War

When we first moved into this house we quickly discovered we adopted a mouse along with the mortgage. Every once in a while a brown flash would dart from beneath one cabinet to beneath the oven. Yes, I screamed. I’m not afraid of mice but the abrupt nature of their appearance is alarming, a dark blur flying across the floor like a giant cockroach from hell. Other sightings were reported by the children who expressed equal alarm. My husband and I considered mouse traps in walgreens, but, half out of pity and half out of frugality, I didn’t want to bother. After all, other than occasionally freaking us out, what harm was he or she inflicting?

I have no ethical issue with killing animals. I don’t even feel bad when I watch those gory factory farm PETA videos. But I figured… why not let mouse bygones be bygones. Couldn’t we all just get along?

That was nine years ago. Fast forward to the past few months and apparently that mouse got married. Because the mouse sightings are now mice sightings (my son saw four at once!) and what was a rare encounter was now, between the ten of us, a diurnal one. They skittered above my ceiling while I tried to sleep; they tore around my son’s room; they skulked in the downstairs kitchen, so bold as to sniff bananas and avocados when I was standing right there at the counter!

That’s it, I thought to myself. This is war.

My son and I put our heads together: poison? No. My sister used rat poison on her own infestation and had dead rats rotting in the walls for months (imagine the smell!). We decided to try both glue traps and snap traps, and I was grateful my oldest daughter wasn’t within earshot: she spent the majority of her senior year writing rambling, encyclopedic-length animal rights screeds.

We set up the traps in areas with the most frequent mouse sightings (it’s a big house). My oldest daughter by this point noticed what was going on.

What kind of traps? she asked, visibly distraught.

Glue traps.

Not glue traps! she pleaded. Mommy I’ll buy humane traps myself!

Nope.

We had kills within hours of setting out those traps, or rather we had catches. Then we had to figure out how to dispose of the glued mice. Just throw them out in a bag? Drown them? I once knew someone whose father would drown mice in the toilet, before disposing of them.

I looked my son in the eye. How about the freezer?

That’s what I was thinking, he replied. But wasn’t sure…

Do it!

Unfortunately the snap traps aren’t working- I had high hopes of feeding the mice to the feral cats, but am concerned the glue might make them sick. So far only the glue traps have yielded casualties. One amazon reviewer claimed to have caught an 18 inch snake with a single glue trap! So if you are in a position to consider a vermin trap, I highly recommend these glue traps. Hooyah!

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Fan Death and Cats on Roombas

The other day my almost 16 year old daughter told me the strange fact that south koreans have a long standing superstition/ phobia concerning death by fan. Turn a fan on in a room, goes the superstition, close the door, and you’re inviting death through some vague concept of ‘disturbed air.’ The phobia is so intense that fans sold in south korea include the ‘life saving’ feature of timers, because SLEEPING in a closed room with the fan running is considered even more treacherous than being awake in a room with a fan running and the door closed.

The superstition is so pervasive that the government issues warnings about closed door fan use, and the media implicates closed door fan use in connection with otherwise natural deaths.

My daughter and I found this funny because she and I both sleep in closed rooms with a fan running for white noise, every night!

*

For christmas my mom gave my little guy a toy robot. It wanders around roomba-style trying to goad anyone within earshot to play a game (red light green light, and guess the animal sound are two favorites). Watching him react to the robot made me wonder how a cat would react to it, which made me wonder how cats react to roombas, which in turn made made me wonder if there are funny cat-roomba videos on youtube. Not one to disappoint, youtube provideth:

In case there was any remaining doubt, this proves my hypothesis that cats are completely useless!

The Rarefied Few

I overshot yesterday based on what I thought was fast returning vim and vigor. After barely eating for days I prepared a “normal” lunch- scrambled eggs with blue cheese. Ate it with relative ease (remember it was agony to swallow water two days ago). Topped things off with two glasses of ice water. This is more food and water than I ate all three days previous.

I felt pretty good! Took a shower, changed my clothes, got my three year old bundled up so we could fetch his older sisters from school. Then… a proverbial truck hit me. I was suddenly shaky, weak, horribly nauseous. I managed to get the two of us into the car and preemptively brought along a metal bowl.

