A Tale of Squirrels and Pool Noodles

fat squirrel

While the world has been blowing up these past months, out here in our little house in the woods, things have remained as insane as they were prior to this current apocalypse with the added joy of some acts of aggression by Mother Nature’s little cherubs. During this spring’s hiatus of humanity, it seems all creatures great and small held some kind of gathering, a symposium, if you will. (No doubt it was spearheaded by the angry groundhog who’s taken up residence in my front lawn. It’s obvious by his waddle that he’s a vindictive diva.) Anyhooo, the outcome of the symposium seems to have been a directive for widespread assault on my home by Mother Nature’s SWAT unit starting with the squirrels.

Thanks to many years of urban living, I view squirrels as rats with fluffy tails so when we found out they had taken up residence in the un-finished apartment above our garage (What we first thought were raccoon squatters turned out to be an entire battalion of fuzzy-tailed rodents.) I was less than amused. Thankfully our garage is detached and a good 20 yards from our house but still, it was a situation that could not go unremedied.

My husband, the ninja Turk, set up a trap he found on-line and prepared for battle. His handy trap yielded its first capture about a month ago and while the captive was set free to likely burrow back into the above-garage apartment again, the furry bastard did manage to spread the peanut-butter the Turk had liberally used as bait, all over the second floor before he met his fate. Unfortunately, a few of his offspring fell victim to the Turk’s obstacle course of glue traps and it has been game on since.

Last week the weather finally warmed and it seemed the heat had sent the squatters in search of living quarters more conducive to the change in climate. The battle was toning down so I summonsed a fount of courage to gather my beach goodies from the warzone. (Because when it’s beach time, ain’t no damn fuzzy tailed rat keeping me away from my lounge chairs and noodles.) Within seconds of entering the premises, my nose was assaulted with the smell of death. Two steps further and I saw something any farm girl recognizes and immediately knows the sorce from whence it came… horse flies. They swarmed the windows on both levels of the top floor apartment. I haven’t been a farm girl in well over 30 years but I knew the combo before me meant something, somewhere was dead.

Thanks to my true crime addiction, I assumed a serial killer had snuck in and hidden a victim between the boxes of Thanksgiving linens and winter sheets, careful to leave no trace aside from the body. I did what any logical gal in that situation would do, grabbed my beach chairs, slung my noodles over my shoulder and got the hell out of there.  Then I immediatley passed the buck to my husband to deal with the stench.

“Honey – someone is dead in the garage.”

“Dead?” The Turk, shot me a wild glare. “You need stop watch that ID channel. It make you crazy.” The man knows me well.

“No seriously. I can smell it and there are flies.”

He slowly pulled himself away from nerding on his computer and rolled his eyes my way. “Fine. I go look.”

Anxiously I stood outside the big rollie-uppie garage door awaiting confirmation. Any second he was going to come out and say, “My beautiful, thin, brilliant wife who I am so lucky to have married all those years ago, you are correct. I have found the corpse of an evil, fuzzy tailed rodent upstairs. Your olfactory skills are beyond amazing. What a lucky man I am. Have you ever considered writing detective novels?”

Instead, he stomped down the stairs, threw up the rollie-uppy door and said. “You are crazy. No dead things there.” Before huffing back to his lair for further nerding.

Alas, a nose knows and this nose knew it would only take one or two more hot days for reality prevail. Three days later, The Turk dragged me away from making pizza dough in Tina to inspect. (What? I named my mixer Tina. Doesn’t everyone name those they depend on? What am I supposed to call her? Kitchenaid? Please.) He pointed to the upstairs windows whose screens were now bulging with massive horse flies desperate for escape. “WHAT IZ DIS?”

“I told you. Something’s dead in there. Read the flies man. That’s what we used to do on the farm.”

He cocked his head and squinted his eyes, “WHAT?”

“Flies come from decomposition. When somethings dead, maggots…”

“STOP!” He yelled. “You want me throw out before I even go inside? Why you know these things and why you have to tell me?” He didn’t wait for my likely, smart-assed answer before banishing the kids and I so he could commence a corpse hunt.

Tina and I were still kneading dough when Nugget burst into the kitchen, “Mom! You gotta thee thith, it thooooooo groth.”

It took the Turk mere minutes to find a deflated, decomposing fluffy-tailed rodent, frozen forever in a pose that said, “Oh crap.”

“Where was it?”

“Top floor in corner by beach stuff. He die under your beach chair and you miss him.”

