4 Wise Men and Krampus Wished Me a Merry Christmas

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Ten days ago, a goat appeared in my mailbox. It was a small goat, carved of wood with a couple of crazy-ass eyes that did conjure thoughts of Krampus, the half goat, half man Christmas demon. It was wrapped in tissue with “On The First Day…” scrawled on the paper. Immediately, as one does in situations such as this, I began to sing. (When faced with a mystery everyone sings right? Didn’t Matlock?) In my sought-after style resembling a tone-deaf church lady, I sang, “On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…a goat in my mailbox.” Hubba whaaa? I am known for my extreme skill at misquoting lyrics, (You will never convince me it’s not really Big ‘ole Jeff left the lights on instead of Big ‘ole jet airliner) but I could’ve sworn it was a partridge in a pear tree.

Entrenched in end of semester grading and swimming through the pain that is the lead up to Christmas break, I didn’t have any extra brain cells to spend on my mailbox Krampus so I tucked him in the napkin bin and chalked it up to something quirky in my strangely friendly neighborhood. (For real, people bring you baked goods in this ‘hood and they are not even laced with weed or trying to convince you to becoming a Jehovah’s Witness. Definitely unlike all of our old ‘hoods.)

It was all rather innocuous until the Turk found the goat and with a quiver of panic in his voice said, “Wat is dis? Is religious thing?”

My darling husband The Turk, simply by being from a Muslim country, frequently finds himself the recipient of unwarranted advances from the devout of Indiana hoping to save his soul. (If only they knew it was a lost cause long before he married this lapsed Catholic infidel.) The poor guy has received more invitations to attend church than a Kardashian has had butt lifts. (I don’t get the whole ‘come to church with me thing’. In the Catholicism I grew up with, if you weren’t part of the club by birth, we offered you nothing more than a cool welcome and a rear pew.)

Given his experiences, it made sense that he assumed the goat was another attempt to convert the foreign neighbor to some form of Christianity. I however, not nearly as sane as my husband, went to a much darker place.

As a long-time crime show connoisseur and the proud owner of a ridiculously wild imagination, I surmised I knew the real meaning behind the goat in my mailbox and when two more goats arrived on day three, my suspicions were all confirmed.

On day three, upon returning home from a long day at school I opened my mailbox to find 2 more carved animals with the crazy-ass Krampus eyes. A snowstorm had forced my stalker to double up on a delivery. A total of three tissue clad, goats was too many. It was time to open an investigation.

Thanks to my incredibly warped and well trained mind, I concluded I had 9 days left to live as I was now facing death by bludgeoning with a goat horn underneath my Christmas tree, orphaning my children and leaving my Turk a widower. (Which also meant I had 9 days to line him up with a new wife because I love him that crazy bastard too much to leave him to handle life on his own.) While changing into my evening yoga pants, I took a quick glance through my closet to choose my 12th day of Christmas ensemble because even though I’d be dead, I still wanted to look good when they showed footage of the crime scene on Dateline.

Once I’d covered those important things, I laid out my investigation. (Using the scientific method of course, because when you spend your days drilling it into the minds of middle schoolers, it infects your world.)

Question: Who is leaving secret messages in my mailbox and what is their motive?

Hypothesis: I hypothesize that the messages are a warning that I will be killed by a crazy-eyed goat on the 12th day of Christmas.

Procedure:

  1.  Establish a perimeter
  2. Dust mailbox for prints
  3. Set up surveillance
  4. Swab goats for DNA and run any findings through CODIS
  5. Install a camera in the mailbox, record all criminal activity. Isolate images of any questionable individuals and run the images through FBI facial recognition software.
  6. Interview neighbors in the hopes of identifying suspicious behavior.

Since steps 1 – 5 were hard and would likely be a lot of work and I had laundry to do and dinner to make, I decided to skip ahead to step 6. I sent a text to my neighbor on the right.

  Me: Weird question, but have you been receiving any small carved goats in your mailbox recently?

            Her : Um no. It’s 4:00. Are you drinking already?

            Me: Perhaps. Do you think these are a sign that someone is coming to kill me?

           Her: Totally. You should have some wine to relax.

I told you this neighborhood was idyllic.

Having reached a dead end with the right side neighbor, I went left.

   Me: Odd question – have you been receiving small carved goats in your mailbox or is this a message that someone is coming to kill me?

            Her: No but we got them last year.

            Me: OMG. Really? Did someone try to kill you? I didn’t see it in the HOA newsletter.

            Her: No attempted murder. It’s a surprise gift from a neighbor. It will be a nativity set in the end.

           Me: Ahhhhhhhhh. Good to know.

           Her: No need to panic.

           Me: Well, I am from Philly…and Turkey…sooooo….

           Her: Understood.

