The Demise of The Ultimate Machine

BMW ad (2)

“There is something wrong my car.” The Turk proclaimed

That’s never a phrase one wants to hear, but when you’ve been milking every ounce of life out of a limping lump of metal nearing the big 2-0 mark, it’s not really that shocking. Though my denial was strong, I’d been expecting this since the moment he took said limping lump off the ramps and by some crazy Turkish voodoo got the car to run.

I brushed off my token- surprised-not-surprised reaction. “Is it something big like ‘my engine fell out in the driveway’ or more like ‘I’ve got a nail in my tire?’”

“Well…engine is still there…”

The lack of details proved we were nowhere near the nail-in-the-tire zone.

“Does it still run?” I prodded.

“Sometimes.” I’m pretty sure there was a tear in his eye as he added, “It might be end of The Ultimate Machine.”

The Ultimate Machine was the name The Turk bestowed upon his creation that began as a beat-up ’98 BMW. About the time I was bringing the Nugget into this world, the Turk was preparing for his own baby, The Ultimate Machine. While I was in a haze of newborn sleep depravation, the Turk decided to hatch his plan to get the car of his dreams by any means necessary -such as taking advantage of my post partum confusion.

Since there was no way his sensible wife would ever sign off on a BMW manufactured in this century, he determined it best to buy one from a desperate college student on Craig’s list. From day one, he was enraptured with the car but his love was blind. As he pulled the Ultimate Machine into the drive at his initial introduction, it clunked and chugged and expelled a thick white cloud of toxic gas with each acceleration.

“What the hell is this?” I begged, shielding my children from the mushroom cloud coming from the exhaust pipe.

“Don’t worry. I fix it.” He beamed.

“How? You don’t know anything about car repair. You barely know how to check the oil.”

“It’s ok. I have Youtube.” (A stubborn immigrant’s direct path to the American dream.)

Thus began a great odyssey that would keep the Turk in the garage (and subsequently my car out in the cold and all of us playing Frogger over mechanic’s tools) for the next 8 months.

Like some women hide online shopping boxes, my husband began to hide car parts coming in at a rapid rate from destinations where I’m pretty sure they don’t make BMWs. He spent late nights watching fix-it videos and laid desire-filled gazes on every BMW he saw like some men do in the presence of a buxom broad. He was in deep, but things only got deeper when I issued an ultimatum.

“Yo, it is almost spring and I want to get these bikes and stroller and everything else normal people put in a garage back in the garage. You have 1 more month to get that damn thing back together and out of my garage.”

“Ok, ok. I almost done.”

“Are you really going to drive this downtown to work every day?”

“Why you say that? Of course. It is The Ultimate Machine. When I die, you bury me in it.”

A few weeks later he pulled the Ultimate Machine out of the drive with nary a puff of smoke behind it. He was elated as he headed off for his morning commute. I immediately signed him up with AAA roadside assistance…just in case.

The Ultimate Machine’s time on the ramps since that grand departure has been extensive. It’s had numerous flat tires, a few tows (That AAA was my best investment in life thus far), lots of leaking fluids, countless junkyard excursions and other things that were only remedied by hours of YouTube videos and boxes of parts from around the globe. The Turk learned more than he’d ever dreamed and until I threatened him with death in his sleep, he even planned to build a paint booth in our garage. Through it all, his love for that stupid car remained.

“I wish you’d talk to me the way you talk to that car.” I muttered in a hostile huff.

“Oh Honey that will never happen. Ultimate Machine never talks back to me.”

That crazed Turk kept it running for 3 years until that fateful day when it seemed the price of repair was bigger than the sum value of The Ultimate Machine. Logically I thought we should buy a new family car and he should take over mine. That idea was a lead balloon. “How I go from Ultimate Machine to a Hyundai? I can not. It hurts too much.”

So he got a budget and knowing the Turk and his inability to adhere to any budget, I low-balled him and off he went to find the next car of his dreams.

I think it’s important to note here that The Turk does not believe in dealerships…or “stealerships” as he calls them. After a week of browsing local sellers and even a police auction, he announced – “I found it. I found my new love.” And like a man in love he showed me photos, relived details and pined. The Turk was smitten and when that was clear he dropped the bomb. “But it is a bit over budget.” (Thus the lowball.) After forcing him to agree that he would take up male cage dancing to make up for the deficit, he sealed the deal.

On a warm spring evening two large African men arrived in my driveway in a white BMW. Even I had to admit, it was pretty, but it was 10 years newer and all in one piece so it wasn’t hard to beat the Ultimate Machine.

At the kitchen table we signed over titles and then I did my best Cagney and Lacey. (Unfortunately I had to be both so it was probably a bit confusing to the three men, none of whom shared my first language.) Where do you work? Where do you live? Give me your employer’s phone number…and on and on before I hit it with the big one…”Just so you know, if this car isn’t what you claim, I will come to your work and I will kill you. We clear? He may be the Turk but I’m a Philly girl and we don’t play.” The huge man looked down at me, a chubby mom pushing 5’4” if I stretch, so I added my best crazy eyes. It worked.

The three men loaded into my car so the Turk could drive them back to their home. For a moment I questioned the sanity in this move, then rememeerd his life insurance was healthy and let the bad thoughts go. The Turk later reported that once in the car, the larger of the two men looked at my husband and said, “Man, your wife is scary.”

To which he could only reply, “Oh, I know.”

Now if I could only use my crazy eyes to get that Ultimate Machine out of my driveway!

Mother Tongue…Ewwww

frustration (1)

The other day someone used the term “mother tongue” in response to languages in our house. That term grosses me out. I am a middle schooler trapped in an old lady body so combining the words mother and tongue could not be any more gross. But after I threw-up in my mouth at the Oedipal imagery, I got to thinking about it. When it comes to language in our house, we are both amazing and a hot mess.

Language is something I’ve learned to both love and despise. I love it for its ability to express the mirage of thoughts hurling through my head, but it also sucks because for us, language is the root of many problems.

For example, I can unequivocally say that every major argument the Turk and I’ve had in our years of marriage has come down to language and something getting lost in translation. Even though we’ve been at this for over a decade and we both speak each other’s languages we still have major miscommunications and now our kids are in on the magic.

 -quiet side whisper- “Mom, what the heck is Baba trying to say?”

