A Hard Earned Holiday Haze

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There are mere hours left until I have to return to reality. Were I not a grown-ass woman, I might fold my arms, bow my head defiantly and simply refuse to put on pants and go, but there are bills to pay and responsibilities to be upheld so hence, I must return to work. I must go back to packing lunches, prodding my offspring through homework and taking on the role of personal Uber for my family, oh reality. But this year I’m more ready to return to reality than I’ve been in years.

In the past, when I began the glorious educational hiatus that is Christmas break, I made lofty organizational goals, domestic aims that might make Martha Stewart proud and parenting ambitions that would land me a feature in any issue of Working Mother. Usually I achieved about 90% so I assumed this year would be no different. My 2019 to-do list included baking six types of cookies and 4 kinds of fudge, color-coordinated gift-wrapping, a host of holiday kid projects and enough family activities to make the Brady Bunch jealous. As the last days of school wrapped up I was ready to turn my energy to that list but then Nugget got cooties and thus began my downfall.

My poor Nugget not only missed the 1stgrade Christmas concert but also all the glory of the pre-break madness as he was stuck at home with the Turk shivering from a nasty fever and a host of germs flowing through his body.

“He has fever.” The Turk alerted me at work.

“I know. He’s had it since yesterday. How high?”

“High.”

“What’s the number?”

“I don’t need number. I am Turkish. I could tell when I touch him so I give him medicine.”

“Well in America we judge fevers with numbers so I’m going to need that.”

Five minutes later I received another text, “His fever is 82 degrees.”

“Um no. Try reading it again.”

“Is digital. I read it right. 82.”

“I’ll be home in 10.”

After a lesson on how to take a temperature, and a call to the doctor, I learned that my beloved Christmas break would be taking a 3-5 day delay due to a  nasty virus winding it’s way though the elementary schools. No outings, no activities, no baking, just hours of snuggling with my baby.

While it wasn’t what I’d planned it was exactly what I needed after the past few months of madness and mayhem. We caught up on some of his shows, (That Apple and Onion never cease to crack me up.) watched a large hunk of classic Star Wars movies and put everything on the back burner. It was blissful.

I assumed that as soon as Nugget was recovered we would pick up my to-do list and we did…kind of. By the time the cooties had left him it was a mad dash to get things ready for Christmas so we cut down the list and punted. We managed to make an insane amount of cookies expertly decorated by Nugs and the color-coordinated wrapping morphed into a “done is good” situation. And while in days gone by I would have been a hot mess over such slacking, this year my advanced age (and perhaps the box of wine) allowed me to accept defeat gracefully while my butt melted into my sofa.

Instead of worrying about giving my family a Martha Stewart worthy holiday season I abandoned them. I started by spending a couple days in Maine solving holiday themed murders before heading to Connecticut to dissect the psychological diagnoses of Mr. Parish. I stole money from a plane crash in Bora Bora while scuba diving and lived in a drug-fueled haze with a band loosely resembling Fleetwood Mac. (It’s amazing what can happen when you avoid Facebook.) I’ve never managed to finish this many books in two weeks since…ever but once I left reality I couldn’t go back.

I devoured book after book on the Reese Witherspoon Book Club list – PS – I’m way more Reese’s Club than Oprah’s. Reese keeps it real with smut and murder and I appreciate that. And when I wasn’t reading I was learning how to exploit my paranoia with the Doomsday Preppers (Those people are certifiable.) and how to save my Homestead with Marty Raney. (My entire family is now addicted to Homestead Rescue and Marty’s hairy chest.) I’m not really and HGTV gal, I need more drama like missing outhouses and underground bunkers and Marty fits the bill perfectly.

So now that fudge is no longer coursing through my veins and I’ve had more relaxation than I’ve had in over a year, I might be ready to go back to middle school. Break didn’t look anything like I’d planned and it was awesome. And maybe, just maybe I will keep it up until the sun comes back in April… but until then, you can find me in Bora Bora…or maybe Tailand…wherever Reese sends me.

 

Christmas Is Coming and The Turk is a Mess

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The Christmas tree is up giving our living room that cozy, “please nap here and consume lots of snacks” feel. The countdown until break is on at school and we’ve had a couple perfect snowfalls that brought with them a large dose of holiday spirit. I spend my lunch breaks buying with-one-click and evenings trying to remember what I ordered and when I should start checking tracking numbers online. 

I love this time of year. Not the feel of hemorrhaging money and the relentless so-much-crap-to-do stress but the overall feeling of anticipation is the best.  More than that, as a gal who loves indulgence, what could be better than an entire month where not only is that extra cookie or glass of wine acceptable, it’s encouraged. And if all that were not enough, it is impossible not to feel the holiday vibe when you have a crazed 6 year-old with a Santa obsession under foot. All hail the holiday season!!!!

But there is one thing about the season that is killing me and if I were Commissioner Gordon, I’d send up the Bat-signal. My husband, The Turk, is in desperate need of help this holiday season. Years and years ago my husband was the best gift giver in the world. He’d plan ahead and fill his little tokens of love with thought. It wasn’t about how much he spent (Because trust me, we never had two dimes to spare in those years) but it was what he chose. For years I’ve worn a tiny evil eye charm from him around my neck that cost little to nothing and it still makes me smile. Fast forward thirteen years and that Turk is gone leaving me with a man who gives me poorly wrapped laundry baskets and can openers from major holidays and all I can say is, “What the hell fool?”

“Mom, we tried.” Number One (One of the best mama’s boys around) is always first to absolve himself of any association to these crap gifts. “But you know Baba…”

“Yeth. Baba buys crappy stuff. Thorry Mom.” Nugget adds.

Occasionally the Turk tries to blame his heritage, “Turkey is Muslim country and there is no Christmas so…” but it doesn’t work. He’s been Americanized in a nation that overdoes Christmas like no other for close to 20 years. Spare me dude.

He also tries to use the husband line, “You are so hard to buy for.” 

