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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If You Need Me, I’ll Be In My Iron Lung

CDC Iron Lung “You should’ve come in sooner.” This is what my doctor said as I wheezed into her stethoscope. “You really need to work on your self-care.” I tried to argue my case to the petite little flower I call my primary care physician, explaining that due to my possession of the same metabolism as those in the sloth family, I eat pretty healthy and do exercise. (For reals, it’s bad. One lapse and I could totally be the next contestant on My 600 Pound Life.) I thought I was doing pretty good at self-care.

“That’s not the kind of self-care I’m talking about.” She corrected. “If this was one of your kids with these symptoms you would’ve had them in here last week. Why did you wait so long for yourself?” Ah yes, petite little flower, you know me well.

I’ve never been great at putting my needs before those of my family but once the crap hit the fan with Nugget’s health last summer, I definitely lost any grip I might have on self-care. (Though I really think it should be called something else. Self-care sounds kind of dirty and it makes me think of weird things like Gwyneth Paltrow’s promotion of vagina steaming.) I blame my deeply-rooted lapsed Catholicism for my self-inflicted martyrdom. It’s one thing to believe your kids need you, but it’s another when you actually do serve as your kid’s primary language interpreter thus allowing him to communicate with the rest of the world in addition to being his advocate and protector. Between the whole deaf thing, the apraxia of speech and Nugget’s bum kidney, my mama bear genes have been in hyper-drive for about three years so it’s no surprise the crap had to hit the fan eventually.

I’m well aware of the adage; “You can’t take care of them if you don’t take care of you.” But let’s be honest, anyone who has been on the frontlines of a full familial bout of the stomach flu knows that is just crap. Moms don’t get to be sick and that’s that…until mom loses something important like a limb, heart function or the ability to breathe. That’s what happened to me this week and landed me in the ER for one of the very few times in my life.

I’ve had asthma for over 20 years and it’s usually pretty maintained but every few years I need to wheel out the old iron lung and take up residency for a bit. It’s been about four years since I’ve been hit hard so I was feeling cocky. A few weeks ago Wheezy started to rear her ugly head and just kept getting worse so after hitting the inhaler like a crack-pipe (Is that a thing still or is crack whack now and I’m showing my age?) for a week, I decided I might need to see the doctor. However, when I did, my doctor determined it wasn’t my asthma but instead it was my heart.

When your father drops dead of a heart issue at 37, every doctor you see for the rest of your life will panic at the first sign of chest pains. I’m aware of this but this time around the mere suggestion of my heart failing me sent me into a tailspin. I mean I was weak and fatigued, had massive chest pains on the left side, was short of breath and at my age, Web MD as well as my real MD said it could go either way – asthma or heart failure. It was enough to send this old girl reeling. What if I really was like my dad this time? Who would take care of my babies? Oh dear God don’t make me leave them with the Turk!

My doctor ran a couple tests and sent me for more and while I awaited results, I began mentally writing my will, lamenting the fact I have no quality possessions to bequeath and getting pissed that Brexit just tanked any investments I might have left my beloveds. (Stupid stock market wussies.) Being a planner, I determined I wanted Elvis Costello played at my funeral and decided I should go shopping as the Turk really couldn’t be trusted to pick out a stylish yet flattering ensemble for my internment. Just as I was about to start Googling a replacement wife for the Turk (I love that man but God knows he cannot handle things on his own.) things took a turn and this very stubborn woman determined it might be time for an ER run.

Fortunately, my potential demise coincided with the same time grandma got off work so I didn’t have to schlep my offspring with me to the ER but I did make the Turk go – just in case I died behind the wheel. I’d hate to be responsible for a 40 car pile-up on my way to meet St. Peter.

20 minutes and a flurry of activity later, I was getting a rush of IV roids and a breathing treatment that left me feeling like what I imagine a heroine junkie feels like after a fix. I had been so short of air for so many days; I forgot the simple euphoria of oxygen. Three hours later they determined it wasn’t my heart, “just asthma” – though as anyone with asthma will tell you, saying “just asthma” is moronic as it’s like saying, “oh, it wasn’t anything big, just an inability to perform a task essential to sustaining life.”

I was home for bedtime with an armload of drugs and strict instructions to take it easy. So I’ve spent the last two days lounging about (as much as one can with a Nugget and family of Turks to care for), sucking on a breathing machine like it’s a hash pipe and popping ‘roids while warning my family, “Keep Mommy calm or she’ll get roid-rage!” I’ve also promised my family I would attend to my health before the Grim Reaper stops off for a cocktail again. But in the meantime, if you see a good price for an Iron Lung on Amazon, let me know. It looks like I might be due for an upgrade.

