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“Did you read my blog today?  When are you going to blog again?”

How ’bout now?

Since Mr. Apron turned 30 earlier this month, I’ve unfortunately been reflecting on aging right along with him, and somehow or another, I’ve begun to think of myself as having turned 30 with him, thus depriving myself of the next 17 months.  Though not quite as fast as Robin Williams’ character aged in “Jack” that movie that, to quote Mr. Apron, “No one ever saw” (“I did, too!” I protested), I felt like I have accelerated my aging, and unfairly I’ll admit.  I’m not 30, and I won’t stand for it until it actually happens.  So there.

But while age may only be a number, and you’re only as old as you feel, I’m starting to see signs of my embracing what is to come, whether that means an end to wearing Spongebob barrettes (NEVER.  YOU WILL PRY THEM FROM MY COLD, DEAD 106 YEAR OLD RIGOR MORTIS’D HANDS), or simply seeking comfort in a suburban lifestyle and being in pajamas by 8pm (Yes, this has already happened.  Half of Philly never changes out of their PJ’s, so, again, I’m ahead of the masses.) I’m noticing things about myself I didn’t before.  No, not the cruel combination of wrinkles and acne.  Not the abyssmal pace at which I climb that stupid hill behind the art museum.  Things around me.

For example, I take thrill in finding a good parking spot by our house, and in being able to parallel park my little Fit into the spot the neighbors couldn’t with their land-yachts and inferior parking skills.  Last night, even Mr. Apron with his “compact luxury” car couldn’t fit into the spot I left open.  Yes, this excites me.  I turn my nose up at the whole block.

Tonight, finally relaxing after mad dashes through harrowing traffic and round-the-block trips coaxing the dogs to leave deposits, I watched “Minute to Win it”.  I saw an engaged couple go for $50,000, plus bonuses because it was “Wedding Week” (something to compete with season finales, I suppose).  When the fiancé catapulted 4 marshmallows into a cup he was holding in under a minute, I said, “How nice for them!”  And.  I meant it.  Who says that!

As Mr. Apron looks for jobs, and as I jealously patrol the job boards in search of employment porn, I find myself gushing over the benefits packages.  “Oooh, look honey.  They offer 10% matching on the 403b after only 8 months.  10%!  That’s unheard of!!”  That was a conversation in our home tonight.  We are officially old.

Finally, after being promised warned by my mother that she would not come visit unless/until we had upgraded the (functional, yet mediocre) coffee pot and the (broken, loud, ineffective) living room air conditioner, we broke down and went to Sears at the mall.  The Energy Star model we ended up bringing home made us all squishy in the pants becuase we can not only use it towards an income tax write-off for 2010, but PECO (local electric/gas co.) is offering a $50 rebate on new Energy Star A/C units.  Squishy in the pants over tax write-offs and energy rebates, folks. 

Welcome to the middle-age state of mind.  We have the house, the cars, and the dogs.  Bring on the mini-van and 2.2 children, world.  We’re ready.