“No clue kids, just nod. We’ll figure it out later.”

Then there are the languages themselves. Turkish being blunt and including no sugar coating and English being one where we might sugar coat too much. In Turkish a person is never curvy or plump. A person is fat. Just fat. That doesn’t always flow so well with sensitive English speakers.

“Why I add extra words when I don’t need? She is fat. It is true. I tell her. What is wrong with that?”

And lets not disregard issues we have with preconceived notions we face when speaking our second languages. In Turkish conversations, people think I comprehend faster than I do so they hit me with rapid-fire Turkish while I’m at “hi, how ya doin’.” In English, people hear the Turk’s accent and assume he just started learning English last week rather than 20 years ago, so they assume he’s stupid. (They usually see their misjudgment later when he hits them with a zinger.)

Number 1 Son never had an issue bouncing between languages rather than choosing a mother tongue, until he was old enough to choose. His choice of English over Turkish upset many family members while elating others, sticking his father and I in a quagmire.

Then there is Nugget. For his whole life of almost 4 years, language has been his Achilles heel. As a kid with Childhood Apraxia of Speech who couldn’t get any words to form or any sound to come out until very recently, he was no fan of spoken English. As a Hard of Hearing dude with one ear, he’s doesn’t always catch spoken language to begin with and he’s often dependent on ASL when his lone ear lets him down. However, he’s painfully aware that only a handful of people besides Mom can sign with him so if he can’t sign, can’t speak, what’s a guy to do?

Now, after a year full of daily speech therapy he’s gone from a kid with CAS to a kid with an adorable lisp and a couple other speech impediments (And mastered a find grasp of profanity because even with one ear that kid can hear every damn foul word his mother drops a mile away.) He’s also added more signs and keeps up with his ASL. Recently, spurred by his love of a fabulously flamboyant, Liberace-esque Turkish singer, he’s started picking up Turkish. So what’s his mother tongue? Who knows but 3 languages by 4 is damn impressive.

No one I knew as a kid spoke a second language but  I had great aspirations, so I ordered both French and Spanish dictionaries from the bargain section of the Weekly Reader book order. I soon learned that one does not learn a language by reading the dictionary. I tried Spanish class in high school but called it a day after, “Me llamo Margie, y tu?” I did pick up enough Spanish later to get me into trouble in Mexico, but basically I top out at Dora the Explorer level.

This week Nugget had a birthday party with some Developmental PreK buds at a trampoline park. It was his first big party and he was psyched until he realized how loud the park was and thus turned off what hearing he has (as he does in noisy situations). As I was signing to him we were surprised to see a bunch of other people doing the same. Nugget was elated and signed, Look Mom, they sign too! A group from the local Deaf school was there on a field trip and many took time out to chat with us. It was great for Nugget to share a mother tongue and great for me to hone my ASL skills.

After the party we stopped off at McDonalds (Yes, I do that occasionally. I’m not proud but it happens.) and much to my surprise, we sat next to a woman speaking Turkish to her young son. As we chatted she told me she was here for her husband’s work and didn’t speak any English. She was desperate for someone to speak Turkish with, besides her husband. She was shocked and elated to have found that at McDonalds. I was transported ten years back when I was a lonely wife newly landed in a foreign country, struggling with the language and longing for someone, anyone, to speak English with so I certainly understood. It rocks when life gives you an opportunity to reciprocate. We talked forever before exchanging numbers and she even complimented me on my Turkish (Which made me beam because I generally sound like a stammering moron in Turkish, but thanks to my early years of motherhood in Turkey I do rock the mom-talk quite well.)

So maybe we have no familial mother tongue and maybe my relationship with language has become a bit hostile in recent history, but as I settled in for my evening wine/decompression with The Turk that evening, I was damn proud of myself for having flexed my muscles in 3 languages in a matter of hours. Not bad for a girl who didn’t make it through 9th grade Spanish. Next up, perhaps we’ll all learn Icelandic…

 

 

We’ve Got Weed…No, Not That Kind

weed girl (1)

We are “those neighbors.” You know the ones, every neighborhood has them. (Hopefully after this exposè there will be several more.) We are the neighbors with the yard resembling a botanical experiment gone awry amongst a neighborhood of golf course caliber lawns. While our neighbors sport lush green carpets, we crazy-ass hippies are displaying a meadow of fuzzy dandelions and boisterous weeds and we do it without apology. Sorry neighbors, we’ve got weeds but we have our reasons.

For a few weeks every spring our yard resembles an abandoned homestead and we love it. Dog walkers with their looks of disdain and fellow residents of our development who refer to our home as a cautionary tale, can suck it. The dandelions are staying and we have scientific evidence to support our stance. (We’re nerds and as in the case of most nerds we fight with facts because upper arm development is lacking.)

This is the Turk’s first real yard. He grew up an apartment dweller in the concrete jungles of Turkey so the only yard he knew was a postage stamp size piece of grass at his family’s summer house. In his city, people walk blocks to enjoy tiny plots of grass at a nearby park. Grass is a HUGE commodity in a country that is virtually a desert and where water costs the same as gas in the US. If you see a “Keep off Grass” sign in Turkey, you damn well better. (Legalities prevent me from explaining why I know that fact intimately so you’ll just have to trust me on that one.) 

Since this is his first real round at lawn life, his learning curve has been a slow but gradual climb. Watching his ineptitude at digging holes for trees gave me great comfort, since I now know he won’t be able to burry my body should the need arise. The Turk, on the other hand, was unnerved by my speed and agility with a spade and now sleeps with one eye open. Thankfully that Turk has a know-it-all, farmer’s daughter and botany enthusiast for a wife who can guide him to greatness. (One more reason that Turk is a damn lucky man. Don’t worry, I remind him on the reg.)

I worried that due to his love of all things ‘Merican, he might be sucked in to the epic American quest for the perfect, weed-free lawn. As we signed closing papers I feared the Turk would be spending his weekends trimming the lawn with scissors while hand seeding quadrant after quadrant and spraying gallons of weed killer, subsequently killing off the weeds our ecosystem desperately needs for pollinators to ensure our continued survival. (I am a science teacher. Ecosystems are my jam.) How wrong I was. I was flabbergasted when I learned that my polar opposite husband was on the hippie-lawn train with me, even if our focuses were not identical.