And there you have it. Word is that this is not a message from a serial killer or a secret summonsing from Krampus. But so far I’ve got 3 goats, 4 wise men (Even though I’m sure Sister Nora said there were only three.) and what may be a shepherd or a member of Al Qaida, I’m not yet sure.

I’m not sure I believe the story so if you never hear from me again, I ask only two things – make sure you watch my Dateline episode so I win at ratings postumously  and more importantly, make sure the Turk doesn’t marry a whore.

Merry Christmas to all!!

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Uranus Is Huge and Filled With Gas, Much Like My Own

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I’ve spent way too many years in middle school. Including my own sentence back in the ‘80’s, I’ve spent somewhere around 20 years in middle school. Even during my time teaching in Turkey, I was in middle school. Is it odd that I’m most comfortable in the one stage of life most people spend years trying to forget? Perhaps. But don’t be mistaken, it’s not like I hit my peak in middle school and thus decided to stay. Oh no. I was a hot mess of braces, bad hair, excess chub and incredible fashion missteps. (I have photographic proof if in doubt.) Middle school was certainly not my jam, so why do I keep going back? No clue but I do love it. Yet another reason that I’m a psychoanalyst’s dream.

While I’ve matured past middle school in some aspects of life, (like my sagging neck and creaky knees) the middle schoolers I teach often surpass me in maturity. This became clear again last week as my middle school science classes began an in-depth study of the Milky Way Galaxy.

As every Earthling knows, (ok maybe not those crazies who are certain Jesus’ sat astride a T-Rex, but I don’t believe those science deniers really deserve to be labeled Earthlings.) that any study of the Milky Way must include, at the very least, mention of the Gas Giant Uranus. (Ok, I cracked up just typing that!)

This is my first time teaching about space so way back last summer when I planned to add this into my winter curriculum, it never occurred to me that I’d have to have various in-depth discussions of Uranus. (HA! Better yours than mine! HA!) No, I was lured into astronomy by the thought of settlements on Mars and the anniversary of Pluto being striped of his planetary status (10 years people, it’s been ten years!). Uranus never entered my mind. (No offense, but I don’t think of my anus often either.)

Perhaps Uranus didn’t come to mind because the last astronomy class I took was in January of ‘92 and involved standing in a cornfield on the northern Iowa tundra during sub-zero temps. The class consisted of staring into the darkness while snot-cicles formed under our noses, clad in layers of clothes scavenged from dorm mates enrolled in more sensible academic pursuits. Not a lot of science happened as we hid bargain booze in our long johns and cracked jokes for survival.

“It’s so dark I can’t even see Uranus.”

“Uranus is so cold it got a crack in it.”

“Move over! Uranus is the only thing I can see though this telescope right now.”

Brilliant young astronomers we were not.

In the years since then, attempts have been made to push through an alternate pronunciation for the gas ball, but it’s useless. You can’t let the world mispronounce your name for 166 years and then decide to change it, (I know, people have been mispronouncing mine for 40+ years.) especially if your name is the butt of so many jokes. (See what I did there? Butt…Uranus…ha!)

During our introduction to planetary alignment, I rushed through the whole “gas giants” section of the solar system with only a few giggles (me, not the kids.) But by fourth period I’d met my maturity cap. The transition between Saturn and Neptune was killing me! Sure, statements like “Uranus rotates horizontally” is relatively innocuous but let’s be honest, if you had to repeatedly explain “Uranus is huge. It is made of gas.” You’d lose it too.

I made it through a few more classes filled with snickers and giggles from both the kids and me. We were all clear on the importance of Uranus and it looked like we might make it until, the Great Toilet Paper lab.

See, there is this method of teaching AU (Astronomical Units, for those of you who haven’t taken an astronomy class since 1992 either. Solidarity my people.) illustrating the vast distances between planets by using toilet paper rolled out on the floor. While Mercury is only half a sheet from the sun, Saturn is 65 sheets of toilet paper away and on and on.

It’s fun and provides an easily visible representation of distance. Unfortunately, my classroom is not big enough to hold an entire scale map of the solar system made in t.p., so the talk of Uranus had to be moved into public space…public space filled with other middle schoolers and teachers. Our immaturity fest was on display as phrases like, “How much toilet paper does Uranus need?” wafted through the halls.

Within seconds, every other adult in the vicinity was sharing the same contorted gafaw-stiffling grimace I’d been wearing all week. Finally, I was not alone. No one in middle school is mature enough for Uranus. No one.

Years ago when I coached middle school boys tennis, no matter how hard I tried, every day at the end of practice, when it was time to say, “Alright boys, pick up your balls.” I couldn’t do it without busting into giggles. Every damn time. It’s kind of reassuring to see that while I’m a very different teacher than I was all those years ago, my soul is still 12.

While this exploration of Uranus has been painful, (hehehe…) it has taught me that, someday when we are all sitting in the TV room at Shady Pines Retirement Villa, I’ll still be crackin’ fart jokes and laughing about Uranus. You’ll just have to listen harder to catch my toothless ramblings.

