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…

 

 

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The Birthday Clock Never Stops…

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Birthdays are awesome…until you’re about 22. Then instead of offering milestones to greatness, birthdays start tallying up the years. When you hit 30 the tally shows adulthood is inevitable. 35 means it’s time to actually stop lying about it and actually start a retirement fund. When the calendar flips to 40 you can literally feel your gums recede and the fluid actually drain from your knees. I’m pretty sure the number associated with my recent birthday led to my immediate development of diabetes while my cholesterol skyrocketed and I gained 5 pounds of belly fat all within a two hour span. Aging blows.

What I wouldn’t give to spring out of bed and…(wait, let’s just stop there. What I wouldn’t give to spring out of bed period.) but really, wouldn’t it be great to have the same excitement about your birthday at 50 that you had at 5? (FYI, I’m not 50…not yet man, don’t make it any worse.) You know, that kind of excitement that leads to wearing a paper crown with your number on the front and telling every human or mammal you encounter, “Today is my birthday! Give me cake!”

My darling husband, The Turk, has never been great with holidays. I’m still waiting for a much-hyped 10th anniversary celebration and we’re only a little ways out from our 11th. Anniversaries are not his jam but he is coming around on birthdays. This year he shopped for a gift almost an entire week before my actual birthday, a massive improvement over days of old when he would head to the nearest supermarket for some expired roses moments before closing. No, this year he even took the boys along for help. Unfortunately, that was where things went wrong.

Within moments of returning and seconds after hiding the goods, Nugget with his newly acquired language skills, beamed, “Mom, we got you asshole atch.” Hubba whaaaaaa? Though Number 1 son and the Turk tried desperately to shush him, Nugget would not be silenced. “Asshole atch.” He told me again while squirming away from the hands desperately trying to cover his motor-mouth.

Because I may be geriatric  but still possess the maturity of a 12 year old boy, I immediately began to see images in my disturbed mind of sparkly buttcheeks sitting atop my wrist with a rapidly moving second hand shaped like a stink cloud. This caused me to laugh even harder. (I really am 12. It’s ok. I own it.) “You unt asshole atch?” The Nugget persisted.

While I was busy wiping the tears from my face, Number 1 was livid. “I can’t believe you told her! It was supposed to be a surprise! You suck Nugget!” Number 1 was right. He did suck but in Nugget’s defense, no one had any clue he was a blabbermouth because this was his first violation.

Somewhere around two, Nugget was diagnosed with Childhood Apraxia of Speech – which involves a misfiring of neurons the prevent kids from being able to get the information from their brain to their lips to get the words out. Up until the past few months, Nugget had only signed and offered a few brief sentences using only vowels. Since he was a silent partner, for most of his 3 1/2 years, he’d been dragged along on many secret missions with all of us comfortable in the knowledge that our secrets were safe with him. Not so now it seems.

Now that Nugget has his hearing aid so he’s hearing all the sounds, is immersed in his special school with daily speech therapy and basically spends 3 hours each day working on his communication skills, he has exploded and there is no putting any cat back in any bag. The kid never shuts up.

You can see the thought process he goes through to get every sound out. His determination is astonishing. But, as illustrated in the case of the asshole ach, he’s still working on quite a few sounds like F. Every time anyone asks him to form an F he shoots back a look that insinuates F is not an actual sound and that we are clearly F-ing with him. I consider this the universe helping a sister out since he’s already demonstrated high skill with profanity thus far that last thing that kid needs is the power of the f-bomb. Sometimes only those closest to him understand him, but sometimes (usually with his favorite phrases like – ‘what the hell?’ Or, ‘oh for godsake!’) he’s a clear as a bell. It’s a process but after 3 years of silence, we’ll take every bit of it. (Until he gets suspended from PreK for that profanity bit…)

Nugget definitely blew the surprise by telling me all about my APPLE watch and quite honestly, there were about a hundred other things I might have requested over a pricey Dick Tracy wrist piece…like a dishwasher that actually washes the dishes…or the downpayment on a car younger than my offspring…or that dental work that keeps getting shoved to the back burner over and over again. But now that I’ve got it, I do quite enjoy it, probably since I spent most of the 70’s talking to my wrist pretending to be Maxwell Smart and now I’m legit.