The time clock is coming.  First it was the annual time motion study, asking us to account for the hours we work in 15 minute increments for a week.  Now the payroll time clock is here.  Don’t get me wrong, time clocks work, when they’re used for their intended purposes at appropriate workplaces.  As I understand it, a time clock is a mechanical or electronic or computerized way of clocking a person in and out of work, for payroll purposes.  If you’re at work when you’re supposed to be, the clock can verify this, and you’ll get paid for the time you work.  If you slack off, or sleep in, or skip out, the time clock should also verify this, and pay you accordingly.  I get that it’s very useful when people have changing shifts, or variable hours worked each week, or overtime to be calculated.  You know, for people who work at an hourly rate.
It, however, is gratuitous and ridiculous at a job where the vast majority of us work 8:30am-4pm M-F.  That’s it.  We’re all here, we’re all on the clock at the same time.  None of us would need to clock out for lunch since we pretty much work while eating.  None of us works overtime or overnight.  And here’s the kicker — the vast majority of us are salaried. That’s right — our hourly rate is extrapolated from a yearly salary, and we bring home the exact same paycheck each two weeks, regardless of how late we stayed in a meeting, or how early we arrived to finish up some paperwork, or even if we got to leave a half hour early by the grace of bad weather. 
Maybe this is some attempt by our higher-ups to enforce a unified start time, to encourage us all to be here on-time, preferably before the kids arrive.  Some staff do show up a bit late.  And some do try to leave early on a regular basis.  Are we moving to time clocks because we have to stoop to the lowest denominator?  Will those who come late be docked pay according to what the time clock says? 
The official word is that the time clock, being modern and synched up with the money people, will help make payroll easier for the folks off-site who process our checks.  Until this impending change, we will still be filling out paper timecards.  The secretary at one of my sites said that when she came to work here 12 years ago, they were promising a move to electronic time cards, so as to make her job easier.  She’s still waiting.  It’s very silly to have an allegedly modern organization with computers and internet and fax machines and scanning copiers still using paper time cards.  Yet here we are, letting the interoffice mail pick up timecards from 8 different sites and schlepp them to the corporate office across town each 2 weeks. 
But is a timeclock really the answer?  Is this leap backward to the 1950s really the way to go?  I can’t even begin to get into all the ways this is not going to work, all my questions and concerns.  Least of all, we’re supposed to start this coming Monday, yet we’ve had no training on how to use the fool thing.  Just a crude clock sketch on the whiteboard by the office, and the note that we’re starting Monday. The word on the street (underground employee information network, from others at other sites who are a week ahead of us) is that the clocks will only allow us to clock in from 7 minutes before the scheduled start time (e.g., 8:30am) to 7 minutes after.  This has already led people to have to excuse themselves from meetings running overtime to go clock out in their 14 minute window of opportunity.  The major issue, beyond the nit-picky annoyance of having the machine own our paychecks, is the loss of the human factor.  Not just the trust (outlined in the employee manual) that we will be here as long as it takes to do our jobs (ah, overtime without pay, I know it well), but the wiggle room allowed by other humans because we are all human.  One day you stay 30 minutes late for a meeting, the next day you can “comp” 30 minutes and scoot out a little early.  One week you have a doctor’s appointment in the afternoon, so you make sure to get in a little early on that day.  I don’t think the timeclock knows how to do that. 
More than that, it doesn’t know how to clock in people who are itinerant.  Two and a half days out of every week, I’m in the “field”.  I start my day at Sally’s Childcare or Big Bertha’s Head Start.  I start my day at homes, churches, daycare, and pre-k classrooms in Our Fair City.  The vast majority of us who are itinerant do so.  We only come into the office at the end of the day, and even then, some of us see a child as the last thing we do.  On a given Friday, I might not be in the office at 8:30am or 4:00pm.  Okay, so maybe they give the itinerant folks a bye on using the time clocks, but what about people like me, who divide their time between places?  I may start at Daycare X, only to finish my day at a site with a time clock.  I may have 3 days in a week officially clocked in and out, but 2 more days lost to a system that doesn’t understand or reflect the way the workers, um, work. 
Nevermind the fact that we haven’t been trained how to use the machine; nevermind the fact that I’m one of those annoying goody-goodies who’s always here on time.  It still irks me on a fundamental level.  I know the kinks are going to take a long time to work out.  Meanwhile, we all get to feel like the work we do on the job is secondary to how we cross the threshhold to the workplace. 

Molly has made me cry.  It wasn’t when she ate my watchband.  Afterall, leather is not so different from the rawhide we give her to chew.  It wasn’t when she ate my emery board or a pen; both are shaped like the rawhide sticks.  And it wasn’t when she tore into my popcorn heating pad, as that is easy enough to replace, and did smell like food.  No, she made me cry when she — all 24 pounds of her — yanked me down the street when I was trying to walk her.  I spent the entire afternoon researching how to train her to walk gently on the leash.  I looked at videos, I read blogs, I researched high-priced animal trainers.  And for the rest of the week, I dutifully followed protocol, stopping movement when she pulled, rewarding her for looking at me by doling out treats, and commanding “gentle” (I can’t do “heel”; I feel like a tool).  Yet it was all too slow.  I felt like I was rewarding her for looking at me, not training her to walk without pulling.  Her pulling on the leash is so constant, I doubt I was being consistent enough in my stopping to teach her the right lesson.  But it actually hurt.  Either my arm was being pulled out of its socket, or my fingers were all mashed up from gripping the leash handle.  I cried because she is too stupid to understand that pulling does not move either of us faster on the walk, and I can’t teach her that.  Molly is many things — cute, cuddly, affectionate, destructive — but she is just a dog. 

