Monday, September 16, 2013

Wicked Tales from the Wonderful World of Daycare (Ode to Raquel)

I was a very lucky new mommy back in my corporate days. 

1. I had an easy, good baby who was a great sleeper
2. My boss/dad let me bring my newborn to work
3. My next door neighbor was a licensed daycare provider.

Seriously, as my beloved sister-friend Vicki likes to say, sometimes it seems like I was born with a horseshoe up my ass. 

Here I come, better entertain me!
But good luck tends to run out eventually.  My next door neighbor had the nerve to retire and baby Joey was getting very demanding while I was working, expecting me to actually interact with his gigantic headed self instead of allowing me to shuffle him from activity to activity like baby circuit training… Gymini to bouncy seat to jumper with a bumper.  As much as I’m sure my dad’s other employees enjoyed the distraction of Joey wandering around the office in his walker, pulling papers off desks, it was time to find a new solution.

Enter Raquel, patron saint of daycare and margaritas.

Raquel was an in-house nanny for a work buddy of my husband Joe.  After her second daughter was born, Raquel decided to start a daycare in her own home.  Joey was her very first customer and he loved her dearly, almost as much as Joe and I did.

Raquel told us when Joey was ready for potty training and trained him in a day or two.  She gladly kept Joey overnight when we wanted to have a mental health getaway.  She gently guided us in the right direction with each new milestone.  She was stern with the children in her care when they were stinkers and laughed at them when they threw fits.  She never turned away a kid with a fever or cough or runny nose, each kid was like her own.  She had dance parties and races and went for walks with her slew of happy little kids whose variety looked like the old Benetton ads.  She gave thoughtful gifts to every child each birthday and Christmas and attended our family parties as an adopted Zumpano.  When Max came into the picture, Raquel’s husband Jeff looked in his baby face and said with pride, “I can tell he's really smart.”  They were like family and we thanked our lucky stars for them.  When I started my pencil portrait side business in earnest, Raquel ordered a family portrait and we laughed at how bald pale Jeff turned out looking like a ghost haunting the rest of the family.

There it goes.  Missed it AGAIN.

In our massive school district, kindergarten was half day, which caused a problem.  Raquel had been a convenient distance from our first little house, but when we moved to our current home, it was a long round trip.  We enrolled Joey in Kindercare, which bussed him to and from his school.  Max stayed at Raquel’s and Joe and I split the pick up and drop offs.  Joe was calm and organized while I panicked, rushing from Raquel's to catch the Chicago train taking me to my new job which would eventually fire me... the cartoon catapult that launched me into fulltime artistry. 

Eventually Max joined Joey at KinderCare and I cried, knowing I would miss seeing Raquel’s smiling face every day until summer.

We adjusted to KinderCare and our boys found new friends and favorite teachers.  Their best KinderCare friends were Jimmy and Tommy.  Jimmy’s birthday was one day before Joey’s and Tommy was a little older than Max.  The four of them were a perfect blend, adoring each other in the sweetest little boy way possible.  They were a wrestling pile of giggles and secrets and games.  I became friends with Jimmy and Tommy’s mother, Lisa, the way you do with the parents of your kids’ friends.  Convenience led to real closeness with Lisa.  We told each other everything - our pasts with tough fathers, our dreams of writing, our fears.  We admitted our parental shortcomings and we forgave each other’s kids their faults.  We sat at McDonald’s play land for hours and hours, allowing the kids to buy desserts so we could talk longer when they tired of germy plastic climbing.  When Lisa told me she didn’t know how they would afford full time KinderCare costs over the summer, I told her about our magic Raquel, who didn’t charge us a fraction of what she should have.  As Lisa lived in Round Lake, the trip would be even longer for her.  So we allowed them to drop J & T at our house each morning and pick them up from our house in the evening.  Every other Friday, we would keep all four kids overnight or Lisa would pick all four up so each couple could have a date night.  It was heaven.

Except that Lisa hated Raquel.

