Thursday, July 29, 2010

I made my Daughter cry that day....

One of the many dangers of traveling is the tendency to "Ambush Parent" on a return home.  You have been thinking about a conversation that needs to take place, you mull, you plan, and wait in the tall grass until the offspring walks by and you strike with "Hey, have you got a minute?"  This is a largely ineffective style of parenting, and you don't have to travel to be guilty of it, but nevertheless, this is a story of it.....

     Molly was in her Junior Year of High School and the college search had already begun.  Char and I had conversed many times on the subject, but sadly Molly and I hadn't.  (At this point the author needs to address any misconceptions that anyone reading this might have that he parents alone.  My wife does the majority of this with a style and grace not shared by many, but she does defer some things that she doesn't feel as strongly about, to me. We each have our comfort zones and are only too happy to "Team Parent")  We had asked (required) Molly to spend some time each week on applying for scholarships, and she did as asked (required), but the caliber of the ones she chose was questionable at best.   Molly never did get the "Snap, Crackle, Pop"  Scholarship, but I often wonder who did.  Molly had an idea of where she wanted to go, what she wanted to study, and where she wanted to live after that, but the financial discussion had yet to take place.

     Catching her was going to be difficult as she had already started to spend more time away from the home than in it. Cheer-leading, work, boyfriend, parties, study sessions they all conspired to keep this conversation from happening, but finally one Saturday it did. I had prepared a spreadsheet that included the costs of tuition, room and board, interest on loans, living expenses after graduation, and offset it with the likely income (starting salary) of her chosen profession.  See, when you "Ambush Parent" you have to be more prepared than your prey, since when executed, it is a total surprise to them.  I was more prepared, she had no idea what hit her.

     She walked into our dining room where we had our computer at the time, and failed to notice the 2 chairs that were sitting in front of it.  I ushered her over and invited her over to "Check this out" and the trap was sprung!  I barraged her with questions about her future plans and entered each answer into the spreadsheet, and when finished, I hit the calculate button.  It clearly showed that the plan, as stated, would result in an inability for her to repay her student loans by about $400 a month.  It was factual, realistic and stark, and when I turned around after admiring my handiwork, my daughter was in tears. Her face was red with anger and hurt, her hands were clenched, her upper lip was quivering, and her eyes spoke volumes through the salty brine.  She fled the room shortly thereafter.  I was stunned.  I thank God often that he chose to give us one daughter, because that is the exact number that I think I can handle, except for that day when the number was 1 lower.

      The conversation eventually took place, and with all things of this importance, it wasn't one conversation, it was a series of them that were held, and examined and re-examined over time.  Molly got accepted to almost every school she applied to (Syracuse - what was up with the Wait List BS?).  The most prestigious was N.Y.U., but the scholarship offer didn't balance the spreadsheet.  She eventually chose the University of Buffalo.  It was a core school, it offered many majors, it was a huge campus like she wanted, they stepped up with a great merit scholarship, and the tuition was reasonable.  The spreadsheet grew even more reasonable when she switched her major to nursing last year and moved off campus this year.  In spite of the rough start, I think the plan is working, and Molly has more than once thanked us for helping her to choose so wisely.  She will get a great education, but with the minimal debt, so she can choose to live where she would like, and start a building a home sooner if she wishes. 

     The next few paragraphs offer some targeted advice to the participants of this process.  I make no claim on being an expert at this, but the unsolicited advice follows anyway.....

     Parents - Yes, start saving early, but also make your children save.  My parents rule was half of the money earned goes to the bank for college.  I saw no reason to change it.  Molly worked corn stands, a farm, retail and nursing homes for near minimum wage, and she banked $5,000 prior to college.  Share the expense with your children even if you can afford to pay it all.  They will take better ownership of it.  Have the tough conversations with them, even if they cry. Our society is making these kids make one of the largest financial decisions of their lives when their brains aren't even fully developed.  They need your guidance.  Shop for a college like you would a car.  Check the costs, the placement rates, the faculty, and always remember that they are selling their product and your children are buying it.  The financial aid is negotiable, so make sure to push back.  We share the expense of college with our kids, and pay the interest on their loans while they are attending school.

