Under Construction, Out in the Open

BREAKING NEWS: Over the next couple of days, Uncoolmom.com is hoping to undergo a redesign.  I say hoping because I stumble along as I go through the blogosphere. I’ve picked out new colors and a new layout and photo and I’m about to “try them on”, but we’ll see if it turns out how I’ve imagined.  I say “We’ll see” because I think you get to come along for the ride.  I’m pretty sure that I can’t try anything new without it being “published” immediately. I tried out new layout templates for a few minutes one day and to my horror my website went askew and showed everything (even some stock photo of a total stranger), and I had to painstakingly put it back together!  I definitely wasn’t ready for that surprise! But I am now.  So, if you’re reading this onsite and things look pretty weird, please bear with me.  Things should be looking better hopefully in 24 hours.  But any comments on the changes, both positive and negative, are welcome!  In the meantime, you can catch up on all those old posts you’ve

Grandmother Rocks!

The relationship between a woman and her mother-in-law can be a weird one, can’t it? Right from the start, there’s some sort of alpha female thing going on.  In one corner, the woman who’s been in a guy’s life the longest, and in the other, the one who plans to be Numero Uno even longer, and many times when the two women get together, it’s like oil and water.  A cousin of Andy’s knew she was in for trouble when her mother-in-law stood up at her wedding reception and gave a toast, looking at her and saying something like, “You may be married to him, but don’t ever forget he’s MY son, and every weekend he’s going to be at MY house, mowing MY lawn.”  Even though my husband set the record straight by giving a toast at our wedding rehearsal dinner proclaiming he loved me more than anyone else in the whole world, I still thought I was in for trouble.  My mother-in-law, Martha, is a “bold Southern gal”, as I like to think, not afraid to wearing bold, bright clothes and not averse to speaking her mind, which could sometimes rub a new bride wrong.  I remember when she visited our first home for the first time, she remarked that an Elvis clock didn’t belong in the living room and that we had too many things magneted to our refrigerator. (I think I almost bit through my tongue that night, trying to hold back!)  And I remember she wasn’t too excited about the practice of breastfeeding.  (“My kids didn’t do it and they turned out fine!” she’d say.) But with age comes experience– I’ve mellowed, she’s mellowed, but most importantly, I’ve learned to embrace and even celebrate her boldness. She wouldn’t be Martha without it.  And everyone likes her– my hairdresser likes her, parents of our kids’ friends like her…well, you will, too.  Check out this photograph taken last month.  Cousin Ted turned 11 in August, and got an electric guitar for his birthday.  Emmie took her acoustic guitar to his house and stayed all night. Here’s what happened when Grandmother Martha visited them — look how well she color coordinates with Ted’s Fender Stratocaster! (Les Paul, the inventor of the electric guitar, had to have been smiling somewhere.  He died on that very day.)

Not bad for a woman in her 80’s, huh?

Life-Changing Moments

Did anyone see the million dollar hole-in-one golf video going around on the Internet last week? Jason Hargett, a restaurant manager from Provo, Utah, decided to enter a charity golf tournament in spite of a hurt wrist, using his brother’s clubs. As in many charity tournaments, each hole is sponsored by a business or organization and often there are prizes for that rare possibility of a hole-in-one. This video shows the shot and his reaction after he makes it.  It’s fun to watch because you can just feel the joy leaping out of your computer screen. I want to dive in and jump up and down with him.  This is the kind of stuff we need to see in the midst of so much worldwide bad news.  This is the kind of joy everyone needs to feel at least once in their life, and I think it’s especially important for kids and teens.

Allison got to feel it a couple days ago.  She tried out for a part in her high school’s fall musical production of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown and found out she got the part of Snoopy, which is not only a big part, but big for a freshman to get with less than a month of high school under her belt.  Emmie felt it when she made the gymnastics team after trying for so long.  I felt it the first time I found out I was going to be published nationally. It was a poem printed in a United Methodist Church Sunday School “magazine” for kids– I think I was around 12 or 13 years old, and I ran all over my house screaming and jumping up and down. Ditto when I was elected President of my 4-H Club in Jr. High when no one under high school age had held the office, and the time I was asked to the Jr.-Sr. prom when I was a sophomore.  Anything like that does loads to help a kid’s self confidence and self esteem.