“Hubba what?” Could I have really missed a decomposing tree rat hiding under my beach chair when I’d grabbed them just days prior? This was a new level of space cadetery, even for me.

Just to prove he was right, the Turk had me inspect the crime scene. Though he didn’t go as far as putting down a chalk-outline around the body as I would have done, he was 100% on the money. I’d grabbed three beach chairs, two noodles and a bag of sand toys right off the top of that dead tree rat and hadn’t even noticed. Quarantine has destroyed my mind.

The next day an angry squirrel stood on a branch outside our bedroom window, screaming at the Turk.

“He’s saying, you kill my father, prepare to die.”

Wide-eyed the Turk turned, “Seriously.”

“Yes dear. I speak fluent squirrel now in addition to Turkish and English.”

He simply shrugged, accepted my tale and left. Quarantine has killed his brain too.

This morning, there was a squirrel on the front deck peering inside the window, inches from the screen.

They really are coming for us but we’re just crazy enough to fight back.

An Eviction in My Lair

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Life here in isolation is getting hectic now that we’re rolling on work and school for everybody. The Turk is still hiding in the basement, the kids have called dibs on the kitchen and I’m left squatting in whatever corner I can find. This drove me to the brilliant idea of using this quarantine time to finally finish my office in the apartment over the garage. I would create my own lair perfect for hiding from my family, planning  world domination and maybe even working on occasion.

Our house came with a detached garage that houses a half-finished, three-room, two-floor apartment. When we landed here, I staked my claim on the sunny, 2nd-floor bedroom with windows that overlook the cranberry bogs. I hung up my Wonder Woman memorabilia, unloaded my cases of books and planned to write my bestseller. But before I could achieve greatness, my new lair needed paint (Because the half-finished neon-blue it current holds makes my eyes cross.) and something to cover the sub-flooring and a door. Crazy as it was, I felt like a barrier between the apartment and the open garage might be important. (This request has provided a plethora of ‘I told you Turk’ moments recently.)

“Is easy. I can do. No big job.” My darling husband, the Turk, proclaimed…2 years ago.

So after waiting more than 700 days for the Turk to step up, I gave up. I decided that in this time of excessive home-ness, I could pull a solid HGTV move with the assistance of a 12 and 6 year-old. We’d bust out a little work then, bam – Mama’s got a cushy new hidey-hole.

Step one: planning.  Measuring was math so I deemed our homeschool math lesson that day would be to survey the area and create a totally-not-to-scale drawing showing our plans. We set off, but then my husband issued his ominous warning,

“Be careful. I think somebody living there.”

“Hubba wa?”

“Yes I hear him. He has family. Lots of feet running above last time I am there putting away Christmas decorations. Be careful, I can put trap there.”

My husband has a long history of waging war on rodents. In the 14 years of our union I have witnessed the man I love Rambo out on mice, groundhogs, chipmunks and a few squirrels. He calls on his time as a Turkish commando to dominate small, furry beings and it gets ugly, fast.

Our sons have witnessed Baba’s insanity too,  and by the time we found an apartment floor carpeted with sticky traps, no one was surprised. Nugget simply facepalmed and muttered, “Babba ith nutth.”

We spent a good twenty minutes in there mapping our plan without a single sign of the squatters the Turk warned of…but then I saw a footprint. On a blue box there was a huge, perfectly identifiable raccoon footprint. (I was a Brownie for 2 years, ’79 and ’80, so I know my tracks.) That crazy Turk was right!

Immediately we fled down the stairs to the first floor. Unfortunately, that is our storage room and I promised to dig out the Easter baskets.

“We’ll find the damn plastic eggs then we are out of here before that crazy raccoon decides to attack.” Two sets of little boy eyes widened at me like a crazy woman. “Relax. Maybe it was an old footprint. We were up there for 20 minutes and we didn’t see or hear anything.” It was that “hear anything” that did me wrong. I’d barely gotten the sentence out when something began running around upstairs and whatever it was, it was angry.

Now all of our eyes widened. We froze. Was he coming to throw down? Would I win in a raccoon fight? 20 years ago maybe but I’m old now. Would my children leave me to die if I couldn’t win? (Yes. They might be mama’s boys but they are still male.)  But immediately Nugget showed he’s the guy you need in a raccoon fight. He grabbed a plastic bucket, starting beating it with a shoe and shouting, “I am a weally big guy! Thith ith a weally big guy yelling!” He kept at it again and again and suddenly, the beast above stopped. Nugget had saved us.