Really? Am I? I literally texted you photos and a link for the slippers I wanted yet I still got slippers akin to those worn by your Turkish grandmother, you know, the one who’s 95 and wears a babushka-like headscarf.  

Occasionally he’ll try, “Just buy it and I wrap. We not tell the kids.”

Seriously? I’m a major fan of the surprise and not a major fan of wrapping so that’s a hard pass from me. 

Now that the kids are old enough to join him, I have a better chance because they will lobby for me. Like the year I taught Nugget to say “InstaPot” which was more like,  “Inthpoth” but it worked, I got one. It would’ve been better had it been filled with gold and chocolate but it worked. However last year, he hit a new low. Undoubtedly, Christmas 2018 shook the ridiculous meter. Was it because he left the boys at home and attempted to shop alone? Or was it because, judging by his purchases, he had a few drinks prior to purchase?

Here’s the Christmas of 2018 in a nutshell:

Gift 1:  Turkish grandma slippers. (Again.)

Gift 2: A red cowbell that had, “Ring For Beer” painted on it. (I was unaware we moved into a frat house.)

Gift 3: A giant O that holds wine corks. (Ok that one was useful and might already be filled. Don’t judge.)

Gift 4: A beer opener that was also a Plinko board for bottle caps with things like “Take a Shot” or “Chug” as the winning slots. (See previous frat house comment.) 

Gift 5: A laundry hamper. “Well, we need one.” (Ahhhhh hells no.)

And the pièces de résistance…….

Gift 6: A hot dog cooker – you know, like the kind they have at 7-11 with the spinning metal rods. Here’s the irony…I don’t eat hot dogs. I don’t even eat meat!

“What? Everyone like a sausage cooker right?” Was his only reply to my less-than-enthusiastic response. He kept up the year of giving with a can opener for Valentines day, “What? It is Kitchenaid.” And he rounded out the year last month with an anniversary gift of …”Oh, sorry. I forget.”

So now we are t-minus 10 days and I can sense his fear. My perfect little babies have berated him for an entire year and I think it’s working. “Baba, don’t blow it this year.”

As of today there are three poorly wrapped boxes under the tree with my name on them and countless promises from my boys, “This year Mom, you will actually like it.” The boxes are too big for chocolate diamonds but also way too big for Turkish grandma slippers so I’m cautiously optimistic. After all, it’s the thought that counts…unless it’s a fricken’ hotdog cooker and then all bets are off.

 

I’m An Unsupportive Athletic Supporter

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I am not an athlete. In third grade I was a miserable outfielder handicapped by ADD and when I decided to retire from softball after one season, a collective sigh of relief was heard throughout the land.

I toyed with tennis in high school and though I could return 1 out of every 10 balls, I was shocked to learn that my chances of being the next Billie Jean King were slim.

In my twenties and thirties I took up running and I still do it occasionally (when my old lady knees don’t hurt and motivation strikes) but running is not a sport. Running is the athletic equalizer for us nerds. The only athletic skill required is the ability to put one foot in front of the other and any pace is acceptable. I like running because the ability to run for a prolonged period of time is useful should I ever need to escape during a zombie apocalypse. (I may be slow but I can outrun the walking dead!)

I try to fake it by talking sports with the kids at school but my knowledge only comes from being forced to watch Sportscenter daily by the small, multi-sport athlete that managed to spring forth from my loins.

Unfortunately, due to the constant stream of sporty crap happening in our home, my little weirdo Nugget has also become an athletic supporter. But, thankfully, he has his mother’s athletic prowess. Go here to read more about Nugget’s career in sports. In actuality, Nugget is only into sports for the costumes. He can’t play a game of living room basketball without donning a Celtics jersey. For tossing the football in the backyard, he’s got on full pads, jersey and helmet. As a cherry on top, Nugget prefers to play his games alone as the scene in his head is not as disappointing as reality.

In the past months it became clear that while I gave birth to a sporty dude, I will never be a quality sports mom and I should probably farm that job out to someone more capable. This fall we went through a long and painful football season. We’ve gone through numerous football seasons but this one just sucked. The drama was over the top and the disappointment was brutal. As is the norm in PeeWee football, the coaches kids were the stars but unlike the other 5 seasons we’ve played, this year they didn’t try to hide it.

Every night after practice I was faced with a surly, frustrated child and every night I threw out some version of advice from a late 90’s self-help manual I assumed was applicable in the sports world. I threw down with the coach and even sent my secret weapon, the Turk, to stand on the sidelines and look like a crazy-ass Middle Easterner. (Don’t laugh, it usually works. Thanks to cultural ignorance running wild in America, most regular white dudes assume he could wage jihad if provoked. Full disclosure, he doesn’t even know what jihad is.)But when nothing changed even after the Turk, I finally lost it.

“Yes I get it. It sucks really bad this year. It’s not fair that you get the shaft because your father doesn’t stand on the sidelines and spew testosterone but what the hell can I do?”

“Mom, don’t lose it.”

“Son, that ship has sailed. Mama is soooooo over this. So quit. Just stop going and call it done. We can actually have a freakin’ normal life again.”

“Mom, you can’t just quit in sports.”

“Why not? If Andrew Luck can walk away from the NFL where he’s making serious bank, you can walk away from Pee Wee football.”

“That’s not how teams work.” He countered.

Maybe he was right. My knowledge of team sports ended with “There is no I in team.” And I still think that’s stupid.

So we kept going and the whining and drama continued. When the loses began to pile up I felt relief. There was no chance we were going to the playoffs with this level of suckage. I could smell freedom coming. And then they won. And they won again. And the other teams kept losing which meant that we had, by some ridiculously bad joke, been thrust into the post-season. God help me.

As expected the season ended much as it had been, with most of the team on the sidelines and the coaches kids leading us all to an amazing defeat. The scoreboard continued to blare the extreme deficit and my insides twittered. “We’re almost done!” I whispered to the Turk and he giggled back in happy agreement.

