned to mine, hit the button a few more times, and was met with more failure. There was no blinking, no fade-to-black, no response at all. Jason came back in time to hit the button on his machine for himself when the caller called the next number. I, in my panic, couldn't communicate my distress to him, and was thusly left to my own devices.

Another number was called, and another one, and I knew. I knew that this would be a $9,384,737 prize, and although I WOULD have won, I was too stupid to use the machine. My kids could have spent lifetimes switching majors in university, all expenses paid, but their mother couldn't use a touch screen. I was single-handedly guaranteeing their McCareers, and there wasn't a damn thing I could do about it. (I tend to over-dramatize....)

The damn machine finally warmed up, or connected to the network, or whatever it needed to do in order to work, and to my INTENSE relief, not only dabbed (daubed?) the last number called, but the previous four as well. Crisis averted.

After a while, we settled into a routine. Sip the drink, hit the quick-dab button after the number was called, check for flashing lights, and there was enough time for a conversation to be carried on in spurts in between numbers (garnering more than a few nasty looks from other players until we realized they didn't consider this a social occasion and started whispering to each other).

And then it happened. I glanced down at my machine and realized I was one, yes, ONE number away from a bingo. On a GOLD card!!! (My reasoning here was that gold is a precious metal, and therefore worth more than the 'ruby' or 'royal' cards.) My excitement was still building when the caller called the next number and my machine lit up like late night on the Vegas strip. I had a bingo! I had a bingo! I had a--- I snatched up the orange card, waving it in the air like a banner, and screeched-


(Excitement had stolen the oxygen from my lungs, making me capable of producing only the smallest scream.)

Luckily, the caller saw my frantically waving arm, and stopped the game. Two other players had bingo'ed with me, but I had a GOLD CARD! I was obviously going to take the lion's share of the pot. Maybe I would win back the money we had spent on dinner and the bingo cards! The verifier came over, checked that it was a real bingo (and yes, it was, thanks to these miraculous, foolproof machines), and I anxiously awaited my prize receipt, to be cashed out at the end of the evening.

Ten bucks.

What the hell???? it was obviously some sort of measly pot, designed to lure the gullible (not us!) into spending more money on the more costly cards. We didn't have to worry about that! We weren't that naive! (And, having already purchased the most expensive of everything that could be purchased, we were relatively safe from their sneaky con.)

It seems that my error was in my 'precious metal' theory. Turns out, according to the printed program in front of us (which we never really deciphered), gold prizes were as listed, ruby cards paid 1.5 times the listed price, and royal blue cards paid 3 times the listed prize. So if we were going to win, we should have done it on a card other than gold. Nevertheless, we persevered.

I have to give Jason credit. it was HIS birthday, and this was HIS silly idea. And for almost every game, the poor man came within a single number of winning. And would then proceed to sit there on the edge of his seat while thirty-one more numbers (none of them his) were called, until someone else finally had a bingo. I don't know how he did it. I would have developed an ulcer. Near the end of the evening he became resigned and sad, but he never once despaired. He plugged along, never giving up hope, not realizing that I had probably used up our quota of luck for the day. (At his baseball windup party in early August, Jason had destroyed my chance at scoring Flames tickets by accidentally winning a size medium (he's 250 pounds) New York Giants (we don't watch football) tshirt in a door prize draw. I had no real sympathy for his plight.)

We stayed for the late night bingo, in part because we were enjoying the time to ourselves (we have four kids, remember- it takes us 3 hours just to remember how to talk to each other), and partly because (and I fully admit it) we were having FUN! Besides, factoring in our dinner, early bird bingo tickets, and now our late night bingo tickets, pop, popcorn, and onion rings, less my $10 win, we needed to win another $270 to break even. Because I'll be damned if I'm going to spend almost $300 on dinner and BINGO. (Yes- I see the flaw in my logic. I had become dauber-(dabber?)-happy at this point. I was no longer rational.)

I started off the late night games with astoundingly abysmal luck. I wasn't even getting within 12 or 13 numbers of a win. What had happened? Maybe I HAD used up our luck for the day? Should we just leave??? And then I realized. When I had won my original $10, I had been using an electronic purple circle to dab my cards. Over the course of the break between early and late night bingo, (letting another lady go ahead of us in the cashier line in order to once again be served (robbed) by the same woman who had helped (pillaged) us through our first foray into bingo), we had figured out how to customize our daubers (dabbers?), and I had switched to a blue leaf motif. Omigod! That was it! I had changed tactics! It wasn't the cards or the caller! It was me!

I quickly changed back to the purple circle, and during the very next game, won another $60 (earning a long-suffering sigh from darling husband). That was it. I was convinced. I was one troll doll and a custom made dauber (dabber?) case from becoming a real bingo player. It was time to get out, preferably before they served the Kool-Aid.

I enjoyed our evening. I really did. As did Jason. Will we go back every Friday from now on? No. Will we go back again sometime in the next year? Possibly. Will I stop making fun of the crazy players and being sanctimonious and judgemental? Probably not.

But it opened our eyes a little. Somehow, a large sub-set of the population, who previously seemed too unintelligent to do simple math (if I spend $200 on bingo every Friday night and win $70 once in a blue moon, it is a losing proposition, and the money is therefore better spent purchasing updated clothing and buying Grandma some teeth) is lucid enough to understand the world of 6-4-Baseball-Pay-Me-10-Times-Half-A-House-Any-Way-Progressive-Seven madness, and can keep 437 paper tickets organized on a tiny table, while stroking their lucky rabbit's foot and dabbing (daubing?) only the correct numbers with differing colors of ink, specific to their own personal superstitions, other hand ripping open instant win cards and, with only a cursory glance, depositing the losers into the garbage can, all without dropping a single ash from their teetering Salem Menthol Slim onto their polyester pants. I now know I'm not one of them.

Bingo players of the world, I salute you.