     College Students - Go to class.  You are paying a lot of money to be there, enjoy the experience, but make the grade.  Take the number of classes that you can handle.  Work when possible, even while in school, if only to offset your living expense.  Bank some money in the summer.  Keep a good eye on your schedule so you finish on time or even early.  Live at home if you can.  Meet with your counselors, and network with your instructors.  Those who do will find an easier time finding work out of school.  Don't defer loan payments unless absolutely necessary.  Live within your means when you exit school, and get rid of this debt as soon as you can.  Develop a plan B, if it looks unlikely you will start in your field.  Adjust your plan to allow yourself to travel where there is work, you can always come back in the future. 

     High School Students - Take advantage of the last free education you will likely ever get.  Study harder on tests that will allow you to opt out of courses in the future.  Study for the SAT!  (Dad, you can't study for the SAT.)  OK then, REVIEW for the SAT!.  Gather your friends, do it in groups, do a question a day all year, but do it.  Apply for scholarships, the real ones, not the lotteries.  Shop your schools, follow your dreams, but be realistic and talk to those who have gone before you.  Consider the military, it's still a good deal.  Work and save the money.  Lastly, step up and ask your folks to talk with you about the finances.  You can avoid the Ambush, and we truly don't like it when you cry. 

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Franchise is in jeopardy....

A transcript of a call I got the other day (no tape available,Oksana used it all)....

Me: Hello?
D.O.C.U.B.F.: Yes, am I speaking to the owner of Uncle Bill franchise # 269?
Me: Yes, who is calling please?
D.O.C.U.B.F.: I am the Director of Compliance and I'm calling to investigate some reported behaviors of yours that have come into this office recently....
Me: Wait, Wait, I have had this franchise for over 25 years, and I have never received a single complaint, what is being alleged?
D.O.C.U.B.F.: The allegations include leaving a party early, positively influencing your nieces and nephews, moderate consumption of alcohol, and participating in other general non-attention seeking behaviors. 
Me: LIES LIES!!  I have never done any of those things!!
D.O.C.U.B.F.: Based on your previous history, they didn't make sense to us either, but you understand that we have to protect the interests of the franchise.  Just for fun, repeat the oath for me....
       First to rise, last to bed,
       The time to sleep is when we're dead
       No event passed by, no story untold,
       our alcohol it makes us bold,
       Cigars abound, and debauchery too,
       No mike untouched, they'll know we were through
       Of Wine, Women, and Song we'll have our fill,
       I pledge to be an Uncle Bill

D.O.C.U.B.F.: Perfect!, Now then to the specific charges, 1 count of going to bed early at a Family Pig Roast, 1 count of failing to teach a nephew (Jonathon) to smoke cigars, giving good advice to another nephew (Nate), and failing to finish a drink at a party.
Me: I know it sounds bad but there were extenuating circumstances.  It was really cold at the Pig Roast and it was past 2, but I got really achy and had to turn in.  Jonathon just turned 12, I was waiting until he turned 13, I got caught up with Nate's wedding coming up and I really like Laura, so some stuff did slip out, and I didn't finish that drink, but it was because I lost it, but I drank 2 other people's on the way out to make up for it. 
D.O.C.U.B.F.: (Silence)
Me: You've got to let me make this up! I can't lose the franchise!! Come on, you know my history....
D.O.C.U.B.F.: #269, I know how hard this can be, but understand, not everyone can be an Uncle Bill forever.  You've had a great run, one of the longest on record, don't you want to be remembered for those good times? 
Me:  It's not time, there are too many Sapphire and Tonics left, too many Karaoke songs unsung, and a whole lot of weddings coming up, please just once, let this slide?  Hey, Hey!!  I was just at a wedding, and I did all the right things there!
D.O.C.U.B.F.:  Drained the bar? Stayed up the latest?  Danced like no one was watching and with the cutest girls? 

D.O.C.U.B.F.:  All right, if this can be verified, I'll consider this a closed matter for now, but #269 you should be considering your exit strategy, I've got a great deal on a moderate Uncle Mike franchise if you are interested....
Me: (Silence)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Infamous Red Jeans Story.