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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!!!!

November, You Suck

novemberEvery year I have great aspirations for November but in recent years November has regularly taken a huge bite out of my ample hindquarter. Instead of an introduction to the holiday season, November has become a hot mess of a month marked by disasters large and small. There are always a slew of familial cooties ranging from black lung to barfs. Usually there is some form of vehicular calamity or housing crisis. Inevitably, there is some level of familial drama, either on this side of the world with mine or across the globe with the Turks. We usually have at least one ER run or at the very least, Urgent Care and that’s all before we get to Thanksgiving.

Yet still, knowing what I know of how November rolls, every year I foolishly sign on to participate in National Novel Writing Month, (NaNoWrMo for those that are tragically hip.) Because, when I tell my story to Savannah Guthrie during my interview on The Today Show about my runaway best seller, I will tell her it all began in November. Obviously writing a 50,000 word rough draft in the midst of children needing fed (Seriously, when is it legal to send them out to forage alone?) a house needing kept, a full-time job and the general mayhem November routinely brings me, is not only a sensible goal, but an attainable one.

I started off with a bang, getting up at 4:30 every morning and cranking along on my tale. After some solid success this year shopping out expat tales from the early days of the Turk and I, and hitting the big 10-year mark where I’m pretty sure some legal boundaries fall away. (Just kidding. No one can gag order this broad. It’s just not in my genetics.) I decided this year’s November novel would be the real life adventure of us. Because when your life-story starts with a mix-up resulting in deportation, includes an emergency Turkish C-section, has a dash of mad-cow disease AND a one eared baby after depositing the very left-leaning main characters in Indi-freakin-ana, well even F. Scott Fitzgerald couldn’t make that crap up.

By the end of week one, as the calendar officially shifted into November, my work was hampered by a nasty cold contracted during 12-hour days of parent-teacher conferences. As I rallied over the weekend, I was sidetracked again on Monday with that bastard Standard Time causing my offspring to wake right alongside me at 4:30 too. (I’m really over this time change concept. Where do I direct my hate mail?)

I lost Wednesday wiping tears and reassuring my darling Number One Son that he and his father would not be “sent away” by the new president because they were born in a Muslim country. (I also assured him that for anyone to remove any member of my family they would have to get through me first and everyone knows that a fortysomething mama bear (skilled in special needs parenting) with a big ass and a solid knowledge of TaeBo from the late 90’s is a formidable protector.)

Thursday was lost to the croup. Just about the time my nation lost its damn mind, my darling Nugget started to bark. From the bark came the wheeze. From the wheeze came the fever, the mad dash to the doctor and a toddler case of roid-rage following the steroids she prescribed. While the roids did the trick, that Nugget still needed a lot of snuggles and it’s tough to snuggle and write an epic work of greatness simultaneously. Oh, and did I mention that Thursday was our anniversary as well? No? No need. When you have 10 years under your belt and a barking Nugget, it’s just another day.

Friday, I had to forgo my passion to do my job. Much to every teacher’s dismay, those  lab reports don’t grade themselves and I’m not one of those science teachers that can pull a lab out of thin-air. I actually have to give it a go first to be sure no one loses an eye.

Saturday I woke with renewed energy. My barking child was finally on the road to recovery but I was scheduled to attend a workshop on ASL rhymes for toddlers. While it was amazing and incredibly helpful to learn I’d been doing everything wrong with Nugget in that zone over the past year, it also took away my writing time. I’d decided to forgo any writing on Saturday to celebrate the afore mentioned anniversary with the Turk…but then the sitter didn’t show. She got confused on the time…so I decided it best to drown my sorrows and go to bed early.

Which brings us to today. It’s Sunday morning at the butt-crack of dawn. Only one child is awake, the one who doesn’t demand as many snuggles and is easily appeased by an IPad. I’ve got coffee and quiet and my brilliance is waiting to pour forth. I’ve also got another  cold which brings with it a massive dose of laissez-faire.

So now that it’s mid-November and I’m still only 5000 words in with 45,000 more to go in 2 weeks, I fear failure is imminent. I’m not a quitter (ok, I totally am but just in case my kids read this one day I felt I should throw that in) but I don’t know if this is going to happen. I apologize world. I know you are waiting with bated breath to hear how things play out. Did the Turk really propose on the 3rd date? (Spoiler alert – yes he did.) Did our stunning main characters stay married through 2 global moves, 4 states, 8 homes and a butt load of bad luck? (So far so good but if he continues to ignore the “clean” light on the dishwasher it could end soon.) And who had mad cow disease? (Well if I tell you that, you won’t buy the book should I ever get around to writing it.)

Touché November, you’ve won again.

Stay tuned world. Someday I will tell this tale but I think odds are pretty solid, it will not happen in November.

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.