We fled back to the house and I immediately alerted the Turk. “Something is up there and it is huge!”

“Yes. I tell you that.”

“How long have you known?”

“Since before Christmas.”

“That’s 4 months ago!”

“Yes.”

“Well he needs to go. As soon as this pandemic crap is over, I’m calling the guy.”

“What guy?”

“You know, the guy that takes care of wild beasts hiding in your home.”

“I think that guy is only on TV.  But I can take care.”

“How? You are not sending the cat in there.”

“No I get trap.”

“You’re going to trap the raccoon and then let him go?”

“Yes. He just need relocation.”

“No. He needs to die.”

“That’s why I take care. You are mean. I can just evict him.”

Today Fed Ex delivered a  trap. The Turk has a plan. He’s going to make soup for the raccoon and put it in the trap. He saw it on YouTube. He thinks it might help to leave a beer too because he saw a raccoon drinking a beer once on Facebook. Needless to say, my dreams of an evil lair are dashed but this battle of Turk versus raccoon should provide a lot of entertainment during the rest of the quarantine. Stay tuned!

 

I Shall Be The Quarantine Queen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lament of the Meatless Balls

eatmorefood

“I saw that Mom. Not cool.”

“Keep your mouth shut kid.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Family, we’re going plant-based.”

“No meat?” Number 1 asked.

“No meat, no dairy.”

“No cheethburgerth?” Nugget worried.

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

He crossed his arms, “That ith ridiculouth.”

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

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

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

“Me too.” Nugget yelled in solidarity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He shrugged, “Meh.”

My hopes rose, “What?”

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

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

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

 

I’m An Unsupportive Athletic Supporter

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I am not an athlete. In third grade I was a miserable outfielder handicapped by ADD and when I decided to retire from softball after one season, a collective sigh of relief was heard throughout the land.

I toyed with tennis in high school and though I could return 1 out of every 10 balls, I was shocked to learn that my chances of being the next Billie Jean King were slim.

In my twenties and thirties I took up running and I still do it occasionally (when my old lady knees don’t hurt and motivation strikes) but running is not a sport. Running is the athletic equalizer for us nerds. The only athletic skill required is the ability to put one foot in front of the other and any pace is acceptable. I like running because the ability to run for a prolonged period of time is useful should I ever need to escape during a zombie apocalypse. (I may be slow but I can outrun the walking dead!)

I try to fake it by talking sports with the kids at school but my knowledge only comes from being forced to watch Sportscenter daily by the small, multi-sport athlete that managed to spring forth from my loins.

Unfortunately, due to the constant stream of sporty crap happening in our home, my little weirdo Nugget has also become an athletic supporter. But, thankfully, he has his mother’s athletic prowess. Go here to read more about Nugget’s career in sports. In actuality, Nugget is only into sports for the costumes. He can’t play a game of living room basketball without donning a Celtics jersey. For tossing the football in the backyard, he’s got on full pads, jersey and helmet. As a cherry on top, Nugget prefers to play his games alone as the scene in his head is not as disappointing as reality.

In the past months it became clear that while I gave birth to a sporty dude, I will never be a quality sports mom and I should probably farm that job out to someone more capable. This fall we went through a long and painful football season. We’ve gone through numerous football seasons but this one just sucked. The drama was over the top and the disappointment was brutal. As is the norm in PeeWee football, the coaches kids were the stars but unlike the other 5 seasons we’ve played, this year they didn’t try to hide it.

Every night after practice I was faced with a surly, frustrated child and every night I threw out some version of advice from a late 90’s self-help manual I assumed was applicable in the sports world. I threw down with the coach and even sent my secret weapon, the Turk, to stand on the sidelines and look like a crazy-ass Middle Easterner. (Don’t laugh, it usually works. Thanks to cultural ignorance running wild in America, most regular white dudes assume he could wage jihad if provoked. Full disclosure, he doesn’t even know what jihad is.)But when nothing changed even after the Turk, I finally lost it.

“Yes I get it. It sucks really bad this year. It’s not fair that you get the shaft because your father doesn’t stand on the sidelines and spew testosterone but what the hell can I do?”

“Mom, don’t lose it.”

“Son, that ship has sailed. Mama is soooooo over this. So quit. Just stop going and call it done. We can actually have a freakin’ normal life again.”

“Mom, you can’t just quit in sports.”

“Why not? If Andrew Luck can walk away from the NFL where he’s making serious bank, you can walk away from Pee Wee football.”