As the Turk said, “It your birthday. You deserve special thing you do not ask for.” True that Turk, and though I didn’t ask for an asshole watch, hearing that Nugget tell me all about it is exactly what I’ve wanted.

Hells Yeah, It’s Thanksgiving Gurl!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAPPY THANKSGIVING From the Turks!!!!

When Bedtime Stories Go Bad…A Cautionary Tale

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

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

“Baba, you skipped three pages.”

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

“Baba, you said that word wrong.”

      “No, that is how we say.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

I Said, Stop Growing Up! Now!

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Parenthood has an uncanny way of making one painfully aware of the speed at which life travels while simultaneously pointing out the snail’s pace required by some developmental processes. In other words, one minute you’re like, “How in the hell did you outgrow the pants I bought two weeks ago?” while in the next breath you’re uttering, “Sweet Jesus child, are you ever going to wipe your own butt?” It’s a balance.

Thanks to his special needs and health issues, I’ve spent the past year oooing and ahhhing over Nugget’s developmental strides like him finally saying “Om!” (Mom) while we prepare for Developmental Preschool. Nugget’s strides don’t make me feel old; they make me feel elated. But Number One Son, on the other hand, his made recent developments that make me feel like screaming “NO! Stop! SOMEBODY SLOW THIS CRAP DOWN!”

A week from now Number One is starting 3rd grade and while it’s not as traumatic as that almighty kindergarten start that haunts a mother for months prior, it’s still a reminder of how freakin’ fast this whole childhood thing goes. (And, if you’re old like me, how much closer you are to the end. Ew.)

To further confirm my suspicion that Number One Son was growing up way faster than I am prepared for, we had a week of events to prove it. It started with a sleepover invite.

“We’d like Richard’s best buds to come for a sleep over to celebrate his birthday!”

Richard? When did they become best buds? Why don’t I know they are best buds? What is this secrecy?

I did my best Nancy Drewing and was met with, “Duh Mom, he was at my birthday party and we played basketball every day at lunch.” Clearly in the world of mini-men, that is all it takes to catapult one into BFF status. (Just another way life is easier for the male species.) But the real issue is, why did he withhold this information from his beloved Smother?

I’m not a sleepover fan. They make me nervous and kick my doom and gloom anxiety into overdrive. Because of this, to date; we’ve had one…just one, sleepover…and we knew those people pretty well and I was still nervous. We did meet Richard’s father and Richard’s dog when they dropped him off at Number One’s B-day, and while he seemed like a nice enough guy with a seemingly well-behaved K-9, I had some reservations. In hindsight, I probably should not have shared those reservations with the kid though.

“I don’t know Number One, I don’t think you can stay over. We don’t know these people.”

“Mom, it will be fine. They’re nice.”

“You don’t know that. What if they have a gun in the house? Or worse, what if they have an entire semi-automatic arsenal and shooting range in their basement. This is Indiana, you know.”

“You always say that Mom. I’m sure they don’t.”

“You say that now but you won’t be saying that when you come home with a hand shot off.”

*massive 8 year old eyeroll* “MOM!”

“Ok, then what if they are Trump supporters? You know, you are a half-breed and those Trumpagogs don’t take kindly to one-half of your people. This is Indiana, you know.”

“There was only one kid in our class who liked Trump and it wasn’t Richard. I choose smart friends Mom.” (Right on Number One.)

“Well, it’s a rough time for Turks right now and maybe these people are undercover operatives working for Erdogan planning to take you hostage under the suspicion of being a Gulenist, and they will then extradite you back to your birth place where you will be subjected to life in prison with no chance of a fair trail. Did you ever think of that?”

“Was that even English Mom? You watch too much Turkish news.”

Eventually, I put the discussion on hold with the whole, “Let’s see what Baba says.” Knowing the Turk’s overprotective tendencies, I figured I was safe. But no. Instead he told Number One – “Maybe. We think about it.”

Nooooo! Why ya gotta do me like that Turk?