 

Need Good Writing Material…Marry a Foreigner

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Back before I had Nugget and began my foray into the world of special needs parenting and blogging about it, I spent my days in the world of bicultural parenting and blogging about that. The cultural misunderstandings between the The Turk and I have provided me with a font of material for ten years, and will likely continue to do so until one of us cashes it in and leaves the other with a life insurance policy worth about 50 Turkish Lyra.

Anywhoo…for a couple reasons, I’ve decided to dig out a post from the old blog and transplant it here. 1. those cultural mishaps are funny as hell and 2. I’m working on a little project and want to use this as a chance for some shameless self (not only self because this is a group project) promotion.

I’m contributing to a book with some other crazy expat broads all over the world entitled Knocked Up Abroad Again – an anthology about shucking pups all over there globe. I’ve, of course, shared my tale of dancing Turks and misplaced intestines during the birth of Number 1 alongside birth stories from all over. It’s gonna be awesome…if it meets it’s kickstarter goal in the next 10 days. So, if you’d like a copy or you’d like to fund an awesome effort – go here and fund us. Now, on to our show:

Did you know, there is no Tooth Fairy in Turkey?  No?  Me either.

It was totally logical for me to believe that there would be a Turkish Tooth Fairy.  There is a Turkish Red Ridinghood but she goes by Kırmızı Başlıklı Kız.  Bert and Ernie have been fluent in Turkish since the early 70’s and even that sniveling Caliou found a massive fan base with tiny Turks. They even have Santa, though he is called Baba Noel and instead of a big gut and white beard he’s thin with a  ‘stache and instead of milk and cookies he prefers  tea and a smoke and instead of coming on December 25 th he doesn’t make an appearance until December 31st, but other than that…  But hey, cut ’em some slack, it’s tough to have a solid Christmas understanding in a Muslim nation. But I digress.

With this knowledge of childhood icons it was reasonable for me to assume that there was also a fairy that snuck into the sleeping quarters of young Turks and replaced their recently liberated baby teeth with a Lira or two. But no. This ugly truth was revealed last week when the Midget finally lost his first tooth.

For a 5 year old, that is pretty much the pinnacle of fitting in with one’s peers and we all know kindergartners can be pretty intimidating as far as peer pressure goes. The Midget was the last of his friends to go toothless but now he was part of the in-crowd.  As that little tiny white stump freed itself at breakfast, there was much celebration.

I should have been tipped off to the impending cultural divide by the strange look I received from the Turk when I rushed to bag the tooth like evidence on CSI.  However, I get that look often so I paid it no mind.

As the day progressed and the Midget was filled with information from his merry band of munchkins on the playground, he was ready for the big payoff. From dinner through bath he could discuss nothing else and as he carefully tucked the tooth under his pillow, the Turk finally said, “What the hell are you doing?  Throw that thing in garbage. It is disgusting.”

With big blue eyes the Midget said, “But Baba, the Tooth Fairy will take it.”

And then, there it was – the bomb was lowered– “What is Tooth Fairy?  There are no fairies.  Fairies are not real. Why you pretending this?  Only the girls like the fairies.”

Well hell.

Once again, I had to swoop in and wipe away the pain of truth those Turks love to lay down all too often. His are a people that find  joy in bursting bubbles with cold, hard reality. I know. I lived with them and came home with years’ worth of busted bubbles.

After shooting Baba the look, (ya’ll know the look to which I refer) and quickly dismissing  Baba’s proclamations by explaining that boys can like fairies too and that fairies do not like bad kids and Baba was a bad kid so therefore the Tooth Fairy never made a visit to him – it hit me and I rushed The Turk into the closet for a confab.

“Is there no Tooth Fairy in Turkey?”

“No. What the hell is Tooth Fairy?”

“You leave your tooth under the pillow and in the morning the Tooth Fairy has taken it and left you a few bucks. You know, it’s like Santa or the Easter Bunny.”

“No. That is stupid.”

“What did your parents do when you lost a tooth?”

“Throw it in trash, like you should do.”

“No. That’s not happening. This child is in America now and we are doing this like my people.”

“Ok, well maybe Fairy can bring me something a little later too?”

“No. “

After the Midget had tucked the tooth and nodded off, there was much debate over the price per tooth and the absurdity of the tradition but I won and the Midget awoke to a reasonable payoff. But there was much shrapnel to clean up thanks to Baba blowing the Fairy’s cover and as we got ready for school,

“Mom, is it a he or a she?”

“He” It just seemed more festive to make the Tooth Fairy a drag queen.

“How does he know I lost a tooth?”

“I call the hotline.”

“What’s the number?”

“1-888-Tooth-gone.”

“How does he get in?”

“Backdoor” (hehehe)

“Does he keep the teeth?”

“Yes?”

“Did he dig Baba’s teeth out of the trash when he was little?”

“No. He was a really bad kid.” (Take that fun sucker!)

“Do I get more money for bigger teeth?”

“No.”