I was shocked as J & T started to say rude things about Raquel.  Lisa would criticize Raquel for disciplining her boys and blew silly things, like Raquel playfully whacking her daughter on the butt with a flip flop, out of proportion.  When Tommy wore the same unwashed white t-shirt for several days, Lisa was pissed when Raquel washed it.  Lisa was permissive to an extreme and her boys misbehaved at her house.  At mine, they listened to rules and followed our lead.  Lisa was starting to officially weird me out.  When she called me at 5 am on a Saturday morning to accompany her to the emergency room to have a catheter re-inserted, I was disturbed.  She wasn’t working at the time, I was only able to sleep in on weekends and I love sleep.  Clearly she felt close to me after four years of friendship, but as I squeezed her hand during the uncomfortable procedure (for both of us), the ER trip was more of Lisa than I expected or wanted to see. 

On the last day of summer, it was my turn to pick up the boys.  J & T bragged to my boys that they NEVER had to see Raquel again and that their mommy didn’t like her.  I stopped the car, turned around and barked at them that Raquel was our family and I DID NOT want to hear one more bad word. 

The next day while my boys were at school, DCFS showed up at Raquel’s. 

We were so furious, so betrayed, so shocked that a family that we trusted to appreciate Raquel’s generosity would turn on her and on us.  The DCFS agent told Raquel that the call had come from Round Lake… Raquel only knew one family from there.  I called Lisa in shock and anger, demanding an explanation.  Lisa stammered denials and finally blurted out that she didn’t need a friend like me, hanging up like a coward.

She never allowed the boys to see each other again. 

Joey and Jimmy were best friends from ages 4 – 8.  They were inseparable.  Joey wrote letter after letter to Jimmy, confused and hurt by the lack of response, asking who Jimmy’s best friend was now.  Hurting for him, I sent Lisa pleading emails and tried to appeal to J & T’s father, suggesting that just the dads and boys get together.  He seemed open to that, but called back to say that Lisa felt we should go our separate ways, obvious embarrassment in his voice. 

I’ve never been so angry or disappointed in a friend.  I couldn’t sleep and I still think about it more than I should.  I opened my heart, my home, my family to Lisa.  Raquel was a huge help to them financially; they would have been in trouble without her.  Lisa thanked her with a slap in the face out of pure spite and maliciousness.

Fortunately, everything worked out fine for Raquel - she didn’t give a shit about stupid old Lisa.  Ten years later, Raquel is still the daily salvation of grateful families with small children.  She rescued me when I foolishly attempted to step into her shoes and care for my brand new nephew, becoming dear to Joe's sister and her family as well. 

We attended Michele’s QuinceaƱera as a family this year, and it was wild to see Raquel’s adorable nieces all grown up… gorgeous young women who remembered Joey and Max who had been too little to return the favor.  Joey and Max tower over Raquel and they happily hugged her without teenage restraint.  The room was filled with Raquel’s family from Mexico and with a few adopted families like ours who she has embraced with so much love and laughter.  As our gift, I drew a portrait of Michele in her fancy dress. 

If you’ve ever received a portrait gift from me, you know I really, really love you.  (Not that I don't love you if you haven't... calm down. )  It’s a personal gift that I only feel comfortable sharing with those who know it comes from my heart.  And my heart is full whenever I think of Raquel and her dear family.

Margaritas soon, Raquel??


Wendy Zumpano

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Why I have been a crappy blogger.

I don't have a 401K!!!
There is a certain time of year when I am more freaked out than usual.  Every since I got fired from my corporate job for calling my boss a liar (accurately), I’ve been trying to build my pencil portrait business.  It isn't always a cake walk convincing people to remember me, find some photos, part with their cash, etc. etc.   Especially in late winter/early spring when the holidays are over and no Mother’s Day flowers are blooming yet, I have been a complete basket case.  As my pencil portrait projects dwindle, I throw myself into dramatic poses and cry, “I need a real job!” 
But I don’t want a real job.

I am not built for stress of any kind.  If you know me personally, you know I don’t have any coping skills.  Crying at work is embarrassing.  Plus I love to sleep in and stay up late.  In addition, I enjoy wine and cheez-its to a degree that interferes with my ability to concentrate on spreadsheets or wear real pants with zippers.