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I’m Goin’ All Patty Hearst Up In Here

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I wasn’t sure what it was or what was actually happening until a friend kindly offered a label – Stockholm Syndrome. Boom! It was like a light bulb exploding above my head. (Don’t worry, I ducked.) I wasn’t going native after all; I was going Patty Hearst! Relief rushed over me. I kicked my feet back up onto the coffee table and proceeded to Patty away the next two hours.

Almost four years ago The Turk got a new job in the U.S. with the same company he’d worked for in Turkey. (Side note: Be sure that when your potential spouse reveals their career title, you really understand what it means. I did not know what an environmental engineer really did initially, but in our ten years I’ve spent 2 years living at a wastewater treatment plant, had countless dinner conversations about sludge eating micro-organisms, learned exactly (unfortunately) what happens when you flush the toilet and received mail regularly containing trade publications with titles like – Big Pumper, Waste News and Port-a-Potty Today (I only wish I’d made those titles up.)) With the Turk’s new job we also received a relocation package –to Indianapolis. The only thing either of us knew about Indianapolis was the Indy 500 (Even in Turkey you can watch the Indy 500) and neither of us were too excited.

Once we go here we realized Indianapolis wasn’t so bad, as long as we looked past being landlocked in a society of God-fearing gun nuts. Slowly we began to find people a little more like us (Ok who am I kidding? With the exception of Ricky and Lucy, no one is like us.) but in time we did meet a few who never uttered the phrases, “It’s my right to bear arms,” or “I’d love for you to come church with us sometime.” ((No for real. That’s part of why we joined the Catholic church- no one tries to convert a Catholic.) Religious America, why is that a thing? Do you get bonus points for bringing in heathens?)

Though we’ve been able to slowly fade into the background in this land of Hoosiers (No, I still don’t know what a Hoosier is.) the month of May has continually caused us to stand out like a good dancer at a Midwest prom. In May, all of Indianapolis shifts to race prep. Homes are adorned with checkered flags and signs reading “Welcome Race Fans!” There are parades, runs, historical recreations, smaller races and nonstop new coverage in which some of the favorite racers even get their own regular segments. I’m sure this is all very exciting if you’re the kind of person who enjoys watching men (and one lone woman- stay strong Pipa) drive in circles for a few hours while drunks cheer from behind a fence but the Turk and I don’t fall into that category.

The strange part has always been that even if I wanted to watch the race on television, I couldn’t. The Indy500 isn’t shown on television in Indianapolis. WHAT? Oh yes, if you are local you have to wait until the replay that evening, you know, after they’ve already showed you the winner and 3 hours of highlights.“You have to go once to experience it.” Is what’s always said when I share my disinterest in “Race Day.” The Turk did go once but returned sunburned and bitter uttereing, “Vat vas dat?”

But this year, either because it was the 100th running or maybe because someone finally realized the blackout was stupid, the ban was lifted and the race was played live in Indy. It was all very exciting from the press conference announcing the change to mutterings about town, “Can you believe we actually get to watch it?” I think that’s where they got me. After three years surrounded by checkered flag décor (The checkered flag mani/pedi is rampant here.) the month-long media coverage and race cars parked in every store hocking everything from beer to burgers, they got me. By the time the race started, I was actually watching.

I tried to tell myself that this was just research as I’m preparing to teach a 7th grade physics course in the fall and I’ve been recently preoccupied with velocity and speed but I’m not sure that was it. If I have to be honest, the excitement of the crashes and the instantaneous end to a potential win by something as innocuous as a bump from another car was what really sucked me in. (I’m morbid like that.)

As I watched, I worried that by acknowledging the existence of this car race I’d previously ignored meant that after three years, I was becoming a native. If I watched, what was next? Would I too invite people to go to church after stopping off to buy a gun? Would I soon refer to myself as a Hoosier? (Even though still don’t know what that is.) Worst of all, would I ask some woman to paint checkered flags on my big toe? God no. What was I doing? Why was I watching? Worse yet, why was I enjoying it?

That’s when my friend saved the day – I was experiencing a case of Stockholm Syndrome, assimilating to my captors to ensure my survival. While the Hoosiers have been fine with my lack of race day love up to now, it’s only a matter of time before they don pitchforks and march on the home of the foreign guy with the wife who doesn’t like racing in the car racing capital of the world. My viewing bought us some time, I’m sure of it.

I can’t promise I’ll ever watch again, and I highly doubt you’ll see a Welcome Race Fans banner hanging above my hollyhocks anytime soon, but you should try everything once.