As in all things, when patience wears thin, we look for the quick fix.  My mother has also been driven to seek out dog trainers as she has 3 rescued dogs who are all, to varying degrees, insane.  There’s dumbshit Annabella, the chocolate lab who eats the bannister and runs into walls, Holly, the amblyopic border collie who has nuclear diarrhea in the car and has anxiety about everything, and Jellybean, the fox terrier I have yet to meet, but who, I’m sure, is insane.  And she has to walk them all.  Holly, for all of her border collie sleekness, pulls so hard on her leash she ends up on her rear legs, hopping like a wall-eyed bunny.  She can’t even stay still long enough to pee; she leaves a little trail as she waddles in the grass.  Annabella is a sweetheart, but she’s 90 lbs of loving.  Jellybean is tiny, but she’s also a terrier, so she’s intense.  Altogether, the dogs weigh more than Mom, so she needs all the help she can get. 

Her trainer recommended the Gentle Leader harness, so all 3 girls now walk wearing them.  Mom dispatched one to us, after I’d slung a tape measure around Molly as if measuring her for her first training bra.  She’s 22 inches around, so Mom bought the Medium.  Small only goes to 20 inches, and they didn’t have the in-between size in the store.  Of course not.  Just because you manufacture 7 sizes doesn’t mean the retailers should carry them all; what sense would that make?

Well, we’ve had the harness scarcely a week, and it works.  When it’s on.  Molly is rather rabbit-shaped.  She has a long, lean torso which she uses to bridge herself between Mr. Apron’s lap and my lap.  She’s also incredibly agile and can jump astonishing heights, such as to clear the dog gate as if in Olympic hurdling.  Her assets are also useful for elongating and jumping clear through the harness.  Usually, though, she just manages to slip one front leg out.  Four times now, she’s lunged forward , slipping through the harness, leaving it to precariously cling to her hind-quarters, stopping her motion only because the bulge of her tail keeps it from slipping off completely. 

After that happened again today, Mr. Apron tackled her like some apt football metaphor, and declared that was it; it was going back to the store for a smaller size.

We had the receipt; I just couldn’t find it.  After 15 minutes of cursing myself for not putting it on the bulletin board or in my purse, or in the box the harness came in, I found the receipt, and we headed to Petco.

Even exchange, right?  Mr. Apron hit the return desk while I pounded the aisles.  I saw nothing in the leash/collar aisle, nothing with the Eagles NFL-license harnesses, nothing in the dog-walking accessory section.  The Gentle Leader harnesses, for some reason, are two aisles over, in their own section.  Because that made sense.  They didn’t have the S/M at our Petco either.  Just S or M.  I sighed, took the Small, and prepared for failure.  I found Mr. Apron, weary as the cashier prepared to issue a merchandise credit because Mom bought the harness with her credit card, and presented the new harness to them.  Wouldn’t you know, the same harness that cost $26.49 in Seekonk, MA, costs $29.99 in our part of the world?  Wouldn’t you know they actually made us pay the difference?  Plus tax.  I wonder if, had we not had the receipt, we would have been able to make the even exchange without money changing hands.  You know, like a merchandise credit when we brought back the Flavia beverage machine someone bought us for our wedding (that we hadn’t registered for and had no use for, hence, we hadn’t registered for it)?  I bet we would have.  Just sayin’. 

And as I’m fond of saying, it’s not the $3.50 +tax; it’s the principle of the thing.  And then not even carrying the right size.  You have to get the thing on the dog in the first place to see if it fits, even if (as we did) you do measure first.  And now we’re stuck in the world of Petco store credit, even if I did order the harness from the manufacturer online. 

We got the fool thing home.  Whereas the Medium was adjusted all the way tight and still too big, the Small is now adjusted all the way loose, and still too snug.  I’m worried about our pretty little girl chafing her beautiful blonde fur.  I’m worried we’re not going to be able to wrastle her into the snug contraption without resorting to etherizing or, Mr. Apron’s prefered method, tasing her first. 

Let’s just hope it works.  While I’m slightly conflicted that this isn’t teaching her not to pull, and that, were we to take it off, we’d be back to ground zero, I’ll settle for a dog who walks gently with some assistive technology.  I long for the obedient, amazing, stunt-performing dog, but I’ll leave that to Cesar Millan and Lassie.  As long as my arm isn’t being wrenched out of its socket, I’ll settle for good enough.