We lived in our new neighborhood less than one week when the Turk watched a lawn treatment company spray numerous neighboring lawns while posting ominous “Caution- Stay off for 24 hours” signs. My hot-headed Ottoman lost it and it was this tree hugger’s dream.

“Why they do that? So stupid. I do not understand Americans.” He paced and as he did, his anger grew. While I loved the words coming from his mouth, I’d seen him wage war against wasps in the shed and was stunned he could harbor a love for bees.

“They want to drink that? They want their kids to drink that?”

This was where he began to lose me. “What are you talking about?”

“That poison goes to ground water. It does not get out in treatment plant. You cannot filter things like that out. How stupid they are.” Ah, there it was. His stance wasn’t about saving the lives of our honey-bearing friends; he was all about ground water. It made perfect sense. My Turk is an environmental engineer specializing in water so he knows of which he speaks. We were now a unified force of nerdom.

I suggested we print up a yard sign, “Let the Weeds Bee.”

The Turk replied, “No. That is stupid.”

Fine.

The first year I was unnerved by the scoffs we’d get from passersby. (Who knew Hoosiers could be such turf elitists?) But the life-cycle of the dandelion plant is generally 3-4 weeks so our abandoned home-inspired lawn would only last until May at best. So I steeled my self against the nature-haters and carried on.

But this year, I’m older and wiser and much too close to menopause to keep my opinions bottled up. This year, when people give my lawn the side-eye I go all Erin Brockavich on their asses. I put on my best Silkwood (Not to brag but I do a fab ‘80’s Cher) and sound the alarm.

“Oh this is not the lawn of lazy homeowners. No, this is the lawn of environmentally responsible individuals working to leave a better world for our children.” I screamed at the fat guy with the dog who turned up his nose.

To the family with the look of scorn I yelled, “Better enjoy that apple your kid has because if you keep killing off the pollinators in your quest for a weed-free lawn, there will be no more apples.” Could there be a kinder way? Perhaps but again, I’m premenopausal so…

I did take a kinder approach with my neighbors, many of whom curse us as each gust of wind aids in the seed dispersal process, transporting dandelions from our lawn to theirs. I gently, yet unapologetically explained the reason behind our resolute decision to avoid weed killers, quoting peer reviewed case studies and scientific data, then closing with a gentle reminder that as an environmental engineer and science teacher chances of us getting on board with neighborhood lawn etiquette are virtually nil. I haven’t swayed many to my save the pollinators side, but the Turk and his groundwater stance has changed some minds. Hopefully next year we won’t be the only house on the block rockin’ the uninhabited lot lawn look.

Bucking the norm isn’t for the weak. It’s a good thing the Turk and I are naturals at swimming upstream so we’re cool with leading the charge.

I might print up a few of my “Let The Weeds Bee!” yard signs. Just in case.

When Your Bi-Cultural Child Doesn’t Want To Be Bi-Cultural Anymore

Turkish kid

“It happens. No matter what you do it will happen.” The other expats told me smugly over tiny cups of Turkish coffee one morning. In hindsight I realize they knew, but as a self-righteous new mother who’d spent 9 months reading and years before that judging others’ parenting because I obviously knew better than those who’d actually been at the job, (You know, the kind of broads which seem to have taken over the internet recently…) I surmised I would do better. My bi-cultural kids would remain equally tied to both cultures, Turkish and American.

Before I’d even birthed my first half-breed I began to worry about how this whole bi-cultural identity thing would play out. At that point we were living in Turkey and it wasn’t clear in which culture we’d be living for the long haul. He’d be immersed in the Turks so how did I make him American too? Should I just hit up McDonald’s weekly, slap down a few McNuggets, play a little Lynard Skynard and say, “There ya go buddy, there is a little slice of my people. Now go forth and live among your father’s people.” (Full disclosure: I did have ridiculous cravings for the McRoyal (a bastard brother of the Quarter Pounder) while I was pregnant so I guess he did get a solid dose of my people in utero.)

The Turk told me not to worry about it, but that’s not how I roll. I began pumping every bi-cultural parent in the school where I taught about their experiences for research.

Olga from Sweden married to a Turk: “Tolga might be a blue-eyed blonde but he’s not very Swedish. He is much more Turkish boy as long as we live here.”

Jennifer from American married to a Turk: “My girls chose to be Turkish instead of American. Not my choice but we live here so I get it.”

Grant from England married to a Turk: “I’d hoped Julide would keep a bit of a connection to England but she identifies as Turkish completely. It saddens me but you can not prevent it.”

The conclusion was clear, bi-cultural kids identified mostly with the culture they lived in but I wasn’t a fan of that theory so, in the spirit of the clueless (kind of like anti-vaxers and science deniers) I ignored the evidence and decided that my kid would be the exception.

Nine years later I’d like to issue a public apology for my stupidity. My half-breeds, currently nestled away in middle America, despite all my efforts and hopes, are Americans. To confirm that, this week alone Number 1 son brushed off three attempts by both The Turk and myself to reconnect him with his other half.

       Attempt 1: Through the belly.

“Mom, what are we having for dinner?”

“Mercimek. Your favorite.”

“Ugh. Turkish food again?”

“Son, in our house it’s just called food.”

“Whatever. Can’t we have hamburgers?”

Damn you America and your artery clogging goodness.

Attempt 2: Groove is in the heart.

Nugget was getting his groove on to some Turkish music videos when I noticed the video he was shaking his Pull-Up clad butt to had been filmed on the streets of the village we lived in when Number 1 was little.

“Number 1, come look at this! This video is in our old ‘hood. This is so cool! We have tons of photos of you on that street. Come here, watch this.”

While the Turk and I dove head-first into nostalgia, Number 1 glanced at the screen and muttered, “Cool.” Before immediately returning to his March Madness bracket selection prep.

Damn you America, even a nice beat that you can dance to couldn’t pull him away.

 Attempt 3: Pulling Out The Big Guns

“Number 1, we need to talk about you maybe going to Turkey with Baba next month. He’s going to check on Babaanne (grandma) and we think maybe you should go.”  This whole discussion was a rare moment of collaborative, unilaterial parenting on my part as was illustrated by the look of shock on the Turk’s face when I agreed to it. I wasn’t sold on the idea but since it was clear my oldest half-breed was pulling away from his Turkish side, I felt it imperative to give him one more hard push back in.