RETREAT! RETREAT! (FYI- It doesn’t mean run away to the devout)

 

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The end is near in the great Let’s Catholicize My Kid adventure. First Communion is only a couple weeks away and in honor of the life-changing event, we had to spend the first beautiful Saturday of the year stuck in a First Communion Retreat last weekend. When I hear the word retreat my mind immediately conjures black and white images of men climbing out of trenches as John Wayne screams “RETREAT! RETREAT!” But as I learned, that’s not how the pious view the word. (I also learned running away from the church with arms flailing shouting “RETREAT!”  is frowned upon.)

Back in the 80s, Catholics didn’t do retreats. That was something best left to the Methodists but it seems in my absence, Catholics have decided to go full-boar into Retreating. In 2nd grade alone we’ve had two: one for Confession (Which we skipped due to my moral opposition to the practice. Like my dad used to say, why make a conference call when you’ve got a direct line at home.) and one for Communion. Due to the afore mentioned skippage and the falsities I may or may not have propagated justifying our absence, we needed to attend the Communion Retreat or risk being outted as the heathens we are. So at 8:00 on Saturday morning, mere hours before 13 children were to descend upon my home for a free-range birthday party, Number 1 and I slid into the back pew and prepared to Retreat.

Last week , I mentioned to my mom that I worried Number 1 Son wasn’t doing any actual First Communion preparation during the Catechism class I’d been hauling him to every Monday for the past year. How did I know this? Because in the past month alone he’d brought home approximately 4,782 Jesus-themed, shoddily-constructed arts and crafts projects and had no idea why there was wine involved with communion. (How is he even my child? Even at 8 I knew all about the wine, then again, I’d just read The Thornbirds so maybe I was advanced.)

In 1980, when I did First Communion, we spent a year preparing with Sister Nora standing over us, ruler in hand, making certain we had things down. We practiced with saltines and grape juice, rehearsed the procession like a drill team and knew every prayer Father was going to utter during the course of mass even before he got to them. Sister Nora had no time for Jesus-themed arts and crafts, souls were on the line damn it! In the weeks leading up to the big dance, the pressure was on as were weekly rehearsals.

“Do not drop it! If you drop it, you are dropping Jesus.”

“Sip the wine, don’t gulp. You are Communicants not drunkards.”

“Genuflect! We genuflect, we do not squat!”

“Kneel up! No butts on the pews children. Butts up for Jesus.”

By the time that organ blared on a crisp April Sunday, we were a well-oiled religious machine. That does not seem to be the case for Number 1’s class and so we Retreated.

The first hour was an intensive, Priest-led cram session, going over everything from the whats and whens to the hows and whys. I quelled the urge to point out that perhaps if the Jesus-themed crafts were taken down a notch, this curriculum could’ve been covered in Catechism. According to the mutterings of the other 90 parents in my general vicinity, I was not alone in that thought.

As Father wrapped up with what I now realize must be standard First Communion wine instruction, “Sip, don’t chug” we were sent off into groups for an entire hour of rotating through…you guessed it…Jesus-themed arts and crafts!!!!! (For the love of God people, what is this madness? Is there a Jesus-craft discount center nearby?) Our first task, glazing a ceramic communion chalice, wasn’t too bad with the exception of the mother on my right reminding her 8 year-old daughter, “Make sure you do a good job on this, we’ll be using this at your wedding.” WHAT?!?! No pressure kid, no pressure. I just wanted my kid to get paint on the chalice in addition to his shirt. I guess if I’m going to Retreat, I need to up my expectations.

Unfortunately as we moved to the next rotation, Number 1 Son was done. Why? Because even with the power of Jesus in your arts and crafts, no 8-year-old boy is down with playing Martha Stewart for an hour. As I observed a room of 45 parents crafting and 45 kids wandering aimlessly, it seemed the feeling was mutual.

While Retreating didn’t give me a full change of heart on this Catholic madness, I did feel a twitter of joy in the cultural significance of it all. It’s a good feeling to pass something down to your kids that was an important part of your own childhood; even if you’re not so sure you buy into it anymore. Maybe that’s what Retreating is all about.

Pulling out of church, I relished the fact that I wouldn’t have to Retreat again for 5 years when it’s Nugget’s turn. Right now, Nugget doesn’t need organized religion, his soul is in a holding pattern. But then, Nugget, the child who has been raised in a heathen household, has about 3 words in his spoken vocabulary and has attended church exactly once -at his baptism- changed that opinion. He was sorting through various Catholic paraphernalia we’d amassed that morning, stopped on a postage-stamp sized painting and said “Hi Esus.” The Turk and I shared a wide-eyed Scooby to Shaggy look while mouthing, “Did he just say Hi Jesus? How does he even know who that is?”

He went on to say it again and again and again. Perhaps the Catholic force is strong in that one and maybe 30 years from now, 90 parents will be reluctantly Retreating with a half-deaf, half Turkish, Father Nugget. Even a terribly lapsed Catholic mother would be proud of that.

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