But what about the opposite? Should we also secretly hope our kids experience some setbacks? That’s a tough question.  As a parent, you want everything to be wonderful for your kids.  And tweens and teens can take setbacks pretty hard.  We’ve all read or heard about teen suicide after relationship break-ups.  Or the kid who gets a bad grade and shoots his teacher.  There’s also anorexia, self mutilation, drugs, drinking, and numerous other unhealthy ways kids cope when dealt a tough blow.  Many years ago, I watched the drama unfold as a former supervisor’s teen daughter went downhill after not making the basketball team in Jr. High. She immediately decided her former group of friends, many who had made it on the team, were “stuck up”, and she began hanging with a “bad crowd”.  Then my supervisor was getting calls at work that his daughter was caught sniffing markers to get high in class, and skipping school.  In high school, she ran away from home, got back on track enough to graduate, and immediately got a job– as a stripper.  (“The money is too good,” she told her dad.)  All possibly beginning with a defining setback in Junior High.

Shielding kids from failure and sadness is not the answer.  These parents who go before the School Board in anger, demanding a new tryout or reinstatement because their child didn’t make this or that squad– unreal.  Or people who refuse to talk about death or let their child attend a memorial service– more tragic than death itself.  Helicopter parents prevent their children from developing valuable coping skills as well as detract them from learning empathy toward others– maybe even toward their future children!

So I think all rational parents would agree that to be a balanced person, our kids should experience some discomfort– it’s just “How do we prevent their angst from going horribly wrong?” that is the better question.  And I don’t have the answer.  Sometimes a parent can do everything right and kids still make bad choices.  They’re their own unique person, after all.  But I do know that the more encouragement and opportunities kids get for learning new skills, the better their chances for a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence from reaching a goal in something (Allison was bummed when she didn’t make the 9th grade cheerleading squad, but got over it pretty quickly, saying that she had other interests to pursue.)  I do know that parents need to empathize with kids during setbacks instead of being judgmental, indifferent or impatient (I remember my mom was annoyed that I was still sad weeks after my dog was hit and killed by a car, when I was 13) (on the other hand, she shed a few tears right along with me in high school after a boyfriend broke-up by telephone…and she told me about a similar situation she’d gone through…that meant a lot to me.) And I do know that involving kids in community service on a regular basis, really good, get-in-the-trenches-and-work-face-to-face-with-those-in-need kinds of service, helps kids put their troubles in perspective and enables them to feel needed.  At a stage in their life when they sometimes feel powerless and invisible, they realize they really can make a difference in the world, even if they’re not scoring touchdowns on the football field or being voted Most Likely To Succeed in the senior poll.  (And if their parents get in there and help right alongside them, they grow as well, especially if they’ve lead a “charmed” life.)

It might also help to let kids know that overcoming an obstacle is even more reason to jump for joy than when everything is always rosy.  You really don’t appreciate Prince Charming as much unless you’ve kissed a lot of toads.  Membership on a team means so much more after you’ve “fallen short” at the tryouts at least once.  The boy who becomes a drummer in spite of physical challenges is having a much better time in the marching band than probably any other member.  And if kids can’t wrap their brains around this concept, or believe it, there are lots of books and movies that can help.  I remember as a teenager reading a paperback autobiography by Joni Eareckson Tada, a woman who was paralyzed in a lake diving accident right after graduating from high school, but went on to become a famous inspirational speaker and artist, drawing with a pencil in her mouth.   There’s the story of Wilma Rudolph, the movies “Miracle” and “The Rookie”, even the book “The Glass Castle” is inspirational (for teens).  As far as fiction, the movie, “That Thing You Do” has a great scene when the band first hears their song on the radio after stumbling through previous pitfalls and rejection.  The happiness is contagious! Again, it makes you want to jump into the screen and yell or honk your car horn right along with them.  

So, here’s to moments of life-changing joy for everyone, and an even bigger cheer when it happens after times of life-changing setbacks!

Bumming About Homecoming

Are things as over-the-top at other high schools as they are in North Texas? Please let me know. It might make me feel better.  Then again, it might make me feel worse, knowing that insanity is so widespread.