I sat in the parking lot watching the minutes tick by like molasses; normally I enjoy this small hiatus, waiting for the doors to open. I pressed my face against the cold window willing myself not to throw up. When the kids began to trickle out I walked back and forth in the courtyard, found my older daughter and whispered (I have completely lost my voice) in her ear I was sick, could she bring her sisters to the car? I made a beeline back to the car and started puking my guts into that metal bowl.

As all this unfolded I reflected I was joining the rarefied few of humanity who have vomited in church parking lots. Really, how often could this happen? People don’t use church reception halls for weddings like they used to. It couldn’t be many of us.

I kept puking and puking and puking. Out of the corner of my eye I saw one of my daughter’s friend’s mother- I dearly hoped she couldn’t see what was going on. When all was said and done I had three girls plus my three year old staring at me aghast.

Mommy… asked my oldest daughter. Are you okay? 

Uh not really I managed in hoarse whisper, staring at the bowl brimming with vomit. I looked around blinking. Where to dispose of it? To my right was the grotto of the virgin mary; people leave roses and other flowers there. Nope. To my left was the backyard of the convent, modest snowbanks abutting the chain link fence. That might be a good spot? I’m sure the nuns would understand.

Bowl in hand I made my way through the exiting cars and neatly poured my stomach contents into the snowbank. I was surprised how watery it was; I must chew my food really well.

Back at the car I wiped my face with a towel, then wrapped the bowl in that towel, carefully placing it in the trunk. We drove home in silence… I guess the girls were in a state of shell shocked disgust.

Once home I dragged/ carried the uncooperative three year old up the stairs, asked my older daughter to man the ship and I collapsed into bed. Three hours later I woke with the song “Anthem” from Chess in my head.

So what happened? The penicillin doesn’t make me nauseous, I’ve repeatedly taken it on an empty stomach with no ill effect. Did I experience a mild version of refeeding syndrome? When a person goes a long period not eating, food must be reintroduced gradually or they can experience a nasty assortment of symptoms ranging from vomiting to edema. Or maybe I drank too much water after days of dehydration?

I guess it doesn’t matter because today I AM on the up and up! I can swallow food and water with minimal pain. Thank god for antibiotics.

Really Extremely Sick

I can’t remember the last time I was sick. Back in march I broke my toe and a rib. That sucked. It took eight weeks for me to walk somewhat normally and more months where turning side to side while sleeping didn’t send a shockwave of pain through my torso. But I don’t think I came down with a cold, since… not sure. A long time!

A few weeks ago my kids started dropping like dominoes with a nasty cold. My 20 year old puking and passed out in bed for days. My 6 year old had a fever for five days! Then the 12 and 8 year olds succumbed. My 14 year old faked succumbing (she’s sneaky like that) then my 15 year old was hit. Even my husband who never gets sick has a nagging cough.

I’m now on day three of the most nightmarishly painful sore throat I’ve EVER had in four decades of existence. It’s like an invisible sadist is jamming needles into my tissue and god forbid I have to actually cough or swallow something. Add to this persistent fever and body aches. Oi vey! How much is a skinny housewife supposed to endure? What did I do to deserve this cosmic torture?

St. Paisios is known to have said his greatest lessons were learned from his illnesses. I kept reciting that to myself last night between 20 minute patches of sleep and countdowns to the next dose of advil, an avalanche of tissues piling up beside the bed. Not sure what the lesson is here, although once I’m well I’ll treasure my health in a way I neglected previously. Like when my toe was sufficiently healed so that I could walk. Wow!! I forgot how much fun walking is!

Perhaps the moral is to appreciate the small things in life. I’ll let you know once I’ve rejoined the world of the living.

I L L I D I A N and S T O R M R A G E

Yesterday I was watching TV with my husband- or rather I was re-re-rewatching Game of Thrones while he was buried in his iPad, periodically giving gleeful play by plays of the latest sex scandals plaguing hollywood- when my 6 year old daughter trotted into the room.

Her: Mommy, I just fell in the lava.

Me: Can you talk to the angel? (running back to her body is, as of yet, too complicated)

Her: But I didn’t die.

Me: Oh… [pondering advice. Find the ramp to climb out? is there a ramp? I’ve never fallen in Ironforge lava. But Undercity has ramps and steps to climb out of sludge. Jump? Jump really, really high (slamming the space bar)?]

Uh… I finally said, Just click your hearthstone.

Okay! she said brightly, and trotted off.

My husband looked up from the iPad, blinking. That has to be the strangest conversation I’ve EVER heard.

