I Shall Rule From My She-Fort

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When I was a kid, I loved all things Little House on the Prairie. I wanted a big sister who could braid my locks like Mary. I too had a whiney little turd sibling like Carrie and of course, being the overlooked middle child, Laura and I were simpatico.  I read all of the books (more than once) and like any woman now on the back-end of her 40’s, I settled in once a week to get down and dirty with the Real Prairie Wives of Walnut Grove. (Mrs. Olsen was pretty trashy under those tight curls.) But while there was madness with goats, fires and random blindness, the Ingalls family functioned pretty well in their little cabin removed from society, much like my own.

I’m also sure there was an episode when Ma and the entire family had to shelter in place due to a horrible virus that came from China. (That I’m sure was transmitted because Mrs. Olsen demanded they order Chinese silk for the general store. Hag) The one-room schoolhouse was forced to swap over to poorly planned e-learning leaving Ma Ingalls at home to school her own children and homestead simultaneously while being forced to rely on Pa to shop for necessities. I’m also sure that Pa Ingalls may have sucked at the task but when he forgot to get the coconut milk and brought home sourdough instead of rye, Ma made do but she was pretty pissed. (You guys remember that too right? No? Am I projecting?)

Each week as I carefully construct my alphabetized grocery list, organized by aisle to insure success, and send the Turk off into the wild with little more than a ninja mask to protect him, I feel a little Ma Ingalls. As soon as the Turk returns to the homestead with bags full of quality soy crumbles, kale and the occasional Oreo for balance, immediately I interrogate him. “Was it crowded? Were people wearing masks? Did you stay away from humanity? Were there stupid people crying about needing a haircut like on TV? Tell me everything.” I am literally dying to know what the world is like during this apocalypse.

Why? Because I have barely left this house since mid-March and while I am a major fan of this whole self-isolation thing, as are all career homebodies, I’m getting a little restless.  Way back in March, when the world blew up and it all hit the fan, my darling husband locked me down. “You stay home and I will do it. Just give me list and I can go to stores. You cannot. If I get sick, I can be fine but you cannot. You have asthma and you cannot even breathe like normal person anyway. You get the Corona, you can die. We cannot risk you to die.” And while it was a bit psycho, I know my darling hubby and I know that overprotective, paranoid, psychosis is his love language and protecting me from the horrible virus is his version of stepping in front of a shooter for me.  So for the past two months, he has Rapunzeled my ass in the tower until the plague passes.

Sure, I’ve been busy working from home, educating my little half-breed Turks, doing all the other crap mothers do to keep their family alive and more, but recently I’ve been jonesing to dip my toes into the societal waters for a minute, just to see what’s going on beyond my tree-lined view. However, Pa Turk said no. He hitched up the Cherokee, pulled on his bandit mask and said, “Not yet. Stupid people are everywhere. You cannot risk it. You can die.” And just like Ma Ingalls, I stood on the front deck waving as he headed off into the wilds of suburbia to bring home the tofu.

I understand his point of view but as an independent old broad, I really just want to take care of things myself. I want to choose my own cheeses and grimace at the old lady who cut me in line at the check-out. I want to feel that familiar disappointment when I look at the Target women’s department and roll my eyes at some moron taking up two parking spaces at the wine store. I only need like an hour, but I want to experience society for a little while just to remind me why I choose the reclusive life.  Just about the time I was thinking of breaking out, Pa Turk did something brilliant. He gave me a new fortress from which to rein to quell my need for fresh vistas.

If you’re a regular reader, you know that my engineer husband took our children’s request for a “tree-house” or even a “tree-fort” and turned it into a massive feat of aerial engineering. In case you missed it, here’s the tale. Anyhoo, after a year of waiting for the Turk to add the steps so that they could actually enter the structure 12 feet above their heads, it has happened. The Turk finally finished the tree fort. (Or as he quantified, Phase 1 is done. There’s more to come.)

I sent a friend photos of my view from the new fort and she wisely pointed out it should not be a tree-fort, but rather, a SHE-fort and I should claim it as my own. Utter brilliance! She-fort indeed! Mama has a new domain from which to gaze at the bogs, watch sunset over the wetlands and sip merlot all while two little Turks armed with Nerf guns stand sentinel.