“Well that’s a rip off.”  

Mom’s gotta keep it real. First I saved Santa before we moved to the US, then  the Tooth Fairy. Easter Bunny, you are totally on your own though, I’ve always found a giant rabbit a little too creepy.

If you want more expat tales – go fund us! Knocked Up Abroad Again 

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Audrey’s Untimely Demise

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“Don’t let Audrey get too much sun,” was the last thought that ran through my head as I backed out of the driveway. Yet somehow, the flood of love and questions from 2 pajama-clad little boys, distracted me from actually voicing my medical directive. By the time I found Audrey, it was almost too late.

Work was hectic and Audrey didn’t cross my mind again until after dinner as my little Turks and I were heading out for our daily football catch. As the door swung open I caught sight of Audrey, slumped over on the deck.

“Audrey!!” I screamed, pushing Nugget out of my way while ordering Number One Son to gather lifesaving materials. “Get the water and an eyedropper! STAT!”

My son, possessing a solid replication of my DNA, especially those genes responsible for over dramatizing the simplest moment (I’m pretty sure most Oscar Award Winners share this gene as well.) screamed back with the appropriate level of panic –“Where Mom! Where’s the damn water?” (Profanity is acceptable in an emergency) 

While I barked directions at him, I whisked Audrey into the house and laid her out on the kitchen table. A very confused Nugget, wanting to get in on the action, begged to be given his own lifesaving task. I wanted to scream, “Get a CBC and Chem6. Call for radiation STAT,” but you know, he’s only 3 and he didn’t spend a large chunk of the ‘90’s watching ER so he’d likely have no idea how to preform either a CBC or a Chem6. Instead I sent him to his playroom to grab his doctor kit. A Fisher Price stethoscope had to be just as good in a pinch, right?

Audrey lay on the table with her little arms limply clutching her traps. A few traps were black but most were still green and viable. Audrey wasn’t my first Venus Flytrap, but she was strongest. She’d been doing fine in our kitchen but in a moment of overconfidence, I surmised that her steady diet of fruit flies might be leading to boredom and that she might enjoy the entomological smorgasbord awaiting her on our deck.

It was for her own good and for the first few days I loving watched her, atop the table, soaking up the sun and snapping up buzzing nuisances one by one. I limited her sun-time and brought her in from the rain in an attempt to recreate her natural habitat. (I’m teaching a botany unit right now so I’m way up on my habitat knowledge.) When it seemed Audrey’s development was taking off, I lovingly transplanted her into a fashionable new pot. (Every girl, even one that eats bugs, likes to feel pretty.)

Things were going so well with Audrey that if our life were a movie, we would have had one of those montages where we run hand and trap through a meadow, pausing only to spin in the sun as she snapped at gnats. All was bliss. Until she got fried.

Slowly and methodically I dropped a combination mixture of rainwater cut with distilled water into her high fashion pot as my sons chanted words of encouragement, “Come on Audrey. Come back to us girl.”

When it looked bleak, we decided Audrey would want us to go outside and play football. That’s the kind of gal she was and who were we to deny her wishes?

30 minutes later, I noticed a small jerk from Audrey when I walked by. I thought my eyes had deceived me so I watched longer. Sure enough, Audrey jerked again. “Oh my God you have got to see this!” I yelled from the kitchen but my kids had moved on to ice pops and Monday Night Football and the Turk long ago learned to ignore those kinds of exclamations from my crazed mind.

“No seriously! Come in here. Audrey is coming back to life.” It was truly a sight to behold as her little arms jerked back up to standing.

“Are you still looking at that plant? What is wrong with you.” The Turk yelled from the other room.

“It’s not just a plant! It’s Audrey!”

“I worry your head crazy sometime.” He retorted.

As I watched Audrey continue to come back, I cannot deny that the thought of giving her a chunk of steak or a drop of blood didn’t cross my mind. Thankfully, I was an avid movie watcher as a kid and had seen Little Shop of Horrors multiple times and knew how fast this situation could go south.

By the next morning Audrey was back to her old self, waving her traps at all passersby in search of food. I limited her sun time and put her back in her comfortable kitchen post. It looked like nothing could harm Audrey now…until…

The remission ended. Seemingly out of nowhere, a deep black spread across her little traps like a cancer. I tried medical intervention but nothing worked. I Googled and Googled but even the internet couldn’t save Audrey this time.

When it became clear the end was inevitable, we put her in plant hospice, feeding her bugs we caught when she didn’t have the energy to work her own traps. Last Friday, Audrey passed over the great rainbow bridge to the swamp in the sky.

I’ve thought about replacing her. I’d like to someday have a Venus named Serena (Get it? Venus and Serena…hahaha) but it’s too soon. I need time to grieve. We’ve left her high fashion pot in tact and as soon as it stops raining for a few days, I’ll cremate her in the barbecue grill.

She was a fighter, but even a flytrap knows when the fight is done.

