Decisions Have Been Made…Forward Ho!

cowgirl mom

I started teaching by doing art classes for kids in college. After grad school I taught in Philadelphia, then in Turkey, Iowa, Indiana and Massachusetts. I’ve taught everything from art to science and a million things in-between. Until recently, (and except for teaching for the Turkish mafia at that one school…) I’ve always been in progressive education. I believe in progressive education because it’s hands-on, experiential, project based and above all else, student led. There is nothing like sitting with a class and asking them what they want to learn then boiling it down to a curriculum. For close to 25 years I have passionately followed my students on crazy academic adventures while touting the importance of making learners not memorizers. I’ve been watching light-bulb moments from surprising sources for my entire career and it has fed me.

Twice in my life I’ve ventured into public education, never lasting more than a couple years at best because public education is so very different than those places I’ve taught and it’s frustrating. Public education in the US is broken but tradition is strong and we’re all scared to change it. I was scared to change it. My own kids went through public education and we did ok for a while but this year, even before the world exploded and sent us all into our foxholes for home learning, I sensed my boys losing their light.

Nugget is in special education. Between being Hard of Hearing, ADHD (as hell!) and in need of occupational and speech therapies, he’s also very young for his grade so he needed that nudge that comes from special education. He wasn’t a huge fan of school but he did well for a few years, until first grade stole his light. When he couldn’t stay focused or keep up with the math, he was left to falter. He sunk into a hole whose sides were made of self-loathing, low confidence and a hatred of school. Thankfully, that’s about when Covid hit and I got a front seat to his situation.

Likewise, my 6th grader was miserable. “Mom, it’s just so boring. Why do they just talk about things but never let us do it?” If I were not literally in his classes for my own job I would assume he was exaggerating but he wasn’t. I saw it every day myself. He was earning High Honors without doing homework or needing any help at home. Now, he’s no dummy but he’s also no boy genius. He simply wasn’t challenged, and it was killing him. He was bored and resentful.

I knew these things but like most of society, I wasn’t sure what to do. I’d always dreamed of homeschooling Nugget but finances didn’t allow for it. I knew his learning style wasn’t conductive to standard public-school methodology but what could I do until we could find a way for me to stay home? Plus, my view of homeschooling was very tainted by the anti-Darwin, militant Christian homeschoolers I’d met in Indiana. I didn’t want to be lumped into that.

We got Number 1 into a new charter school for the following year but in my gut I wasn’t sure that was the right move either. I waited anxiously all summer as the public turned on teachers, calling us everything from lazy union hacks to ungrateful slackers. (Hey? Weren’t you all just calling us heroes a few months ago when you got stuck teaching your own children and realized what buttheads they are? Whatevs.) I Zoomed into school committee and union negotiation meetings (while sucking back medicinal boxed wine) hoping, as the Quakers say, a way forward would open. But it didn’t and the union is still fighting valiantly.

Early on in this whole Covid mess, the Massachusetts head of education gave an empowering address about how this is the time to look at how we do things. This was the time for us to get progressive and make changes. My heart leapt as I screamed, “Hell yes!” startling my kids and cat. This was what I had been preaching for 20+ years. But now this is the same man who demands teachers sit in their classrooms to remotely address students because teachers should not be trusted to work from home. (Though we did it successfully for months prior.) It seemed that even in times as unprecedented as this and in a state as progressive as mine, the comfort of tradition paralyzes.

About a month ago, my husband, the Turk, and I were sipping cocktails in the treehouse and it all hit. “I can’t do this.” I said.

“Do what?”

“I can’t put the kids through this school mess. Nugget reads lips. He can’t read lips if everyone’s in a mask so it will be worse than last year and Number 1 is miserable. There is a better way to educate kids than this. I don’t want to do it like this for them.”

My dear husband simply said, “Don’t.”

“But what about money?”

“Honey, we have no money in Turkey and we make it. We have no money in Philadelphia and we make it. We always figure out. Now is for kids. We make it.”

Within days I devoured a million articles and books about homeschooling and soon found that there were very limited anti-Darwin militant Christian homeschoolers here in New England, but lots of hippies(and former teachers) like me that didn’t believe in the system anymore. I cheered along to podcasts about creating learners instead of memorizers as I went on my walks (I looked like a nutjob but I was moved.) and was empowered to rewrite my children’s education path and homeschool for the next year.

So Mrs. O is trading in her title. The boys helped create our curriculum and we managed to find a way to spend most of the first month at the beach doing everything from reading currents to analyzing bryozoans. (When mom taught science and dad is a water engineer, we go hard in the science zone.) We’re all excited about this new page and I’m proud of myself for putting my money where my mouth is and taking this philosophical plunge. The Quakers were right, a way forward did appear, just not where I was watching.

As is always the case with us, we never know what’s next so stay tuned because it’s bound to be interesting!

 

Man of the Ear

ear“Are you really sure about this?” I asked Nugget one last time as we spun through the hospital’s revolving door for the third time. (Revolving doors never get old in our family.)

“Yeth. I am thure. I’m ready Mom.” The idea of letting a six-year-old make his own medical decisions seemed nuts but in the end, it’s his body. After spending the summer jumping through more hoops than a participant in the Westminster Dog Show, Nugget will be heading into surgery tomorrow to get an abutment implanted in his skull that will eventually hold his hearing aid and while he can’t wait, I’m ‘bout to lose my damn mind.