Farewell society. Pa Turk will continue to do my bidding for a while longer while I ride out the next phase of the pandemic in my She-Fort. Ma Ingalls might not have had a she-fort, but she damn well deserved one. Amirite???? Stay safe friends!

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I Shall Be The Quarantine Queen

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Stay home. Avoid people. Socially distance yourself. Spend copious time in stretch fabrics and fuzzy slippers. Order in and have groceries delivered. I HAVE BEEN TRAINING FOR THIS FOR MY WHOLE LIFE. I shall be the Queen of Quarantine.

We’re in a weirdo space right now. It kind of feels like being stuck in Jello. Every morning we get up and brace for the damage report and every night we lay in bed waiting for the anxiety to fade.  But over here in our little 1400 square feet of heaven, we’ve got it under control.

On the first floor, I’ve spent the past week busily stress baking and then following that up with stress eating said baked goods. Cakes, pies, brownies, an obscene array of cookies and today I moved on to breads. If the carbs were not enough, there have been soups from lentil to tomato and dinners including such classics as lasagna and falafel, and mousakka and makarna. (PS – there is no better time to be a vegetarian family than when all you crazy carnivores are storming the meat department pre-quarantine. Ain’t nobody whipping tofu off the shelf or grabbin’ soy crumbles from my basket. We are livin’ the dream. ICYMI – here’s how I fooled my family into the veg life. ) I literally cannot stop. Any good shrink would say this excessive kitchen self-flagellation is my attempt to show love and protection to the men who live here but I don’t know…maybe I’m also a fat girl that loves to cook because she loves to eat.

The second floor remains a tween hidey-hole providing a hotbed of entertainment for Number 1. Normally he’s not a video game kind of kid but with nothing to do and crappy weather, well, any port in a storm. My history dork found a series of games he loves and from what I hear coming down the stairs, so far he has slayed some bastard in the Egyptian Pyramids, ridden his horse in a loincloth around a digitalized version of our old town in Turkey and taken down the Empire and a gazillion Storm Troopers before driving Le Mans.

The basement is housing an exasperated Turk who traded a cushy office in Boston for a corner of the basement where he hunches over his computer like a troll under a bridge desperate to finish work. For the first several days, Nugget’s sword fights and basketball games occurring above his head would send the Turk into a rage causing him to bound up the stairs with his trademark, “WHAT IZ DIS???” To which his charming youngest son would reply, “Baba chill.” I do feel for the guy though, between work and a graduate class he’s got a lot to accomplish under his bridge. We’re hopeful we might see him before the end of the quarantine.

Nugget transcends all three floors like only a spastic, ADHD 6 -year-old with an overactive imagination much like his crazy mother’s, can.  In the past week he has been the following, in full costume, LeBron James in the Cleveland days, Luke Skywalker, Boba Fett, Yoda, Iron Man, Captain America, Chewbacca, Fletcher Cox of the Philadelphia Eagles and Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos, The Flash, Darth Vader, a Storm Trooper and Gordon Hayward of the Celtics. I’m sure he’s had more personalities that I’m forgetting too. After donning full regalia for each of his characters, he runs from floor to floor, chasing bad guys, shooting baskets or holding the line while carrying on full conversations in distinct voices. Could it be a sign of early-onset crazy? Sure, but it is too damn funny to stop.

In between the lunacy we’re also working on school, (because it sucks to have a mom who’s a teacher during times like these) drawing tons, reading loads and watching Britbox on the telly. I’m a big fan of the low gore, high dialogue murders found on British television. They remind me of Turkish television but I don’t have to exhaust my brain by translating the whole show only to have the murder solved before I get the entire story translated. The kids are on the Britbox train too. Number 1 loves when I flip on a show and tell him how he and I watched the show religiously back in Turkey. (Because we had 1 channel in English and it was BBC). Nugget is more of a murder man. Boba Fett and I watched an entire murder mystery yesterday on the sofa and he called the perp long before I did. He’s like a 3 foot Jessica Fletcher.

We also hit up a few concerts during the past week too. The Dropkick Murphys put on a stunning show in my living room, and though none of us looked as good as we did when I used to go see them live in the late 90’s, we’re still punk. I also forced my children to sit through the Indigo Girls and Wilco live streams while I regaled them with tales of when their mother was cool and waved lighters at their concerts. (They were painfully unimpressed.)