“That’s not how teams work.” He countered.

Maybe he was right. My knowledge of team sports ended with “There is no I in team.” And I still think that’s stupid.

So we kept going and the whining and drama continued. When the loses began to pile up I felt relief. There was no chance we were going to the playoffs with this level of suckage. I could smell freedom coming. And then they won. And they won again. And the other teams kept losing which meant that we had, by some ridiculously bad joke, been thrust into the post-season. God help me.

As expected the season ended much as it had been, with most of the team on the sidelines and the coaches kids leading us all to an amazing defeat. The scoreboard continued to blare the extreme deficit and my insides twittered. “We’re almost done!” I whispered to the Turk and he giggled back in happy agreement.

It was now November and I’d been schlepping all over southern Massachusetts, standing in the rain and the cold and doing nightly therapy since August and it was almost over. As the team left the field after their big loss only a handful seemed disappointed. The rest were just relieved. Another mom who’d had a season much like ours leaned in and whispered, “Is it too soon to jump the coach and yell, ‘your kids lost the game, not mine because my kid was on the freakin’ sideline for the whole damn game!” While I agreed vehemently I realized when I farm out my role of sports mom, she might not be a top choice though I liked her spunk.

While I’m sure some real sports mom would say there were valuable lessons learned about sticking things out, there was only one lesson he learned that matters. “Mom, I think I’m ready to go to soccer full-time. I’m over this PeeWee football crap.” And to that I say, THANK GOD!

Gorilla Boobies and Nunchucks

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“Mom, what are we going to do about Halloween costumes?” Number 1 asked.

“I’ve got time. I’ll get on it next week.”

“Actually Mom, you only have like two weeks.”

Were this a 70’s sitcom I would’ve done a spit-take while a laugh track behind me chortled at my dismay. We’ve been so busy dealing with Nugget’s surgery, a visit from Grandma and a football season with enough drama to rival the entire Dance Moms franchise that Halloween fell off my radar.

Unlike many, we are absolutely not Halloween people. I hate all things scary, bloody and gory. The last horror movie I saw was in 1986 and that damn Freddy Kurger still haunts my dreams. The only time I succumbed to a haunted house was during college in the ‘90’s and I still shudder when passing abandoned farmhouses from memories of that “Homestead of Horror.”

My husband, The Turk, totally doesn’t get Halloween. “Why they walk around to get candy? Why we not just buy the candy and they can stay home and eat?” Halloween wasn’t a thing in 1980’s Turkey during his childhood because when you live in an often hostile nation, who needs manufactured anxiety just for fun?

Our offspring tend to follow my lead when it comes to goblins and ghouls. Nugget has not been able to walk into any store with a Halloween display without having his eyes covered since the Halloween goods started appearing in August. “Hawoween guys are da worsth!” Number 1 has managed to wiggle out of a couple haunted house invites from friends and while his buds are priming up to don bloody masks and plastic meat cleavers, he’s trying to find the only costume options void of bloodshed but still cool enough to hide his wussy soul.

While we don’t do the scary parts, we do costumes hard core. Back in the day, I was a costume designer in professional theater. I worked for theatres, dance companies, operas and even a few indie films. I created everything from giant mudmen to bloody brides and all things in between and I did it for close to 15 years. So when my kids dream up a costume, they know Mom can handle it. Our kitchen becomes Dreamworks Studio for the weeks leading up to the big dance and they love it. I’ve made dinosaurs, an epic number of Star Wars characters, monsters, superheroes, a viking, a pirate, a Ghostbuster, a mad scientists and a few I’m forgetting. It’s my moment to pull out the old skills and mom real hard. But this year…

“Mom, I don’t want you to get upset…”

(P.S. When you start with that phrase it’s usually a solid bet mom is going to get upset.)

“…but I was wondering if I could get a store-bought costume this year?” Number 1, my first born, my intercontinental sidekick, my baby boy was kicking me to the curb.

“Well…” I wiped a fake tear that was intended to add to his guilt but in reality was a tear of relief. Mama ain’t got time for this madness this year. “I guess…if you really want one…”

He did and within a day we had a plan to morph my adorable little 6th grader into a badass gorilla, an age appropriate and not at all gory option. Fortunately Nugget stilled held great expectations for a mom-made, red ninja costume complete with gold nunchucks so Dreamworks is still in business.

“Wew, if you guyth are going to the Hawoween thore, I am thooooooo thaying home.” Nugget’s fear was real and he wasn’t budging even for his brother. But Nugget gave us his blessing, “Good. Go wif-out me!” and we were all set.