It was now November and I’d been schlepping all over southern Massachusetts, standing in the rain and the cold and doing nightly therapy since August and it was almost over. As the team left the field after their big loss only a handful seemed disappointed. The rest were just relieved. Another mom who’d had a season much like ours leaned in and whispered, “Is it too soon to jump the coach and yell, ‘your kids lost the game, not mine because my kid was on the freakin’ sideline for the whole damn game!” While I agreed vehemently I realized when I farm out my role of sports mom, she might not be a top choice though I liked her spunk.

While I’m sure some real sports mom would say there were valuable lessons learned about sticking things out, there was only one lesson he learned that matters. “Mom, I think I’m ready to go to soccer full-time. I’m over this PeeWee football crap.” And to that I say, THANK GOD!

Gorilla Boobies and Nunchucks

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“Mom, what are we going to do about Halloween costumes?” Number 1 asked.

“I’ve got time. I’ll get on it next week.”

“Actually Mom, you only have like two weeks.”

Were this a 70’s sitcom I would’ve done a spit-take while a laugh track behind me chortled at my dismay. We’ve been so busy dealing with Nugget’s surgery, a visit from Grandma and a football season with enough drama to rival the entire Dance Moms franchise that Halloween fell off my radar.

Unlike many, we are absolutely not Halloween people. I hate all things scary, bloody and gory. The last horror movie I saw was in 1986 and that damn Freddy Kurger still haunts my dreams. The only time I succumbed to a haunted house was during college in the ‘90’s and I still shudder when passing abandoned farmhouses from memories of that “Homestead of Horror.”

My husband, The Turk, totally doesn’t get Halloween. “Why they walk around to get candy? Why we not just buy the candy and they can stay home and eat?” Halloween wasn’t a thing in 1980’s Turkey during his childhood because when you live in an often hostile nation, who needs manufactured anxiety just for fun?

Our offspring tend to follow my lead when it comes to goblins and ghouls. Nugget has not been able to walk into any store with a Halloween display without having his eyes covered since the Halloween goods started appearing in August. “Hawoween guys are da worsth!” Number 1 has managed to wiggle out of a couple haunted house invites from friends and while his buds are priming up to don bloody masks and plastic meat cleavers, he’s trying to find the only costume options void of bloodshed but still cool enough to hide his wussy soul.

While we don’t do the scary parts, we do costumes hard core. Back in the day, I was a costume designer in professional theater. I worked for theatres, dance companies, operas and even a few indie films. I created everything from giant mudmen to bloody brides and all things in between and I did it for close to 15 years. So when my kids dream up a costume, they know Mom can handle it. Our kitchen becomes Dreamworks Studio for the weeks leading up to the big dance and they love it. I’ve made dinosaurs, an epic number of Star Wars characters, monsters, superheroes, a viking, a pirate, a Ghostbuster, a mad scientists and a few I’m forgetting. It’s my moment to pull out the old skills and mom real hard. But this year…

“Mom, I don’t want you to get upset…”

(P.S. When you start with that phrase it’s usually a solid bet mom is going to get upset.)

“…but I was wondering if I could get a store-bought costume this year?” Number 1, my first born, my intercontinental sidekick, my baby boy was kicking me to the curb.

“Well…” I wiped a fake tear that was intended to add to his guilt but in reality was a tear of relief. Mama ain’t got time for this madness this year. “I guess…if you really want one…”

He did and within a day we had a plan to morph my adorable little 6th grader into a badass gorilla, an age appropriate and not at all gory option. Fortunately Nugget stilled held great expectations for a mom-made, red ninja costume complete with gold nunchucks so Dreamworks is still in business.

“Wew, if you guyth are going to the Hawoween thore, I am thooooooo thaying home.” Nugget’s fear was real and he wasn’t budging even for his brother. But Nugget gave us his blessing, “Good. Go wif-out me!” and we were all set.

We scored our gorilla suit on our first stop with the added bonus of a 25% off sale and within hours I had a four and a half foot gorilla lounging in my living room. That’s when Number 1 had a brilliant idea.

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Gorilla reclining

“I’m going to hide in the trees and wait for Nugget to get off the bus, then I’m going to jump out and scare him.”

“You know this is not going to end well.” I warned.

“But it will be hilarious.”

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You don’t see me….

As I headed down to meet the bus I was followed by a stocky little gorilla. I crossed my fingers that none of the neighbors mistook him for a midget Sasquatch and took him out. Once he was in place, he gave me the code “ka-kaw, ka-kaw,” I was to yell when Nugget was heading his way. Nugget departed the bus glad-handing like a politician before jumping into my arms with my post-school hug and then he was on his way up our huge driveway while I was “ka-kawing” behind him.

“Grrrrrrr!” The hairy beast jumped from behind the tree and while we both expected a scream in response, the gorilla was instead met with a harsh blow right to the crotch. Eventually he unmasked the gorilla and realized King Kong was only his brother but the damage was done and there was a hairy lump, clutching his crotch on my driveway.

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That did not end well…

“That wath not funny.” Nugget lectured. “You know I hate to be thcared.”

“Why did you hit me though?” Wailed the gorilla.

“Becauthe, I’m a ninja so when I fight I hit your penith to protect mythelf. If I had my nunchucks I could weally geth you.”

And so the lesson learned is,  if you are attacked without nunchucks, hit their penis. It works.

“Also, I fink you need to wear a thirt. I can thee your gorilla boobieth and it’th groth.”

Happy Halloween Y’all!

Hi Ho Hi Ho, Back To Work I Go..

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School has started and I’m about to lose my damn mind. It’s not like this is a surprise or anything. I’ve been doing the school year mom spaz-out for the last seven years with two in school for the past three. I’ve worked either full or part-time for all but one of those seven years so I’m not a noob, yet somehow, after a summer of lounging on the beach and sipping afternoon spritzers, I always manage to develop a case of amnesia regarding the level of suckage that occurs when school returns. At present, I’m three weeks in and already feel like I am being pummeled by a heavyweight champ from 5:00am to 9:00pm every single day.