After putting the kid off as long as we could, my crazy won the Turk over and we said “no” as a united force. (I’m pretty sure it was the Turkish operative thing.) We did compromise and let him stay at the party until 9:00 and Number One, who is a rabid homebody, was secretly ok with it in the end.

But then there was the girl. There is an awesome little broad who was in Number One’s class last year and happens to live across the neighborhood. Every so often she pops over on her scooter and wants to play. But she doesn’t want to play dumb stuff, she wants to have water gun battles, or shoot hoops or play Star Wars. She’s the kind of girl who gets hurt and lets the blood run without a tear shed, because she damn sure isn’t going to get left behind. She’s badass and this week she popped by.

Normally, Number One plays for 5 minutes and gives the brush off, but not this time. This time he was enthralled and when she started breaking out obscure Star Wars facts, I saw him blush. BLUSH! Aw hells no kid. I mean, big picture –- yes, this is the exact kind of girl I will be choosing for him as a life partner in 20 years so I guess it’s good to see he’s on the right path…but now? Really? No. Just no. There will be no love interests at age 8.

I do love that badass little chick but I’m not above starting a smear campaign to keep my little boys hanging on to the apron strings. My Beverly Goldberg hand is strong and I intend to keep my little pookies all mine for as long as possible…at least until they’re old enough to hold lucrative employment. Then I’ll charge rent but my boys can stay as long as they like! (Apologies to my future daughters-in-law but these boys are mama’s boys for the long haul.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I Found Dory…Kind Of…

woman with fish

That little orange hellcat Nemo, is like a rock icon in the birth defects world. (Yes, that is a thing.) He’s the mascot for a variety of groups because what better point of reference for a one-eared Microtian (like my Nugget) or a kid with a limb difference than a sassy orange whippersnapper. For kids like mine, Nemo is the man…or the fish…I guess.

With Finding Dory hitting the big screens, it’s good to have that little finned wonder back in full force when Nugget is old enough to be targeted by the typically outlandish marketing campaign. I assumed we’d see Dory eventually, likely at home because convincing Nugget to sit through an entire movie in a quiet theatre is basically akin to overseeing union negations with a bunch of drunken longshoremen. But a few days ago in a moment of weakness, I loaded up my tiny Turks and hit a morning matinee.

What prompted such madness? Heat stroke? Hormonal imbalance? Sign language threats from a knee-high Nugget? While all could be viable options, it was none of those. Rather, in my numerous special needs parenting groups, again and again posts touted that every parent of a special needs kid needs, nay, must, see Finding Dory. Now, special needs parents are not “must” kind of people. Unlike those broads on the frontline of the Mommy Wars (which I’m pretty sure didn’t exist before Facebook and might I add – girls, this crap really needs to end.) special needs parents never tell you what you should or shouldn’t do with your kid, but rather we’re more “hey, anything is worth a try” kind of people. So these recommendations held weight.

Over the past couple weeks, Nugs and I have been butting heads like a couple of mountain goats. (Goats or rams? No clue, but you get the point.) And while I attribute much of this to turning three in a month, it’s a lot more than that. We’re out of sync. So under the guise of “hey, anything is worth a try,” I hoped that finding that crazy Dory might give me some guidance. (Desperate times my friends, desperate times.)

Nugget’s been rough lately for a few reasons. For one, having a super-talkative big brother (who never shuts up) home all summer makes Nugget want to talk…which is awesome…but thanks to his apraxia of speech, he can only say vowels with the rare odd consonant. He’ll address me with phrases like, “Ay un a o ou a oo.” If I don’t immediately translate his drunken ramblings into Standard English he slaps his head and yells, “Ugh!” If I ask him to sign it, he yells, “O om!” (no Mom) while stomping off muttering “arggggg.” It’s like living with Charlie Brown. (And full disclosure, I’ve always had Lucy tendencies. The kid better not try to kick a football…)

We’ve always battled frustration meltdowns that happen when he misunderstands situations due to his hearing loss but now, since he thinks he’s talking (I guess he can’t hear the missing sounds?) he doesn’t want to sign, so no one understands him. Add to this his genetic combo of two hotheaded ethnicities and he’s become as aggressive as a linebacker with roid rage. Just to push me a bit further, he’s also developed a new love of the spontaneous nudist life (People, things have occurred in recent days that will likely take years of therapy to erase from my memory…one word…poop.). So even Dory was worth a shot. 