We scored our gorilla suit on our first stop with the added bonus of a 25% off sale and within hours I had a four and a half foot gorilla lounging in my living room. That’s when Number 1 had a brilliant idea.

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Gorilla reclining

“I’m going to hide in the trees and wait for Nugget to get off the bus, then I’m going to jump out and scare him.”

“You know this is not going to end well.” I warned.

“But it will be hilarious.”

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You don’t see me….

As I headed down to meet the bus I was followed by a stocky little gorilla. I crossed my fingers that none of the neighbors mistook him for a midget Sasquatch and took him out. Once he was in place, he gave me the code “ka-kaw, ka-kaw,” I was to yell when Nugget was heading his way. Nugget departed the bus glad-handing like a politician before jumping into my arms with my post-school hug and then he was on his way up our huge driveway while I was “ka-kawing” behind him.

“Grrrrrrr!” The hairy beast jumped from behind the tree and while we both expected a scream in response, the gorilla was instead met with a harsh blow right to the crotch. Eventually he unmasked the gorilla and realized King Kong was only his brother but the damage was done and there was a hairy lump, clutching his crotch on my driveway.

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That did not end well…

“That wath not funny.” Nugget lectured. “You know I hate to be thcared.”

“Why did you hit me though?” Wailed the gorilla.

“Becauthe, I’m a ninja so when I fight I hit your penith to protect mythelf. If I had my nunchucks I could weally geth you.”

And so the lesson learned is,  if you are attacked without nunchucks, hit their penis. It works.

“Also, I fink you need to wear a thirt. I can thee your gorilla boobieth and it’th groth.”

Happy Halloween Y’all!

Man of the Ear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can we leave him home?”

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

“Thounds good to me Mom.”

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

 

Aren’t You A Little Old For A Treehouse?

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“Mom,” Number 1 Son asked, “Can we build a treehouse?”

My instinct was to be honest, “Ah hells no! You wanna fall out of that thing and break your damn neck?” but instead I took what I assumed would be the safe approach. (The one that would get me off the hook and my his father the bad guy, duh.) “Sure, you can build it with Baba.”

He hung his little tween head and began to sulk.  “Like that’s gonna happen. You know Baba will say no.”

Of course I knew The Turk was going to say no! That was the plan. My husband is notorious for sucking the fun from life, and explaining all the ways said fun is deadly. (It’s genetic, his fun sucking is a fraction of what his own father could manage.) I was certain when faced with the treehouse request, he would issue a hard, “No. You fall out, you die.” Or “You slip on ladder and you die” or even “tree fall over and you die.” It was a given he would offer the axe on this project.

“Well, you know Baba, but it can’t hurt to ask.” Easy-peasy.

Fast-forward to dinner that evening…

“Can you please pass the yogurt,” Number 1 asked and on the downlow added, “and can we build a tree house?”

The Turk perked up, “What?”

“Yogurt,” repeated Number 1.

“No, you want tree house?”

Number 1 nodded. We braced for his You Can Die moment.

“Ok. We can start this weekend.”

Hubba whaaaaaaaaaa? Number 1 shared my reaction and before I could shut it down, plans were being sketched. This was unexpected.

They did, in fact, start that weekend but the process is slow. Because he is an engineer there is no easy or sensible process. First there was lots of contemplation about the perfect spot in the best tree in our backyard forest, then measurements, and more contemplation. Then research and clearing the neighboring 300 feet in every direction. Once that work was completed, it took numerous trips to home improvement stores sourcing materials and two months later, the building began.

He christened the build by pulling up the driveway with a stack of treated 4×4 boards sticking out the passenger side window of my not yet scratched and still smelling of the dealership SUV. “They not fit so I have to drive like this.” (PS -my SUV now smells like new deck instead scent.)

He and the boys hauled boards and tools from the garage to the build site for what seemed like hours. Thankfully, when it was time to break out the big tools he sent the boys off, which was imperative since he is no poster child for safety.

“Honey, Isn’t the ladder supposed to lean the other direction before you climb it?”

“Is it really safe to use that saw like that?”

“Are you sure you don’t want me to foot that ladder?” It took extreme restraint to avoid yelling, “YOU CAN DIE!!!”

Day one ended and The Turk still had all appendages,(truly a miracle). To celebrate he hung the only thing Nugget had asked to be added to the design, a swing. As the chains went in place the seat of the swing landed about 3 feet above the six-year-olds head.