When the alarm sounds at 4:45 my mind instantly fills with profanity. I am a morning person but 4:45 isn’t morning. It’s like morning eve, not quite night and not quite morning. It’s a limbo time when I should not be awake. From the moment I jump over the cat and begin the morning routine it’s a sprint. Number 1 now gets on the bus an hour earlier than his brother so that means any chance of alone time is gone unless I get up at 3:45. (To that I say, no. Just no.) It’s better to be a stressed-out nut-job all day than rise two hours prior to the butt-crack-of-dawn. The marathon from getting one on the bus and the other to before-school care before racing to work leaves me as breathless as when I was a fat kid in gym class struggling through the Presidential Fitness Tests (Thanks Regan. Like Reganomics and Just Say No that was another plan that didn’t work out in the long run but I digress with my liberal tendencies.) After that 2.5 hour sprint it’s time to work a full day with smelly, surly middle schoolers before the afternoon shift of laundry, homework, dinner and running back and forth to the various lessons, practices, appointments and meetings my children deem important to their young lives. 

At 6:00 when the Turk arrives home from his quiet train ride back from the city after a grizzling day punching computer keys behind his desk in a climate controlled office that likely does not smell of a sweat-sock and puberty cocktail, he mutters, “Wow, I am tired.” To which I respond by placing all sharp objects from my reach because the urge to cut a bitch is real. But this is the reality of most working moms and it sucks. Occasionally add in taking on a burly football coach, panic over a hearing aid that goes missing, a burst of adolescent emotions or a forgotten homework assignment and it’s amazing so many children actually make it to adulthood. It’s also understandable why mothers have cornered the market on wine consumption.

The thing is, no one warns you when you’re sniffing your tiny baby’s head fresh from the hospital that motherhood will so quickly turn into a crap-storm and that baby smell will be a distant memory like your perky boobs and waistline. All too quickly you will go from swaddling a gorgeous bambino to wrestling sweat-soaked sports gear from your offsping while trying not to inhale a bodily stench comparable to a decomposing bovine. (I grew up on a farm. I know this stench.) 

There is one positive in the hot mess existence this year though. For the first time ever I share a school with one of my babies. Number 1 son is now a full-on middle schooler which means that along with all the horrors that come with middle school (PS I’ve been in middle school for 20 years and it is still just as bad as when you were there.) he has the added joy of running into his mommy in the halls and lunchroom. Occasionally I can’t resist the urge to pinch his little cheeks and blow him a kiss from the hallway as I take the job of SMother to the next level. It’s comforting to know he’s in the same building and while I thought he might disown me, he’s actually enjoying it too. Likely because not only do I SMother him, I SMother his friends too. We also get a full hour together sans Nugget due to stepped dismissal times and that has been absolutely amazing. Sharing a school with your kid takes mom control to a new level and it’s AWESOME. 

Thankfully in all this madness, my husband the Turk has offered to help lighten my load, “Since you are very busy, I can feed cat so you not have to worry.”

Yes, he is swooping in to take the pain of cracking open a can of Tender Viddles and dumping it into a cat bowl each day off my to do list. Thank God! I could’ve never done that on my own!

Here to you, moms. Hang in there. Christmas break is only 97 days away.

Aren’t You A Little Old For A Treehouse?

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“Mom,” Number 1 Son asked, “Can we build a treehouse?”

My instinct was to be honest, “Ah hells no! You wanna fall out of that thing and break your damn neck?” but instead I took what I assumed would be the safe approach. (The one that would get me off the hook and my his father the bad guy, duh.) “Sure, you can build it with Baba.”

He hung his little tween head and began to sulk.  “Like that’s gonna happen. You know Baba will say no.”

Of course I knew The Turk was going to say no! That was the plan. My husband is notorious for sucking the fun from life, and explaining all the ways said fun is deadly. (It’s genetic, his fun sucking is a fraction of what his own father could manage.) I was certain when faced with the treehouse request, he would issue a hard, “No. You fall out, you die.” Or “You slip on ladder and you die” or even “tree fall over and you die.” It was a given he would offer the axe on this project.

“Well, you know Baba, but it can’t hurt to ask.” Easy-peasy.

Fast-forward to dinner that evening…

“Can you please pass the yogurt,” Number 1 asked and on the downlow added, “and can we build a tree house?”

The Turk perked up, “What?”

“Yogurt,” repeated Number 1.

“No, you want tree house?”

Number 1 nodded. We braced for his You Can Die moment.

“Ok. We can start this weekend.”

Hubba whaaaaaaaaaa? Number 1 shared my reaction and before I could shut it down, plans were being sketched. This was unexpected.

They did, in fact, start that weekend but the process is slow. Because he is an engineer there is no easy or sensible process. First there was lots of contemplation about the perfect spot in the best tree in our backyard forest, then measurements, and more contemplation. Then research and clearing the neighboring 300 feet in every direction. Once that work was completed, it took numerous trips to home improvement stores sourcing materials and two months later, the building began.

He christened the build by pulling up the driveway with a stack of treated 4×4 boards sticking out the passenger side window of my not yet scratched and still smelling of the dealership SUV. “They not fit so I have to drive like this.” (PS -my SUV now smells like new deck instead scent.)

He and the boys hauled boards and tools from the garage to the build site for what seemed like hours. Thankfully, when it was time to break out the big tools he sent the boys off, which was imperative since he is no poster child for safety.

“Honey, Isn’t the ladder supposed to lean the other direction before you climb it?”

“Is it really safe to use that saw like that?”

“Are you sure you don’t want me to foot that ladder?” It took extreme restraint to avoid yelling, “YOU CAN DIE!!!”

Day one ended and The Turk still had all appendages,(truly a miracle). To celebrate he hung the only thing Nugget had asked to be added to the design, a swing. As the chains went in place the seat of the swing landed about 3 feet above the six-year-olds head.