I think I’ve already mentioned that my husband and I think the mums sold around here for Homecoming are… well… quite unusual. And Andy grew up in Dallas, but he doesn’t remember anything as freakish as this.  We’re talking dinner-plate-sized, with streamers that hang down to the floor.  It’s now the “tradition” that if you’re a girl, your date buys you one of these monstrosities to wear to school on the day of the football game (nothing says “I’m not going to the bathroom for seven hours” quite like a giant mum with four-foot streamers pinned to your clothes, don’t you think?)  And nothing says “over the top” quite the same or “this tradition has  snowballed and no one can stop it”.  The girls buy the guys a smaller version to wear, “garter-style” on their arms.  I’m guessing it will make the guys look like they’re in a barbershop quartet.  (Andy says it will make them look gay.)  They range in price from around $50-$100 (keep in mind, these are all  fake mums, not real!) and are a huge fundraiser for the school, but the word I’ve heard is that if you’re given a basic one, you might as well stay home from school, with all the teen angst and “shame” you will feel (some kids actually do stay home).  So guys feel a bit of pressure to “Supersize It” with extra streamers and charms.

Not only is the mum pressure on, I’m hearing lately about the pressure to “ask your date to the Homecoming dance in a special way”– like on the Jumbotron at the Rangers baseball game.  (Wait a minute, didn’t that used to be for marriage proposals?)   This fall, there have been girls asked to Homecoming via a pickup truck pulling up in front of their house with caseloads of Honey Buns in back (and a sign reading “Can I Haul Your Honey Buns to Homecoming?”); via balloons and flowers filling their bedroom when they return home from school and a message scrawled on their mirror; via a specially decorated cake; on the overhead projector in a math classroom; at the mall while on a scavenger hunt, with the boy posing as a mannequin in a store window and holding a sign; and with a basket containing a borrowed puppy and homebaked cookies sitting on the front porch.    I feel so sorry for the guys, having to think up these things, and after they go to these lengths, there’s no guarantee the girl will say yes (believe it or not, the borrowed puppy elicited a “no”).  What happened to just asking? Via one person speaking words to another person? Allison recently got asked to Homecoming via a text message, which she said was fine, but I wonder if she’s secretly disappointed…

And then there’s the “group”.  Kids just don’t go with their date to Homecoming, they go in groups.  Which I thought sounded great, especially for Freshmen.  Until I found out that not all groups are created equal, that it’s “important” which group you’re in, and the larger, the better.  And that some groups design special group T-shirts that everyone wears on gameday (naturally, to go along with their supersized mums and to make those not in a group and not going to the dance feel even more left out).  So Allison and her friends started planning their group weeks ago.  And shopped for dresses together.  And some even color coordinated.  Only now one of the girls’ dates says it’s the guy’s choice as to what group he and his date will be in, and he’s “breaking up the group”, much to the dismay of the girls.  So when Allison texted him last night that there’s nothing written anywhere that says the guys pick the group, he texted back “F___  You” to her, among other choice words.  (Gee, just when I was starting to feel sorry for the guys… now I say he can’t be in the group even if he begs back in!).

Oh, and remember photos of everyone in their dresses and suits posed in someone’s living room or front yard before they go to the dance? Forget it.  These kids want to go to sculpture gardens or Corvette dealerships to pose for theirs.  If they start talking about renting a Hummer limo, I think I will just start screaming.  All I can say is, the Texas Cheerleader Mom (remember that made-for-TV movie?) and her cronies must have started all this ridiculousness sometime between The Bangles and Beyonce’, and it has picked up steam so much that no one can really get enough people to say, “Stop it already! Can’t you see?? The emperor is naked!!!”

One year, one teen tried.  She made headlines locally because she sold red carnations at the high school as a less costly alternative to mums, and as a “badge of non-conformity”, and donated all her proceeds to a charity. I don’t think it went over too big.  At least not enough to change anything for the future.  These Texans cling so fiercely to their traditions that even the down economy can’t stop them.  (“There may be foreclosed houses around us but by golly, these kids are goin’ to Homecoming in style!”) And we have a lot of parents in this district who went to the same high school as their kids– so don’t even think about asking them to change.

I want my child to have a good high school experience just like they do– but at what price?

