Friday, August 24, 2012

Feigning Informerical-Like Enthusiasm for September

Is the fact that summer's ending getting you down? Are you already starting to miss those lazy, hazy days at the beach or pool and wondering where the heck the summer went? Well, cry no more. 

A wise man once said (and that wise man may have been Classic TV dad, Mike Brady, in a Very Brady Hawaiian episode), it really "all depends how you look at things." Perspective is everything...even when dealing with an ancient Tiki statuette you believe is bad luck since your big brother seriously wiped out surfing in Honolulu while wearing it. Because hey, it was technically good  luck he didn't drown, right?

You can already see just how useful and effective this Only Look at the Bright Side mentality is going to be.

As August ends, I usually roam the school supply aisles with a tangled knot of dread in the pit of my stomach, mourning the loss of those warm, unhurried summer days. But if Mr. Brady is right (and really, when hasn't he been right?), all we have to do is reverse our thinking to feel better. It's that simple!

So instead of focusing on what you lose as September approaches, let's examine what you GAIN! I'm even going to type each one in ALL CAPS and use lots of exclamation points because that alone indicates just how FREAKIN' WONDERFUL they all are!!!

The first thing you'll gain is...VEHICLES! Not to own, but completely surrounding you. Everywhere. You. Go. Yes, after Labor Day, there will be plenty of traffic now that everyone has returned from their respective vacations. Don't you just hate cruising through the center of town all by yourself? Wouldn't you rather sit in gridlock with idiots who clearly don't know how to drive? Of course you would!

You'll also gain PAPERWORK! That's right, get your pens ready to execute your best penmanship....You're about to be inundated with about 250 school forms to fill out and return! You'll spend that first free afternoon you've had to yourself since June filling out ream upon ream of info per kid.  Lunch selections, milk orders, PTO interest surveys, emergency contact sheets, consents to use technology, health forms...Wooo-hooo, is there fun in store for you or what?

But that's not all! In an effort to be more "green," the school will simply email the you also get to download and print them yourself! Because you don't already spend enough time tethered to your computer.

Why, you lucky dog, you'll have almost as much homework as the kids....whom you'll also have to help with their homework overload. And buy poster board for projects. And cart back and forth to all their fall sports and activities daily among those shiny gridlocked VEHICLES! mentioned above. You certainly won't be bored, that's for sure!  Now if that's not a gain, I ask you, what is?

And here come the CLOTHES! No, not the designer dud equivalent of an Oprah giveaway....but you can scream just as loud as her audience members when you see the increase in laundry! Instead of donning a simple swimsuit or shorts, each family member will now wear multiple outfits daily. School clothes, play clothes, dance leotards, and of course, the never ending caravan of sports uniforms that have to be ready by the next game...which is usually less than 24 hours away.

But wait, there's more! Since it's going to get cooler, more layers for them is going to equal more laundry for you! Bet you can't hardly wait! Jeans, sweaters and sweatshirts also make that laundry basket nice and heavy. Can you say, "added bonus?"

You'll also enjoy GETTING UP EARLIER! Everyone will count on you to get the whole crew to wherever they need to be at the crack of dawn. So instead of leisurely sampling a summer bagel, have fun choking down a dry bran flake while you try to usher the slowest people in the world out the door on time. That vein on your forehead is sure to pulsate with each reminder to be sure they have their belongings, too!

You know, I am so glad I stopped viewing summer's end as a loss. As a matter of fact, all this talk about what we GAIN! is so exciting, I'm getting tired just thinking about it! So right after I figure out how to unclench my jaw, I think I'll go lie down.

Wake me when it's June again.

Actual Length of Summer: 10 1/2 weeks
Real Feel:  3 week blur 
# of Weeks Left Until Summer Break 2013: 42 1/2
# of Lessons Learned Watching Brady Bunch Episodes: 962 and counting

TALK TO ME:  Can you think of anything else we "GAIN!" when summer ends? And please tell me you remember the Brady Bunch...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Changes and Other Reasons to Freak Out at Customer Service Reps

I admit I'm not a big fan of change. When something changes, you definitely won't see me throwing a tailgate party and waving a foam finger or pennant that reads "Woohoo! Change!" I'm not too bad with the big stuff like moving into a new house or the kids switching schools. It's when unexpected small changes and little inconsistencies pop up that I start to  overreact  twitch.

Like when the supermarket didn't consider the fact it took me over a year to memorize their aisles before they recently rearranged their product placement. I could always enter, bang a left and seize the Cheerios right in front of me (although the checkout would still slow me down). But now I'm frequenting the same aisles over and over to solve the Mystery of the Vanishing Vanilla Cinnamon Oatmeal. If I wanted to run laps in order to eat my breakfast, I would've joined a gym.