“Baaaabaaaaa,” Nugget groaned, “How am I athposta get in my thwing?”

“Hold on, I fix.” And he did. He extended the swing chains with some ratchet straps and Nugget was off and swinging.

The Turk joined me on the deck for a cocktail to celebrate his work. “Is good huh?”

What he saw was the beginnings of a tree-mounted man-cave. What I saw were a few boards mounted between two massive pines that were a certain death-trap.

“Um, isn’t it a little high?” I asked.

“I put in stairs so they do not fall off ladder. Then I put a slide so they get down easy.”

“You’re going to need really long stairs. That thing is like 15 feet off the ground.”

“It is high because I want to see the water when I sit and drink my coffee there.” He replied

“Wait, what?”

“It is so beautiful. You can see bogs and ponds. I might put futon up there to take nap even.”

“I thought this was for the kids?”

“They can drink coffee there too.”

From that moment the project grew at a frightening pace. He decided there would be a second level and perhaps next summer he would add an extension to the neighboring tree. He would add wi-fi so “the kids” could watch Turkish soccer while gazing over the cranberry bogs. He would run an electric hook-up so he could stay up there longer on his work-from-home days. “Next summer I put the pool at the bottom of the slide so they can slide down right into water.”

My eyes could roll back in my head no further. “What the hell! We have a 3 foot quick-set pool! We don’t have a real pool!!!!!”

“I know. I put one in. This winter I am research pool liners then I can put it in during spring.”

I was losing it, “so you’re going to dig the pool?”

“Yes, why not?”

“You’re going to learn to run a backhoe?” This man was out of his mind. I had images of my crazed engineer driving a backhoe into our house while digging through our septic tank and taking down power-lines for the entire town.

“Maybe I dig by hand.”

“You’re going to dig a pool in our backyard using a shovel all so you can slide out of your treehouse into a pool?”

He nodded, “Yes, the boys will slide down too.”

We ended week two and there is a floor between two trees about 15’ in the air with three different styles of swings hanging below. No one but the Turk has been allowed onto the elevated platform but he has managed to have a cup of coffee up there already. He’s called dibs on this weekend to work on the tree mansion and intends to have level one done soon.  I will continue to do as I’ve done for the thirteen years I’ve been an engineer’s wife, roll my eyes, keep a firm grip on the credit cards and 911 on speed-dial then look the other way until he’s done. Maybe, one day he’ll let our kids into his treehouse too.

Summer of Doom

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We’ve been New Englanders for one year now and while I am sometimes guilty of being  dramatic, (It’s a surprise, I know) I’m not being dramatic when I say that New England wants me dead. At first I thought it was just trying to toughen me up, you know, like when they jump you into a girl gang. I’d take some scratches and a few bruises then I’d be one of them. In the past year, I took many a scratch and bruise from New England, from snake invasions and stanky wells to falling pine trees and winter sunsets at four o’freakin’clock but I made it a whole year. I assumed I was jumped in and one of the gang. Now I could spend the summer enjoying the evenings  on my deck and lazy days cooling my toes in the ocean like a New Englander. However, New England had other plans and if the sharks or deadly mosquitoes don’t kill me this summer, my anxiety will.

Our little house in the woods is less than 20 minutes off Cape Cod.(12 if I’m behind the wheel) It’s a quick jaunt to some of the Cape’s most stunning beaches. Last summer we were noobs. We arrived in the height of tourist season and were just trying to survive but this year, it was going to be epic. But then Jaws and his whole damn extended family decided to ambush my plan.

Sure, there were sharks last year. There were even two major attacks but those weren’t on the beaches we go to and those guys were way out in the water, not near the shore. Nothing to worry about until one Sunday in late June after we’d been strolling on a nearby beach and found out it was later closed due to a shark sighting within twenty feet of shore. Waaaaay too close. As beach season heated up (I’m accustomed to beach season in Jersey which begins on Memorial Day but here it’s too damn cold until about mid July.) the number of sightings grew and they kept getting closer and closer until there was one sighted in less than 2’ of water. As a solid nutjob, I never go in deeper than 2’ because you never know what lurks but now we know- sharks- that’s what lurks. Every night on the news there was a round-up of beach closings and sightings and every night my anxiety climbed until I decided this would be the summer of no beaches. Jaws and his kin had won and I was fine with that until,

“Mom, when are we going to start going to the beach?” Number 1 son asked.

“When the sharks leave.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he countered.

“Fine. Then my answer is never. We are never going to the beach. I worked too damn hard to get you and your brother this far for either of you to become  shark hors d’oeuvres.”

Number 1 walked away muttering, “You seriously need therapy Mom.” But my adoring youngest nodded in agreement.

Sure the native New Englanders laugh at me but I will remind them of my wisdom as they adjust to life with a pegleg.

As I was adjusting to life with no beach, and coping with that the ticks covering our universe that were harboring Lyme Disease, I was hit by another death threat – EEE or Eastern Equine Encephalitis – a potentially fatal disease spread by mosquitoes. A few weeks ago we got the warning that in addition to West Nile, mosquitoes in our section of the state had been found carrying EEE. For the love of god Mother Nature, will your rage never calm?!?! We quickly escalated from the yellow shading on the map indicating high threat to the orange meaning situation critical.

“You know if we go outside we can die.” I announced to my husband the Turk over dinner.

“Of course. Everyday there is something. You get hit by bus. You get bite by snake. Tree fall on you and boom. You can die.”

I’d forgotten that his people are of the doom and gloom variety. “No, I mean there are deadly mosquitoes here now. You’re supposed to stay inside in the evening. The county is coming to spray our house tonight and they’re doing mass fly-over sprays all week.”

“Good.” I know he hasn’t listened to a word I said when he reacts to something drastic with “Good.” I thought about letting him become mosquito bait but he’s such a wussy when sick, I’m sure if his brain was swollen from encephalitis he’d be a nightmare.