Six years ago this chunky Nugget came roaring in and while he was as big as a small toddler, weighing in only an ounce shy of 10 pounds, he had more issues to contend with than his thunder thighs. He had a kidney that didn’t quite work taking up his entire abdomen. He had a divot in his throat that we hoped had closed better on the inside than it had on the out and as a cherry on the top, he had one ear. The other spot was filled in with a tiny nub that kind of resembled a mini-ear but with no opening or inner workings. After failing the newborn hearing test and a few kidney scans we spent his first couple years splitting our time between children’s hospitals and doctors until we finally got the diagnosis that put it all together – Branchio-oto-renal syndrome. Branchio-the divot in his throat, oto- that missing ear and renal, the  hot mess kidney. With an official answer, we were on our way to getting a handle on things.

The first three years of his life were filled with procedures, surgeries, early interventionists, audiologists and a mother that played detective better than Cagney and Lacey combined. Eventually we hit a good groove and things became manageable. A speech impediment and anxiety issues are far easier to deal with than internal organ issues but there was still one surgery left and that one is happening tomorrow.

Because he doesn’t have an ear, there is no place to put the hearing aid and no tube to send the sound through so he wears a BAHA (Bone Anchored Hearing Aid). He’s worn it on a headband up until now that holds the aid close to his bone and transmits soundwaves through his skull. But being the one-eared guy wearing a Bjorn Borg head-band all day as well as a transmitter around his neck connected to one around the teacher’s neck has taken a toll on his self-esteem. (And I thought being the chubby kid was rough!)

Last year a little asshead from a neighboring class did mock him but the perpetrator was quickly reported by the class narc and received a harsh punishment. I asked Nugget if he was upset about the incident, “Nah. It didn’t bother me because I didn’t hear him.” Note to the asshat, if you’re going to mock the one-eared guy, you’ll need to do it on the side he actually has an ear or your efforts are fruitless. This is a prime example of how Nugget handles all this. In his six years he’s gained more self-acceptance than most adults. Last week he came home from school with  a self-portrait complete with one ear, “Dats who I am Mom. I’m just keepin’ it real.” It worked for Van Gough, so why not Nugget?

Six is the magical age when a kid can break free of the headband and get an abutment implanted so the hearing aid just snaps on, streamlining the process and turning him into “a man” as Nugget explained. “When I get my BAHA implant, I’m going to be big, like a man. No more little kid.” He has been counting down to this manhood for years. This summer we got the approval and now it’s time. It’s all great for him but the thought of wheeling my baby into surgery one more time gives me more anxiety than the current political climate. And if I’m bad, my husband The Turk, AKA Captain Anxiety, is about to blow. 

“Baba is thrething me out Mom.” Nugget confided in me last night in bed.

“Right??!? He stresses me out too!” I confirmed.

“Can we leave him home?”

“Sorry Nugs but no. We can send him for coffee a lot though and if we take him he can drive and we can snuggle in the backseat.”

“Thounds good to me Mom.”

So send some good vibes our way for tomorrow, Nugget becomes a man, or at least his ear does and while that happens I’ll be twitching and pacing and The Turk will be getting coffee….again…and again.

 

A Baller He Is Not

 

vintage basketball ballers“Other way!!!! Run the other way!!” Screamed a gym full of parents and grandparents from the bleachers. Nugget, oblivious to the words coming at him because he won’t wear his hearing aid in a noisy gym, offered a smile and wave before he continued dribbling down the court to the opponents’ basket. Fortunately, he stopped short of shooting into their basket. Finding himself suddenly alone with no one guarding him, he decided to shoot at the nearest basket instead. Unfortunately, the basket he chose was the practice basket on the side of the gym. That did not deter the 5 year-old baller though. He took about five shots resulting in five air balls before finally losing the rebound to an unusually tall 7 year-old that had made his way down the court.  Nugget was proud of his possession and the bleachers shook with the bladder busting laughter often found at sporting events of the under 7 crowd. It was a win of a different sort.

Nugget had a similar showing during this past flag football season. During one play, his objective was to grab the handoff, pivot and take it the 10 remaining yards over the goal line. Excited by the opportunity to be the runner, Nugget took off, forgetting the part of the play when he needed to pivot. He tucked the ball under his arm and ran. He ran and ran and ran. Again, the sidelines full of parents tried to help him out “Other way! Not that way!” and again Nugget sans hearing aid assumed that was just a cheering section and offered a thank you wave. When it was clear he wasn’t going to stop, the fans changed course, “Run little guy! Run!!!” And that he did, all the way into the neighboring soccer field. 

Initially, I thought maybe his sporting difficulty was simply because he couldn’t hear. As a guy with one ear, it is hard to always catch the play when a team of kids is excitedly squeaking in the only ear you have. After the football run, my husband, The Turk, and I considered the idea that football might be a too much for Nugget because it required more hearing and concentration than my hard of hearing, attention deficit child could muster. We decided he’d have better luck at basketball because ultimately, the process was pretty basic. Dribble, run, shoot. We were wrong.

In addition to the dribbling drills, Nugget added some dance moves, spinning and swaying his way up the lane. When they practiced guarding, his moves took on a disco slant and during shooting, he struck a victory pose after every missed ball. During games he ran in circles waving his arms and usually panicked and forgot dribbling was a requirement if the ball landed in his hands. As I watched my flailing Nugget I was reminded of an adorable middle schooler I taught years ago. In addition to teaching Danny, I was also his tennis coach. Tennis and Danny were not a winning combo. In every doubles match I had to remind Danny that there was a time and place for tap dancing and it wasn’t on the tennis court. When not using his racquet as a dance prop, he used it to wage epic sword fights with an invisible nemesis and like my Nugget, he could spin and shimmy like a champ. Though coaching Danny was craz-inducing, I loved that boy and he turned into a fabulous man. (Word is he’s still dancing.) 