“Baaaabaaaaa,” Nugget groaned, “How am I athposta get in my thwing?”

“Hold on, I fix.” And he did. He extended the swing chains with some ratchet straps and Nugget was off and swinging.

The Turk joined me on the deck for a cocktail to celebrate his work. “Is good huh?”

What he saw was the beginnings of a tree-mounted man-cave. What I saw were a few boards mounted between two massive pines that were a certain death-trap.

“Um, isn’t it a little high?” I asked.

“I put in stairs so they do not fall off ladder. Then I put a slide so they get down easy.”

“You’re going to need really long stairs. That thing is like 15 feet off the ground.”

“It is high because I want to see the water when I sit and drink my coffee there.” He replied

“Wait, what?”

“It is so beautiful. You can see bogs and ponds. I might put futon up there to take nap even.”

“I thought this was for the kids?”

“They can drink coffee there too.”

From that moment the project grew at a frightening pace. He decided there would be a second level and perhaps next summer he would add an extension to the neighboring tree. He would add wi-fi so “the kids” could watch Turkish soccer while gazing over the cranberry bogs. He would run an electric hook-up so he could stay up there longer on his work-from-home days. “Next summer I put the pool at the bottom of the slide so they can slide down right into water.”

My eyes could roll back in my head no further. “What the hell! We have a 3 foot quick-set pool! We don’t have a real pool!!!!!”

“I know. I put one in. This winter I am research pool liners then I can put it in during spring.”

I was losing it, “so you’re going to dig the pool?”

“Yes, why not?”

“You’re going to learn to run a backhoe?” This man was out of his mind. I had images of my crazed engineer driving a backhoe into our house while digging through our septic tank and taking down power-lines for the entire town.

“Maybe I dig by hand.”

“You’re going to dig a pool in our backyard using a shovel all so you can slide out of your treehouse into a pool?”

He nodded, “Yes, the boys will slide down too.”

We ended week two and there is a floor between two trees about 15’ in the air with three different styles of swings hanging below. No one but the Turk has been allowed onto the elevated platform but he has managed to have a cup of coffee up there already. He’s called dibs on this weekend to work on the tree mansion and intends to have level one done soon.  I will continue to do as I’ve done for the thirteen years I’ve been an engineer’s wife, roll my eyes, keep a firm grip on the credit cards and 911 on speed-dial then look the other way until he’s done. Maybe, one day he’ll let our kids into his treehouse too.

Summer of Doom

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We’ve been New Englanders for one year now and while I am sometimes guilty of being  dramatic, (It’s a surprise, I know) I’m not being dramatic when I say that New England wants me dead. At first I thought it was just trying to toughen me up, you know, like when they jump you into a girl gang. I’d take some scratches and a few bruises then I’d be one of them. In the past year, I took many a scratch and bruise from New England, from snake invasions and stanky wells to falling pine trees and winter sunsets at four o’freakin’clock but I made it a whole year. I assumed I was jumped in and one of the gang. Now I could spend the summer enjoying the evenings  on my deck and lazy days cooling my toes in the ocean like a New Englander. However, New England had other plans and if the sharks or deadly mosquitoes don’t kill me this summer, my anxiety will.

Our little house in the woods is less than 20 minutes off Cape Cod.(12 if I’m behind the wheel) It’s a quick jaunt to some of the Cape’s most stunning beaches. Last summer we were noobs. We arrived in the height of tourist season and were just trying to survive but this year, it was going to be epic. But then Jaws and his whole damn extended family decided to ambush my plan.

Sure, there were sharks last year. There were even two major attacks but those weren’t on the beaches we go to and those guys were way out in the water, not near the shore. Nothing to worry about until one Sunday in late June after we’d been strolling on a nearby beach and found out it was later closed due to a shark sighting within twenty feet of shore. Waaaaay too close. As beach season heated up (I’m accustomed to beach season in Jersey which begins on Memorial Day but here it’s too damn cold until about mid July.) the number of sightings grew and they kept getting closer and closer until there was one sighted in less than 2’ of water. As a solid nutjob, I never go in deeper than 2’ because you never know what lurks but now we know- sharks- that’s what lurks. Every night on the news there was a round-up of beach closings and sightings and every night my anxiety climbed until I decided this would be the summer of no beaches. Jaws and his kin had won and I was fine with that until,

“Mom, when are we going to start going to the beach?” Number 1 son asked.

“When the sharks leave.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he countered.