My mother has been the lucky soul who gets to hear me whining regularly about a real job.  My mom hangs out with me while I draw, so where would this new job situation leave her and our movie watching requirements?  This was a concern.

My mom wasn't the only one I assaulted with my nonstop complaining.   At my father's retirement party, a good friend from my real job days tried to shut me up by asking if I wanted to test his company's software from home.  I jumped at the chance to fill in my slow times with something else to do other than weeping.  I wasn’t sure what testing software meant, and it turned out to be exponentially more complicated than I expected.  Because I’m so visual and picky, I enjoy criticizing the hard work of others more than I should.  Just ask my poor kids about my “helpful” suggestions about their handwriting. 

Software testing was also more time consuming than I anticipated.  Consequently, I have now built up quite a backlog of portrait orders… similar to the kind of work pile I accumulate at Christmas!  I have lots of work to do for the side job, lots of work to do for my clients.  I can’t even tell you what a blessed relief it is not to lay in my bed at night and worry about bringing in enough cash to keep my gigantic sons fed and college bound.  Sandwiches and college cost money.

I have to get two grocery carts at Mariano's.
Things have actually improved enough financially that my husband Joe and I purchased a cargo van to hold all my art crap.  Most art shows begin with the sweaty, annoying job of cramming bins and tents and bags and whatnot into our Durango until there is absolutely no rear window visibility and I am the only human that can fit into it unless we strap some crap to the roof.  When Joe helps me with this chore, he usually smacks his freakishly tall head into the garage door or pinches his fingers and makes me feel all guilty with his cries of pain and swearing.  Sympathetically, I usually decide to get huffy and irritated and behave like I am a put-upon victim of hard labor. Joe kept insisting that we purchase a trailer so we wouldn’t have to load and unload everything each time.  I was afraid of driving with a trailer, as I envisioned playing crack the whip.  Remember that game when you’d run around in zig-zags holding hands and the kid at the end of the line/whip would get flung into a wall or hurled into a bush?  Backing up with a trailer is unpredictable.  No thank you on the trailer.

A van was not only the solution to the art storage/schlep issue, it also solved the three drivers / two vehicles problem.  My older son, King Joey, usually gets what he wants because he is adorable.  Since he got his license, I have no car ever.  I’d walk out the door to go to a doctor’s appointment or to take Max somewhere and there would be no car in the driveway.  You’d think I’d remember that I have no car.  You’d think I’d remember lots of things. 

I HIGHLY recommend that you visit John the Van Man if you have any van needs.  We were blown away by the way we were treated. 

Here’s my rockin' new art love van!


My friend Pat O’Malley suggested that I decorate it and apparently spent quite a bit of time Photoshopping my photo onto it like it was a ReMax van.  Very funny.  Almost as funny as how much time I just spent going back through Facebook trying to find it.  I have no idea where he found that photo of me, it doesn't even look familiar.  That's almost my actual phone number, too.


Then he must have thought more about it and had even more Photoshop time on his hands, because he came up with this:
Even more fabulous TA-DAAAAA!!!  And much less predator-like.

COME ON.  That is amazing!  I have several reactions to this suggestion.  First of all, why in the hell didn’t I think of that?  I have a degree in advertising for cripes sake.   Secondly, that is quite a bit of Photoshop work on Pat’s part.   He had to go sniffing around my portraits on my website and cut and paste them onto my  van photo.  He even has my SIGNATURE on my van door.  I am very excited about this idea and will probably talk about it and think about it for quite some time before I do anything about it because I’m more about talk than I am about action, unfortunately.

Okay, now you are up to date on why I haven’t been writing this blog.  I have NO BUSINESS writing in it right now.  But I miss writing it and I hope someone has missed reading it.   I have a great portrait story I have been dying to tell you, but I felt like I had to explain my blog famine first. 

I’m really going to get some work done now.  Or maybe look at Facebook for an hour or three.