As a sane person I’m sure you’re asking, why send just the two of them? Well, I’m not a sadist and thus I am unwilling to travel 12 hours by plane with a one-earred, 3 year-old tyrant. Nugget doesn’t travel well in any mode but his jacked-up ear situation makes flying miserable and I’m not doing it. Conversely Babanne doesn’t fly. Period. She is a very stubborn Turk so we’ve been in a stalemate for the past few years. Finally I relented and said I’d stay home with Nugget and the Turk and Number 1 could go (While I stay up for a week straight contemplating the sanity in sending my baby into a country who’d had a political coup mere months prior, to a city that has bombings on the reg and is on the cusp of a make or break election about the time of their intended arrival. Oh and lets not even get into all the unwarranted and irrational Not Without My Daughter scenerios that would flash through my sleep deprived mind.) Secretly I prayed Number 1 wouldn’t want to go but it was my maternal duty as a bi-cultural parent to promote this moment.

Number 1 thought for about 30 seconds and said. “I don’t want to go.”

“Really? (Oh thank GOD!!!!) But why not?”

“Well for one, it’s scary. I watch the Turkish news with you guys. I’m not clueless. And actually I don’t really want Baba to go either. And for two, if it was Cleveland or someplace good where we could go watch LeBron James or something I’d go but Turkey? Nah.” (Sweet Jesus, did my son just prefer Cleveland over transcontinental adventure? Lord Almighty he really was too far gone.)

Relieved and disappointed all in one breath, I muttered to the Turk, “I think we’re losing him to America.”

“Yes. I think so.” He agreed with a twinge of heartbreak.

My soul filled with lapsed Catholic guilt. I felt like I’d stolen our son. But they’d warned me. All those expat parents had warned me and as it turned out, my son was not the exception but the rule. He lived in America now so he became American.

We’re not giving up though. We’ll keep eating Turkish food-aka-food, keep sharing stories of his other culture, keep celebrating Turkish holidays (Just not Kurban Bayram -that one where you slice the lamb on your balcony because even The Turk is still scarred from that one.). We’ll continue trying to keep him bilingual, force him to watch Turkish league football (as long as I still get my NFL time with him too) and I’ll keep his Turkish side alive even if it kills me because some day, years from now, that little half-breed will be glad we did.

When Cross-Cultural Appliance Buying Goes Wrong

STORE-M0RE-FREEZER

There is a roar in my kitchen. No, it’s not the roar of hangry children scavenging for food nor the roar of a rabid beast that happened in through the screen door. It is my refrigerator. The refrigerator my darling husband, the Turk, secured from some sketchy deal last fall. The refrigerator takes up half of my kitchen but was “a really good deal.”

The roar began a mere month after my husband, our neighbor and two strapping young lads, grunted, growled, sweat and struggled to get the oversized behemoth into our tiny kitchen. (Oh yes, you read that right, it took 4 men-to get this refrigerator into our home. But it was a really good deal.) After the Turk removed a few cabinets and hacked a piece of wall out, his fridge eventually fit into our kitchen.

“How good this is right?” He beamed

“Are you planning to start a catering business?” I asked.

“Don’t worry. Later you will love.” He hoped.

Initially the roar was intermittent but now it’s loud and proud and this old gal can’t take it anymore. It’s the kind of dull roar that could push a woman, like myself, with questionable sanity and on the doorstep of pre-menopause, to lose her damn mind. Last week as I was chopping onions to the beat of the roar it occurred to me that if I were to record the sound and submit it as Exhibit A, no jury of my peers would ever convict me. That’s when I told the Turk to watch his ass. This roar is fo reals yo.

How did we get to the point where a refrigerator could begin my spiraling descent into madness when life as a geriatric, full-time working mother (as a middle school teacher, if that’s not enough to usher one to insanity!) with a hyper 8 year-old, special needs 3 year old and crazy Turkish husband hadn’t managed to do it? Who would’ve guessed a Kitchenaid would be my demise?

This fridge mess started about a year and a half ago when we purchased our current fixer-upper. Like most normal people who make fixer-upper purchases, (not those on HGTV who seem to have limitless funds and only work about 2 hours per day) we agreed to make upgrades as budgets allowed.

Item one on our upgrade list was the refrigerator. The house came with one that was not much bigger than fridge I kept stocked with cheap beer in my college dorm room. If me, the 5’4” goddess that I am, can easily clean the top of an appliance destined to house and cool food for a family of 4, that bitch is too damn small. But as life would have it, the very day we took possession of the house and labeled the mutant-micro fridge upgrade number one, Nugget’s kidney issue imploded.

A bum kidney had been percolating inside his tiny body but literally hours before the movers arrived it all went to hell, starting a series of hospital visits and procedures and ending in Mama taking a year off work to care for him. As is the case for most of us not on HGTV, when a household income is halved, fixing-upping goes on hold too. Mutant-micro-fridge would have to stay

For a long year we stooped to search the top shelf, shopped frequently because the damn thing couldn’t hold more than a stick of butter and quart of milk, and because the appliance was about the size of a toddler, used duct-tape to keep Nugget out. (After I caught him in his playroom manhandling an open bottle of wine that had been stored on the door.) But when Mama finally went back to work and that second paycheck returned, the first purchase on the charts was a brand-new fridge!

Like an American, I planned to head to a big box store, hand over some plastic and await delivery from 2 burly men in a truck. In stark contrast, like a good Turk, my husband decided to search out the best (aka sketchiest) deal and do whatever it would take to save a buck. One would think that after 10 years of marriage and 3 years of living in his county, amongst his people, I’d have seen it coming. Back in Turkey when we needed things, they appeared, delivered by hairy men in beat-up Toyotas. No receipt. No warranty. No questions. Things just happened that way.

Things are expensive in Turkey, really expensive and wages for most who are not in a position to take a bribe here or there are low. You could go to the mall and buy on taksit – a payment plan- or you could do as my father-in-law did and roll up in the old neighborhood with your mustache groomed and fedora pulled low to see a friend of a friend who knows a guy who knows another guy. The next day – boom – 2 hairy guys in a Toyota are delivering a heater.

After smacking my head on the top of the mutant-mini-fridge and screaming “Where in the hell am I going to put these groceries,” one too may times. The Turk took his cue.

“Don’t worry. I take care this.”

