If You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get

I don’t go crazy over celebrities.

You could tell me that the world’s biggest star was right across the street and I would still stay home. So when my sister asked me to take her on Friday to the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Wahlburgers in St. Charles, Illinois, I was less than thrilled.

But Trish is not one to be shut down when she has an idea. My 58-year-old sister with Down syndrome has spent her entire life asking for whatever seems reasonable to her, even when it’s completely unrealistic to others. It was obvious to her that she should be at this event because she loves Donnie Wahlberg, New Kids on the Block and the television show Bluebloods. She would certainly be the most important attendee. I didn’t have a stronger reason for not going, so off we went.

Once there, it was obvious that despite the crowd, there was a very good chance we would be in close proximity to Donnie and his brother/business partner Paul. I was getting excited and wasn’t sure why. At one point Paul came near to grab something from a table, and I hollered out to ask if I could take a photo of him with Trish. He kindly obliged.

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Trish seized the opportunity to tell him she wanted to work at the restaurant when it opened. Over the course of two to three minutes (an eternity for a celebrity whose name is being shouted by hundreds), she detailed her qualifications. When she said she could wash tables and sweep floors, he joked, “Well if you do all of that, what am I going to do?”

Realizing she was not going to take “No” for an answer, he called over two women who took down her name and address, saying they would send her an application. Trish proceeded to convince these women as well that she should be hired. We then went back behind the makeshift barricade to wait for a drive-by selfie with Donnie.

I watched Paul talk to the two women, look in our direction and speak to another man with a Wahlburgers jacket. I knew something was happening. This man (the general manager I believe) stepped over to shake Trish’s hand and announce that he had the authority to designate her as their first new hire for this location. Cameras were rolling to capture the moment for potential use on their reality series, Wahlburgers.

Soon Donnie made his rounds and came near Trish. I yelled out that she was their first hire. He went to congratulate her with a handshake, but she grabbed him for a hug. She was not going to miss out on a hug from Donnie.

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To say we were amazed and grateful is an understatement. We were thanking God all the way home for these people, and spent the rest of the day telling the tale online and off.

Who is the disabled one?

In bed that night, something struck me about my relationship with my sister. When you grow up with a developmentally-disabled sibling (and I have two), it’s difficult to understand why they act differently. Especially when you’re young and you just want them to conform so that you’re not embarrassed in front of others.

Trish has always pushed the envelope on this. There have been hundreds of arguments about why she couldn’t, and we couldn’t, do whatever she wanted. Even as an adult she insists on going to the Fourth of July parade to get candy (much to the dismay of the children around her). She has never missed trick-or-treating, regardless of whether people are kind to her or not.

Since a junior high visit to a fire station, she has been enamored of firefighters and paramedics. She made sure to meet them all during her 37-year career at a local hospital, and would call them and send cards to them and their families.

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I’ve winced when I’ve heard her ask a new firefighter for his address. I’ve chided her for getting in the way of kids trying to get their share of parade candy. I’ve been impatient when she doesn’t understand there isn’t enough money to buy all that she wants.  Sometimes I could fulfill her endless requests and other times I couldn’t. When she was shut down by one sibling, she would call the next until she got what she wanted or reached the end of the line.

It has taken me decades to realize a few important things:

  • Her “ask” was completely reasonable to her–I was the one who was unreasonable.
  • My “No” was always about me and whether I would be put out or embarrassed.
  • Her relentless pursuit for things that matter to her has made her fearless and successful.
  • I need to be more like her, not the other way around.

I realize now that my sister Trish very often gets what is important to her because she believes she can get to “Yes” if she just keeps at it. While this can’t be true in every situation, it begs two questions: Do I believe in my dream enough and will it change my life enough that I’m willing to go for it? Do I just need to set fear aside and ask? I seemed to be okay entreating celebrities to do things for my sister, but I can clam up when it comes to asking for myself.

So often when I’ve said, “I can’t, Trish”, she will respond with a twinkle in her eye, “Yes, you can”. It’s that “Yes, you can” that is resounding in my thoughts after seeing what she pulled off on Friday. She got a job working for the most famous guy in town–an internationally-known singer/actor/entrepreneur. All because she thought she had every right to expect success.

And so do I. So do you. Life is too short to be afraid to ask.

A Siren is a Siren…Isn’t It?