Stay tuned…Homecoming begins in 18 days…

Uncool Mom Your Ride

A fun moment in the history of UncoolMom.com: I was standing in a line for the free coffee samples at Sprouts grocery store the other day, staring off into space, when I heard the guy in front of me say to the woman in front of him (who I realized later was his wife or girlfriend), “If your kids think you’re cool, you must be doing something wrong– Hah!  It’s some mom’s blog.” He was fiddling with his Blackberry or Iphone or some other type of handheld device.  Boy, did I snap out of my daydreaming fast.  Talk about exclamation points going off inside my head. Oh! My! Gosh! Is this a “You-know-your-blog-is-a-success-when-a-total-stranger-in-the-coffee-line-is-talking-about-it” moment? Then I realized– it was probably the bumper sticker.  My uncool minivan has a very cool, black and white Uncoolmom.com bumper sticker on the back (check out this post or this link to see a picture of what it looks like). The couple had just walked into the store and probably walked past my car on the way in and saw the URL, and he was looking it up.  So, not as random as I originally thought, but still, thumbs up.  That bumper sticker is a constant invitation to check out UncoolMom.com, and with the miles I put on my minivan every day, it probably gets more attention than I realize.  (And by the way, the first one I put on my bumper got torn off by my teen…but she’s learned to live with it now.)

As I drove away from Sprouts, I wondered if anyone else has one on their car.  (If you’ve ever checked out the blog’s sidebar, I’ve had them available for order at around $5 each since April). Unfortunately, my dreams of spreading UncoolMom.com via the roadways of the world have not come to fruition.  Matt from Graphicsland told me today that no one has ordered one except me, which doesn’t surprise me.  I always figured $5 was a bit too steep for anyone to pay for a bumper sticker, no matter how much they liked the blog and even if the shipping was free. But now that Mr. Coffee has seen my bumper sticker, I am inspired.  I want everyone to have one!  SO, I’m going to make it easy for you, if you’re not too averse to putting a cool bumper sticker on your car.  I’ve ordered a bunch in bulk, and I’m giving them away, FREE, if you’ll promise to put it on your car.  And free shipping, too, even if you’re one of my readers in Australia or South Africa or Canada or wherever.  AND, once you receive it, if you’ll send me a digital photo of your car wearing its cool new accessory parked at an interesting place, I will post it on the blog and send you an UncoolMom.com T-shirt (also very cool in black and white).  Just send an email to
patricia@uncoolmom.com  letting me know you’d like a bumper sticker, along with your mailing address, and I will start mailing out the stickers by Oct. 1st.  Or you can have one mailed to a friend! 

By the way, there is an advantage to having an UncoolMom.com bumper sticker on your car if yours is like mine– grimy on the outside from never having time to get it washed (I will NEVER buy a white car again), and constantly trashed out on the inside with kids’ shoes, clothing, socks, hairbrushes, fast food wrappers, fermenting juice boxes, water bottles, and old newspapers (that mom reads while waiting in the carpool line)– it legitimizes everything! It gives busy moms a sort of flag to wave that tells the world, “It’s O.K.! My car is trashed out because I am a fabulous, busy, uncool mom, and not ashamed to say it!” 

Or if your car is in pristine condition, you can still put one on.  It makes other people smile and get out their Blackberries and smile some more. ###

For even more smiles, check out the video “Mom My Ride” at 
this link  (http://www.carspace.com/videos/play!id=.5b4626fa), a takeoff on the TV show “Pimp My Ride”.  Genius! I laugh out loud, hard, every time I see it!

Time Out for Teens

Someone once told me that some teens get to a point where, in order for them to enjoy a family vacation, they need to take a friend along.  While I think my teen would definitely complain less and might even pack her suitcase on time if she had a friend beside her, I’m not ready to “go there” yet, since I think our younger daughter would feel left out (not to mention she’d pester the teens a bunch), and I know my husband wouldn’t want to walk around in his pajamas in front of the friend if we all shared a hotel room! So this past Labor Day weekend, we solved the teen travel problem in a different way– by taking separate vacations. 

First, some back story: I’d been searching for something inexpensive we could all do on this three-day weekend, which basically narrowed down to: must be less than a day’s drive, and include staying with friends/relatives. While combing the Internet, I remembered a gift certificate I’d stowed away long ago, a gift from a friend that entitled us to a stay at a retreat center not far from home. I dug it out of my files and not only was it good for two nights’ lodging, it included several meals, for a family of four.  ‘Perfect!’ I thought. I checked out the center’s website and called them up. Their motel-style rooms were booked but they had room in one of their cabins.  I surfed for things to do in the area: a planetarium show at a college, great bike riding trails, visiting old friends who lived in the area, hiking and swimming at the retreat center…sounded great to me! And to my husband, and to my 10-year-old.  But I had a sinking feeling it would not be, in any way, seen as fun by my teen.  I was right.