Five minutes into previews, Nugget said he was done and wanted to go. (Hey kid, I just shucked out 30 bucks for tickets and we are staying at least through the opening credits!) As any good (read- cheap ass) mother does, I began pulling a small grocery store’s inventory out of my “purse” in the hopes of feeding him into complacency. That bought me ten minutes until he screamed, “air uus ox?” (Where’s my juice box?) Unfortunately, an usher was unexpectedly fluent in drunken vowel speak and immediately got all up in my business. I had no choice but to hit concessions and buy a $50 box of M&Ms.

The rest of the movie was a combo of wrestling, walking up and down the stairs (again and again and again) and watching from the entrance but at least we made it to the closing credits. And while Dory didn’t solve all my problems as I’d hoped, I did walk away with three bits of knowledge.

  1. I’m never taking this kid to a movie ever again. Ever. Never.
  2. It’s really hard to fix a hearing aid in a dark theatre, especially after it has been flung down the aisle by an angry child.
  3. The groups were right – special needs parents really do need to see this movie.

Dory’s parents wanted to shield her from the world because she was born with something that was going to make life difficult for her, much more difficult than for other fish. The same is true for parents of kids born with special needs. We parents know how hard life is and how much harder is it going to be for our special little guys. Once her parents realized they couldn’t hide Dory away, just like the rest of us, Dory’s parents armed her with ways to adapt and hoped for the best. It’s the same for Nugget. I’d do anything to make his journey easier but sometimes the best I can do is arm him with tools to make his own way. I think right now we’re just stuck in a phase of tool development and he’s testing the waters in preparation for finding his own way when school starts.

I’ve thought a lot about that damn blue fish over the past days and I must say, it helps. Not quite as much as that glass of wine after he finally goes to sleep, but the movie did make things more clear. If for no other reason, it reminded us both to “just keep swimming.”

 

 

I Think My Spirit Guide is a Wrestling Quaker

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With the exception of a stint in a private school owned by the Turkish mafia (What? Mafia bosses care about education too.) and a year in public school, I’ve spent my entire teaching career in Quaker schools. If you’re not familiar with Quaker schools let me nutshell it for you. Quaker schools were created by the Religious Society of Friends (Codename: Quakers) to educate their young’uns, although now most students are not Quakers. These are groovy, progressive schools where equality is the norm, community service is part of the curriculum and you can’t help but get sucked into their hippie thinking. (Quakers are pretty badass for pacifists.)

After many years in various Quaker schools, the Quaker way is deeply rooted in my thinking and parts of it occasional spring forth from my cluttered brain in times of need. This week, one Quaker idea has really been poppin’ thanks to my one-eared, bum kidneyed, hard of hearing, apraxic, high-strung, Nugget’s latest journey and that’s the idea that “a way opens.” It started in the dairy section of Aldi. (Yes, I’m a value shopper. No shame in that.) I heard, “Relax, a way opens,” over and over in the voice of my former coworker Mr. Ross, a wrestling coach/hippie Quaker. (I’m guessing this means he’s my spirit guide. I’m not sure how that works but admitting I hear voices sounds like a cry for help so I’m going with spirit guide.)

Most likely, Mr. Ross became my spirit guide because he was the one who best explained the theory to me many years ago. “If there’s a rock in the stream, the water doesn’t try to break the rock. The water makes a new way around the rock. Thus, a way opens.” It was pretty Zen for a dude who spent most of his time in headlocks and half nelsons. Ultimately, it might not be the road you were planning to travel, but a road will open, in time.

Right now, I really need a way to open in the, choosing-a-school-for-the-One-Eared-Wonder arena. As of August he phases out of Early Intervention and moves on to big boy school, but due to summer break decisions must be made now. We have 3 choices: the ASL based deaf school, the speech based deaf school with no ASL or the all encompassing developmental preschool which I lovingly liken to the Island of Misfit Toys- everybody who needs a little extra help can find it there.