Even though it’s mid-winter, the tornado practice siren peals every Tuesday morning at 10:00 a.m.

Since I know that with snow on the ground the likelihood of a tornado is slim. And yet every time I hear that darn siren, I get a burst of adrenaline.

And it always reminds me of the first summer I lived in this house.

Lilapsophobia:  irrational fear of tornadoes and hurricanes

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First, let me set the record straight.  When I was growing up 20 miles northwest of here, when you heard a siren, it meant serious business. Living in tornado alley means you don’t mess with warnings–you simply take action immediately.

I can count half a dozen tornadoes that came through our area when I was growing up.  The first, I was told, occurred when I was an infant.  The rest of the family ran for cover in the “under the stairs” closet.  Meanwhile, I was left in the bassinet in my parent’s bedroom.  I guess that comes with being Bonus Child No. 7: totally forgotten in everyone’s haste.  My parents still refuse to apologize and often say, “We would have figured out you were missing at some point.”  I think not.

The next time, I was a toddler.  Thankfully, my oldest sister remembered that I existed and shuttled me to the closet, along with my other siblings and our German Shepherd.  Shoved together with several kids in this small space, I got stuck with the butt end of the dog in my face.  Pepper kept smacking me with his tail, dealing with his own canine version of lilapsophobia. When my parents came home from the store, they said the car lifted off the ground as they were driving.  Yikes.

The third time I remember most vividly because I was older, and the tornado came through our back yard and had the nerve to take my swing set with it.  The concept blew my mind (pardon the pun).  The weather can TAKE STUFF FROM YOU?  What kind of world was I living in?

There were several other pretty scary storms that likely contributed to my fear of tornadoes, so what happened in 2002 shouldn’t have been a surprise.

Check the Fine Print

I remarried in 2002 and moved into my husband’s home with my then-seven-year-old daughter.  Life was peachy, and we looked forward to our first summer in a great new neighborhood.

Then it happened.  One July night at 11:00 p.m., I could hear the city’s sirens going off.  Adrenaline shot me out of bed so quickly I wasn’t sure where I was…and where the closet under the stairs was…and where Pepper was…and where the swing set…wait a minute!  Where was my daughter?

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I ran into her bedroom and picked her up, trying not to wake or scare her.  This was, of course, impossible, considering I was stealing her from sleep and acting like a maniac.  I grabbed the first things I thought of to protect her:  a pillow, her gym shoes and her bike helmet.

She was half asleep as we ran past my husband, who was sitting quietly in the living room, watching television with the front door open.  The wind was whipping the trees into a frenzy and rain was shooting down in anger. Out of the corner of my eye I caught that menacing scroll at the bottom of the TV screen.  I knew it must be describing the peril coming our way.

“What in the world are you doing?” he hollered as I scampered down the basement steps.  I ignored him.  It was every man for himself.

Once in the basement, I found the nook under the stairs and, as swift as could be, put the bike helmet on my daughter. By now, she was fully awake and terrified that life in the new house came with such nightmarish circumstances.  As she was asking me questions, I quickly put on her gym shoes (“We may have to run if the tornado picks up the house”) and then grabbed the futon mattress to put over us.

“What is going on?” My husband was now standing at the top of the stairs.

Was he deaf?  Could he not hear that we were going to die?  The sirens don’t lie.

“There’s a tornado coming,” I yelled up the stairs from our bunker. ” You need to take cover too!”

He had the nerve to chuckle.  Probably just like the tornado that stole my swing set. “It’s just a watch,” he said.  “It sounds once for a watch and two times for a warning.”

I didn’t believe him.  Who changed the rules?  Why was I not consulted?  Why wasn’t a national memo distributed?

Evidently a letter had come from the city a few weeks prior indicating they were putting a revised warning system in place.  Well that explains it.

How Does One Move On?

That was 15 years ago, and try as I might, I can’t control the adrenaline when I hear the siren go off.  Even the test one every Tuesday morning at 10:00 a.m. It fools me every dang time, takes me several minutes of wondering why I would be hearing that screech when it’s a sunny day.  Was it one of those creep-up-on-you-and-it-sounds-like-a-freight-train-before-you-know-it kind of storms?