Remembering Danny did comfort me on Nugget´s future but still I was concerned with his immediate performance. His brother is a natural athlete, only hindered by his height. Number 1 has stood about a foot shorter than most players on both his football and basketball teams this year but he has still managed to kick butt. Nugget adores his brother and tries desperately to emulate him but his performance in the sports area is slowing showing that might not be possible. While Number 1 seemed to directly inherit the genes of his father and former professional athlete grandfather, Nugget appears to have inherited the genes of his mother, the benchwarmer. 

My career in sports looks like this______________________________nothing. I did spend one season on the girls tennis team back in 10th grade but spent most of that season on the bench. I was athletically challenged as a child. I had a minimal interest in football and I was rather skilled in 4-Square at Jefferson Elementary but that is about where I maxed out. As an adult I took up running and while I love it, I suck. I’m slow and wheezy and don’t have a lot more than a couple miles in me at my best. But watching Nugget’s sashay form while playing guard did give me hope. The kid does have solid dance skills and a flare for the dramatic like his mother. He has no interest in the artsy fartsy way of life yet, but in time he might find his way. 

I realized that playing sports was not my jam but I am damn good at sports momdom. No one is louder or more overprotective than this mom. I’m the first to take on a washed-up football coach twice my size if he is disrespecting one of my babies (true story and that fat bastard is still scared of me.) and if you bench my kid in favor of your talentless turd of a child just because you’re the coach, you will feel my wrath. Hopefully, like his mother, Nugget will someday find his place but for now, I think we might forgo soccer season and look into a modern dance class. From what I’ve seen on the basketball court, he might be a natural.

I Might Be Elfin’ Brilliant!

 

Santa and Krampus

Contrary to the belief of modern medicine, advanced maternal age has some major perks. One of the biggest perks is being so old that you have no interest in keeping up with all the pre-Christmas antics of young whippersnapper parents. Spend $50 bucks and stand in line for two hours so you can freak out on Santa’s lap? How ‘bout we send him a letter instead.  Christmas parades and festivals? Let’s just decorate cookies at home where it’s warm and Alexa plays Christmas carols. Elf on the Shelf? Hells no. Well, that was hells no until this year when I had a stroke of brilliance and finally found use for that felt-clad munchkin.

I’ve long been of the camp that my old school Irish Catholic/Turkish mothering is enough to keep my kids in line for the holiday season. Also, I’m not opposed to stuffing a stocking with undies and holding the good stuff until Easter if the line isn’t toed. (Full disclosure- Christmas of ’14 may or may not have ended this way.)I’ve long stood by the adage, “We don’t need an elf on the shelf because Santa already put you on the good list. Just keep yourself there.”

That worked for many years but then along came Nugget. If you’re a regular reader of this fine literary work, you know that my youngest son, Nugget, is a force of nature. He’s a one-eared, 1 ½  kidneyed, hard of hearing powerhouse that has kept us on our toes since he came screamin’ into this world five years ago. This year he started kindergarten and with that came 20 peers who all seemed to have those damn elves at home. But I held firm to my, “Santa thinks you’re already good,” stance for the first few days of the holiday season before I couldn’t any more. He was a butthead and my plan no longer worked so I sucked it up and ordered our house a snitch on the shelf.

What I was not prepared for was the price of these damn elves. There was no way this frugal Fannie was going to shell out $30 for a stuffed Barbie-wanna-be who was going to add an extra chore to my daily workload. With a little scrolling, I found one for half-price who happened to be rocking a green onesie instead of the standard red. I didn’t care. I’m cheap.

A few days later, thanks to the magical mail system, the snitch appeared on my doorstep. I wasn’t quite sure how to make the introduction so I wrote a note in my finest elf-handwriting with misspellings and backwards letters scrawled with my non-dominant hand. (I also learned that should the need ever arise, I could write a virtually undetectable ransom note in the same style. My mind never stops planning.) Then I needed to come up with a name for the sign off. I went with the first thing that sprang to my deranged mind – Puddles. A few hours later, when we all arrived home after a movie, the kids were shocked to find we’d been infiltrated by Puddles, Santa’s little narc.

For like one day it was fun to place Puddles in uproarious situations then I was over it. I haven’t the memory or the time to create elaborate Puddles centered tableaus every damn night, but someone in our house did. His young memory and boyish creativity was made for Puddles scenography and fortunately, thanks to his age, a butthead classmate in 3rdgrade and a giant blunder by his foreign father unfamiliar with the whole Santa rouse, the fat man jig was up and he was already in on the action. Number 1 Son jumped at the opportunity to take on Puddles duties. He began drawing out plans, listing scenarios and Googling things normal parents probably would’ve stopped. He was an elfin’ master.

Puddles hung from the kitchen light, stuffed his face in a cupcake, hid in the pantry eating cookies, sucked down giant cups of coffee, bathed in bowls of fruit, lounged about reading raunchy detective fiction and was all too often found around the booze. Nugget was elated. Every morning he bounds down the stairs to see what kind of mayhem Puddles has unleashed upon our abode.