 We’ve also had quality fire pits, soccer matches and even a relay that nearly killed my aged ass. Fortunately, our beaches are still open and free of idiotic 20 somethings whooping it up. Is it because our beaches are 35 degrees and rocky? Regardless, our beach time has been paramount leaving Nugget to ask, “How do you even thurvive a quaranthine without a beach?”

So at the risk of being too Mary Sunshine in this moment, this smothering mother, with introvert tendencies, that loves a good excuse for kitchen time is finding the bright side in this cray. Stay safe, stay healthy and stay home and wash yo damn hands!

 

Lament of the Meatless Balls

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“I saw that Mom. Not cool.”

“Keep your mouth shut kid.”

“How long has this been going on Mom? How long have we been living this lie?”

Number 1 son inherited my flair for the dramatic. I’m proud of it until that head full of crazy is aimed at me.  In retaliation, I got all up in his grill, waggling a finger and replied, “If you want to live kid, you will make sure this lie remains in tact. Got it?”

He nodded, bidding a hasty retreat to his pre-teen man-cave while I buried the empty bag reading, “Chicken-less Chicken,” deep in the bottom of the trash.

I’ve danced across the vegetarian line for the majority of my life. My first run at the plant-based life was somewhere around age 8 but as the daughter of a cattle farmer that didn’t go over well. By college I was all in and I have stepped on and off the wagon every since. My main reason has always been that I’m just not a big fan of meat. Unfortunately, my family is…or was.

When we lived in Turkey we seldom ate meat because it was ridiculously pricey and we were ridiculously poor. I learned the magic of legumes from the old Turkish ladies and we didn’t miss it. We kept eating that way for years after we repatriated but as things got busier more meat began creeping into our meals because it was easy. Then…we got old and fat.

In the last few years, my husband, The Turk and I have both entered the geriatric segment of our 40s. These are the years when everything suddenly goes to hell at breakneck speed. While I’ve suffered ass-fattening and random joint crap, he’s developed the man-gut and cholesterol issues. It was time to Nancy Drew my way to nutritional wisdom and turn everything around with food. (Because I’m that kind of hippie.)

“Maybe we should do the Mediterranean Diet. It’s supposed to lower cholesterol.”

Honey, I am Mediterranean. I am doing Mediterranean Diet all my life. If it was working, then I am not having genetically high cholesterol.”

Touché Turk. So I looked elsewhere. I read the China Study and that led to a series of other books and documentaries that touted the benefits of a plant-based diet. This was perfect. I love plants and we eat more legumes than normal people already. And, if the data were correct, this could allow me to live well beyond 100 so that I may burden my children and cause uproar with their spouses. Perfection.

“Family, we’re going plant-based.”

“No meat?” Number 1 asked.

“No meat, no dairy.”

“No cheethburgerth?” Nugget worried.

“We can have veggie burgers with soy cheese though.” I pasted on a huge grin hoping to sell the six year-old on my ridiculousness.

He crossed his arms, “That ith ridiculouth.”

Number 1 chimed in, “Why are you doing this? Do you hate us?”

“I’m fat and Baba’s old. We have to fix this.”

“So…you and Baba eat plants and we stick with burgers.” Number 1 struck a pose of defiance, “I am growing. I need meat to survive.”

“Me too.” Nugget yelled in solidarity.

“Fine.” I gave up…or so they thought. Instead I decided I would veggify my family against their knowledge. I replaced their meatballs with lentil balls, their ground beef with textured vegetable protein and their chicken with “chicken-less chicken.” And it worked too for a long time.

“Honey, have you felt different lately? Maybe less tired.” I asked.

The Turk wrinkled his forehead, “Actually, yes. I am not drinking coffee all the time. Not tired after lunch. Why? What you do to me?”

“Nothing….nothing at all, just wondering.”

Just when I got the Turk’s cholesterol on the down swing I was exposed.

They found my chickenless chicken, which led to a deeper dig revealing my meatless balls. Another case of spying exposed “tuna-less tuna salad” made with chickpeas. The rouse was up.

Fortunately, when I spun the whole plant-eating thing as a move towards saving the planet, the kids agreed to stay the course. However, a trip to IKEA nearly brought my demise.