Farewell Audrey, you were a tough broad and we will miss you.

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Hang on Toto – Dorothy’s Gotta Grab Her Purse

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For a mama bear like myself, being unable to physically get to my children is enough to require a Valium drip chased with a Quaalude cocktail. I attribute this to having begun my parenting journey in a nation where mall greeters dress in fatigues and Uzis rather than the smiling geriatrics to which Americans are accustomed. Thanks to eternal unrest, Turkey’s mama bears roar a little louder and they trained me well. Add to this my recent year-long tour as translator for my apraxic/hard of hearing Nugget and boom – this mother is a hot mess control freak. Given that background, you can only imagine what happened when the Wicked Witch of Indiana decided to throw a few tornados at me last week.

At the end of a very trying Thursday that had been filled with scientific concepts leaving my students with deer-in-headlights gazes, I was not elated to be greeted by a black sky at carpool. Frantically, I shoved kid after kid into their parents’ cars, fearful that the rapidly darkening skies were about to drench my ass. As I offered my final “see you tomorrow” coupled with a yo-mama-gets-to-deal-with-you-now wave, the first drop fell.

Cockily, I patted myself on the back for beating Mother Nature and proceeded to tie up the end of my day. As I packed my bags to head home (because no matter how hard I try I can’t help but look like a Talbot’s-togged Sherpa as I parade into and out of school each-day) a text from Number One’s school shot across my phone.

            Due to weather conditions, students are sheltering in place and will not be released until tornado threat has passed

Hubba whaaaaa? There was no mention of a tornado on my check of the morning weather. Nor was there any little tornado symbol on my Weather Ap. What kind of madness was that hag Mother Nature up to?

I looked at my phone – I looked at the door. Back to my phone, back to the door. Do I make a break for it? Could I outrun a tornado? Yes, of course I could. My babies need me! It’s a 25-minute drive home, likely into the path of the twister but an old Hyundai can outrun a whirling feat of nature right? I just got new tires. Seemed logical.

Before I could grasp the stupidity behind my reasoning, the sirens on my side of town blared. Crap.

Within minutes I was hunkered down in a hermetically sealed room with 30 high school students who’d not yet been dismissed for the day. Hunkering down in a room, sans air movement, with a group of teenagers at the end of a hot August day, is like winning the B.O. lotto. The funk of that room will live in my nostrils…FOREVER.

I tried to remain calm but we were facing natural disaster and my babies were all the way across town, one at home with Grandma (And napping soundly through it all. Sometimes, hearing loss is a blessing.) and the other huddled in a broom closet, butt to butt with 25 classmates (Also, like me, feeling the funk.) The problem was, Number One Son has ridiculous storm anxiety – like hiding in the closet, shaking uncontrollably anxiety. My mind was tourmented with the thought of my normally chill son in the midst of a horrific panic attack while I was stuck listening to a sixteen-year-old repeatedly recount his unprecedented success hunting Ommpaloompas, or Hoochi-Koochis or whatever the hell those damn Pokeman things are called.

As any modern mother would do, I began frantically texting. First to the Turk.

Me: Did you get the message from Number One’s school? I’m stuck at my school. There is a warning here too.

            The Turk: Yes

Me: Yes? WTH? I might be dying in a tornado and that’s all you can say.

            The Turk: Yes

Me: Seriously?

            The Turk: …

Me: Hello??????

The Turk: I in mailroom. Can’t reach phone.

Me: Wha huh? Is there a tornado downtown too?

The Turk: Yes.

Me: Oh. My bad. Sorry. Love you. Don’t die.

            The Turk: Ok.

The incident started at 3:20 and was set to end at 3:45. No problem right? But then it was extended until 4:00, then 4:15. When the threat looked real, the line of parents waiting outside in the pick-up line had to be brought into our stanky survival zone. With them, they brought dogs, siblings, a newborn and a cleaning crew. The scent, “eau de adolescent funk,” quickly added notes of canine breath, dirty diaper and chain smoker. I seized my asthmatic card, sliding to the 2” crack in the door and sticking my nose into it.

As the countdown to 4:00 commenced, the sirens blared again and the warning extended to 4:45. This was my breaking point. I ran all possible scenarios through my head. I’d been following the radar on the Ommpalooma hunter’s phone (that kid had magnificent service, likely the reason for his great hunting success) and saw there was a small break in the tornado zones. If I hit every round-a-bout just right…nah, I couldn’t risk it. Plus did I have some responsibility to these stinky people I was hunkered down with? My phone chimed.

            The Turk: I’m out! Going home.

 Me: Be careful! There are new warnings on our side of town.

            The Turk: Tornados not hurt me. I am Turk!

Me: Um, honey, that’s not how it works.

At 4:45 there was a break in the warnings and I decided to flee. Five minutes later another alarm came along with another warning from Number One’s school –

“A new tornado warning has been issued until 5:20. Students have been evacuated from busses and are sheltering in the buildings.”