Phobias don’t die easily.  But they are spread easily.  Even at college, my now-22-year-old daughter instinctively panics at the sound of the siren or the annoying beep on T..V. indicating a need to watch the skies.

And yet I still can’t convince her to grab a bike helmet and a pair of gym shoes before she runs to the basement of her dorm.  Silly girl.  Doesn’t she know how ingenious that is?

Aldi and the Search for My Lost Dignity

I consider myself, and have been told by others, that I’m a reasonably intelligent adult.  I graduated cum laude from one of those “Ivy League of the Midwest” colleges back in the day.  I am a freelance writer and have run successful businesses.  As I result, I’m fairly confident, and think I’ve maintained a healthy, not-too-arrogant sense of self-esteem.

But today my self-worth was shattered.  In a way I never would have imagined.  It happened because I chose to test my commitment to frugality by shopping at Aldi.

I have to admit that I used to think that Aldi was a step above a food pantry.  There had to be a place for people who were subsisting on 59 cent mac and cheese.  Somewhere to buy generic sausage links and butter cookies.  God bless them.

Then I heard people say, “Oh, Aldi is the best.  They’ve even got organic produce now.”  So I headed out this afternoon, planning to impress my husband that I picked up our favorite foods for a fraction of the price that we normally pay at other stores.

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Gaffe #1:  The Shopping Cart

The humiliation began before I walked into the store.  There were several other people walking in at the same time, so I thought I could blend into the crowd like a regular.  They didn’t have carts, so I didn’t need a cart.  I glanced over at the outdoor cart corral to see the chain gang of shopping carts, assuming that they were taking a time out because they hadn’t behaved.  You know those carts that make you look like a fool because their  wheels are all wonky and it ruins your entire excursion?  This must be their penalty box.

Once inside the store, the look of bewilderment on my face couldn’t be disguised.  Why was there absolutely no rhyme or reason to where items were located?  Why were there tents next to tomatoes and crew socks next to croutons?  Was it meant to be a scavenger hunt and I missed the sign as I walked in?

I played it cool and starting picking up items.  Indeed, there were organic berries, grapes, peppers, bananas, avocados.  Cool.  I started loading my arms with fruit, and realized I absolutely needed a cart.  But I didn’t see any.  Had Jesus come back and raptured the good shopping carts and I was left behind with the imprisoned ones?

As grapes began spilling out of the bag, I found an employee who indicated that you have to pay a quarter to get a shopping cart outside.  What?  I don’t come to the store with real money!  Where was I going to find a quarter?  Would I be forced to stand outside like a ticket scalper and try to con someone into giving me their cart as they were leaving?

Thankfully, the woman said I could borrow one that was up by the cashier.  As I did so, I could feel people sneering at me.  “Who does she think she is? I had to pay a whole 25 cents and she just waltzes in?”

Gaffe #2:  Are These Generic Brands?

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My father has tried to convince me for years that there are only a couple of manufacturers that package food and they sell them to companies who put their own brand on them.  It’s possible.  But I’m skeptical as I’m looking at the weird, all-too-gleeful names on the products at Aldi.

Maybe it was because my parents bought generic items when they were the rage in the ’70s.  Who can blame them with seven kids and one income?  But while my friends were eating Lucky Charms in the beautiful red box with the joyful leprechaun, I got the black and white box that said “Marshmallow Cereal”.  To this day, I still can’t look that leprechaun in the eye without tearing up.

So as I looked at the brand names, I couldn’t figure out if they were indeed generics.  I looked around at the other shoppers.  They didn’t seem to have a problem.  I’m sure they knew the secret that my father knew and understood that generics were just as good, but I imagined having to con my husband into eating “G Free” brand of gluten free products, and I baled.

Instead I got “safe” foods:  eggs, milk, fruit and veggies and Kerry Gold butter.  Ah…Kerry Gold…a beacon of hope in a sea of brand confusion.

Gaffe #3:  The Checkout

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As I kept filling my cart I no longer felt like a newbie.  Seeing the lower prices for similar items took away some of the sting of my stupidity and I began to feel accomplished.  In fact I had planned to brag to my husband that I was the queen of the good deal.

And then I headed for the cash register.