Two days later he pulled into the driveway in a huge U-Haul, rolled up the back and said. “Look what I get you! It very heavy. I think we need help.” (Yes, you read that right. The fridge was so big he needed to rent a U-Haul. The BIG U-Haul!!)

It was good for a while but then the roar began…and the leaking. The very good deal’s freezer would freeze into a solid block of ice, but then it would melt two days later. Some mornings I would stumble downstairs at 4:30am desperate for coffee only to be met with the River Styx running across the kitchen. The Turk fixed the freezing by buying a deep freezer for the garage and the melting with a beach-towel dam but I knew the time with this beast was limited. (The Kitchenaid, not the Turk – I’m pretty sure he’s a life sentence.)

Finally last week I lost it.

“That is it! This weekend we are going to Home Depot and we are buying a refrigerator. It will come in a box. It will be delivered. It will be installed by people who are not wastewater engineers. It will have a warranty and it may or may not be a good deal. I do not give a damn. I do not care.”

“Ok” he muttered.

“Oh I don’t think you heard me. We did this the Turk way and now we’re doing it the big, fat, lazy American way. Got it…wait what?”

“I say, ok. I cannot take that sound any more. It killing me.”

Last Saturday we bought a new refrigerator to be delivered the following week. The next day, The Turk found a better deal on the same fridge so he returned the first fridge and bought the better deal. (I had my fears but in the end, his deal was made in a store and was actually legit.)  He got his good deal after all but most importantly, this time the good deal will come in a box with a warranty and the two suckers who install it will have to figure out how to get the behemoth with the lower level iceberg out of my kitchen.

 

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Ya’ll Need Some Science Up In Here

science

In my 15 years  plus year of teaching, I’ve taught art, theatre, English, ESL, writing and a few other related subjects administrators threw my way. But now this ol’ grammar gal is teaching science. And while it has required pulling up some knowledge from the deepest recesses of my frontal lobe that I have not accessed since college in the early 90’s and provided my hippocampus with some marathon-caliber workouts (not to mention teaching me all these fancy new words) I absolutely love it. Somewhere between explaining cellular respiration to a room of stinky, middle schoolers and prepping microscope slides on my kitchen table, I realized I should’ve been a science teacher all along.

In my classes we grow things, we build things and we take things apart and make them into something new. We make huge messes, shoot things from catapults and blow things up. We have class in the woods and stomp through streams. We form questions, sometimes strange and ridiculous questions, and then we test for the answer. It’s freakin’ awesome! All those years I sat perched on a desk discussing character motivations and surmising the story after the story, I had no idea there was so much fun happening in science class. Had I known there was a job that condoned using warning labels as mere suggestion, I’d have been on it from day one.

So why did it take me 15 years in the ed biz to figure this out? Do I really have that little self-awareness? Perhaps. But I think the real blame goes to the teachers that shaped me back in the day.

27 years ago, my high school in rural Iowa boasted a whopping 99 in its graduating class, (That total is not inclusive of those classmates who were knocked up at graduation and there was more than one…). I’m quite certain the majority of the school’s educators thought pedagogy was a either dessert from Poland or a something from page 432 of the Kama Sutra. If you didn’t stand out as a stellar scholar bound for one of the three state schools by 8th grade, you were lumped into Category 2 – a direct ticket to community college or trade school at best. Even though I was a kid with learning issues, I loved science and had big dreams of life in a lab until I met Algebra. After repeatedly coming up empty-handed in my search for X, I was awarded the Category 2 badge. While being a card-carrying member of Category 2 kept the academic expectations low resulting in far more time for my excessive extra-circulars, it took a lot more fight to get out.

Though I had the label, I didn’t see myself as a Category 2er, so even though it wasn’t sanctioned, I started the college process on my own. When I proclaimed my ardent desire to get the hell out of Iowa and head to the East Coast where I would fulfill my destiny of greatness, the school’s lone guidance counselor replied, “Oh honey, you’re not smart enough for college.”

That guidance counselor had also provided guidance for my parents 20 years prior where they too had been put into Category 2 along with numerous aunts and uncles as well as my older brother. We were a long line of Category 2s. When she regained her composure and stopped laughing, she provided me with a brochure from the nearby community college and suggested I look into their Ag Management program. “You’ve a perfect candidate for the 6 week program in Hog Confinement Management.”

From beneath my sky-high bangs and through a foggy haze of residual Aqua-net my mouth dropped open. I fancied myself to be a Midwestern Molly Ringwald, and hoped to meet up with the rest of the Brat Pack as soon as I got to the East Coast for college.

“Hog Confinement Management? Are you kidding? Do I look like I do hogs?”  I probably brushed back a strand of crispy, permed hair to punctuate my point.

“Oh dear, you’ve got so much to learn.”

On that point she was right. I did have a lot to learn and once I started learning, I never wanted to stop. I did get into college and I went on to get more than a couple degrees. However, none of them were in science because though I’d proven myself to be above a Category 2, the label was still there reminding me I wasn’t smart enough for a career in science.

But with time and especially with old age, things change and sometimes people see something in you you never saw in yourself- like a science teacher where an English teacher had always been. When I started refreshing my brain and revisiting ideas like phototropism and cell division, my passion for science was reignited and by the time I had a classroom of kids searching for cell walls under microscopes and using my nerdy rhymes to differentiate the xylem from the phloem, I realized I was more than capable. Who knew I had the potential to be a chubbier, cooler Bill Nye for the modern age?

Ironically, I teach science to kids that would easily be labeled Category 2. Many of my students are on the Autism spectrum and others are figuring out how to learn with executive function issues, dyslexia and ADHD. Some struggle to understand the material while others understand perfectly but struggle to get their thoughts out of their brain. Regardless of their diagnoses, I think they are all amazing. Never in a million years would I label one of these awesome kids and let them think they were not smart enough to follow their passions. That’s not my job. That is not any teacher’s job. My job is to give them a love of learning, ignite in them a passion for science and most of all, help them believe in themselves. 

Coming back into the scientific realm I’ve seen a lot of changes. Unlike 30 years ago, while science knows more, society trusts less and it’s a dangerous combination. Science education has never been more important that it is right now and I’m so crazy jazzed to be a part of this. The world we’re living in right now needs more scientists and science needs more people that see the world differently. (And man, I’ve got classes full of those!)