The sirens blared around me but like Batman in the Batmobile, this mom in her Santa Fe drove on. It was exhilarating, if not stupid, to be driving into potential disaster, but I had to get to my boys. I took comfort in the knowledge that if stranded, I could survive for days on the discarded french fries and granola bar remnants in the back seat.

 Me: I’m on my way. If I go missing, I was on 116th street.

            The Turk: I at his school.

Me: Inside?

            The Turk: No. Parking lot.

Me: Are you safe?

            The Turk: Of course. I am Turk. Tornado not get me.

*sigh* (someday I’ll need to explain the science of tornados to him, someday.)

By 5:30 we were all home together, recounting the horrors our noses faced in each of our respective safety zones. As the Turk and I enjoyed a well-deserved beer, we hoped our children didn’t inherit our stubbornness and poor judgment…but those chances are not strong.

Do You Know Who You Look Like? Yes, Yes I Do.

Private schools have a fascination with camping. Taking large groups of young humans, fluent in the art of whining into the wilderness to sleep for a day or two is a task I’ve faced at all but one of my six private school employers. The one school that didn’t camp was in Turkey and they were trying to get parents to sign on to the madness just about the time I went on maternity leave. Schools claim it instills independence, survival skills and most of all, teacher/student bonding (which it does) but in all honesty, I’m pretty sure it’s about the money. If I could pay someone to take my kids camping so I didn’t have to, I’d write that tuition check so fast I’d leave skid marks with my Bic.

My new school is no different and our camping trip was this week, just a few days into the new year. Thanks to my advanced age, years of teaching experience and the fact that I had  Nugget and Number One Son at home, I was off the hook on the sleep-over end. (To quote a coworker when I asked if he’d be camping he simply replied, “There comes an age when one no longer has to do that kind of crap.” Amen my brother. Thankfully, I’ve finally reached that age.) Instead, I led a carpool line to the campsite (and then a ½ mile right past it) the next morning, bright eyed and coffee-filled.

If you’ve never headed into the wilderness alone with a pack of 20 middle schoolers, I’d recommend it. While it often feels like something akin to herding cats, it is entertainment like no other. If you’ve never headed into the wilderness with a pack of kids who bring with them a variety of issues ranging from anxiety to Autism Spectrum Disorder, I’d  recommend it even more highly. Watching them tip-toe out of their comfort zones and try things they were adamantly opposed to at the mere mention –like kickball- but somehow decided to try eventually, evokes a self-confidence like no other and is a sight to behold.

About thirty minutes into our teacher/student bonding adventure involving a steep hill, lots of rocks in shoes and ending in a creek, one of my homeroom kids put her arm around me and said, “Mrs. O, you know who you look like?”

I hate when people say that. I have one of those faces that have caused people to say that my entire life. While it might be flattering to some to be told they resemble a famous figure, for me, it’s always the same – I’m always a dead-ringer for the C-List chubby, brunette du jour. I’ve been Ricki Lake and Thora Birch. I was even once the fat one from Wilson Phillips when I mistakenly dyed my hair red. (Thankfully that was after her first gastric bypass.) I’ve been Delta Burke during her rotund days at the end of Designing Women and most often, Ann Wilson. Who? You know, the brunette sister from Heart that got fat in the 90’s. (“What about love? Don’t you want someone to care about you? What about loooo-ve, don’t let it slip away.” Thank you Jesus, for the 80’s.)

That question – do you know who you look like- never ends well for me. (No offense Ann Wilson. You were always my favorite sister and I totally thought it was BS in the 90’s when they hid you behind curtains in every video after you chubbed out.) But looking into the eyes of this thirteen year old who had no clue there was even a band named Heart and likely was not hip to Designing Women, I was a bit curious. Who, in the name of God, do I look like now?

“I don’t know, who do I look like?”

“You look exactly like the lady from Ghostbusters. The new one. My mom and I have been talking about this since we met you.”

Of course I knew who she was talking about. There is only one chubby brunette in the new Ghostbusters but I can never resist the urge to mess with someone. “Oh, you mean Leslie Jones, right? The tall, hot black lady.”

This poor kid, who actually does look a lot like a thirteen-year-old Leslie Jones with coke-bottle glasses, looked at me like I’d lost my damn mind. Deadpan, she said, “No Mrs. O, you are way too short to look like Leslie Jones.” Riiiight…

Since I’m growing accustomed to the fact that I often need to tell my students when it’s a joke, I let her off the hook. “I’m just messin’ with ya. I know I look like the chubby one.”

Still confused, she said, “No. The one with big glasses and hair like yours.” In her eyes, the chub was secondary.

That evening at home, I Googled the cast of Ghostbusters and with little surprise, I do look a lot like Melissa McCarthy in the new Ghostbusters, same nerdy glasses, same messy up do and pretty close to the same thunder thighs.