Stupidly I began Googling EEE. This is probably why when Nugget turned up with a mosquito bite I had to take an extra anxiety pill washed down with a glass of merlot for survival. Immediately, I bought every brand of bug repellent on the market, spray, mist, bracelets, clip-on, you name it I got it. I’ve even begun judging sprays based on their olfactory-pleasantry.

What’s that scent you’re wearing? It’s captivating.  Eau de Deet. It scents and protects.

Each time we head out the door I douse my kids head to toe, blocking out the whines of agony. “Suck it up boys. It’s a spray to play world now.”

“But it stinks.”

“Would you rather smell like Deep Woods Off or die of a swollen brain?”

The Turk has an approach more like this, “Do not go outside. There flies there and you can die.” (For 13 years I’ve tried to teach him there is a difference between mosquito and fly in English but to him they’re all the same.) 

It’s been tough. As I sit here on my deck, covered in Cutter, gazing upon flaming citronella, I relent. Just when I think I’m getting you New England, you hit me with a new hell. You win. Between your man-eating fish and your brain-sucking insects, you remain victorious.

But don’t count me out. I’ve dodged your snakes and sharks, I can handle your jump-in.

Snake Charmers We Are Not…

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            Thanks to our patriarch, we live a life chocked full of crazy and this week we brought Number 1’s well-adjusted friend into our den of madness. It’s ok, he was bound to find out eventually but Number 1 is still red-faced. Loyal readers may remember we had a little issue with snakes last summer. The issue nearly sent me for a visit to the Betty Ford Clinic before I discovered a magical substance called, Snake-Be-Gone. A sprinkling of that powdery magic and we were snake free for the rest of the summer. (If you’d like to recapture that moment, click here and read all about it.)

Fast forward to this summer and we made it all the way to July 6th before one of those slimy bastards had the audacity to show itself. I’d spent the day weed-eating like a felon on a chain gang and the thought of encountering a snake hadn’t entered my thinking until I was closing shop and saw what was most likely a 29-foot python under my rhododendron. Ok, maybe it was a 3-foot garter snake but when it comes to snakes, is there really any difference?

I ran inside wheezing “DO…NOT…GO…OUT…THERE!” l told my boys about the 29-foot python and thanks to their base of knowledge, Nugget exclaimed, “Bettor geth thome Thanke Be Gone.” Exactly little friend.

I called the Turk who was running errands and when it was clear he wasn’t listening I said, “Listen to me! There is a massive snake in the front yard. I need you to go get the biggest bottle of Snake-Be-Gone you can find.”

“No!!!!” He screamed “How this happen?”

I considered a brief discussion of ecosystems but instead I said, “Just get the goods. I’ll be waiting inside.”

Within minutes The Turk returned loaded down with Snake-Away

“What’s this? This is the wrong one.”

“It be ok. Snake-Be-Gone, Snake-Away, same thing.”

“So you say,” I muttered, “We shall see.”

After dousing the cinnamon-scented powder across our property, paying special attention to the Ring of Fire, (all areas adjacent to the cranberry bogs where the problem originates) we developed a false sense of snake-free security. We remained snake-free for about 18 hours.

Fast forward to the next evening when Number 1 was having a sleepover. The boys were about to jump into our massive, 3-foot deep pool for an evening dip when Nugget unleashed a series of panicked screams one might expect if one is losing a limb. He pointed franticly at Number 1’s friend and we all assumed there was a bug or dragonfly or something equally horrific because, like his mother, Nugs has a flair for drama.

But soon he got it out, “THNAKE!!!!!”

Immediately the older boys made confirmation and Nugget was clinging around my neck like a terrified koala.

The boys and I tried to find our slimy intruder but he as illusive.

“I am anti-gun but I would totally buy one for minutes like this.” I exclaimed.

“You should get a salt-gun.” Number 1’s friend suggested. “It shoots salt to kill bugs and stuff like this.”

I was intrigued, “Tell me more.”

“My dad found it on Amazon. You’d like it. I’m sure it would work on snakes.” This wise young man already understood the impact of snakes on our family.

(Note to self…scour Amazon as soon as we are snake free.)

Number 1 interjected, “I think he’s hiding under the board with the pool filter. I can flip it up and get him Mom.”

“Yeah,” His friend agreed. “I see the board moving so I’m sure he’s under there.”

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHA!” Nugget added from behind the glass of the door.

We poked and prodded from a safe distance before I decided to go for The Turk.  He was supposed to be taking a test for his online class but I declared this was something he should deal with he did do a couple years in the Turkish army which has made him badass in many respects.

Moments later  the Turk joined us. “Where he?” The Turk scowled as he strided towards the scene.

The boys all pointed towards the snake’s assumed hidey-hole.

The Turk surveyed the area and dramatically pulled a tiki-torch from the ground approaching the lair of our enemy. He poked the tiki a few times.

“I’m pretty sure I see it moving.” Number 1 confirmed.

“Just flip the board up. Then we can get him,” encouraged his friend.

The Turk ignored us all and instead performed some kind of odd dance of fear in a 10’ circumference of the area reminding us that, “Snake is watching us. Careful where you go.” (It’s important to note that our guest did an excellent job here holding his laughter. Number 1 and I, not so much.)

“This is ridiculous. At least wedge up the board so I can see if it’s even under there.”

Eventually he complied. “Oh yep. That little bastard is under there.” I proclaimed from a safe distance away.

We weighed our options while the Turk continued to dance around nervously. “I do not understand. I buy the Snake-Be-Gone. Why he not be gone?”

“No,” I countered. “You bought Snake-Away. See what happened? It’s like buying generic ketchup. It just doesn’t work.”

“Baba, I can get in the pool and flip up the board.” Number 1 suggested.

“No! What if he attack?” The Turk worried. “He can jump in pool.”

Now I was beginning to worry for the Turk’s sanity. “I don’t know what snakes in Turkey do, but here that isn’t a thing. Plus if snakes in Massachusetts can jump 3 feet in the air I’m moving anyway.”