“Fine. Then my answer is never. We are never going to the beach. I worked too damn hard to get you and your brother this far for either of you to become  shark hors d’oeuvres.”

Number 1 walked away muttering, “You seriously need therapy Mom.” But my adoring youngest nodded in agreement.

Sure the native New Englanders laugh at me but I will remind them of my wisdom as they adjust to life with a pegleg.

As I was adjusting to life with no beach, and coping with that the ticks covering our universe that were harboring Lyme Disease, I was hit by another death threat – EEE or Eastern Equine Encephalitis – a potentially fatal disease spread by mosquitoes. A few weeks ago we got the warning that in addition to West Nile, mosquitoes in our section of the state had been found carrying EEE. For the love of god Mother Nature, will your rage never calm?!?! We quickly escalated from the yellow shading on the map indicating high threat to the orange meaning situation critical.

“You know if we go outside we can die.” I announced to my husband the Turk over dinner.

“Of course. Everyday there is something. You get hit by bus. You get bite by snake. Tree fall on you and boom. You can die.”

I’d forgotten that his people are of the doom and gloom variety. “No, I mean there are deadly mosquitoes here now. You’re supposed to stay inside in the evening. The county is coming to spray our house tonight and they’re doing mass fly-over sprays all week.”

“Good.” I know he hasn’t listened to a word I said when he reacts to something drastic with “Good.” I thought about letting him become mosquito bait but he’s such a wussy when sick, I’m sure if his brain was swollen from encephalitis he’d be a nightmare.

Stupidly I began Googling EEE. This is probably why when Nugget turned up with a mosquito bite I had to take an extra anxiety pill washed down with a glass of merlot for survival. Immediately, I bought every brand of bug repellent on the market, spray, mist, bracelets, clip-on, you name it I got it. I’ve even begun judging sprays based on their olfactory-pleasantry.

What’s that scent you’re wearing? It’s captivating.  Eau de Deet. It scents and protects.

Each time we head out the door I douse my kids head to toe, blocking out the whines of agony. “Suck it up boys. It’s a spray to play world now.”

“But it stinks.”

“Would you rather smell like Deep Woods Off or die of a swollen brain?”

The Turk has an approach more like this, “Do not go outside. There flies there and you can die.” (For 13 years I’ve tried to teach him there is a difference between mosquito and fly in English but to him they’re all the same.) 

It’s been tough. As I sit here on my deck, covered in Cutter, gazing upon flaming citronella, I relent. Just when I think I’m getting you New England, you hit me with a new hell. You win. Between your man-eating fish and your brain-sucking insects, you remain victorious.

But don’t count me out. I’ve dodged your snakes and sharks, I can handle your jump-in.

Snake Charmers We Are Not…

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            Thanks to our patriarch, we live a life chocked full of crazy and this week we brought Number 1’s well-adjusted friend into our den of madness. It’s ok, he was bound to find out eventually but Number 1 is still red-faced. Loyal readers may remember we had a little issue with snakes last summer. The issue nearly sent me for a visit to the Betty Ford Clinic before I discovered a magical substance called, Snake-Be-Gone. A sprinkling of that powdery magic and we were snake free for the rest of the summer. (If you’d like to recapture that moment, click here and read all about it.)

Fast forward to this summer and we made it all the way to July 6th before one of those slimy bastards had the audacity to show itself. I’d spent the day weed-eating like a felon on a chain gang and the thought of encountering a snake hadn’t entered my thinking until I was closing shop and saw what was most likely a 29-foot python under my rhododendron. Ok, maybe it was a 3-foot garter snake but when it comes to snakes, is there really any difference?

I ran inside wheezing “DO…NOT…GO…OUT…THERE!” l told my boys about the 29-foot python and thanks to their base of knowledge, Nugget exclaimed, “Bettor geth thome Thanke Be Gone.” Exactly little friend.

I called the Turk who was running errands and when it was clear he wasn’t listening I said, “Listen to me! There is a massive snake in the front yard. I need you to go get the biggest bottle of Snake-Be-Gone you can find.”

“No!!!!” He screamed “How this happen?”

I considered a brief discussion of ecosystems but instead I said, “Just get the goods. I’ll be waiting inside.”

Within minutes The Turk returned loaded down with Snake-Away

“What’s this? This is the wrong one.”

“It be ok. Snake-Be-Gone, Snake-Away, same thing.”

“So you say,” I muttered, “We shall see.”