“Mom, since we’re out, can I have the meatballs for lunch?” Number 1 asked. Part of the deal was to relinquish my meat rules for the kids when away from home.

I felt cold sweat streaming down my cleavage. This was it. I was going to lose him. His expectations had been humbled due to months void of meat and though I’m a huge fan of lentils, there is no way in hell they compare to actual meat. The IKEA menu offered lentil balls too. I could just say, “No. Don’t kill our world. Eat the meatless balls!” and guilt him but he’s old now and a man of almost 12 should make his own decisions.

I shuddered as he stepped off the wagon.  There would be no way to get him back on but I relented. “Ok.”

His fork lingered over the plate as he prepared for greatness. “These are going to be amazing.”

I avoided eye contact, returning to my own meatless balls as he devoured his plate of IKEA balls with a side of lingonberry jam (PS – I feel like a lingonberry is something made up by IKEA.)

When he was done I awaited his proclamation to return to the carnivorous life from henceforth, “Well?”

He shrugged, “Meh.”

My hopes rose, “What?”

“Not that great. Don’t take this the wrong way Mom, but I like your meatless balls better.”

Horns sounded. Confetti fell and I took a victory lap through the storage showroom. (Ok not really but in my head…)

The lesson learned here is that if you scheme and manipulate your family for their own benefit, it will work. Even if they don’t want it to because, obviously, mother knows best.

 

Squishy Warrior Down

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The email came in around mid-December, “Join the Winter Warrior Challenge! Sign-up Today!!!” As a squishy gal of the advanced forties with bad knees, asthma and a penchant for wine and chocolate, there is nothing in my being that screams “warrior.” At the very least I might scream, “negation team,” but definitely not “warrior.”  Still, I read on. The challenge was for each school divisions to form teams of staff and students. These teams would compete for the most miles covered by walking or running in the month of January. Solid idea right? It would fit well with my standard, be healthy, eat better, become less fat new years resolutions I make every year. Then, I read further.

“All miles must be completed outside, every day. Students can miss a day and they remain on the team but adults who miss a day of outdoor walking, running or biking are dropped from the competition and their miles are no longer add to the team total.” Hubba whaaaaaa? Outside? In January? In New England? Bitch please.

Sure I was born on the icy tundra of Iowa and I was forced to do farm chores in the sub-zero temperatures until I was spawning snot-sickles from my nose, but that is exactly why I left. (And while New England is cold, it doesn’t hold a candle to the cold of Iowa.) My ass has now developed a fine appreciation for central heating and heated steering wheels. Ain’t no way Mama’s goin’ back to the snot-sickle days.

That whole “outside” thing was where I decided this was the most ridiculous challenge of all time. Who would do this? Why would anyone do this? Oh, and what was the grand prize for braving frostbite for 31 days in a row? Amazon gift card? No. Cash money? No. Pizza party? Hells no. The grand prize for this torture was…bragging rights, freakin’ bragging rights. Let me say it again, bitch please.

And then it happened, “Hey guys, I think we should do the Winter Warrior Challenge. We can make a middle school special ed team.” My perky blonde co-worker with two working knees and not a squishy part on her body made the proclamation as I stuffed a piece of post-lunch Godiva into my pie-hole. I tried to take a hard pass but she kept coming back. “We can all do it together and get the kids involved too. It will keep us on track and make us accountable. Great way to start the new year right?” Did I mention how not squishy she is? If you’re not squishy do you really need to be kept on track and accountable? No. But once she’d managed to muster a growing team, pride would not allow me to be the squishy one in the corner, avoiding exercise and spending lunch with Godiva instead.

*Massive sigh* “Fine. I’m in.” I regretted those guilt-driven words the moment they passed my lips but there was no going back. I was about to be a squishy warrior.

Day one, 1/1/20 – *Ding* “Did you get your mile in girls?” the text read. Accountability sucks. But I’d treated myself with some Sherpa-lined sweatpants so I had that to motivate me. (PS – no size 14 butt needs the extra 2” on all sides provided by Sherpa-lined pants but damn, they’re warm.) Day one, done.