“We might as well just stay home!!” she ranted.  “Who wants to go to the ghetto on vacation?”
“It’s out in the country,” I said, “surrounded by woods.”
“It might as well be the ghetto!” she continued.  “Near some stupid small town…and I HATE nature sounds, you know that!!” 

And I hate being on vacation and having to hear a complainer.  What was I thinking, planning a trip for us? The “roller coaster” had definitely been “down” at our house for several days…

So, we gave her a choice: she could go with us, with no complaining allowed, or stay with a friend for the weekend.  At first she chose going with us, but when she found out she could help her friend shop for a Homecoming dress, she changed her mind.  (Ah, I knew the mall would win out over Mother Nature!)

It turned out to be a really good decision.  The only complaints I heard were from some of my friends (“I can’t believe you gave her a choice! That’s terrible!” “You’re not forcing her to go?”).   She got a lot of homework done and had fun with her friend, while we enjoyed eating food we didn’t have to fix ourselves (Allison would have hated the selections); building a fire, roasting marshmallows, and even singing a few songs (Allison would have died of embarrassment at the dorkiness of it all and would have worried that someone might hear us); and riding bikes (23 miles, sometimes through 5-ft. tall grass– Allison has severe allergies to grass!). Since Emmie is the child we don’t get to see as much anymore due to her gymnastics schedule, it was good for us to spend time with her.  No TV in the cabin or lodge meant playing Uno instead, which Emmie thoroughly enjoyed.  And spending time with friends we hadn’t seen in 10 years was a treat– and Allison probably would have been “out of sorts” at their house as well, because they had a guitar– which Emmie picked up and spent lots of time playing.  (Lately, Emmie and her guitar prowess has been a major thorn in Allison’s side.)

Some things were just meant to be.  Allison was happy to see us when we returned and we were happy to see her.  We all went out to dinner together on Monday night and shared stories from the weekend.  She got ready for school this morning without any fussing or arguing. 
I think Allison summed it all up pretty well when she said,  “I needed a break from you all.”

Which is not to say that this is how we’re going to do all family vacations from now on.  She wouldn’t want that and the rest of us wouldn’t, either.  But I think a “time out” like this once in awhile might just be a good habit to start. ###

My Day With Ted Kennedy and his Family

I don’t know why, but my tiny hometown (Burlington, Iowa, pop. 28,000) sure got its share of celebrity visits while I was growing up, and I got to experience a lot of them.  Red Skelton shook my hand, and Bob Hope signed my blue flowered autograph book not far from where my friend Debbie wrote “Roses are red, lillies are white, here’s my name, to prove I can write!”  I got to meet Chauncey, the famous cougar from the Mercury auto ads, and watched in total reverance as Miss America Phyllis George banged out “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” on the piano, onstage at Burlington Memorial Auditorium. Being part of the Iowa caucus political trail, Burlington was visited by many politicians– my mom and I snuck out of our Republican, ranch-style house early one morning to wait down by the Mississippi River to see President Jimmy Carter pull up on the Delta Queen– he walked back and tousled my hair when I told him “God bless you!” as he passed me in the receiving line.  And on a cold January day in 1980, as a senior in high school, I got to skip school and be a courier for CBS News as Ted Kennedy toured Southeast Iowa in his bid to become President. I had almost forgotten about that day, hanging out with his kids and meeting Ted and his wife, until the recent news of Sen. Kennedy’s death. A friend and I were talking about it and suddenly the memories came flooding back.  It prompted me to look through my piles of “stuff” to find the issue of my high school newspaper in which I recounted the experience.  It’s worth sharing, because I think you’d find it interesting, even though it’s written by an 18-year-old me and the encounter with his kids was like SNL’s “The Chris Farley Show”.  Here it is, awkwardness, wordiness and all (I’ve put commentary in red italics):

My Day With the Kennedy Family
From  Vol. 70, No. 9 of “The Purple and Gray”, student newspaper of Burlington Community High School, published Friday, January 18, 1980.