Maybe one of my hyper focused autistic kids holds the key to stopping climate change or perhaps I’m turning a kid on to plants that will become a botanist on the first Martian colony (seriously, I think I have that guy in 3rd period). What if the kid that struggles with writing sentences has the potential to master gene splicing to end a deadly disease? But instead of someone helping him, they labeled him as Category 2 and he gave up. Not on my watch. I’m pretty sure that in this era Category 2s will be the ones who will save the day. Watch out world, here we come. (Just as soon as we figure out where in the hell to find X in an algebraic equation….)

 

*In the next episode I’ll tell you all about trying to look cool at the Science Teacher’s Convention and rallying the troops for the upcoming March For Science. I’m all in baby!

January, You’re Dead To Me

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I’m not a fan of January. I’ve tried over forty of them and have yet to find any redeeming qualities in a single one. They’re gray, depressing, boring and butt numbing cold. (Global warming, you suck.) I’ve given this one a solid try but I see it’s just like all the other Januarys and next week after the presidential inauguration, its suckage is just going to ramp up to epic levels. So I’ve made an executive decision. I’m not going to do January this year. I’m going to hide out until it’s over. Harsh? Drastic? Perhaps, but that’s how I roll. January, you’re dead to me.

I’m going into my pillow fort and I will not come out until January is safely passed. And if February, doesn’t start off strong I’m skipping that too. I’ve got enough supplies to stay in my pillow fort until March. (I’m a planner and stockpiler, yet still a safe distance from doomsday prepper.) I’ve decided I have no choice but to take drastic measures and thankfully, my Mediterranean blooded Turk is right with me on this one. (Which is great because usually in situations such as these he just gives me the side eye and mutters about my instability in Turkish.)

I’m sorry kids, but you are on your own for the next few weeks because neither of your parents can do January anymore.

I know, it may seem harsh to turn over self-survival to a guy who has not yet mastered the concept that pooping should occur in the toilet and not in his pants and his brother who hasn’t gotten past the sixes on the multiplication tables, but I don’t see any other way. January is too much and we as parents just… can’t.

Simply put, the Turk is genetically incapable of cold weather. His blood is thin and according to him, solidifies into ice crystals the moment temps drop below 40 degrees. My dear husband hunches like a turtle somewhere in mid-November and does not stand straight again until April. It’s been hard on him since he moved to this country but now that he is on the other side of 40, we have to worry more about the old man. I’d hate for him to stroke out due to freezing temps. (Though he does have stellar life insurance that would provide my children and I with a bungalow in a warmer climate…no…no…that thinking is wrong!)

As for me, I understand that due to my ample supply of body fat you might wonder why I am incapable of dealing with the cold. I don’t get it either but I’m old and old people have these issues. The cold makes me surly and slug-like and though I was able to combat it in my youth, with the combination of my advanced age and the impending doom coming with the January 20th presidential inauguration, this year I simply haven’t the will.

Kids, if you need to go anywhere, I’d suggest you pile a few of your father’s old engineering books on the seat of the car (they’re in Turkish and thus extra bulky) and give it a go. Number One Son, you should be able to see over the steering wheel while your brother Nugget navigates from the safety of his car seat. Just practice a few times around the block before you hit the open road. If anyone questions you, cite a medical condition for your small stature then accuse them of judgmental intolerance. That should get any pesky do-gooders off your back. (If that doesn’t work, let Nugget and his newly developed canine-calibur biting skills handle things.)  

If anyone needs us, I’ll be where I’ve been since January 1: with the cat in the barcalounger, huddled under my grandma’s old quilt, binge watching Stranger Things on my IPad using the kids headphones to block out the world and dreaming of finding a portal to a warmer dimension.

The Turk will be where he’s been since January 1 as well: in Number One’s new beanbag chair, three feet in front of the fireplace with his little Turkish tootsies baking in a roaring fire.

January, it’s over for us and this time, it’s definitely you, not me.

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4 Wise Men and Krampus Wished Me a Merry Christmas

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Ten days ago, a goat appeared in my mailbox. It was a small goat, carved of wood with a couple of crazy-ass eyes that did conjure thoughts of Krampus, the half goat, half man Christmas demon. It was wrapped in tissue with “On The First Day…” scrawled on the paper. Immediately, as one does in situations such as this, I began to sing. (When faced with a mystery everyone sings right? Didn’t Matlock?) In my sought-after style resembling a tone-deaf church lady, I sang, “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…a goat in my mailbox.” Hubba whaaa? I am known for my extreme skill at misquoting lyrics, (You will never convince me it’s not really Big ‘ole Jeff left the lights on instead of Big ‘ole jet airliner) but I could’ve sworn it was a partridge in a pear tree.

Entrenched in end of semester grading and swimming through the pain that is the lead up to Christmas break, I didn’t have any extra brain cells to spend on my mailbox Krampus so I tucked him in the napkin bin and chalked it up to something quirky in my strangely friendly neighborhood. (For real, people bring you baked goods in this ‘hood and they are not even laced with weed or trying to convince you to becoming a Jehovah’s Witness. Definitely unlike all of our old ‘hoods.)

It was all rather innocuous until the Turk found the goat and with a quiver of panic in his voice said, “Wat is dis? Is religious thing?”

My darling husband The Turk, simply by being from a Muslim country, frequently finds himself the recipient of unwarranted advances from the devout of Indiana hoping to save his soul. (If only they knew it was a lost cause long before he married this lapsed Catholic infidel.) The poor guy has received more invitations to attend church than a Kardashian has had butt lifts. (I don’t get the whole ‘come to church with me thing’. In the Catholicism I grew up with, if you weren’t part of the club by birth, we offered you nothing more than a cool welcome and a rear pew.)

Given his experiences, it made sense that he assumed the goat was another attempt to convert the foreign neighbor to some form of Christianity. I however, not nearly as sane as my husband, went to a much darker place.

As a long-time crime show connoisseur and the proud owner of a ridiculously wild imagination, I surmised I knew the real meaning behind the goat in my mailbox and when two more goats arrived on day three, my suspicions were all confirmed.

On day three, upon returning home from a long day at school I opened my mailbox to find 2 more carved animals with the crazy-ass Krampus eyes. A snowstorm had forced my stalker to double up on a delivery. A total of three tissue clad, goats was too many. It was time to open an investigation.

