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Friday, October 14, 2011

Extreme Couponer or Desperate Housewife?

When I was a kid, my mom was the crazy Coupon Lady. It was well-known on post, and in the base housing neighborhood where we lived, my mom made it clear that if you didn't want your coupons, she was happy to take them. I would come home from school and there would be coupons in a little bin that my mom left on our back porch just for that reason. We were the coupon clearing house of the naval air station. One of my after-school chores, after homework of course, was to sit at the table and clip coupons and sort them into piles. My mom would then file them into shoeboxes. Yes, that's plural; shoesboxES. I hated it. It embarrassed me.

The embarrassment escalated as she carried those boxes into the commissary. I walked many paces behind her from the car to the store. I tried to distance myself from her obsession. To no avail, because we lived on a small base and everyone knew everyone. Grocery shopping took hours as she sifted through her boxes and pulled her coupons. Part of my job was to carry the coupons we would use. She'd hand them to me and say; "Don't lose these, Babe. These are money!" I'd roll my eyes and hide behind the stacked cartons of Quaker Oats when I'd see someone I knew. God forbid Candy Evans, the Captain's daughter should walk in. Not that she would. I mean, I don't think I EVER saw her or her mom at the PX or commissary, but..you know, it could happen and if it did, I'd be mortified.

Then came the ultimate disgrace; checkout. My mom would carefully empty her cart and at this point, I was required to stand next to her. Why? Because as she unloaded her cart, item by item, she would have me put the coupon for each item on top of that item. I don't know if this is because it was the way the cashier wanted it to be done, but that's definitely the way my mom wanted it to be done. This process was also tedious and took some time. The kind of time that makes the people behind you cringe. When you're a kid, this kind of attention is unwanted. I couldn't shrink small enough. However, I began to notice that curious onlookers would gather at the end of our line, watching as my mom simultaneously kept watch over the items on the conveyor, the checker as she entered the items (remember, back then, the cash registers had TONS of rows of buttons that had to be manually pushed), and the bag boy as he bagged the groceries.

Not the least of her concerns, she kept an eagle-eye to make sure the checker discounted each one of her coupons. I remember distinctly the clickety-clack sound as the checker punched away at the numbers. Our small audience now holding their breath to see how much she actually saved, and then the applause and mouth-agape disbelief as the checker announced that on her $115.00 bill (that was a BIG grocery bill in 1969), she owed $1.02. On some trips, the checker actually paid my mother.

This was a ritual my whole life while I lived at home. My embarrassment never waivered. It never stopped bothering me. I never appreciated my mother's tenaciousness, her efforts, or her obsession. Now, I'm embarrassed that I never told her. More than that, I wish I had really learned and absorbed what she knew. Instead, I went the complete opposite direction. I threw coupons away, I NEVER used coupons. Ever. I was "too good" to use coupons. Coupon shopping was beneath me. Times have changed. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Or maybe, just smarter living.

I have recently announced to my family that I am going to pick up my mother's torch. For the two weeks I was away from home, taking care of my friend's home and dog, I had lots of time to reflect. I haven't been able to find a job, and despite the number of interviews I've been on and resumes I've submitted, I've still come up empty-handed. We've really had to cut corners. I can see the worry building up in my husband's face. He doesn't complain, but it's pretty evident. I've tried to be creative and stretch meal recipes. Neither one of us has bought a new item of clothing in many, many months. I got rid of my Android, and we cut our cell service to the very basic. We're about to get rid of cable. We both drive very, very old vehicles that have seen better days. No A/C, no frills..that's not easy in the SoCal heat. The one thing we've kept is "date night". It's the one thing in our 31 years together that we have never, nor will be ever get rid of. That's not negotiable. Other than that, we are looking at things that we really don't NEED and dispensing of those things.

I don't envision myself going "extreme" or being as good as my mother was at this. But I'm going to give it my best effort. If I can save as much as I was making working part-time at the flower shop, it will be worth it. The money I made at the flower shop went straight to tuition expenses. If I can recoup that in another way, and if that way is by couponing, I'll do it. I'm not going the shoebox route, but I have invested in a binder, and I'm using the Grommet's old hockey card collection inserts as coupon holders. I've also put the word out to friends and family that I'm couponing and recycling. When I mentioned this to Charlie, Caris, and Bryson, they were thrilled. I expected a reaction much like the 1969 Pua. I didn't get that. I got complete and utter support. Everyone was completely on-board. In fact, Caris gave me some very good money-saving ideas that I implemented, and have already paid off.