We tried the ASL deaf school earlier this year and even though signing is his first language, it was a di- freakin’-saster. (Here, in case you missed it.) Since his main issue now is developing speech I had grand plans for him to attend the speech-based deaf school but after demonstrating a flagrant disregard for his mother’s plans by throwing his placement evaluation like Pete Rose in a title game, I began to worry. After discussions with his developmental pediatrician, speech therapist and audiologist last week my grand plans began to crack. All three suggested that due to Nugget’s increasing anxiety issues, he might not be ready for a speech intensive school. Why ya gotta do me like this Nug? Mama had a plan.

With every professional suggesting a holding pattern, I knew what they were really saying…look how well he’s done with you this year… you should give him one more year…stay home with him, just one more year. Sure I nodded and claimed I’d give proper consideration, while my insides screamed “NOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Now I certainly love my Nug and I will agree this has been a great year for him developmentally, but regular viewers may recall my fear of financial ruin forcing me to take up pole dancing on cellulite night as a means of survival. That fear hasn’t diminished and I’m staying flexible just in case. Here in the real world Mama needs to bring in some dough and while I’d love to stay home (Ok, not really, 24/7 Nugget duty is hard and I’m old.) I really must get back to the workforce.

Going back to work not only means freedom from the threat of pole dancing, it also means wearing pants not intended for yoga. (While I enjoy my yoga pants, my pants have not been exposed to yoga in the past year and Mama desperately needs the stand-up-and-suck-it-in goodness that occurs with a waistband.) I long for commutes where my sports radio is not disturbed by constant demands for It’s Signing Time Music Time. (Yes, I’m butch like that but only during football season.) I want lunch without that little bastard Daniel Tiger and coffee that doesn’t have remnants of a toddler’s masticated bagel. All of that is at my fingertips if I just get this school thing right. See, I’ve already taken a teaching position for next school year. (Now you see my plan? Mommy goes to school, Number 1 is in school, Nugget starts school. Easy peasy…or not.) So the need for accurate Nugget placement is high.

Hopefully my Spirit Guide is right and soon, a way will open. In the past, through all our trials, (And there have been an inordinate amount, damn it) a way has always opened. It wasn’t always what I’d hoped for but it’s always worked out, eventually. (Though I may now have a compromised liver and nervous tick, everything has to resolve, eventually.) On an up note, somehow in this stress, I developed not an ulcer, but rather a wrestling Quaker spirit guide so it seems my body has learned to handle stress differently this year. Perhaps a way is opening…

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I’ve Found a New High Horse and I’m Mountin’ Up

 

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As a long-time teacher, former world traveler, previous expat and world news junkie, I am well versed in the practice of climbing atop my high horse. And at the risk of sounding vain, might I add that perched upon my mighty steed, arms clutching research and eye-witness accounts, nose cocked as I stare over my glasses with a smug, judgmental gaze, I look damn good on a high horse.

Before my days were filled with boogers and butt wiping, I rode many a high horse. I was rigid about genocide after researching in Rwanda, dogmatic about the effects of lifelong fighting on children after a month in Belfast, authoritarian about Turkish politics after living there, emphatic about immigration after marrying the Turk (and being screwed by INS like a high end call girl) and the list goes on. But in the past few years, motherhood has caused me to stable my high horse. While I feel the occasional flare up from the old palomino when an unsuspecting fool makes a comment about immigrants (While my gut says, scream “Oh no you didn’t” I’ve found that isn’t as effective as a fact-filled, first hand account smack-down.) for the most part, I’ve been on the down low. Until now.

I’m new to this whole deaf and hard of hearing world and thus it will be quite some time before I’m ready to sit firmly upon the ol’ high horse regarding any of those issues. However, there is one subject on this journey that has been causing me to feel a stirring deep within, and while I first thought it might be my high-fiber diet, I realized that feeling is the need to mount my high horse and advocate in the arena of early language acquisition through ASL.