   In August, I shook hands with the President of the United States and four months later I did the same with his “understudy” (Vice President Walter Mondale had paid a visit to my high school).  Why then should I have gotten excited about the chance to meet a “mere” senator? Probably because he was a Kennedy, and probably because in the meantime, I would be hobnobbing with some big-name reporters. (Gee, always the journalist...)   These were my feelings on Friday, Jan. 4, when I was offered the chance to be a courier for CBS News during Senator Ted Kennedy’s visit to S.E. Iowa.  CBS often likes to have high school students assist reporters when they’re away on assignment. (Wonder if that’s still true…)
   I got involved through a series of conversations.  First, CBS called (local) radio station KBUR’s Bill Henry and told him of their need for a courier.  Then Henry called Mr. Cameron (an assistant principal with a buzz cut) at Burlington High School to relay the request.  Mr. Cameron in turn talked to Mrs. Oriano, the P & G advisor, thinking that a journalism student might be interested in the job and could also report on the event for the newspaper.  She excitedly asked me if I was interested.  (Thank you Mrs. O, wherever you are!) At first I envisioned myself greeting the Kennedys at Municipal Airport and riding in their limousine.  Later I found out my job wouldn’t be quite like that, after getting a phone call from Susan Zirinsky, a CBS news correspondent in Washington, D. C. (she’s now the executive producer of CBS’ 48 Hours and other special projects).  She told me to meet her in Keokuk (a city about 40 miles south of Burlington) on Jan. 7, the day of the senator’s visit.  She and the press traveled behind his limousine by bus, and she needed me to drive her back to the airport so she could fly back to Washington.  Then I would continue on with the rest of the press.  She also informed me that I would be getting paid (I think I got $75, which was huge to a high schooler back then!), and that it would be lots of fun.
   So, limousine or no, I still looked forward to the job– and besides, I was excused from a whole day of school! And I thought that maybe Ted’s wife, daughter, and “foxy” son Teddy would be with him…(Nothing screams the 80’s quite like the word, “foxy”, don’t you think?  Oh, just bring on the disco music right now...) “How nice to meet you, Teddy Jr.” I said in my daydream.  “You’d like me to visit you at your Massachusetts mansion? I’d love to!” (just as long as William Kennedy Smith isn’t there…)
  The night before the big day was filled with snow, ice, and hazardous road warnings, but Monday the 7th was sunny and beautiful.  Purple and Gray photographer Dedria Ford accompanied me on the trip.  She made the drive go faster and provided moral support (Dad let me take the brand new family car so I was a little edgy.) (I think it was a candy apple red Buick Skylark) We left early for Keokuk so I could find the airport, using a carefully drawn map from Dad.  That accomplished, we next looked for the Labor Temple, where Kennedy was to speak and where we would meet Susan.
   All we accomplished from being early was getting a good parking space; otherwise, Kennedy was over two hours late, and we had to stand those hours in a small room packed with people.  The only entertainment was the Secret Service men pacing back and forth to the beat of the Keokuk High School marching band.  The choppy sounds of “Rocky” and other inspiring songs filled the air.  Luckily, we spotted a familiar face.  Mr. Pat Hogan, our beloved BHS Social Studies teacher, is an active Kennedy supporter and Keokuk native, and was an organizer of the event.  He took the stage amid cheering fans, and soon started leading chants of “We want Ted!” (Looking back, this guy looked a lot like Howard Dean, especially when he was pumping up the crowd!) When the senator finally arrived, so did two Continental Trailways busloads of cameramen and reporters.  They poured into the room as I frantically looked for Susan.  Amid the rush, I only got a glimpse of Kennedy.
   I didn’t have to take Susan to the airport after all, but a lady from NBC needed me to drive some videotapes there instead. (Though rival networks, they shared a private plane.)   As I gave the bag of tapes to the pilot and said, “Someone will meet you in Des Moines,” I felt like I was in a spy movie.
   Next, we were to drive to Fort Madison (about halfway between Keokuk and Burlington) and be at the Consolidated Packaging Corporation, where Kennedy took a tour of the factory with his family– Yes, WITH HIS FAMILY! Since it was reporters only and no public, I was able to get a close view of them. (gee, such privileged ins
  Dedria and I had to keep reminding ourselves that it was “for real.” But that wasn’t too hard– half of the tour was outside and we trudged along a smelly path of oil, wood chips, and gravel in the sub-freezing weather.