I was glad to pass off the task until I started to make some connections. Puddles had a sugar addiction. Puddles needed excessive coffee. Puddles frequented the wine cabinet…was Number 1 Son actually modeling this damn elf after his beloved mother? The resemblance was uncanny but it was cheaper than therapy so I let it go.

I thought passing the elf duty buck to an older sibling was a stroke of parenting brilliance and that I had achieved greatness until I was one-upped. The other day I was giving an Oscar-worthy performance as a substitute teacher at the elementary school. (How did I never know about this subbing thing? It’s way more fun than being the actual teacher and there’s no homework!) We were sharing tales about weekend elfin antics (Because every kid has a damn elf now. Smooth move young parents. Like we needed one more thing to do at Christmas!) when one girl shared her tale.

“Well, we have an elf on the shelf and he pretty much watches from the shelf all the time but when we’re bad…(shaking her head like a soldier just back from war)…when we’re bad, Krampus in the corner shows up and he is terrifying. His yellow eyes stare at you and you just know he can’t wait to eat you if you screw up one more time.”

Clearly Krampus worked because this was the most well-behaved, polite child I’ve seen in years. I was in complete awe of her parents. How had I never thought of Krampus in the corner? Utter brilliance. I’ve been a mom for over 10 years and it seems I still have so much evil to amass.

Watch your ass Puddles, you may have had a party this year but next year you’ll have competition and if I know Nugget, Krampus in the corner will rein in our house next December.

Happy Holidays!

IMG_7452
Puddles in action last weekend.

Thar She Blows!

thar she blows

Now that we have moved to a hotbed of biodiversity, I’ve determined my children will become outdoorsmen. What’s the point of living in New England if you can’t legitimately rock some L.L. Bean?

Lots of men garner their sportsman skills during boyhood from fathers and grandfathers who lead them on this journey but in our house that is not the case. Sure, when we lived in Turkey I witnessed their father, The Turk, join army friends to hunt wild boars and wow me with sea fishing skills but none of that seemed to make it across the US boarder with his new American passport. This summer, as the Turk hid indoors from mosquitos while the boys and I enjoyed our new wooded homestead, I realized if my little men were to become outdoorsmen, it was up to me.

I decided to started with fishing and while it was a great idea to “teach my men to fish so they could eat for a lifetime,” I wasn’t certain I had the knowledge to be the master baiter. (Hehehehehe. See what I did there? A dirty fishing pun. I’m twelve.) The last time I’d fished was when we lived in Turkey. From a dock in the Aegean, The Turk taught me to angle like the native fishermen using a reel but no rod, bait that looks like bamboo and exercising caution over certain catches. “You catch that one, he electrocute you and you die. Do not catch that one.” My beloved warned. That was my lone lesson and we did pretty well but none of that was going to help me as a freshwater fisherwoman.

Prior to that Aegean outing, my experience consisted of pond fishing in Iowa when my dad would bait the hook, remove the catch and often help his lone daughter cast the line. (Because her coordination was a bit slow to develop.) I was not what one might call a skilled angler. I needed a refresher course if I was going to teach my offspring the ways of the sportsman. Fortunately a family friend is retired nearby and was more than willing to be a surrogate grandpa helping me to hone (Scratch that, I mean, develop) my fishing skills. After a morning at his pond I was ready for a solo run.

We headed to the sporting goods store where I normally spend copious amounts of money on items for peewee football, so it was refreshing to give them my money in a new department. (When I’m eating dog food during my retirement, I will constantly remind my offspring that my 401K was spent on football gear.) After gathering the requisite equipment it was time to make it official and get a license. The keeper of the fish department issued my license but must have been looking at Number 1 when he filled in the “physical description” segment. According to my fishing license I’m a blue-eyed blonde weighing 120 pounds and while that’s flattering, I’m a green-eyed burnette and haven’t weighed 120 pounds since the 5th grade, but I’ll take it.

Our first excursion was a success likely because I’d spent several hours at home preparing the rods while cursing the process. A fat dude at a skeezy bait shop recommended a nearby dock and though his shop likely doubled as a mob front, he knew his quality fishing spots. (Likely because he needed occasional drop spots for his mob business involving cement shoes.) The boys reeled them in one after another.

One thing I didn’t take into account about leading my boys to sportmanship was the gross-out factor. When you take two kids fishing alone, you are in a constant swirl of wormy hands, tangled lines and slimy fish thrust in your face. It’s parental purgatory. Who actually enjoys the touch of slimy fish while freeing them from capture or the feel of worm guts under mildly manicured nails? Not I, but just like you can never let dogs see your fear, you can never let your sons see your gross-out factor. That simply provides them with an upper hand. (P.S. – having brothers is a huge asset to a gal grooming boys to become men.) As the fish came flying at my face followed by “Mom! I got one! Take it off and help me put on a new worm.” I muttered my mantra, “I’ve touched worse…I’ve touched worse.”

Nugget is down with fishing but his interest only lasts about 10 minutes then I spend the remainder of the outing untangling his line, (that he’s attached to everything from nearby trees to my thigh) plying him with snacks and trying to keep him from falling in. Last week while he was in summer school I had the luxury of taking only 1 kid fishing. Foolishly, I believed it would be relaxing like fishing appears to be on beer commercials. With his first cast he caught a tree and needed his pole restrung, then there was a broken reel and the fish that swallowed the hook. After averting disaster for 5 full minutes and swearing non-stop under my breath, I was ready to test the repaired line. Immediately I  hooked something Number 1 and I were certain was the freshwater brother of Moby Dick.

“Hold on Mom! It’s a big one!”