By day three, against my intentions, I was actually enjoying my time strolling through the neighborhood cemetery, amid the deceased founding fathers (It makes me feel alive.) listening to my true crime podcasts and waiting for my watch to give the 1-mile buzz and end my task. By the second week I was all in. I walked the track at school, braving sub-zero temperatures at lunchtime and if I couldn’t get my mile in during lunch I would hike up and down my driveway (The only advantage to a massive driveway.) as I waited for Nugget’s bus and on the weekends. Around the 18th  the thrill was gone but I pressed on. I’d come this far and I only had 12 more days to completion and damn it, I was a sub-zero soldier. I was going to see this challenge through.

Day 22: It was Arctic cold and I had no desire to do anything outside, least of all walk for a  stupid mile, but I had only 9 walks left once I finished this one. Even though I began as the most reluctant warrior on the roster, I was adding up the miles at a nice steady pace.  I donned my Sherpa pants and parka and headed out. Instantly, my tears froze and my mascara solidified. As I walked I hurdled patches of ice and remnants of the weekend snow but I pressed on. Until it happened. It was like a scene from Rambo when he gets hit, stumbles but doesn’t quite go down. I couldn’t breathe. I tried to push through like Rambo in a parka. I slowed my pace. I was going to finish the last .10 of a mile no matter what was happening inside my chest. The single digit temperature threw me into an asthma flare and mama needed some albuterol STAT. Crawling up the driveway, I hit the mile mark and rushed inside.

I spent the rest of the day sucking on my inhaler like I was tokin’ on a pipe. When that didn’t work I moved to the nebulizer. For the next two days I was a nice shade of blue as I struggled to get my lungs working again. I had more steroids coursing through me than the WWE in the ‘80s.

Day 23: It was over Johnny.  The squishy warrior had fallen. Only 8 miles left and no matter how much I wanted to, my lungs wouldn’t let me. And after a harsh lecture from my doctor, I accepted defeat. But at least the 22-plus miles I banged out would have helped me shed a few pounds, right? No. I gained three and spent $150 in asthma medicine and $200 in co-pays. Suck it warrior challenge. Next year when that perky blonde mentions the words Winter Warrior again, I will simply slink back to the corner with Godiva and accept my reality. Squishy for life.

 

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.

 

Winter Break In The Hot Zone

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School breaks are some of the most beautiful and magical times of life…if you are a teacher. If you’re the parent waiting at home maybe not so much. But as a teacher, just when every ounce of patience has been sucked from your soul and you cannot muster one more fake smile when someone asks the same question for the 7,899th time, break comes in and whisks you away.  

New England is sensible and thus spreads breaks out in a manner conducive to winter survival. Instead of being stuffed in your house for two hellish weeks at Christmas, they save a week and give it back as a little gift mid-February. It’s brilliant.

February break beckoned me like a siren for weeks. I’d pull myself out of bed with the promise of an impending week of freetime. My kids shared my motivation with that same promise. We didn’t need the promise of a beachy get-away, just staying in our jammies past 6:00 a.m. and vegging on the sofa. (We’re a simple people.)

With the dismissal bell on Friday I was dizzy with excitement. Nine glorious days lay in front of me, whatever would I do? Should I catch up on Oscar nominees? (Nah. I don’t care about the Oscars.) Should I face reality and do tax stuff? (Probably not. Taxes are a buzzkill) Would I finally drop of that bag of clothing donations that I’ve been driving around with for two months? (Spoiler alert- I didn’t and I’m likely to drive around with it for another 3 months.) It didn’t matter what I planned because I had time for everything.

Break got off to a nice start with a snowstorm. Number 1 and I sledded down our massive driveway until it morphed into an ice slide and my old ass required a dog sled to get back to the top. Nugget, who isn’t a fan of cold or snow,  made about two runs, both on my lap. As our saucer sled picked up speed that might rival an Indy car, trees rushed towards us and I sacrificed myself (and my ski pants) to save Nugget. When we’d completed our roll to safety Nugget shook himself back to sanity, “What da hell Mom?”

“Well Nugs, force equals mass times acceleration. We had a lot of mass on that run thus our acceleration was greatly increased.”  As often happens in our house, the 5 year-old understood physics well enough to nod in agreement. Science is our jam.