Thanks to my incredibly warped and well trained mind, I concluded I had 9 days left to live as I was now facing death by bludgeoning with a goat horn underneath my Christmas tree, orphaning my children and leaving my Turk a widower. (Which also meant I had 9 days to line him up with a new wife because I love him that crazy bastard too much to leave him to handle life on his own.) While changing into my evening yoga pants, I took a quick glance through my closet to choose my 12th day of Christmas ensemble because even though I’d be dead, I still wanted to look good when they showed footage of the crime scene on Dateline.

Once I’d covered those important things, I laid out my investigation. (Using the scientific method of course, because when you spend your days drilling it into the minds of middle schoolers, it infects your world.)

Question: Who is leaving secret messages in my mailbox and what is their motive?

Hypothesis: I hypothesize that the messages are a warning that I will be killed by a crazy-eyed goat on the 12th day of Christmas.

Procedure:

  1.  Establish a perimeter
  2. Dust mailbox for prints
  3. Set up surveillance
  4. Swab goats for DNA and run any findings through CODIS
  5. Install a camera in the mailbox, record all criminal activity. Isolate images of any questionable individuals and run the images through FBI facial recognition software.
  6. Interview neighbors in the hopes of identifying suspicious behavior.

Since steps 1 – 5 were hard and would likely be a lot of work and I had laundry to do and dinner to make, I decided to skip ahead to step 6. I sent a text to my neighbor on the right.

  Me: Weird question, but have you been receiving any small carved goats in your mailbox recently?

            Her : Um no. It’s 4:00. Are you drinking already?

            Me: Perhaps. Do you think these are a sign that someone is coming to kill me?

           Her: Totally. You should have some wine to relax.

I told you this neighborhood was idyllic.

Having reached a dead end with the right side neighbor, I went left.

   Me: Odd question – have you been receiving small carved goats in your mailbox or is this a message that someone is coming to kill me?

            Her: No but we got them last year.

            Me: OMG. Really? Did someone try to kill you? I didn’t see it in the HOA newsletter.

            Her: No attempted murder. It’s a surprise gift from a neighbor. It will be a nativity set in the end.

           Me: Ahhhhhhhhh. Good to know.

           Her: No need to panic.

           Me: Well, I am from Philly…and Turkey…sooooo….

           Her: Understood.

And there you have it. Word is that this is not a message from a serial killer or a secret summonsing from Krampus. But so far I’ve got 3 goats, 4 wise men (Even though I’m sure Sister Nora said there were only three.) and what may be a shepherd or a member of Al Qaida, I’m not yet sure.

I’m not sure I believe the story so if you never hear from me again, I ask only two things – make sure you watch my Dateline episode so I win at ratings postumously  and more importantly, make sure the Turk doesn’t marry a whore.

Merry Christmas to all!!

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Hells Yeah, It’s Thanksgiving Gurl!

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The time is upon us again and my heart, with her arteries prepared to clog within days, is all a twitter. Why? Because, my friends, it is nearly Thanksgiving the most wonderful time of the year.

I’ve always had a solid love of Thanksgiving (not really that odd for a fat kid) and that love has only grown stronger with age. During our years living in Turkey, I deemed November the “Month of Which We Do Not Speak” and would refer to the month only by it’s Turkish name, Kasim, so I would not be reminded of what I’d lost. (On more than one occasion post-repatriation, I have legitimately been asked how the Turks celebrate Thanksgiving so I feel like I should issue a little reminder that while there is a Thanksgiving turkey, there is no Thanksgiving in Turkey. I’ll just leave that there. No need to admit if you had to think about it. I judge silently.)

While many people get the tingles at the mere mention of Christmas, I do not. I’m not a fan of the Holly Jolly. Christmas is hectic and expensive. There is always high drama and high expectations and quite frankly, ain’t nobody got time for that. The Turkish version of Christmas happens on December 31st and includes a skinny dude with a ‘stache called Baba Noel delivering, one – just one- gift to ring in the new year. None of this 3-month lead up, no stores blaring Christmas music from the first of October and they give you a whole extra prep week. I’ve lobbied for this approach in America with no takers. (America, considering our current plague of obesity, would it be so bad to have a chain-smoking, trim Santa as a role model?)

No, Thanksgiving is my jam. Last year Thanksgiving came after a dismal autumn that included Nugget’s kidney reconstruction, copious visits to get his hearing aid fitted, his Apraxia diagnosis and our introduction to learning ASL. Mama was playing stay-at-home mom so funds were tight and I was weighing my options for pole-dancing as a means to provide Christmas. It was not our finest November and even Thanksgiving couldn’t bring me around.

But this year…this family is in fighting form! Mama’s back to work in a job that does not include dancing or poles, (Yes society, your collective sigh of relief is audible.) Nugget’s kidney is pumping like new. And though he has a love/hate relationship with it, his hearing aid has been a game changer for his speech and while he still uses ASL to communicate on the reg, he also never shuts up. (Though I can only decipher about 50%, in his mind he’s fluent and has gone so far as to begin adding in some Turkish which isn’t all that helpful but amazing all the same.) This year Thanksgiving, it is GAME ON.

I made my menu last Friday and had 90% of my food shopping done by Saturday morning (and booze…of course I already bought the booze.) On Sunday, I began the great turkey thaw of ’16 so I can brine that bird on Tuesday. Monday I sent the Turk (who took the week off to use up some vacation time with the intention of winterizing our world, but instead became my Girl Friday…or I guess that would be my Turk Friday.) all over the city in search of missing ingredients. Before you feel too bad for the Turk, know that while he’s relatively new to this whole Thanksgiving thing, he is a Black Friday junkie and he spent much of Sunday laying out his own plan of attack for the wee hours of Friday morning.

Tuesday as I lovingly rub Lonna, (That’s this year’s bird. I find I put in more effort if I name them. Don’t judge me.) and whisper sweet nothings into that little slot where her head used to be, I will cover her in brine and await the glory of what she will become. Tuesday evening I will return home after a hard day at school, elated to begin Thanksgiving break. As I turn Lonna in her brine, in a celebratory gesture, I’ll grab her by the wings and turn my kitchen into a dance floor as Lonna and I execute a quality Argentinian Tango. (I get all my moves from Dancing With the Stars. So does Nugget.)