I tried to be cool but it was impossible. This was it. I had a big one. “It won’t reel! I can’t get it to work!” (I’m still working on my repair skills.) I was frantically spinning the handle while watching my pole bend like a scene from a National Geographic show about Amazonian monster fish. The pressure was palpable. Here I was, showing my son girl-power in action. His mother was about to reel in a big-ass fish!

“Don’t lose it Mom!” His excitement was building and he was jumping up and down a little too close to the edge. I did not want to face the choice of saving my child or reeling in my big–ass fish because I can’t guarantee I’d drop my pole. (Don’t judge, the kid can swim.)

Fortunately I didn’t have a Sophie’s Choice moment because my line snapped. I watched as my bobber, bait and line all took off across the water. Moments later a penis-like head popped up near the bobber. Because I am missing the parental edit button that prevents me from the deletion of potty words in front of my offspring, I yelled – “Screw you dickhead! You might have broken my line but you head looks like a penis!” As the words came out of my mouth I wished I was with my one-eared kid who only hears half of my profanity.

“Mom!” My judgmental ten-year-old exclaimed. But within seconds he reconsidered, “I mean you are right. His head does kind of look like a penis.”

So it wasn’t a big-ass fish. It was just a big-ass turtle but it was a nice teachable moment for my son to understand the importance of accurate trash talk. My sportsman development has a ways to go but I’m finding more joy than anticipated in the ride. Especially when the Turk opens his beer fridge and screams, “What the hell? Why there are worm in my fridge?”

 

Siri’s Cousin Done Lost Her Mind

female fire fighters

One of the tasks of moving into a new house is trying to understand all the idiosyncrasies of your new purchase. Do you need to lift and pull that bathroom door or pound it like Fonzi? For someone like me – my mother used to call it a vivid imagination but I think the real term is just crazy- this also leads to an in-depth psychological profiling of the previous owners. Thanks to our relentless years of relocations, the Turk and I have had a plethora of opportunities for both of the above.

Upon moving into one house we discovered vents stuffed with soiled children’s underwear. (Fo reals. Equal parts gross and disturbing.) Another home contained a poorly constructed sub-wall possessing a  hidden shelving system (I determined it was for the previous owners’ S&M life but the Turk just thought it was a bad construction project.) And then there’s our current home with the nursery’s doorknob installed backwards so the lock locks from the outside, conveniently locking the child IN the room. (All parents muse about this but who actually does it!?!) Nugget discovered that little perk and seized the opportunity to lock his unsuspecting brother in the bedroom. He claims to have done it “accidewentwee” but we know Nugget better than that.

All of those little oddities were strange but manageable. However, last night’s new house idiosyncrasy was nearly deadly. Our little Turks were tucked away in their beds (with the door NOT locked from the outside- just in case you were wondering) while the Turk and I lay in our bed watching an in-depth documentary on the current status of interstellar matter when…ok, we totally were not. We were watching what we watch every Friday night – Mama June, Not to Hot – I just can’t break free of that damn Honey BooBoo’s clutches and the Turk appreciates the way they caption the cast members with missing teeth and strong accents. We like to keep our trashy side strong. Just as all hell was about to break lose at the Vegas of wedding of Mama June’s daughter, a series of alarms began blaring throughout our house. I sprang from my bed with a speed and intensity only previously seen when a child makes pre-barf noises.

“Fire! Fire!” shouted the voice of a robotic woman who I immediately assumed was Siri’s cousin.

Siri’s cousin didn’t stick to her “Fire” line for long. She changed things up and began yelling, “Carbon monoxide warning! Carbon monoxide warning!”

While the blaring siren rang throughout, the Turk and I ran from room to room making sure we were not on fire or filling with noxious gas. Once we determined that bitch was a liar, we tried to quiet the broad but she would not be silenced. While the Turk wrestled with the batteries (Spoiler alert: we later learned they were hard wired so that was an exercise in futility.) I jumped up and down below the alarm waving a kitchen towel because that’s what you do when you burn popcorn right?

The blaring continued and my heart was about to beat out of my chest. It seemed I don’t currently possess the physical condition necessary for springing from the bed combined with repeated flailing with a kitchen towel. The combination of panic and exertion were taking a toll.

What if there was a smokeless fire in some area we couldn’t see?

Was the heater we’ve never turned on leaking gas and about to kill us in our sleep?

Was it the hot water heater we’d been putting off replacing?

How the hell will I get my kids back to sleep?

Why aren’t the kids awake? OH MY GOD IT’S THE GASSSSSS!

And then, silence. They stopped.

Ironically, our cracker box sized home has five, yes, five smoke detectors split between the three bedrooms upstairs and two more detectors downstairs plus two in the basement. If this house goes up, ain’t no way the entire state of Massachusetts won’t hear it. It wasn’t surprising that Nugget didn’t hear his. He’s only got one ear and if he’s sleeping on the ear he does have that kid can sleep though a war. As for Number 1, I worried he might be dead since he was still sleeping. I pulled up each eyelid and felt for chest movement. Not dead, just post-football tired.

I began throwing open all the windows to ventilate the house in the event that there really was carbon monoxide.

“Why you do that? It’s too hot.” The Turk asked. “Nothing is wrong.”

“Well if there’s not an issue, why do the alarms keep going off?” I asked.

“They’re not.” The Turk retorted.

Right on cue, Siri’s bitchy cousin started again.