The boys got in pool while Nugget and I watched from the deck. They lifted the filter and flipped the board to expose a baby snake not more than 12” at best.  Number One and his friend were amazing and didn’t even giggle at the absurdity of it all. Though it was tiny, the Turk’s stance did not change.

“What we do now?” The Turk asked. “Should I kill?”

That’s when Number 1’s sweet friend said, “Well, I usually just pick them up and put them someplace else.”

“With your hands!?!” The Turk was stunned.

“Yea. It’s harmless.”

“No snake is harmless. I almost have heart attack!” Thankfully before any final decisions were made, the little guy ran off into the ferns on the other side of the fence.

“Tomorrow,” My husband screamed over the fence into the hill of greenery, “I mow down everything!  Is war! You hear me?”

My husband has very few fears and sometimes his fearlessness is life-threatening. Like when he rewires things that would cause sane individuals to fear electrocution or when he jumps out of the car in Turkey to berate another driver for cutting him off. (True story and not only once.) Or like last weekend when he trimmed our 40-foot pines teetering on the top of an extension ladder while wielding a chainsaw. But then there are snakes…itty bitty snakes, and he’s done. I guess everyone has their limits.

Later that evening Number 1 whispered, “Mom, this is exactly why everywhere we live, my friends think my dad is crazy.” To which I could only reply, “Agreed son. He is nuts but he’s ours.”

Enter The Tree Huggin’ Badass

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A few weeks ago I arrived home from work stunned to find the horror half-way up my wooded driveway. There, amid my normally tree-lined trek was a shocking sight that bore resemblance to that time I was learning to cut my son’s hair with clippers. Bam! A giant bald patch had been cut along the side of our property all the way to the cranberry bogs. My fortress of solitude was compromised! 

Had there been a plane crash and the plane was nose-down in cranberries? Did our friendly backyard Sasquatch go on a rampage? Had the neighbors I’d barely met decided to scalp the woods to get a better look at us after nearly a year? While all of them were probable, the most likely case was an alien landing. Obviously they landed searching for intelligent life but I was at work so they took off again. (As a Doctor Who fan I know these things are probable.)

As I walked down the drive to meet the school bus, my sorrow growing about the lost foliage, I ran into my newly exposed neighbor. He shared my dismay but reassured that the electric company occasionally does this to clear access to power lines. The utilities feel it’s better to pillage a 1/4 mile of trees rather than violate a cranberry bog from the other direction. (As the Turk said, “It might be time switch solar.”)

Fortunately, the shaving of our shared hill did give my neighbor and I a nice chance to  get acquainted. He shared tales of the previous owners of our home including the one who parked his bulldozer in the drive and terrorized the neighbors with threats of dozing them off the planet if they reported him to the zoning board. Having heard these tales from various neighbors, who now look upon our little family with relief, it makes perfect sense everyone was a bit standoffish initially.

My husband, the Turk, arrived home from work that evening and we inspected the damage together. “They are done?” He asked.

“I don’t think so. There is a giant truck parked down by the bogs. I assume they’re coming back. If not, I’ll commute to work in a tree truck.”

“This is mess.” He retorted kicking downed limbs.

“Agreed.” I began quoting Joni Mitchell about paving paradise and putting up a parking lot but my American folk reference was totally lost on my foreign husband.

“What the hell you are talking about?”

Since he was already confused I sang more. “They took all the trees and put ‘em in a tree museum…charged everybody a dollar and a half to see ‘em.” (Now you have that song stuck in your head too.)

The next day after school I was met at the edge of our woods by 2 tree-men, both dragging on cigarettes as if they were their last and sharing approximately 6 teeth between them. They explained that they’d been tasked with cutting a 20’ swath on either side of the power lines and that would mean taking out even more of our trees and by trees, I mean 40 foot pines, not some tiny sapling. I know I’ve not been a fan of those giants during previous windstorms but I wasn’t ready to murder them.

“Now you do get some say, ma’am,” Explained toothless man #1. “You can deny any cutting beyond the easement, long as you sign the paper.”

Toothless man #2 chimed in, “That’s what I would do. I mean, it’s good the power company is pickin’ up the tab an’ all but that’s a lotta trees to lose.” He took a long drag off his cigarette and dropped the butt into the dry pine needles below. This act obliterated any trust I might have had in the knowledge of these tree men.

“We can jus’ trim ‘em up for ya too. Maybe you wanna ask your husband and let us know tomorra.”  Toothless man #1 must have seen the flames in my eyes as he uttered that statement because he took a few steps back as I cocked my head, flared my nostrils and said, “Excuse me?”

“Oh no ma’am, I didn’t mean you need his permission or nuttin’ I’m just sayin’…”

“You’re just assuming that my husband is the decision maker and your assumption is wrong. If I want to give the go ahead, I can cut down every damn tree in this forest without asking my husband so let’s not make any more ridiculous assumptions, shall we?”

The two toothless tree men cowered as they tried to dig themselves out of the jam they’d created but I had no time for that. No way was I going to allow any more trees to be cut. If I had to tie myself to the bottom of one, Joni Mitchell and I were not going to let them pave paradise today.

“Bring me the paper to sign. There will be no encroaching beyond the easement. You’ve got 15’ and not an inch more and if you so much as bend a twig past 15′, it is going to get ugly.” I then turned and stomped out of the woods in a very dramatic fashion until I twisted my ankle on a stump because one should never wear the clogs she wears to work into the woods if she plans to make a dramatic exit. I limped gracefully back to my house muttering profanity the whole way.

The Turk was in full agreement about saving the trees. I was relieved my city-boy husband was as invested in nature as I was. After all these years of marriage, I’m rubbing off on my high-rise dweller.

While the toothless treemen have continued on their electric-company issued rampage against the trees of southern Massachusetts, we have been forced to look on. Each day we walk down the path with a little bit of sadness for the felled trees, feeling a need to bear witness to their demise and, as expected, I can’t keep Joni Mitchell out of my head.