Wednesday is what I like to call the pregame. Pies, cake, relishes, rolls and anything else I can chop, dice or shred. Don’t expect meals, children, Mama’s got cooking to do. Number One Son will be whipping up piecrusts while Nugget proofs the yeast…ok more like Number One will whine about going to play outside while Nugget rubs roasted pumpkin into the cat’s fur.

And Thursday when my alarm goes off at it’s usual ungodly hour I will rise without once even considering snooze, pull on my fatigues,(or yoga pants, whichever is clean) paint my face with camo (or moisturizer as camo make-up makes my glasses slide down my nose) and take my place at the kitchen counter, prepared for greatness.

It’s been a crap year. 2016 has held maximum suckage. We’ve lost greats, lived on edge for an entire year, been bombarded with stupidity on so, so many fronts, face great uncertainty about our future and elected a moron. But even amid all that, my family has so much to be thankful for and what better way to celebrate than by stuffing ourselves into obesity with high quality edibles made with love by a surly mother. (I’m pretty sure that’s how the first Thanksgiving got started too.)

So do as I’ve been doing since about November 9th, turn off the television (except for football or Dancing With The Stars) unplug from the stress of social media (love you all but the break has done me good) explore new wines, play obscene amounts of Uno with the kids and enjoy this fine, fine holiday.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING From the Turks!!!!

When Bedtime Stories Go Bad…A Cautionary Tale

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I’ve always loved a good bedtime story. Back in the day, I recall spending many a night waiting in horror for “The Monster at The End of This Book.” (Spoiler alert – It’s Grover. It was always Grover but you know, my critical thinking didn’t really kick in until I was like…35)

In my 8 plus years of motherhood, I’ve read a buttload of bedtime stories and we never, never read just one. Since there are only so many Big Trucks In Action books a gal can handle, over the years I’ve tried to pass reading duties off to the Turk but the results have never been good. From the other room I’ve overheard:

“Baba, you skipped three pages.”

  “They are not important to story. It fine.”

“Baba, you said that word wrong.”

      “No, that is how we say.”

“No, no it’s not Baba. Do you want me to show you how to sound it out?”

And when he’s tried of reading, he throws out his trademark ending. “And they did not listen to their parents so they all die.” Insuring nightmares all around. (Ah Turks…always spreading joy.)

Even the Nugget, Baba’s biggest 3-year-old fan, now rejects the offer of madcap adventures narrated in a monotone Turkish accent. (In the Turk’s defense, my reading of Turkish tales is about on par with his in English, and I’ve also been the recipient of, “Mom, do you need me to sound that out for you?” Damn kids.)

Over the years, I’ve voiced characters ranging from bus driving pigeons to underwear loving aliens. We frequent the local library more often than Betty Ford frequented rehab. But there is one kind of book we cannot have, under any circumstances. According to Nugget, there shall never be any books in which the characters say goodnight. Why? Because an illustrated bunny or hairy bug kissing his mommy and proclaiming goodnight is enough to send my sensitive Nugget into a deep, sobbing depression that postpones his own bedtime by at least 30 minutes.

A few weeks ago, fed up with Pete the Cat and his damn groovy buttons, I thought it was time to mix it up and try some new authors. With all books mentioning “Goodnight” off the boards, I had limited choices but thought a little known Eric Carle would be a safe bet.

Eager to merge into new territory and ready for respite from that obnoxious hipster Pete the Cat, we curled up ready for a new read. Like a moron, I did not preview the book in depth. (But seriously, who does that? Who wants to curl up with a nice chardonnay and a copy of Elephant and Piggy Go to Market?) It was Eric Carle of The Very Hungry Caterpillar fame. How could I go wrong?

Oh, I went wrong. So very, very wrong.

See, I chose The Very Quiet Cricket, a book about a little cricket who goes on a walk and gets upset when can’t say hello to anyone because he can’t talk. (Right???? What a moron move on the part of a mom who’s kid can’t talk.) As the little bug traverses the countryside everyone greets him and he desperately wants to reply but he can’t…because he can’t make the words come out….just like my little Apraxic Nugget. (Who knew crickets faced rare neurological disorders too? Certainly not I.)

In the past couple months Nugget has moved mountains in his battle to get his neurons to deliver his words to his mouth. He wears his hearing aid like a champ (though not happily) so he can hear the sounds,  spends hours in speech therapy at school and practices constantly. He’s got a handful words that come out right every time, (and might I add “Mom” is one of those as well as “Go Eagles!” because his mother and brother make him watch Eagles football on the reg.) He’s also got a gazillion words that come out in all vowels but if you speak vowel, like those of us who spend hours with the Nug do, or those who have spent serious time with drunks, he’s pretty understandable. Unfortunately, most of the world does not speak Vowel and thus he remains misunderstood by the world.

As we read further I could see Nugget’s brow furrow and soon the tears started to drip. “Ike ee om, e ike e.”(Like me Mom, he like me.). My heart broke. That damn cricket WAS just like him but  midway through the book I didn’t know what to do. Do I read on and hope we get to a happy ending? Do I seize on the moment to reinforce that there are other kids…um or crickets… like him? Do I let Nug collaborate with me on a profanity-laced email to Eric Carle about the need for a trigger warning on his picture books? (I mean it is 2016 and trigger warnings seem to be all the rage even if I think they’re stupid.)

I didn’t know what to do partially because I was shocked he’d made the connection so quickly. When one doesn’t speak the language fluently people tend to underestimate them. I know this. It happened to me when we lived in Turkey all the time. I’ve watched it happen to the Turk countless times (and then laughed when he smacked down those who underestimated him with his big nerd brain) and now I was doing it to my own son. Why wouldn’t he catch on? He’s a super smart dude. He just can’t talk. Even Einstein had a speech problem and look how he turned out.

Thankfully, in our world of bicultural parenting, I have two schools of thought to pull from and rather than getting all talkey-talkey and American, I took the Turkish mother route. We threw the book away (in a very hostile and dramatic fashion while calling Eric Carle unflattering names in Turkish) then I kissed him furiously while reminding him he was a perfect little sultan. I know this manner of Turkish mothering does make life difficult for future wives (Lord do I know that!) but he is my perfect little sultan and if the world needs to learn to speak Vowel for him, then so be it. I’ll make it happen.