Screaming over the blaring alarm and Siri’s cousin yelling, Fire! Fire! Carbon Monoxide Warning! Carbon Monoxide Warning! I countered, “What the hell do you mean the alarms are not going off? You hear that right?”

“Yes, I hear that. They are not going off. They are on. The keep going on.”

Touché Turk. Damn you English.

“Ok, yes. But in English we say the alarms are going off when they are actually going on.” It’s tough to defend English grammar during an emergency.

“That is stupid.”

“I know but you’ve been speaking English for like 20 years. How is this new information? Never mind. Just make them stop!”

When silence finally descended and we’d made sure there were no flames or gas, we returned to bed. The windows were open for ventilation, just in case, while I struggled to harness my crazy. I’d watched an interview earlier with two women who’d died and come back. I couldn’t help but believe this was a sign that the universe was preparing me for my forever nap. Then I began worrying about who would find our bodies. We don’t know anyone in the area yet and the Turk’s been traveling a lot so it wouldn’t be alarming if he didn’t come to work for a few days. Would the cat eat our faces? He seems like the kind of cat that would. Would the mailman eventually check in when the bills piled up? My only hope lay with Number 1’s football coach eventually calling the cops because his fullback hadn’t shown up for a few practices.

“I think we Google what is going on.” The Turk said but upon seeing the look of fear on the three inches of my face that was peeking out from beneath the covers, he rethought his directive. “Maybe, I do it. You will just see things that make you even more crazy.” He knows me well.

Ultimately he ruled the situation was linked to a recent electrical issue and power surges the electric company has been working on over the past month. (Stay tuned for that tale of horror.) According to Google, power surges can make Siri’s cousin go whacko and require a reboot or replacement. I voted for the latter. I couldn’t risk Siri’s cousin ruining my trash television experience again.

12 hours later we returned home with $400 worth of new detectors and Siri’s cousin got an upgrade. But the Turk and his own brand of crazy decided it was best if we didn’t leave our survival up to Siri’s cousin alone. He branched out and bought every fire and carbon monoxide detector he could find adding six more to the eight already in place, just in case Siri’s cousin hadn’t gotten zapped. When we sell this house, we want to make sure the next homeowners know from the start that we were some crazy-ass homeowners.

I’m Probably Going To Hell

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There is a 90% chance I’m going to hell. A few years ago it might have been closer to an 80% chance but it’s been a rough patch recently. Easter is usually a time when my heathenistic nature is made clear as the appearance of eggs, bunnies and crucifixes tends to spur familiar conversations between the Turk and I.

“I never get it, why bunny? Did Jesus turn into bunny?”

“No. That’s just stupid.”

“Is it? Every year I ask and every year no one can explain.”

“Oh I explain it, you just never listen.”

“And does rabbit come from egg? No. So why eggs?”

It usually goes on and on like this until I hide away like a mole rat in a dark, secluded area far from my husband who was raised in a Muslim country completely void of gummy eggs and chocolate bunnies. We’ve been doing this for a ridiculously long time so when this year’s round started I didn’t think much of it.

On a rainy Sunday, we drove past the local Catholic Church over-flowing with cars. I should probably note, this is the same Catholic Church I weaseled my way into a couple years ago for Number 1 Son to make his first communion. Though I’m a card carrying heathen, I’m also aware that mistakes can be made and if this whole Jesus thing pans out, I don’t want to have sacrificed the souls of my offspring, so I like to cover my bases. Every month the Church sends us requests for money with our names horrifically misspelled. We laugh manically while shredding the request and the Church keeps a family of ethnically diverse names on the registry amid the thousands of Smiths and Johnsons. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

Seeing the crowded parking lot reminded me to ask the Turk, “Do you have Good Friday off?”

To which he replied, “Every Friday is good. Why is one more good than the others?”

Just as I was about to give myself a stroke from rolling my eyes back in my head, Number 1 chimed up from the backseat. “Baba, that’s the day Jesus died.”

The Turk searched for clarity, “But he come back again later?”

“Yes,” I chimed in. “He rolled up on the crowd a few days later and needless to say, they were a bit shocked. I guess it’s like when you think your boss is out of town and he comes back early. I mean, on a big scale.” (Sister Nora would be so proud.)

I thought that would end it but no. From the backseat Number 1 asked, “Wait, if Jesus died then got out of his grave later, doesn’t that make him a zombie?”

Being a long-time fan of all things zombie (old school Night of the Living Dead not this new school Walking Dead crap) I was more than proud that my little cherub had somehow taken in zombie science by osmosis from his mother.

We debated the concept for a while until Number 1 added, “So if we take communion then don’t we technically become zombies too?”

Kid, you spent one freaking year in Catechism and somehow you managed to pay attention to the one part of the whole doctrine that most find pretty creepy. Nice. Not wanting to get further into a theological debate with either Number 1 nor his father, I tried to shut it down by throwing my attention to the Nugget. However, Nugget was elbow deep in a bag of animal crackers and had nothing to say except, “Wook Mom, I ate dis guy’s head off.” He proudly held up a decapitated pachyderm. Nugget often chooses to utilizes the fact that he only has one ear to find a little peace in our nut-job family.

Fast forward to yesterday and me chasing a naked Nugget around the house trying to get him into the shower. In desperation, I tried a conversation technique to distract him long enough to cleanse.

“So how was school today?”

I expected a generic, “Good,” maybe peppered with a bit of “I had fun.” But no.

Instead he said, “Today at thool, I told da kids about Jesus.”

Noooooooooooooo!  “Um, you told the kids what honey?”