Last night, I envisioned my mother looking down from heaven and laughing her ass off in that "I told you so" kind of way. I deserve it. She's entitled. Better late than never, Mom. Better late than never.

*Postscript: Yesterday, after my very first couponing trip to the grocery store, and saving $152.91 (43% savings on our total bill), Charlie just couldn't wait to tell everyone he talked to about it. He kept saying: "Man, if that's just after your FIRST time couponing, I can hardly wait to see what happens on future trips!" He made me feel so terrific and kept thanking me for my hard work. I'm feeling very appreciated. :)

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

About A Boy Who Became A Man

Today my son is 22 years old. As his mother, his last birthday was a bit harder for me than this one. I didn't reflect on his natal anniversary so much as a philosophical event. I thought of it solely as the day my baby became an adult, speaking in the chronological sense, of course. Now, a year later, I am a bit more reflective on the life of my last-born, and I realize that he became an adult so much sooner than his years would imply. He's had to deal with some very difficult life situations that I'm sure might have brought some grown men to their knees.

If I were to look at a timeline of the Grommet's life, I would say that this young person became a man many years ago, as he stood next to me at my father's casket and held my hand, and squeezed it tight, as I cried my heart out. Could it have been the loss of three grandparents all in the same year? Even I barely made it through that. Or maybe it was when AFTER a hockey game, a disgruntled member from the other team, cold-cocked him from behind, knocked him to the ice and continued to strike him with his hockey stick until refs and parents pulled the kid off of him. Bry's only response to the kid was; "Why?" Maybe it was that instead of getting angry, he decided to coach PeeWee hockey for two years so that those kids would learn fair and honest play instead of unleashed aggression.

When I think about events in his young life that speak volumes about who he is, I can't help but think about the loss of someone so dear to him, the mother of a friend, and helping that friend through such a terrible, debilitating loss. He stood by her, through her mother's illness, through her passing, through making arrangements for her funeral. No 16 year old girl should ever have to do that, let alone do it on her own because she had no one. Bry was there for her every step of the way.

As my son grew, his heart grew, and even when things haven't gone his way, he has found some way to get through it. This is where the positive male influences in his life stand out to me. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't point out first and foremost that Bry has been fortunate to be raised by an awesome father. I feel like one of the best gifts I ever gave my children was that I chose the best possible father for them. If anyone can be the standard of excellence in parenting to look up to, it is Charlie. However, school wasn't easy for the Grommet, and though he is extremely intelligent, he wasn't always at the top of his game with grades. When other teachers and counselors wrote him off as a charming class clown, two particular men saw the best in him; his Business Academy advisor; Mike Sciacca, and his high school vice-principal; Kirk Bauermeister. They encouraged him to strive for his best, like us, they believed that he could, and they weren't influenced by harmful scuttlebutt. They gave him the respect he deserved and he returned that respect. He excelled in his senior year, graduating with a scholarship. To this day, I am grateful to these two fine educators.

More recently, when his best friend was diagnosed with cancer in their first year of college, Bry came to us and told us that he wanted to quit school for awhile to spend as much time as he could with Jeff. We all knew that he could lose his scholarship, but we also knew that nothing was more important to him at this critical time than being there for Jeff. When the opportunity came to take a full-time job which would allow him to choose hours that would give him the benefit of taking full advantage of Jeff's off chemo treatment time, he jumped at it. These days, every decision he makes is dependent upon his ability to be there for his friend. With full confidence in Jeff's recovery to full health, he tells us that school can always be made up and he has no regrets in the decision he made two years ago. Nor do we. In fact, I couldn't be more proud. That is my son. That is who he is. Hardworking, diligent, determined, trustworthy, fiercely loyal, and eternally hopeful.

These are but small snippets of the many, many things that make me proud beyond measure. We talk often about the detours in life and how the decisions you make along the way can make you or break you, if you allow them. I think this last-born of mine, who can aggravate as well as delight, who makes us roll with laughter until we cry, and sometimes causes Charlie and I to shake our fist in the air, has been a man for more years in his life than he was a child. I am so proud of this man, and so grateful that he calls me Mom.