There are various schools of thought regarding language acquisition for deaf and hard of hearing kids. Some say sign only. Some say spoken English only. (Which is kind of stupid because that’s expecting a kid who can’t hear to be able to learn to speak… but I digress.) There are those who believe signing slows oral development (which has been proven wrong again and again). There are those who think signing alienates. And then there are those who think –give those babies every option and let them make the choice. I fall into the latter and now, almost a year later I’ve got good reason to believe the ‘give them both’ concept is the answer.

Last summer we learned that though Nugget was 2, his expressive language was that of a 6 month old. Even though he had one working ear and usually that should’ve been giving him enough access to speech to get him talking, it wasn’t so it was suggested we begin using ASL. I wasn’t expecting that. How was I going to teach my child a language I didn’t even know? How was I going to learn ASL? (I’m old and thanks to age, wine, and an excessive amount of Aqua Net in the 80’s, my brain cells were not in top form and learning Turkish had pretty much taken my last good ones.) I was told I needed to wade into a world completely foreign to me, again, and honestly, I didn’t want to. But I knew something had to happen. Nugget was trapped without a way to express his needs and boy, was he pissed.

Within weeks of meeting our Fairy Deaf Godmother (who waves her wand and suddenly he signs) everything changed. Once Nugget could discern his need and specify, “I’d like a dry martini” over “I just pooped,” his demeanor changed immediately. (No, he’s never ordered a dry martini but I felt it was a good sign for me to learn…you know…just in case.) While he still has latent tyrannical tendencies, it’s nothing like before.

In less than a year he’s developed an ASL vocabulary of close to 200 signs, knows his colors, numbers and much of the alphabet. He’s beginning to sign sentences and even tells me stories. What’s more, he’s begun to speak. (Oh not well or anything and with the exception of the words “go” and “hi” it’s like playing charades with a marble-mouthed drunk but he’s trying.) ASL gave him communication, which lessened his stress and gave him the confidence to play with speech. We gave him both languages and he’s deciding. Before he mostly signed but now he tries to say the word and signs it so I understand. Maybe someday he will only speak. It’s his choice.

Add to that incidents like today and I’m confident that the “give them both” approach is right. While Nugs and I were making an emergency toilet paper run to the store, we detoured to the donut counter. As we signed our conversation about donut selection, I noticed an older man watching. The man asked if Nugget was deaf and I told him ½ but he’s learning both ASL and English so he can communicate in whichever language is easier for him. The man smiled and said, “Thank you.” He pointed to his own hearing aids and told me, “I was born deaf but in 1944 they thought if you forced deaf kids into normal schools they’d learn to speak. I didn’t even have a hearing aid until I was older. I learned to lip read but it’s never been easy. I always wished I ‘d learned to sign. You’re doing the right thing. He’s going to do great.” (Oh you know that gave me a huge case of the feels.)

Communication is hard. Being a kid is hard. Being a kid who can’t communicate? Aw hells no. So as I continue on this journey and watch Nugget develop, I feel the need to get back in the saddle, clutching my research and first-hand knowledge, stare over my glasses judgmentally and say, “For the love of God people, shut up and give them both!”

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The Heathen Has An Easter Epiphany

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Ah, Easter. As practicing heathens it’s not really that exciting for us, (though you won’t catch either of us passing up the chance to decapitate a chocolate bunny). We don’t go to mass because I’d hate to have my skin catch fire from the holy water in front of all those poor, innocent, kids just waiting to have their Easter baskets blessed. We don’t go to egg hunts because Nugget is such a tyrant right now that we can’t afford the lawsuits he’d likely generate unleashed upon the toddler masses. We’ll hide a few plastic eggs in the yard that we will continue to find until August, stuff some baskets and have our annual Turkish/American cultural confusion chat about how an egg laying bunny ties in with that whole Jesus on the cross scenario. (It’s been nine years and I still haven’t mastered an explanation deemed suitable. Did Lucy and Ricky have the same struggle?)