“First, I told dem dat Jesus died on de cross.” He stated.

Relieved I continued, “Really?” I wasn’t impressed that my kid was preaching the gospel in preK but since he’d only started talking a year ago and he’s still not a fan of interacting with same age peers, I was just happy he was having a conversation.

“What else did you talk about Nugs?”

By this point he was shimmying in the shower covered in bubbles tossing out information between dance moves. “Den I told dem Jesus is a zombie.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Jesus is a zombie. Dat’s what you said.”

Panic overtook me. Do they call CPS for training one’s children as  a heathen? Was there a red button on the desk for teachers to press in a religious emergency? This is Indiana and they take their religion seriously here. For the love of God, they made Mike Pence.

“So….” I ventured carefully, “what did your friends say to the news of zombie Jesus?”

“Nuffing. Michael said Jesus is in your heart so it’s ok if he’s a zombie.”

And there you have it. So on this Easter weekend just remember…If Jesus is in your heart, he might be a zombie…and clearly, I am going to hell.

Mama Don’t Need No Tribe

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Everyone has those words or phrases that rub them wrong way like the ever-despised word “moist.” Personally, that one isn’t a trigger for me because when someone says “moist” my mind automatically follows that with “cake.”

It’s not gross words that rile me up, but more phrases that might be found in a middle management training manual, like “team building.” Or, “I just want to circle back to that.” Unless we’re out riding our bikes to the Dairy Queen in 6th grade or rounding up our wagon train to conquer the Wild West, I see no need for you to “circle back,” just call me.

But the phrase that has really been eating at me lately is “my tribe.” As an incredibly politically incorrect human, it’s probably shocking to most that I might be a little uncomfortable with that term. I’m especially uncomfortable when “my tribe” is used by a bunch of white chicks in reference to likeminded friends when they’re out grabbing pumpkin spice lattes. Even we offensive broads have limits.

This whole tribe thing has been stuck in my brain lately though and I’ve been giving it way more thought than necessary. It started last week when I was having a difficult time with Nugget which resulted in a true special needs mom meltdown. That’s when it was suggested that the answer to my problems was that I needed to find “my tribe.”

At the risk of sounding like an 80’s Rob Lowe character, I’ve always been a loner. People are fine and all, and I do have a pocket of friends I consider to be sisters and gay brothers, plus a huge web of people beyond that, but I’m an arms-length kind of gal. I don’t do tribal friendship. (Perhaps because I don’t do pumpkin spice lattes?) However, in my pocket of sisters and gay brothers and even in my web beyond, I don’t have any close special needs parent connections so my journey with Nugget has been a lonely road.

When you have a kid that carries a genetic label few have ever heard of and even fewer can spell (Branchio-oto-renal syndrome doesn’t usually pop up in spell check), and has a whole host of diagnoses that follow him around, it’s easy to feel like Tom Hanks in Castaway with no one to share your woes but Wilson the washed ashore volleyball. (Full Disclosure: sometimes when the Turk and I do talk about Nugget’s issues, the big English words throw him off and he basically turns into Wilson too. I love him but I know his limits.) But a tribe? I don’t know about that kind of hippie madness.

Last year Nugget finally started to catch up developmentally. About mid December, that dude started busting through every limitation that had been weighing him down. He gained years in months and it was exactly what my mom heart needed to believe things were finally going in the right direction.

And then this year he got stuck in a mudbog. Since school started this year Nugget has stagnated. No growth. No change. When I persist, “Let’s work on letters.” I’m met with, “Nope. Can’t do dat.”

If I try, “Let’s write together.”

I get, “No. I can’t.”

It’s killing my old teacher heart.

In addition to his genetic anomalies, Nugget also drew the long straw on a healthy dose of stubborn Turk genes too. Many a teacher and medical professional have said, “Wow, he really only does what he wants to do.”

To which I can only respond, “It seems you’ve not met his father.” But recently those Turk genes are about to do me in and have me worried of they are a sign of more than just obstinace.

The driving force behind my recent meltdown, the one that spurred the whole tribe thing, has been Nugget’s hatred of everything resulting in hissy fits that would make Naomi Campbell proud. There are tears, flailing, occasional profanity and relentless arguing and that’s just on Nugget’s side. I’m about a step from postal.

Simply put, Nugget doesn’t want to do anything.

Go to school – hissy fit.

Go to anything for his brother– hissy fit.

Grandma shows up – hissy fit.

Grandma leaves – hissy fit.

And the list goes on and on. After one particularly rough day when the hissy fit was so bad at school he had to go home, I immediately spiraled into a pit of mom guilt so deep even mid-day, high-dollar chocolate couldn’t bring me out.

It’s been a rough year with a new and highly incompetent teacher (It’s not brain surgery girl, it’s special ed preschool.) and I’m beginning to think special ed is holding him back. I spiraled from, maybe we should pull him from that school, to maybe if I weren’t so busy taking care of other people’s kids all day mine wouldn’t be in this mess.

I talked it out at work, (A major advantage to dealing with special ed school issues for you own kid is working in a special ed school) until I finally relented and called Wilson – I mean, the Turk. I’m not sure why I was moved to call him but I assumed that women with tribes do that kind of thing.

“I don’t know, I just think maybe if I weren’t working all the time I could get Nugget going again and put an end to this crap.” I whimpered on the verge of tears.

“No.” The Turk replied.

“What?”

“Honey, calm down. He is asshole. Even if you home all the time, he still be asshole.”