   Once again we left a few minutes ahead of the group for the next stop, Burlington.  Kennedy was scheduled to speak that night at the Holiday Inn (the Holiday Inn was once considered Burlington’s fanciest hotel, having recently remodeled and built a dome over the pool, complete with Astroturf, fake trees, black “iron” balconies and room fronts decorated to look like The French Quarter.)  Two adjoining rooms were turned into “filing rooms”, for phoning and typing, for the press (that would be making calls from land lines and typing on typewriters, not computers)(I remember Chris Wallace was there and many more familiar faces, but memory eludes me on that.) Dedria and I stayed in the rooms for a little while but got bored, so we sought other excitement  I got the idea of interviewing Teddy Jr. and Kara, the Kennedy teens.  Dan Bell, BHS senior and a Holiday Inn employee, wanted to help, (he must have been on a work study program to be out of school that day?) so he simply went up to their room and asked the Secret Service men if it could be arranged.  That effort failed.  We asked a security woman to help, but she was too busy.  Dedria and I finally resigned ourselves to ordering BLT sandwiches and eating them at a poolside table, near the Kennedy rooms “to try and catch a glimpse.”  Dan joined us.
   Well, we got more than a glimpse.  No sooner had I bitten into my sandwich than Kara and Teddy Jr. nonchalantly walked past our table and up to the bar.  A few spectators began talking to them and getting snapshots, so I thought, why not me, too? I wasn’t about to blow a chance like that! I walked up to Kara and tapped her on the arm.  She turned and smiled, puffing a cigarette. (Didn’t she eventually have lung cancer?)  I introduced myself and asked her if she and Teddy would join Dedria and I for an interview.  Kara didn’t like that idea too well, so I pleaded, “Well, at least sit and talk with us during dinner? I figure you’re pretty sick of all these adults.”  Kara replied,”I’ll see what Teddy wants to do.”
   But she didn’t ask him, so as he walked away from the bar with his beer (I think the legal drinking age in Iowa then was 18), I walked up to him, repeating the request to talk with them over dinner.  His reply was favorable, and soon Dedria, Dan, Teddy Jr., Kara and I were sitting at the black wrought-iron table.  I told myself I was going to be cool and collected, but it was hard to think of intelligent things to say.  Dedria began, “So, how do you like Iowa?”
   Teddy said that he really liked it, that it was interesting.
   “Yeah, like touring box plants?” I joked.
   “No, really,” he said.  “I like it.  I haven’t been out this way much at all.”  He’s also never been to New Orleans, and was fascinated by the Holidome’s unique decor. (surely he was also mesmerized by that word, “Holidome”…)
   Both Kara, 19, and Teddy, 18, attend college in Connecticut, she at Trinity and he at Wesleyan.  They’re taking off a semester to campaign.  They were surprised to learn that their cousin Joe had campaigned at Burlington High School. 
   When we asked why they weren’t surrounded by Secret Service men (although the men were stationed throughout the Holidome), Teddy and Kara looked at eachother, and he laughed and said, “Kara’s my bodyguard and I’m hers.”
   Before I could really feel at ease, Teddy had to cut the conversation short so he could do some telephoning to Iowa Democrats.  As he got up to leave, Kara followed him and they both cordially said good-bye.   All Dedria and I could do was keep remarking how we couldn’t believe we got to talk with them.
   But that wasn’t our last encounter.  After the senator spoke in the Regency Royale Room (Oooh, such gilded luxury.  I think that’s where one of my high school proms was held), we joined the reception line and shook hands with Ted, his wife, Joan, and the children.  To the children, I expressed how glad I was that they talked with us and wished them well in school.
   My final assignment as a courier was to drive to the Burlington airport and make sure the press plane took off safely.  (It did.) (If it didn’t, my job was to call Susan’s office.)   As we watched the journalists file off the buses for the last time, Dedria and I realized our big day would soon be a memory.  I was glad to have gotten a chance to peek at a family I’d read so much about, and to work with Susan.  (She said she’d call me again.) (She didn’t.) But I do have one complaint– I never got invited to Teddy’s mansion! (I’m still waiting!) ###

(photo taken by me with a Kodak “Pocket Instamatic”) Senator Ted Kennedy takes off his hardhat and approaches the microphone at Consolidated Packaging Corporation in Keokuk, Iowa, January 7, 1980. Wife Joan is at the right, and son Teddy Jr. is in the back, also in a CPC jacket.  Kara is to the left of Teddy. (Teddy Jr. looked very much like American Idol Season One runner-up Justin Guarini…)