As my items were headed down the conveyor belt, I realized the cashier was just piling up my purchase.  There was no bagging.  There was no bagger.  Was Timmy off work today?  I looked over to see a woman who had pulled over to the shoulder to package her own groceries in a bag she brought with her.  Oh okay.  I looked around in a panic and saw some plastic bags, and grabbed them with such flair that the guy behind me must have thought I had done this a thousand times.

That was until I too pulled over to the shoulder to bag up my stuff.  I had only grabbed and purchased two plastics so I had to make it work.  But I never took physics, and with the same concentration and effort that it likely took Newton to figure out why the apple fell on his head, I tried to determine how to get these groceries home unscathed.  What is the force exerted against a bunch of bananas by a jug of V-8 juice?  Should the eggs go on top even though the grapes underneath were no match for them?  The cashier checked out a half a dozen people in the amount of time it took me to put the contents of my purchase in two bags.

Of course I started dropping things in my haste to exit, and as I bent over to pick them up, my last-day-before-laundry underwear breached the top of my too-small capris.  When I put on the granny panties this morning, the last thing on my mind was that I would be sharing them with Aldi’s afternoon clientele.  It was the last straw.

I slunk out of the store, defeated in the 30 minutes I spent inside, and glared at the two women who were joyfully exchanging their carts at the corral, one handing the other a quarter.

Then I dropped my keys as I tried to open my car door.

You know, that never would have happened at Jewel.

 

 

 

Big Brothers and the Creature from the Black Lagoon

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There’s nothing I hate more than being chased.

I don’t mean being chased by someone with violent intent.  I mean the garden variety “I’m gonna get you” chase game that we played as kids.

It’s not that I don’t like fun.  Lord knows I’m always up for a game of Twister.  But “tag” and “chase” were never my favorites.  Even now as an adult, if my daughter is running up behind me, I squeal like a toddler.  I blame my brother Tim for this neurosis.

Tim is five years older than me, the third kid in our family of seven (me being the seventh and most adorable).  For some reason, he loved to scare the crap out of me when we were kids.  Maybe it was because he had an older brother who did the same and he was just sharing the McGlinn family brand of love that flowed downhill.

Whatever the reason, he loved to see me scared.

Why You Don’t Let Brothers Control the Television

My parents were too busy with all of us kids that they didn’t pay attention to what we were watching, and really, back in the ’70s, how much trouble could you find on TV?  My parents didn’t think anything of my brother sitting me down in front of “Creature Features”, “Night Gallery” and “Twilight Zone” episodes when I was five.

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Holy cow.  Imagine seeing The Creature From the Black Lagoon, the original King Kong and Godzilla movies without little kid adrenaline kicking in.  Each film produced such nightmares, that I would crawl out of bed upstairs, go down the stairs in the dark and scare my mom and dad awake and ask if I could sleep with them.  That alone should have tipped them off that something…or someone…was making me a fraidy cat.

But no.  The more scared I got, the more it busted my brother’s gut.  He would chase me up the stairs.  He would chase me down the stairs.  He would chase me around a pretend boxing ring in our living room before church on Sunday morning.

Then one day, vengeance was mine.

Why You Don’t Let Brothers Babysit

In my family, if you were the oldest in the crowd that was running around the neighborhood one day, you were the one in charge.  So sometimes  Tim was in charge of me and my sisters.

On one of many such occasions, we found ourselves in the garage of the kids across the street:  six boys who were always up for adventure and mischief-making.  One of the things they loved best was to tell ghost stories.  Even in the middle of a bright summer day, a ghost story can wreak havoc on a youngster who has seen a giant lizard crush Tokyo with his bare feet.

On this particular day, the story was about the cemetery across the highway that we could see from our neighbor’s house.  One of the boys was telling about how the “Hatchet Lady” rose up from her grave and attacked a young couple who were making out in their car.  (Note:  all of the stories involved teenagers who were kissing in cars.  Why was this the prevalent theme?  Was this a warning from our sweet Catholic school boy neighbors?  But I digress…)

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I got so scared that I ran out of the garage and across the street to our house.  In my haste, I failed to notice that my brother Tim began chasing me, but then passed me so that he could beat me there.  Being five years older and faster, he made it to the back door of the house before me, dashed in, locked it and then stuck his tongue out at me through the plate glass window that I could barely reach.

Forget fear.  Anger kicked in.  I was so mad that he was laughing at my anguish over the Hatchet Lady that I started banging on the window.  In no time, it shattered.