I had the great advantage of attending Catholic School from grades K-8. The school of my youth was the one of strict discipline and nuns vigilantly watching over you for aberrant behaviors. In spite of that, I enjoyed my time there and made the most of the advantages offered to me. One of the advantages for a poorer kid, was the requirement to wear the same uniform each day. I looked the same as the more affluent kid who sat next to me, and survived with 2 pair of blue corduroys to my name. As I approached High School in 1979, however, I realized that the game was about to change.

I paid a lot of attention during the start of that Summer as to what kids wore (I admit some trepidation of going from a class of 30 to a school of nearly 1200). My research quickly showed me that the preferred pants of my soon to be peers were denim Blue Jeans. This created a conundrum at home, as I did not own a pair. Although I worked as a paper boy, the money I earned seemed to find it's way out of my pockets very quickly especially in the Summer around the time of the Cheshire Carnival and St. Mary's Festival. So, what to do?

We had a tradition in our household that we would each make a list of our Birthday Wishes, and post them on the fridge a few weeks prior to your birthday. My parents were always good about giving you at least one item from your list. With that in mind, I calculated a no- lose strategy that would insure that I would be wearing denim by the end of June (my birthday is the 10th ). My list looked something like this....

1. Jeans

2. Jeans

3. Jeans

4. Jeans

(I think you get the picture).

My Birthday fast approached with me having no worries as to my clever plan succeeding. On that day, we had my favorite dinner (Shake and Bake Pork Chops), and after the obligatory spanking (that always seemed to exceed the number of years that you actually were), I was ready to open my presents. I opened a gift of Growing Rocks from my brother, some underwear from my folks, and finally had a rectangular package in hand that had the sufficient weight to be jeans. I tore open the package and peered inside, and my jaw about fell to the floor.

Nestled inside the tissue paper, was a pair of denim-like material, but they were Cherry Red. I said "Ma, what are these?" She replied, beaming " Turn them over!". I did, and the label clearly read " Big Wheel Jeans". I had suffered a serious setback in my quest for Blue Jeans, by not being specific enough on my list. I tried to keep a brave face as I went through the rest of my packages and suddenly I came upon a second box of similar heft that just had to be Jeans. I cautiously opened this package, and what do you think I saw? That's right, a second pair of Big Wheel Cherry Red Jeans. My mother proudly exclaimed " They were 2 for $10!!" She was always a great bargain shopper.

Needless to say I started H.S. with red jeans being a significant portion of my wardrobe. Try as I might, I could not create the schedule, with the pants available to me, to not wear them twice in a week. Once during science class I was challenged by a girl behind me " Didn't you wear those yesterday?" I proudly answered her with " Nope, I have 2 pair of these Bad Boys!" I even removed the tag from the pair I was wearing to show her next time, that I did indeed have 2 pair. Compounding the difficulty of having a wardrobe that was comprised of 50% red denim, was my absolute lack of fashion sense. I frequently would wear my red jeans with a red plaid long sleeved shirt. Many days I was mistaken for a rodeo clown on his way to work ( I was kind of pasty too).

So my first semester in HS went agonizingly slow, but during it I was able to secure a better after school job. This quickly afforded me the opportunity to buy my first pair of Levi's. I credit the outgoing personality and my ability to tell stories and jokes in large part to the days I spent surviving that first semester of Canandaigua High School. You truly have not lived, until you lived in that school wearing red denim. Since that fateful day, I have purchased my own clothing, and even secured the services of a fashion consultant but, I have never owned a pair of red jeans since.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

First Blog - A must read for new followers

Yes, I can spell onion. The Title is self deprecating as I cannot say onion without throwing a G in there. It is also meant to illustrate that the writer of this blog is far from the simple whole, rather, you see a different side of him at each layer, oh and peeling them back can make you cry. Some layers of me that you might recognize...

Father of 3
Boy Scout Leader
Traveling Salesman
Volunteer Fireman
Momma's Boy
Sibling of 11 others
Notorious Flirt
Loyal friend

I am not sure why other's blog, but as I start this I can see it might be therapeutic. On a good day it might be entertaining too. I plan to blog about my travels and the people I meet, my family stories from my youth, my life in a small town, about my friends, about food, about wine, and about current events. So sit back and enjoy if you are so inclined, I'll do the peeling, you can just enjoy the fruits of my labor.