Though we tend to keep Easter pretty low-key, thanks to my occasional practice of lapsed Catholicism and the Midget’s post-Catechism questions I have been able to keep one foot in the Lenten guilt pool and thanks to all that guilt, I had an Easter Epiphany this week and it had absolutely nothing to do with egg laying bunnies. (Though I do deserve a few medicinal Cadbury Eggs for the stress.)

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, (Here it is in case you missed it.) Nugget started a preschool program at the deaf school. The goal was to boost his ASL, get him familiar with the deaf and hard of hearing culture and give this tired old lady a break. Three hours, two days a week, that was it. It didn’t start well but due to my Irish/Catholic genetic make-up, I was certain that tough love was all he needed to find his way.

School days played out like this: I’d drop him off. He’d scream bloody murder. I’d depart, blowing kisses and promising to return soon while frantically signing I’m so sorry to his teachers. Then I’d sit in my car until my stomach lining had eaten itself from guilt before heading off.

I’ve spent most of my life working with kids and I know it is a rare unicorn that does not freak out when first dropped at preschool. I also know that most kids calm down after a belief distraction or in particularly bad cases, after an hour. However, upon my return (every damn time) Nugget’s face was tear-stained, he was sniffling and he would hug me like I’d just returned from war rather than from the Starbucks on the corner. Through  signed conversations with his teachers (parts of which I’m sure I didn’t catch) I learned he’d cried the entire time. They reassured me that in time he would grow accustomed but by week three I wasn’t buying it.

At home he stopped working on his speech. Before he started preschool he had about a dozen word approximations, all vowels and only translatable by me or one fluent in drunken mumbling by toothless vowel speakers, but compared to where he’d started, it was huge. He’d again grown ridiculously attached, like after his kidney surgery. He was so bad that my attempts to pee alone would send him into a fit of terror. On school mornings he would sign, don’t want to go to school over and over and as soon as we pulled onto school grounds he would have a toddler-sized panic attack, hyperventilating and all.

After each drop off the Turk would call and ask me if it had gone better and with each, “Hells no,” he’d tell me to give up. Turks don’t like to cause their babies any undue stress or pain. (They don’t feel the same towards adults. Ask my mother-in-law.)

Last week when I left I had that feeling mothers get when they know something isn’t right. Carol Brady called it “women’s intuition.” I call it, “crap, I screwed up.” It felt like we might be doing more harm than good. I did some Googling, because that’s how I roll at this parenting game, did some thinking, called everyone whose opinion matters and let it simmer.

The Irish/Catholic mother in me wanted him to suck it up. The teacher in me worried he was manipulating me because what’s more fun, going to school or cruising the aisles of Trader Joe’s with mom? The tired old mom in me hated to see her tiny break go and the special needs mom in me realized this was a situation requiring an entirely different examination.

I’m pretty new to this special needs parent thing and it seems to get more complicated the older they get. I learned this week that parenting a special needs kid is pretty much like starting all over again. All those things I learned about momming the first time around, don’t necessarily apply. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t and it’s trying to figure that out that is responsible for my increased frequency of visits with Miss Clairol to cover my ever-spreading gray.

Through my fog of guilt and torment, I realized there are lots of things to take into consideration with my Nug that I didn’t have to with his brother. Like the fact that his chronological age and developmental age aren’t necessarily the same and that his medical past has a huge effect on his anxiety and that sensory issues are real. (Even though I always thought they were just a wuss-out.) Most of all, I learned sometimes boundaries aren’t meant to be pushed and I think that’s what Nugget was trying to tell me.

So we’re taking a break. I’d never have done it with his brother and I’d never recommend it as a teacher. But my Easter Epiphany taught me that being a special needs parent means knowing your kid and making decisions that work just for him reguardless if those decisions fly in the face of traditional theory. My Easter Epiphany also taught me that no one is more valuable in these situations than other special needs parents because you really can’t understand unless you’ve been there.

Is this the right decision?  Who knows, but my gut thinks so and Nugget seems to agree.  That’s the other thing I’m learning about special needs parenting, much like all parenting – it’s a crapshoot, so kiss the dice and let it roll. (Meanwhile I’ll be snarfing down chocolate eggs while I wait to see what happens.)

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