After dousing the cinnamon-scented powder across our property, paying special attention to the Ring of Fire, (all areas adjacent to the cranberry bogs where the problem originates) we developed a false sense of snake-free security. We remained snake-free for about 18 hours.

Fast forward to the next evening when Number 1 was having a sleepover. The boys were about to jump into our massive, 3-foot deep pool for an evening dip when Nugget unleashed a series of panicked screams one might expect if one is losing a limb. He pointed franticly at Number 1’s friend and we all assumed there was a bug or dragonfly or something equally horrific because, like his mother, Nugs has a flair for drama.

But soon he got it out, “THNAKE!!!!!”

Immediately the older boys made confirmation and Nugget was clinging around my neck like a terrified koala.

The boys and I tried to find our slimy intruder but he as illusive.

“I am anti-gun but I would totally buy one for minutes like this.” I exclaimed.

“You should get a salt-gun.” Number 1’s friend suggested. “It shoots salt to kill bugs and stuff like this.”

I was intrigued, “Tell me more.”

“My dad found it on Amazon. You’d like it. I’m sure it would work on snakes.” This wise young man already understood the impact of snakes on our family.

(Note to self…scour Amazon as soon as we are snake free.)

Number 1 interjected, “I think he’s hiding under the board with the pool filter. I can flip it up and get him Mom.”

“Yeah,” His friend agreed. “I see the board moving so I’m sure he’s under there.”

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHA!” Nugget added from behind the glass of the door.

We poked and prodded from a safe distance before I decided to go for The Turk.  He was supposed to be taking a test for his online class but I declared this was something he should deal with he did do a couple years in the Turkish army which has made him badass in many respects.

Moments later  the Turk joined us. “Where he?” The Turk scowled as he strided towards the scene.

The boys all pointed towards the snake’s assumed hidey-hole.

The Turk surveyed the area and dramatically pulled a tiki-torch from the ground approaching the lair of our enemy. He poked the tiki a few times.

“I’m pretty sure I see it moving.” Number 1 confirmed.

“Just flip the board up. Then we can get him,” encouraged his friend.

The Turk ignored us all and instead performed some kind of odd dance of fear in a 10’ circumference of the area reminding us that, “Snake is watching us. Careful where you go.” (It’s important to note that our guest did an excellent job here holding his laughter. Number 1 and I, not so much.)

“This is ridiculous. At least wedge up the board so I can see if it’s even under there.”

Eventually he complied. “Oh yep. That little bastard is under there.” I proclaimed from a safe distance away.

We weighed our options while the Turk continued to dance around nervously. “I do not understand. I buy the Snake-Be-Gone. Why he not be gone?”

“No,” I countered. “You bought Snake-Away. See what happened? It’s like buying generic ketchup. It just doesn’t work.”

“Baba, I can get in the pool and flip up the board.” Number 1 suggested.

“No! What if he attack?” The Turk worried. “He can jump in pool.”

Now I was beginning to worry for the Turk’s sanity. “I don’t know what snakes in Turkey do, but here that isn’t a thing. Plus if snakes in Massachusetts can jump 3 feet in the air I’m moving anyway.”

The boys got in pool while Nugget and I watched from the deck. They lifted the filter and flipped the board to expose a baby snake not more than 12” at best.  Number One and his friend were amazing and didn’t even giggle at the absurdity of it all. Though it was tiny, the Turk’s stance did not change.

“What we do now?” The Turk asked. “Should I kill?”

That’s when Number 1’s sweet friend said, “Well, I usually just pick them up and put them someplace else.”

“With your hands!?!” The Turk was stunned.

“Yea. It’s harmless.”

“No snake is harmless. I almost have heart attack!” Thankfully before any final decisions were made, the little guy ran off into the ferns on the other side of the fence.

“Tomorrow,” My husband screamed over the fence into the hill of greenery, “I mow down everything!  Is war! You hear me?”

My husband has very few fears and sometimes his fearlessness is life-threatening. Like when he rewires things that would cause sane individuals to fear electrocution or when he jumps out of the car in Turkey to berate another driver for cutting him off. (True story and not only once.) Or like last weekend when he trimmed our 40-foot pines teetering on the top of an extension ladder while wielding a chainsaw. But then there are snakes…itty bitty snakes, and he’s done. I guess everyone has their limits.

Later that evening Number 1 whispered, “Mom, this is exactly why everywhere we live, my friends think my dad is crazy.” To which I could only reply, “Agreed son. He is nuts but he’s ours.”