I laughed because you know what? He’s right. Say what you will about the game, but once within the warm embrace of World of Warcraft, no matter how amateur or deep your involvement, you have migrated to a different dimension with its own lingo.

And don’t knock video games for little kids! My now 18 year old learned to read playing WoW. As a young child she struggled for years with reading. Despite our coaching she could barely sound out words, much less understand what she was struggling to pronounce.

Anyway… I think she was 8 or 9… World of Warcraft entered our house. She was transfixed!  Mesmerized! And absolutely desperate to read those darn quests.

It took a while but within 6 months she was, for the first time in her life, able to read with meaning. By age 10 she could read with complete fluency and tore through books as though they were going out of style. She read through the entire young adult section of one library branch (just as my son read through the entire adult history section) necessitating that we switch to a different library branch.

All my kids learned to read at different ages. My oldest son could read before he could speak, and could read fluently by age 5. We caught him reading Money Magazine over my husband’s shoulder at that tender age of 6.

My two next youngest daughters learned to read around age 5 with fluency. Then the next daughter- she struggled terribly and couldn’t read at all until age 9 or so (Minecraft, not WoW was her inspiration) but once up and running she too burned through books with alarming speed. The next daughter after that struggled, not quite as much as her older sister. She prefers graphic novels and draws her own snarky comics depicting the horrors of math class.

This 6 year old appears to be in the “struggle group.” She developed an aversion to books and refused to let us to read to her.

Recently I decided to renew my subscription to WoW. Not sure why- I mean I’m two expansions behind, don’t have much free time, and I occasionally find the game tedious. But the 6 year old took an instant liking to the game- as her sister before her, she was absolutely mesmerized and desperate to understand what exactly was going on.

She can now read and spell a number of emotes- you know, /sleep, /dance, /sit- meticulously typing them out at the keyboard. She listens intently as we read the quests, copies down server names (imagine I L L I D I A N and S T O R M R A G E penciled in cute little girl handwriting) and has learn to navigate the maps. She began asking about other words outside the game. How do you spell “look?” What does c-l-i-c-k spell? She no longer has that aversion to books, spelling, or even her homework. Yesterday she was pestering me midday to hit the books- usually homework with her is a last minute, teeth pulling enterprise.

So if your kids love video games, don’t panic. Look for games that are language heavy, require map navigation, and make sure to have a little faith. As far as my WoW subscription, can you say CLASSIC SERVERS??? I’ll gladly hand over my non-existent paycheck for that.

Wimpy Wine

The island survived my absence: turkeys still grifting, opossums still gnawing through garbage, my oldest daughter kept the feral cat colony in our yard alive. My tomato plants died but that was written in the stars.

It was difficult being up there, not in ways I anticipated. Often while driving around it felt I never left. Nine years non existent, maybe a time loop. The town looked somewhat worse- I saw a meth head handcuffed & hauled into the police station- I never saw that while living here. I never saw anyone handcuffed until I moved to nyc.

My dad was irate. Ranting about my aunt, her lack of estate planning, nitpicking her last motions, grumble grumble grumble. God lord, I wanted to tell him- the woman was dying! Cut her some fucking slack. I kept my mouth shut.

My mother dragged us to church, “us” being the little guys and myself. Alright I get it, she wants to show off the grandkids. I’ll show them off too- they’re criminally cute.

The church was so depressing. They recently signed a compact with a lutheran church merging two dying churches, and I could sense one foot in there was turf war betides. The lutherans on one side, anglicans on the other. Stink eye ensued.

My lovely children started acting rotten so I dragged them to the back where exactly one child (I later learned he was being raised by his GREAT grandmother- both parents and grandma were unfit) playing with legos and toy sharks.

Did I like sharks!? he asked, full volume. I tried to shush him. Had I ever picked up a shark? Had I ever picked up a shark but failed! What was my favorite type of shark?

He rolled up his sleeve. I’ve gotta tattoo, he said proudly, showing off a temporary skull tattoo. I gave him a silent thumbs up then shushed him again.

Day before the funeral my parents had a wine and cheese event. My mom’s cousin was first to show up; they discussed weather, traffic, grandchildren, who was at what school studying what. There was discussion of family history. The cousin marveled how adept my two year old was at navigating stupid games on my defunct android. I listened politely… and thought of the steven king story where people slowly turn into vegetables.