But worse than supermarket metamorphosis is wasting ENTIRE AFTERNOONS this week dealing with customer service reps on the phone. Let me rephrase that: dealing with several customer service reps who each tell you something different about the same products and services that have apparently changed over the course of an hour.

And that's only after a solid 10 minutes fighting with the voice mail menu to get to an actual human each time.

My most recent aggravation began when I had to deal with the dreaded wireless company as I upgraded one of the dumb phones on our family plan for a smart one.

Me: Let me get this straight, with your new Share TMI Plan, I have to split my measly 2GB of data with other family members?
Rep: Yes.
Me: But on the old plan, I just paid for my own stupid data and got to hog it all to myself, which is really much more my speed. So how is this new plan "helping" me again?
Rep: You all get unlimited voice!
Me: And if anyone in my family ever used a cellphone for actual talking one day, that might mean something.
Rep: You can also now upgrade to share 4GB for just $10 a month AND add your iPad for another $10!
Me: Yes, but on the old plan I could use the smart phone as a mobile hotspot for the iPad and pay zero extra. 
Rep: Well, then maybe you'd rather keep your old plan?
Me: Wait, I'm allowed to do that?
Rep: Yes! 
Me: And it will be exactly the same?
Rep: Yes...except you'll no longer have unlimited data, but you DO get to keep the 2GB of data solely for your own smartphone. Then you'd just have to pay an additional $20 to use it as a hotspot for your iPad.
Me: So basically, there's no way to avoid that extra $20 per month, is there?
Rep: No ma'am, our CEO really needs to send his kids to the finest universities while continuing to purchase vacation homes around the world.

So now that we're apparently going to need a second mortgage to finance my mobile internet habits, we decided to look into saving money on the land line phone by combining carriers in one of those "triple" plans our cable provider offers.

Me: I'd like to know what it'd cost to combine my TV, internet and phone. I saw an ad for X per month?
Rep: Sorry, ma'am, X is only available for new customers.
Me: So you're basically penalizing me for being a loyal, repeat customer?
Rep: That's correct. The best price we can give you is Q.
Me: Q? Well, that's only going to save me about two bucks a month. I'll have to think about it.

Me: I'd like to save two bucks by signing up for the Q plan.
Rep: Sorry, the Q offer recently expired.
Me: But I just spoke to Suzy Cheerful two hours ago, and she told me I could save two bucks with Q!
Rep: The best I can offer you is C after the activation charge.
Me: Activation charge? No one said anything about an activation charge. How much is that?
Rep: You'd just have to add R.
Me: Only add R? I could take my family to Hawaii for that. On a private jet. Belonging to the wireless company's CEO whose vacation home I just helped finance. Are there any other hidden charges?
Rep: There is small charge for the technician to come to your house that will cost you A. Plus the transfer fee to switch your number over from the existing carrier which is a nominal Z. Do you have a security system on the phone line?
Me: Yes, can you please just give me the overall total I'd be paying per month?
Rep: There's a small Y fee to tie in the new line to your alarm system, so let's calculate adding Y to the C, R, A, and Z.
Me: That's just CRAZY.

The scary thing is, even after factoring in the activation fees, it was a tiny bit cheaper than what I'm currently being  robbed  charged by the original phone company's rate increase.

And as if that wasn't enough to send my consistency-craving mind over the edge, that same cable provider is now moving channels and their corresponding numbers around.

Me: Hi, I wanted to watch Stupid People Shopping for Homes on channel 240 and found The Real Housewives of the Funny Farm instead. What gives?
Rep: We moved the home and garden channel. It's now channel 838.
Me: Well, you could've warned your subscribers ahead of time...and also asked my permission before using my photo in the Funny Farm series.
Rep: Ma'am, didn't you see the notice about the channel changes we included in your last three bills?
Me: No one reads those little pamphlets that come inside billing envelopes, c'mon.
Rep: Did you also miss the postcard reminder?
Me: Pft, I have 4 kids. I don't have time to read mail.
Rep: How about the email?
Me: Probably thought it was spam.
Rep: We also left a message on your machine.
Me: Deleted. I assumed you were just another automated telemarketer.
Rep: What about our carrier pigeon?
Me: Oh, so that's why my dog was coughing up feathers.
Rep: The smoke signals?
Me: It's been really foggy lately.
Rep: How about the sky-writing?
Me: Hey wait, does my DVR know to start recording my shows on these new channels?
Rep: Did you have it set to record the shows on All Channels or This Channel Only?
Me: Well, of course This Channel Only so I didn't get eleventy billion copies clogging up my DVR.
Rep: Then you have to manually go into your settings to input the new channel number.
Me: Don't you think it's a little presumptuous of you to assume I'll remember how to go into my settings? I set these shows up eons ago. I can't believe you didn't even TRY to give me the heads up on this.