Years ago when someone pointed out my resemblance to a famous member of the celebrity chub club, I’d immediately sink into a rabbit hole of self-loathing, followed by a crash diet. The fact that no matter how much weight I lost the world still saw me as a chub was devastating. But now? Hells no.

Now I’m too old and too damn busy for that crap. I’ve had these thunder thighs for 44 years and I’m learning to accept them. (Sorry Nugget, they’re genetic but I think they’ll work out better for a boy.) This body, in all it’s extra glory, has been good to me and I now try to do the same in return. I’m proud to look like Melissa McCarthy. She’s awesome. (Though Nugget is madly in love with Leslie Jones.) 

As we hiked back up the big hill to the campground, my student said, “And the other reason you remind me of the Ghostbusters lady is because she’s tough and you are too Mrs. O.”

Damn right kid. Mrs. O ain’t afraid of no ghosts.

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Back To School Blows

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – transitions suck. I’m a routine gal and since the acorn rarely falls far from the tree, my kids are too. For the past year we’ve been in a groove that eventually worked well for us. But now, the times, they are a changin’. While sucking it up and accepting it would be the mature thing to do, maturity has never really been my jam.

This week we moved from our stable, mom’s-got-everything-covered-even-if-it-drives-her-batcrap-crazy life, back into mom’s-going-to-work-every-man-for-himself life. It’s been a year so it may take some time to transition properly. On top of that, the kids are back in school too and anyone who has traversed that trail knows the impending suckage there. (Is it a cry for help if I order cheap wine by the case at this point? What would Betty Ford do?)

Number 1 is in third grade and while we’ve been at this school thing for some time now, third grade is that year when they go from cuddly little sweethearts into smelly big boys. Thanks to his Turk genes, Number 1 has had back hair since birth so he’s already pretty manly, but having finally hit a growth spurt (one that now leaves him only a foot shorter than his friends rather than 2 feet shorter) he just seems big suddenly.

Nugget, now a mature, yet still surly, three year old, started his tour of duty on the Island of Misfit Toys…aka…Developmental Preschool. He’ll spend his mornings singing and signing, playing and partying all while bonding with other kids that struggle like him. To combat his anxiety, we had three visits to his classroom prior to the first day so I assumed we were all prepared for this. Nugget was but Mom was not.

Sitting in my own teacher training the day before Nugget’s start, I had a weird feeling of loss. Due to all his health issues last year, I could probably count on one hand the times Nugget and I have been apart. He’s been kind of like an extra appendage, sometimes helpful and often not, but something I’d grown accustomed to having. As the speaker – who was speaking on the difficult journey of special needs parents (oh the irony)- continued on, the connections were too much and the flood-gates opened. Those flood-gates remained open for the next 24 hours.

Looking at my Nugget and how big he suddenly seemed brought me to tears. Carrying his supplies in to Meet The Teacher Night brought me to tears. Laying out his clothes, wiping his butt, pretty much anything, brought me to tears. I wasn’t expecting this at all.

It all boiled down to this. My baby is now a kid and there is no going back. When kids start school time fast-forwards at an obscene pace. The years move faster, the kids change faster and their maturity grows (Sometimes, I mean, I’ve taught middle school for years so I’ve got a special understanding of the hard-fought battle with maturity.). As a family, you become part of a larger school community that links you to your community in a very different way. After all, you are now the recipient of tax payer dollars and you have a voice in the stupidity of school district decisions. (Even if they ignore your calls and delete your emails …not that I’d know how that feels…I mean, that happened to a friend…)

Once kids start school, every day goes into overdrive as you try to squeeze every second out of it between work, school, practices, homework and everything else. Everyone is running around like headless chickens and life is based around waiting for the next break.

“We can go to pool again over Labor Day weekend.”

“We’ll do something fun on Fall Break.”

“You can sleep in over Christmas Break.”

And before you know, you’ve “waited away” an entire year. It sucks.

This is the part where I’m supposed to impart wisdom and share my resolution to be in the moment or my resolve to live a purposeful life as I put work to the side when I’m with my kids and just enjoy the ride. Ah hells no. I mean come on, who really does that? Who? I’ll tell you. No one. Ain’t nobody got time for that. That’s just the crap you read on parenting blogs.

No, this year I will stock up on wine, try to remember to look at my daily calendar on occasion (before I miss appointments and those bastards charge me anyway). I will strive to make sure everyone has a lunch packed (because even when I was home last year I might or might not have forgotten a couple) and clean underwear. (Though I cannot promise Number One will be wearing them. He’s embraced the natural life and seems unwilling to go back.) Ultimately, I will put my head down and run into this everybody-is-in-school-now life, like a runty running back pushing through a defensive line (it is football season after all), while hoping like hell to come out alive on the other side.

To quote the greats, “Cover me Bree, I’m goin’ in.”

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