We filled our break with a sprinkling of playdates, television, sugary baked goods and lots of reading for Mom. This is where things took a bad turn. During an early morning news perusal, I learned the National Geographic channel is releasing a new docudrama and I have a freakish adoration of the NatGeo docudrama. This one is based on the 2001 classic book, The Hot Zone. Immediately, I decided that would be my winter break reading. I like to be prepared for my docudramas so if I run to the bathroom and miss a scene, I still know what’s going to happen because I read the book. (I’m not a fan of suspense.)

In case you are not an avid fan of the National Geographic Channel or if you missed The Hot Zone on it’s first run, it’s a stunning work of creative nonfiction chronicling the origins of the Ebola virus. Yep, my winter break leisure reading was a book about Ebola. (I nerd hard.) I was well past the chapters chronicling the initial infection in an African cave and into infection of the masses by the time Number 1’s tummy began to rumble.

“Mom, I don’t feel so good.”

And as is the requisite Mom retort in such situation I replied, “Did you poop today?”

“Mom, it’s not always about poop!”

Oh but it is kid, it is always about poop.

It didn’t occur to me that my son might have Ebola until he actually started throwing up and that is when the panic began to set in. As I rubbed my baby’s back and tried to play it cool, I couldn’t help but wish I’d hijacked a hazmat suit from my previous science lab. I could still offer love and console him from behind a plastic shield. The touch of a mother can transcend latex gloves.

My son unfortunately inherited my stomach and when he vomits he does it with such force that the neighbors know what’s going on. As he emerged from the bathroom with face and eyes mottled by broken blood vessels, my Ebola fears were confirmed. My first born was obviously in the beginnings of the red eyes and zombie-face mentioned as stage one of the disease in the book.

I covered the bed nearest the bathroom with sheets to prevent mass infection before allowing his body to touch only blankets from his bed that he’s already infected. Fortunately, it was my husband, the Turk’s, side of the bed.

“Mom, isn’t this a little excessive?” he asked as I snapped on my latex dishwashing gloves and began bleaching the entire bathroom.

“Nope.” I muttered from behind the respirator the Turk used for his last venture into the attic.

As the illness continued to ravage his young body, I tried to keep cool. I tried to convince myself it was only a stomach bug but the immense mass of crazy in my head wouldn’t let me. I reassured myself with the knowledge that the nurse in chapter 8 had survived Ebola infection so I might make it through too. While my actions appear be questionable, I am the better parent. At the first sign of illness, the Turk hightailed it out of the house to run copious “errands” and was not seen again until evening though he did phone in every hour to check status.(Most likely to see if it was safe to return.) A parent present, even in a hazmat suit, trumps the one who hides in fear at Home Depot.

By bedtime, I tucked my exhausted little boy in bed and it was over. We all braced ourselves for doom the following day but it never came. No one else got Ebola and we ended our break with more frivolity.  Perhaps it wasn’t Ebola or perhaps the knowledge garnered from my leisure reading saved us all. Either way, once again, the survival of our family can be credited to my intense love of really weird books. But I might have to shelve The Hot Zone until after cold and flu season.

 

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.

 

Misfortune Is Simply Fodder For Funny

falling down

We’ve all met that person who has a full cannon of personal anecdotes with stories so crazy, so outlandish that you end up wiping tears from your cheeks while you wonder to yourself, “This can’t be true, right?” Well, I’m here to tell you these stories are true. (Unless the storyteller is in a bar, then these might be big ol’ booze lies.)

I’ve recently come to the conclusion that there are people, like myself, whose lives are so ridiculous that our life’s purpose is to provide entertainment to the masses by sharing our tales. I’m also certain the universe crossed the paths of the Turk and I all those years ago for no other reason than to make us the life of every party we attend by recounting our daily foibles and if last week is any indicator, there is no hope of things changing.

It began on Sunday. I was working in the yard when I heard the vacuum. Since I’d vacuumed an hour earlier, this Nancy Drew needed to investigate. As I called to him from the garage, he began to stammer his now frequent catch phrase. “Don’t worry, I fix it.”

No woman, anywhere, ever wants to hear the phrase “Don’t worry, I fix it.” Ever.

Inside the house, I found a dusting of drywall with bits of plaster coating half of the living room and interspersed within the furniture were huge chunks of insulation. Reflexively I looked up to the vaulted ceiling and released a large, involuntary, “Ohhhhhh nooooo.”