Consistency, people. That's all I ask. That and maybe my own vacation homes all over the world.

TALK TO ME:  Do small changes ever send you over the edge? Surely, you've wanted to slam the phone down on at least one customer service rep, right?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

All Bets Are On...the Stuffed Animals

Forget everything you may have heard about the legal gambling age being 21. Where we spent our vacation, even the youngest kids could place their bets and take their chances. As a matter of fact, it was encouraged.

Of course, the resort town's governing body might have a problem with that statement, but didn't seem to have a problem lining the boardwalk with row after row of stuffed animals and kid-themed prizes at their multiple Deceptive Gambling Stands of Torture.

It starts early in the day. You're on the beach attempting to read while simultaneously counting your kids' heads every five seconds. Growing bored of jumping waves and building sand castles after all of about 10 minutes, one of your offspring (let's call him The Addict) tells you his intentions of winning a coveted item on the boardwalk that evening.

You know, because it's not enough that you'll blow a good $100 on ride tickets.

You try to dismiss him with a vague "We'll see," but he's already memorized where the stand is, what it costs to play ("Only 50 cents per try!"), and could quite possibly provide blueprints of where you need to park and walk up to get him to his kiddie crack house of choice. Just make a left at the Ferris Wheel and walk southeast toward the Scrambler, Mom.

He'll remind you of his determination to win several more times, including at lunch and dinner, while you take your shower and while you try to read by the pool. (Seriously, why did you even bother bringing a book on a vacation? Did you really think it was going to be any different than your unsuccessful attempts to read at home?)

As your sandals clunk along the wooden boards that night, you can only wonder which stands will be the lucky ones to receive the mortgage payment's worth of cash necessary to support your child's gambling habits. Plus, if The Addict succeeds in winning something, you'll feel obligated to keep spending money until each of your kids has a prize.

It's usually wise to save the "You Win Some, You Lose Some" lesson for another day because vacations are supposed to be relaxing. Tantrums tend to thwart that. Ask your husband to signal you when or if said relaxing ever begins.

There are giant wheels of chance for your kids to place their bets on simple 3 letter words like "dad" and "cat" (more proof these are clearly designed to encourage kid gambling).  Here, you only need the spinner to land on one of the 2,157 words to win "Choice!"

As long as it's also on the correct corresponding color space. A red "mom" for the win. A blue "mom" loses. Who knew the boardwalk could be poetic?

There are so many blinding, blinking lights, you can barely see the arrow. Yet you find yourself shouting, "C'mon, Flo! Flo, Flo, Flo...Flooooo!!!!!! Ooooooooh no....oh, Flo" when you really mean a different word that starts with F as you've just lost another five bucks.

One stand beckons your offspring ("Kids get an extra try!") to shoot round basketballs into oval hoops. Oh, they don't look oval from the front, but take a gander from the side, and you'll see the blatant non-circular truth. Explaining this to your little Lebron James goes over about as well as you suggesting you'll take him to a store and BUY him the stuffed Angry Bird for far less than the price of gambling for one three times smaller.

Another favorite is balloon popping for prizes. That's right, after you've spent the previous 364 days of the year preaching the danger of eyes coming into contact with sharp objects, somebody's placing spear-like darts into the hand of your five year-old.

And encouraging her to THROW them.

The next stand requires your kids to skip coins across glass cake pedestals. As long as it finishes up on a platter, you win......a ticket. A ticket that must be combined with at least five more tickets if your child wishes to win a stuffed animal greater than one inch tall. It's the one he absolutely has to have, despite the fact you can barely open his bedroom door at home due to the sea of furry friends on the floor.

Then there's the crane game at the arcade, where small objects are trapped inside a glass cage and your child's job is to steer and lower the crane, open its jaws, seize the object of desire and carry it to safety. The only problem is you've seen dollar store salad tongs with better grasping ability.

Just give him two more quarters, he begs. He knows he can get it this time.

But at some point, most likely when you've spent about $175 to win $4 worth of prizes, each child goes back to the hotel with a small trinket. As you kiss them goodnight, you can see their eyes are already wild with anticipation for tomorrow night's Gamble Fest. 

You climb into bed thinking how you can quit this anytime. You'll be stronger and stop giving into your kids' ridiculous pursuits to win complete crap. Tomorrow night, you'll just say no.

Even you don't believe you. Fall asleep on the book you're now too tired to read.

Actual Time Spent Gambling for Stuffed Animals:  2 1/2 hours
Real Feel:  5 hours
Number of Stuffed Animals Accompanying You Home from Vacation: 14
Quality of Said Prizes:  Poor enough that they leak white beads all over the car.

TALK TO ME:  Do you ever find yourself financing a kid's gambling habit like this? Tips for where to store 80,000 stuffed animals are also encouraged. 

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