How I didn’t want to spend an hour of my morning:

Drenched in my own sweat as my legs became plastered to a vinyl covered sofa on which I sat with a 3 year old girl.  Because if it’s 84 degrees outside, it’s 90 degrees inside the Philly rowhome, as the stagnant air sits heavily in the darkened room.  No air conditioning, no fan, no cracked window.  Just a neighborhood girl outside distracting the child I was working with inside, making us both long for the relatively fresh air the sunshine promised.  No air, just vinyl covering every soft surface, and just three million ceramic angels tacked to every vertical or horizontal surface. Two gigantic TV cabinets in each corner of the living room, one filled with a TV, the other, with angels.  Angels on the wood paneled walls, angels on knick-knack shelves looking over the couch, angels on the end tables, angels gracing placemats seen through the glass coffee table.  Angels going up the stairs, angels on the doorways.  And each table (dining room, end-table, coffee table) covered with its own hermetic layer of vinyl.  The entire home could be cleaned by Windex. 

Not the ideal place for a 3 year old who needs to run around and use up her energy.  Can you imagine building a pillow fort out of vinyl cushions?  Just sayin’.  So I wasn’t altogether surprised to hear the little girl, who had until now used a quiet voice to utter short, shy phrases to me, scream at her mother the top of her lungs, “You bitch!” and then, a few moments later, “You ugly!”  If my eyes had widened as they adjusted to the dark and then were assaulted by the heavenly bound cherubim, my jaw now dropped in shock upon hearing this little girl yell epithets at her mom. 

Children learn by example, by what they see, what they hear, how they observe their families interacting.  But no amount of Windex can clean up the mouth of a 3 year old whose mother has modeled screaming obscenities as appropriate language in her home.

Having spent 12 of the past 30 hours this weekend riding in a car, I feel I am justified in commenting on the recipe for a highway rest-stop.  Trap travelers on restricted access toll-road from which exiting is a hassle and offer them sub-par overpriced food with severely limited options.  Add in a dash of restaurant offerings only seen on toll roads (Does Roy Rogers exist outside of the highway rest stop?), and make sure restrooms have smelly soap, and you’re basically there.  Throw in some 7 year old boys in the women’s bathroom, people dashing to and from their cars under-dressed for the climate change from Cocoa Beach to Rehoboth Beach, and you have the full picture. 

This weekend, as we travelled only to Pittsburgh and back for my sister’s graduation (woohoo!), we experienced only 3 rest stops, but they managed to get me thinking about how to improve the overall experience.  More healthy options?  Friendlier restrooms?  Milkshakes and vegetarian-able hoagies?  Cash registers that make electronic ca-chings?  I know what I’m channeling  — Wawa!

For those outside the Wawa service area – DE, MD, PA, VA, NJ – Wawa is not merely a convenience store; it is an experience.  Growing up as a child with a very small bladder, yet fearing public restrooms, I became a connoisseur of the public restroom.  My least favorite were always the convenience store/gas station variety.  They were to be avoided at all costs.  In a pre-Starbucks era (my current choice of restroom in NYC), the world was a cold, unfriendly place for children with full bladders.  Yet a Wawa is a place I seek out.  I know the locations of the six nearest Wawas to my home and places of employment.  I know I can count on them for more than sanitary relief; they satisfy all those pesky hunger needs.  Wawa is not merely a regional 7-Eleven.  It is above and beyond.  The beverage selection is unparalleled, the snacks constantly expanding.  If it is overpriced marginally healthy fare you seek, look no further than the coolers, where you can buy prepackaged apples and peanut butter, apples and caramel, veggies and  dip, cheese, crackers, and pepperoni, mango slices, hardboiled eggs, and yogurt cups.  You can make up your own milkshake and grab a hoagie (aka “sub” or “zep” for those outside the region) built to order in one of three sizes.  They even have “Junior” for women and men who aren’t emasculated by such designations.  There are cigarettes and gum and candy.  There’s water and soda and iced tea.  They have salads and wraps and flatbreads.  There are even Wawas with gas stations – known as “SuperWa” in our house.

We don’t need an overhaul of Roy Rogers, Sbarro, and Nathan’s at our nation’s rest stops; we don’t need to petition for better prices or more healthful, veggie-friendly offerings; we just need highways full of Wawas with Starbucks kiosks. 

When I moved here 7 years ago, I thought Wawa was merely an overpriced convenience store.  I also thought the Amish were quaint and naïve.  A tour through Lancaster County and an Oprah exposé on puppy farms later, I’m so much the wiser.  Seven years of dashing into Wawa for lunch on the go, water in the dog days of the summer, and a coke to wash down a Tylenol for an emerging headache have taught me that the Wa is no ordinary force to be reckoned with.

Down with Roy Rogers.  Long live Wawa!

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May 2010