By this point my brother was in hysterics.  He couldn’t wait until my parents got home to tell them that I was the culprit.  He was sure that my Dad would get out “the whacking belt” that was reserved for special displays of corporal punishment.

No sooner had he started laughing however, my parents arrived home from the grocery store.  They looked at him.  They looked at me crying. It took them no time to piece together the story.  I was the innocent victim.  Tim was the evil urchin.  He was hauled off to face my father’s wrath (who after grocery shopping with my mother had had enough “merriment” for the day already, so you can just imagine.)

Fair warning:  to this day, I can’t walk up a flight of stairs if someone is behind me.  I get that startle reflex that I hate.  So if you’re coming up behind me and I turn around and slug you, please don’t blame me.  Take it up with my brother.

To Live is to Laugh

“You can always tell an Irishman…but you can’t tell him much.”

I’m 67% Irish.

If my father’s family had anything to say about it, I’d be 100 percent. But somehow my mother snuck in under the radar as a German Swede (and a Protestant at that).

She married my dad before the McGlynns were any the wiser. Our Irish relatives never let her live down her lack of Celtic and Catholic pedigree, talking and snickering behind her back at every family gathering.

Perhaps it was because she’s never been funny, and the Irish place a premium on funny. I don’t mean to overgeneralize, but Germans, at least the ones in my family, were not what you would call humorous.

And the Swedes? Well let’s just say my Swedish relatives were all work and no play. Maybe they were cutting jokes while they were cutting meat at the my great grandfather’s butcher shop, but I never heard any. At least not any REAL yucks.

Come forth, Lazarus! And he came fifth and lost the job. From Ulysses by James Joyce

But my dad’s relatives? It was an adventure every time we saw them. There are no better storytellers than the Irish, and every tale of family intrigue was hysterical. Not because the story was that interesting–in fact it could have been about a tree that fell in someone’s yard. Yet somehow the way it was told, it would leave everyone doubled over and trying to remember every word to share it with the next person. It’s a badge of honor in our family if you weave a yarn that leaves them laughing.

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Laugh to Keep from…Everything

For as long as I can remember, my dad has handled both the good and the bad of life with jokes and laughter. To be serious was to consider that life is difficult and that problems may be overwhelming. Being silly was a happy form of denial that made him feel less helpless and more in control over things that couldn’t be controlled. He truly had never learned any other way to communicate.

The instinct to be hysterical would most certainly kick in when any of my father’s seven children was sick.

In fact, when I had my gall bladder removed at age 17 and almost died, my Dad was the one who spent the most time with me in the hospital in the days following the surgery. Whether sitting next to me, or walking down the halls with me (IV cart in tow), he would tell me funny stories.

Envision busting a gut–LITERALLY. I was laughing so hard it was pulling at my sutures and making me cry in pain. But I wouldn’t have traded it for anything in the world. I knew that my dad loved me and was truly concerned because he was trying to make me laugh.

My Dad would be the one to incite a giggling wave throughout our family’s pew at a funeral. My Dad would be the one talking about how the tornado headed towards our house would do a great and desperately needed remodeling job. And my Dad would be the one to joke with the doctor when a prognosis was dismal, causing both doctor and patient to forget that anything was wrong.

Keep ‘Em Laughing…Whatever it Takes

Last month, we had to have my Dad join my Mom in a local nursing home as a resident. Though he’s dealing with several health issues and a wee bit of dementia, he is still trying to be as funny as ever, and using his humor to help him cope. He will call me on the phone and give me the weather report, in the style of George Carlin’s “Hippie Dippie Weatherman” skit. He will make faces as other residents go by to produce giggles. He will pull old family stories out of the shrinking storehouse in his brain to help us both feel a connection to a better time and a funnier place.

He gets frustrated that he is not as quick-witted as he once was. Besides being able to go home, nothing would make my dad happier than being able to be more humorous. So we throw easy joke bait to him and let him take a bite on a fabulous punch line of his own creation.

I’m sure that our combined sense of humor will keep us both going, since making merry is in our blood (or at least 67% of mine). But as his brain slips further away, we will have to resort to finding some new way to giggle, even if it’s simply sticking our tongues out at each other. To see that Irish twinkle in his eyes will be enough for me. Because as long as we’re laughing, we are living life to the full.