“Are you joking?” Sometimes it’s hard to tell with that accent.

“No. Don’t you remember Number 1 at this age? He was asshole too. He is not asshole now so they get over it. You don’t need to quit.”

The Turk was right. There was never a time when I understood more fully why animals eat their young than when our oldest was four. He was indeed a raging asshole but fortunately, he grew out of it.

“When I kid, I hate school too. My father get so mad because I never learn letters or write. I not do it because I thought it was stupid. Maybe he’s the same. Relax. We get him there.”

And with that, my meltdown ended. I didn’t need some ridiculous tribe; I only needed Wilson to finally talk back to me on my desert island.

Unfortunately, we are only 3.5 months into this grand age of 4 and with some wine and more high-dollar midday chocolate, I might make it through. Better than that though, I realized a gal doesn’t need a tribe as long as she has a straight shooting Turk.

 

Can I Order a Sister-Wife On Amazon?

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I needed new sneakers. So this morning I went online, found the model I like, picked a festive color and with a few clicks the deal was done before I even made it through a full cup of coffee. Tomorrow my new kicks will be waiting on my doorstep when I arrive home, ready and willing to escort my tired tootsies through the next 30 casual Fridays. Bingo bango, the interwebs solved my problem.

This got me thinking. I have another big problem. Could the interwebs solve that problem too? This problem is a bit more complex though; because I’ve decided I need a sister-wife. For real.

Now that school has started I am a hot mess. Between my full-time teaching job and my full-time job as a Turkish wife and my full-time plus job as an overbearing S-mother, I’m dying. Our household fluctuates between panic mode and squalor on the reg and my forty-something ass is dragin’.

-Dinner is mushy? Sorry family but that happens when Mom starts the slowcooker at 4:45 AM.

-“Hello? Yes this is Nugget’s mother. He didn’t wear his hearing aid to school…again?” That’s what happens when Mom isn’t there to micromanage putting him on the bus.

– “Yes, I realize the house looks like a crack-den but I’ve got a mountain of papers to grade.” I’m on it this weekend.

-“What permission slip? You needed it 2 weeks ago? Sorry Number 1 Son.” I’m on it.

-“No, the fish tank isn’t supposed to be green.” I’m on it.

-“Why are you discontinuing my cell service? Really? I haven’t paid the bill since July?” My bad. I’m on it.

-“What’s the…is that… cat barf on my foot?” Even the cat is out to get me.

A mortal woman can only keep this up for so long before being drawn to drastic measures, like pharmaceutical assistance (Though I don’t think Mother’s Little Helpers were really intended for upping the pace, were they?) and since I’m of an advanced age and our judgmental world now frowns upon such things, I’ve decided there is a better way. The way of the sister-wife.

Anyone who knows me (especially my husband the Turk) has long been troubled by my fascination with the whole concept of sister-wives. It started years ago in Turkey when Big Love was one of the only shows we got in English. Then there were the various documentaries I consumed on the topic followed by every episode of every season of TLC’s train wreck, Sister Wives. My obsession is strong.

Mock me if you will, but if you put all your Judge Judy tendencies aside, it makes good sense. Like a fool, I’ve given my family an unrealistic standard of mothering and while I kept it up for many years, now I’m ready to call in reinforcements.

If I get a sister-wife, she could stay home to make sure bills are paid, hearing-aids are worn, permission slips are actually signed and my house is kept in an inhabitable, dare I say, clean state. Currently there is a pod of cockroaches waiting on the doorstep in little fedoras carrying tiny Samsonite just waiting for the moment I lose the frontline battle with the crumbs. The struggle is real.

My sister-wife, let’s call her Eunice. Why Eunice? Because Eunice is a sensible name that says, stability, strength and no sex appeal. It’s a name fit for a sister-wife in a floral frock rocking excess facial hair and a uni-brow. More importantly, have you ever seen a big-boobed bombshell called Eunice? No. (I’m desperate. I’m not stupid.)

Even with Eunice’s mad housekeeping skills, love of gluten-free baking and ability to take on any issue that might arise, I have no worries about my husband trading me in for Eunice. For one, being from Turkey he’s seen a lot of bearded women with uni-brows and it’s not his jam. And for two, The Turk and I have equal levels of crazy that no other mortal would dare take on. As the Turks say, “There is a lid for every pot,” and much like Ricky was the lid for Lucy, the Turk is mine. Eunice hasn’t a chance.

According to the TLC series and Big Love, Eunice and I will be able to sip coffee together in the morning as we lament our daily duties, but we will often argue over small things until we draw up a workable, color-coded chore chart for both of us. I can handle that. It’s all about balance. If reality television is to be believed (And it is right? I mean, of course it’s true love on The Bachelor, right?) we won’t share clothes (because Eunice is selfish with her frocks) but we will cheer each other on as we visit our personal trainer and when difficulty arises, we’ll have our family therapist make a house call. (*note to self-get a family therapist and keep her on retainer.)

So you see, I’ve got it all figured out. Since there are not enough hours in the day for me to manage the life and limb of all the beings in this home and in my 6 daily classes, AND make sure no one in either position dies, I don’t see any other choice. If a fat, white man in America can order a hot Russian bride over the internet, why can’t a desperately exhausted mom find herself a lifesaving sister-wife the same way?

Eunice, I need you girl. I know you’re out there and my search has begun. I will find you. I won’t rest until I do. But I should probably bring this idea up with The Turk first…

 

Mother Tongue…Ewwww

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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…