The Turk stood at the top of the stairs, right below the giant hole in my living room ceiling. Sheepishly he added, “I fix it. Don’t worry. Next week I take vacation and I do it then. Don’t worry.”

He’d gone into the attic to check on a leak and prepare to install a ceiling fan (Another project he felt capable of executing after watching a couple YouTube videos. God help us.)

“You stepped off the beams didn’t you?” I asked.

“How you know?”

“Because in American houses there is nothing between the beams.”

He looked down at me with utter confusion. “How I know that? In Turkey houses are concrete.”

Touche.

“At least I didn’t fall through there,” he added pointing to a full set of six other dent/not quite holes, going across the ceiling.

—-

That was Sunday. Monday was uneventful followed by a Tuesday that started the same but escalated quickly to hot mess status.

Thanks to summer storms, we dealt with a long day of power outages so though I’m usually a frugal gal, (cheap ass and tight wad have also been used to describe me but I prefer frugal.) I declared, “We’re going out for dinner!”

As we enjoyed a dinner prepared by someone other than myself and served in an air conditioned establishment, I cut a deal with the Turk – “Help Number 1 get ready for football tryouts with a little catch or fold the 3 loads of laundry I busted out between power outages.” The choice might seem obvious but in our house, football is my jam so it could go either way. (For a recap of our football journey, check out this previous entry.)

“I take football.” And those were his famous last words.

Minutes later a small voice outside yelled, “Um, Mom…Mom…Mom!!!!” immediately followed by a loud Nugget voice yelling, “Mom! Baba is boken.”

From the upstairs window I could see the Turk writhing on the ground and spewing Turkish profanity. His thrashing body was mere inches from a hole I’d asked him to fill for the past two years (Isn’t it always?) so I bit my tongue and yelled from the window, “Are you broken?”

“Evet.” (‘Yes’ in Turkish. We go bilingual for clarity in states of emergency.)

“Do you need help?” I called; wanting to make sure it was real and not soccer field drama being employed to get out of playing catch, before I abandoned my laundry pile.

He switched back to English, “I think I need go hospital.”

After some Turkish profanity on my part, and an epic level of tongue-biting around the whole hole situation, I loaded up one broken Turk and two half-breed Turks and headed to the ER where I nervously filled the silence with statements like, “You’ve only been an American for 4 years, you’re not American enough for football yet.” And “Next time I bet you choose laundry.” (FYI – Unless you’re open to sarcasm, nervous joking and huge bouts of impatience, I’m the last person you want by your side in an Emergency Room.)

…3 hours later we had a diagnosis of a fractured ankle along with a pair of crutches, orders to put no weight on it until he went to the orthopedist and a prescription for pills that made him so goofy I thought he might have to sleep it off in the car.

Thankfully, by the end of the week the orthopedist put him on one crutch and a walking boot. It was a damn good thing too because when it comes to caregiving I am nothing short of Nurse Ratchett and between one immobile Turk and two incredibly needy ½ Turks, a few more days might have given me a ticket to a vacation at Betty Ford Rehab.

So that was last week, and while most of our weeks don’t usually result in a maiming, the level of drama is constant and this summer has been no different.

The other day Number 1 Son said, “Mom, why do you always laugh when bad things happen? It’s a little psycho.”

I replied, “Well son, yes I am a little psycho, but years ago I learned that with this ridiculous life, if I didn’t laugh and entertain people with my crazy tales, I’d be dead.”

He nodded in understanding but I think that was just for the part where I admitted to being a little psycho.

There are 2 weeks left before school starts and 4 more weeks before the Turk is out of his cast. That’s a lot of room for more ridiculousness. But fret not, I’ll keep sharing my stories because clearly it’s my station in life. I’m preparing for my canonization somewhere in my 60s..St. Margaret of the Turks…what do you think?

 

 

When Cross-Cultural Appliance Buying Goes Wrong

STORE-M0RE-FREEZER

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

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

“How good this is right?” He beamed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t worry. I take care this.”

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

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

Finally last week I lost it.

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

“Ok” he muttered.

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

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

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

 

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Hells Yeah, It’s Thanksgiving Gurl!

turkey-riding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAPPY THANKSGIVING From the Turks!!!!