Last weekend while Number 1 Son and I were shopping for plants at the home improvement store, we found inspiration. We bought a ridiculous number of small trees and bushes. When we arrived home and shared our plan, the Turk was in such strong agreement that he sent us back for another Jeep-load of tiny trees. We planted nearly 20 small trees and 6 bushes on our property to repopulate a fraction of what was lost. As I dug and planted each one, I felt like a short, squishy Paul Bunyan, saving the earth, one shrub at a time.

Sure, they cut down 40 foot trees and I planted 2 foot trees but in time, my little guys will grow. The last two times we planted trees, we were relocated months later and never got the chance to see them mature. Hopefully this time we’ll be around long enough to at least see them get to the 6’ mark but even if we don’t, this family of  tree hugging’ badasses will keep doing their part, one tree at a time.

And since I have now got Joni Mitchell stuck in your head, here’s a link to a performance of Big Yellow Taxi on Youtube….you’re welcome.

 

 

What Is a Righ Strika?

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“Where’z ma righ strika?!?! Com’ on!”

I scanned the field hoping I would suddenly understand what a righ strika was but before I’d made a deduction, she was at it again.

“Numba 1! That’s you! You aah the righ strika! Get in thair!!!” (Ironically, my Number 1 Son actually wears number 1 on the team but he seemed to forget.) “Up thair Numba 1!” His coach’s sideline prompting was so loud that it was likely heard somewhere in Rhode Island, but after a season of Massachusetts pee wee football we were used to it. In all honesty, it was a nice change from the passive-aggressive coaching we’d experienced during our years of sports in Indiana. Rather than scream at your kid, the Hoosier coaches would quietly bench him and replace him with their own kid because they felt more comfortable screaming at their own.

“I need D in tha mid-field! Where’z ma defendas?” The coach was screaming so loud I worried about her blood pressure and I was not alone. My husband, The Turk, whispered, “You think she will be ok? I hope she doesn’t have heart attack. It would add a lot of time to the play clock.” While the Turk was worried about the play clock, I was more concerned with our first female coach facing an untimely demise. In all our years of sports, this was the first time we’d had the good fortune to get somebody’s mom on the sidelines. We’ve powered through a series of cranky and/or clueless dads, some there to further their own son’s peewee careers and others there to relive their own glory days. It’s been a rough haul. Now we had a coaching pair comprised of one kid’s mom and another kid’s dad. It was a perfect blend.

This was our first soccer match of the season. Number 1 had played soccer back when he was 5 but he wasn’t a fan. He quickly dropped that sport in search of something more aggressive – American football. He began with flag but quickly escalated to tackle. However, Number 1 doesn’t have a typical football player disposition. He’s sensitive, soft spoken and seems to lack that testosterone-fueled aggression gene, but somehow, American football won him over.

Football vs. Futbol has long been a divisive topic in our home. As an ‘Mercian born in the middle of corn country, football was mine. Contrarily, the Turk was born and raised playing futbol (soccer to we ‘Mericans)in any open space back home in Turkey from the moment he could walk. Add to that the fact that his father was a professional soccer player in Turkey and he’s got serious futbol cred.

In an attempt to keep our boys completely bicultural, they have grown up with a solid dose of both versions of football from birth. We watch the NFL as much as we watch the Turkish Futbol League. They’ve had as many Galatasaray soccer jerseys as they’ve had Philadelphia Eagles football jerseys. Over time, the Turk and I have both learned to enjoy each other’s versions of football. (Although he’s known to be a traitor to my beloved Eagles and has yet to gain full fan status.) While we have our preferences, we decided to let our boys choose for themselves.

Initially, I was elated that Number 1 gravitated to my version of football but when we got to tackle my little momma heart was put to the test. It was hard to sit there and let my baby get battered around by fatties in opposing jerseys. Then I started to read about head injuries and all the crap that is out there to worry wussy mothers like me and my panic grew. But still, I let him play hoping that he might change his mind eventually because any mother of a son, particularly a son half-full of Turkish genes, knows that anything forbidden only makes it more desirable. My plan worked because suddenly this spring, he changed sides.

“Mom, I think I want to try soccer this spring instead of playing flag.”

I was stunned. The spring flag football league is epic in our town and I’d fully expected to be parking my booty on the 50 yard line with my football moms all spring-long. “Are you sure?”

“Yea. I want to mix it up. Plus what if I got Dede’s genes and I‘m a great soccer player like he was? I need to find out. Maybe I’ll go back to Turkey as a futbol legend. What if I’m  the next Cristiano Ronaldo and I don’t even know it Mom.”

“Well Ronaldo is an asshat son, but I get the idea.” Like his mother, my son also tends to jump to grand illusions of stardom instantly. I agreed to sign him up before running off to tell The Turk.

“Well, it’s happened. He’s moving to your team.”

As usual, the Turk was confused but eventually excited, however all joy dissipated the moment I mentioned perhaps he could take on a coaching role, like every other damn father of athletic kids ever.

“No.” Was his immediate response.

“Why not? I’ve been the one on the sidelines for years but I know absolutely nothing about soccer. This is all you man.”

“I do not coach. I do not like children.”

Touche.

I’ve now spent a couple games or matches or whatever they’re called sitting on the soccer equivalent of the 50 yard line and I’m picking up a few things. Like the phrase, “Get in thairrrrr!!!!” which seems to be necessary when your child is near the ball but not within kicking distance.

As well as, “Tough bounce! Shake it off!” For when your kid takes a soccer ball to the face.

And then there is, “Noyce hit!” used when your kid actually makes contact with the ball.

I’m still not clear when to compliment him as a “strika” or a “defenda” because the kids just seem to run in circles but I’ll get it eventually.  I have learned that screaming the above phrases from the sidelines in a standard, accent- free, Midwestern dialect garners some harsh stares from the natives so from hence forth, I shall only yell at my little bicultural, half-breed utilizing a harsh, but endearing New England accent. So much learned but so much more acquire. Pele give me strength.