Then my dead aunt’s buddies arrived. The greeted me uproariously- hugs, jokes, booze! My aunt’s best friend’s other best friend sat in an armchair, perched on a cane chatting brightly. Aunt’s best friend threw back a tumbler of gin. I don’t want any of that wimpy wine! — she bellowed– viking style. The other friends downed glasses of wine and nibbled on cheese. We discussed architecture, history… the house was rocking!

Then the funeral. It was at the merged church, beautiful in its day. Rich mahogany knotted the ceiling, elaborate stained glass pictographs: Ruth the Gleaner, John the Baptist, St. Michael– ready to charge.

I read from revelations, my sister read a poem. The gin drinker cried quietly.

A reception at my sister’s house. I wolfed down turkey and roast beef while my kids ate fruit. My sister’s german shephards skulked like patrolling soldiers while I clandestinely fed them pieces of meat. I watched our kids, all our kids, my kids, my sister’s kids, my sister’s friend’s kids, frolic in the gated garden. How surreal to regard such life in the shadow of death. The yard sloped down to a pond, endless acres of forest, the sky clear. I wonder as to the state of my aunt’s soul.

The funeral. We drove two hours to the grave site, my little guys surprisingly well behaved. An ancient retired pastor gave the homily while a grinning funeral home worker stood by his side. What a racket! (I later told my mom just to dump my ashes if I precede her in death.) The weather was sublime, a perfect breeze shimmering through towering oaks like god had planned it.

 

 

Escape From New York

Yesterday I left Staten Island for the first time in nine years. That’s right, I hadn’t stepped foot off the island, even for other boroughs, in nine long years. Actually that time went by rather quickly.

The drive was surprisingly non-horrific. With two and five year olds in tow I braced myself for the worst. A couple older kids came along for the ride and Mom did the driving, which was heaven sent- I dislike highway driving to the point of phobia.

We went over the Goethals, the turnpike, various parkways. We stopped for lunch at McDonald’s; I had a double quarter pounder sans ketchup and I threw out the bun (not before offering it to the rest of the family, they declined). It was awkward but doable eating the floppy hamburger patties with my fingers, the meat was terribly overcooked. It was edible, but barely, to the tune of $5. My little guys shared french fries and chicken nuggets, mom had a salad, older kids had an egg mcmuffin, more nuggets and fries. For drinks we had water (me), lemonade, mocha latte and diet coke.

I was surprised how many black people and hispanics are now north of NYC. Nine years ago non-asian minorities faded out a certain radius beyond the metro area with the exception of Springfield, MA. Most of the diners at that connecticut McDonald’s were black or hispanic, and it didn’t turn all/mostly white until Vermont.

After five hours we reached my hometown; I didn’t move here until age seven but it’s essentially my hometown. I wondered if I would start crying after all these years. But it was anticlimactic. There were the gorgeous mountains, lush green rolling in distant landscape. There was the guns-n-ammo shop. More lush greenery, an auto shop. Some kind of manufacturing plant (the sole one in the area, industry here has been decimated). The veterinarian where our sick pets were euthanized so long ago. Pretty colonials and victorians, many but not all in disrepair.

We arrived home to my very grouchy father. Grouchy is my dad’s version of happy, it only goes downhill from there. My little guy was all over the place while we unpacked- I tried to lock him in a playroom via baby gate but he howled pitifully so I let him escape.

My parents had dinner but I told them I would eat later. I went for a walk around local roads and hopped briefly into the woods, climbing a steep incline padded with pine needles and thin weeds. Pine trees towered overhead like solemn angels. I sat under one and patiently slapped mosquitoes as they landed on my skin. Later I ate some salmon and semi-raw hamburgers. My mother was horrified as she packed them out of sight into the fridge, asking wasn’t I worried about eating rare beef? Nope.

This morning I went to walmart. I needed shampoo and razors, my five year old requested pretzels. My mom warned me: the town looked worse than ever, but as I drove it looked the same. There was a new CVS. There was an abandoned something or other. There was the middle school where I was mercilessly tormented by my peers. I peeked down the street to my childhood best friend’s house- I considered driving past but that would feel stalkerish. I have no idea if her parents are even still living, and she has long since moved away.

Walmart… it looked exactly the same as nine years ago, except the shopping carts were in terrible shape (nothing irks me more than lousy shopping carts) and the walls were dinged up, in need of repainting. Two women said hello and politely asked how are you? This jarred me. They don’t do that in Staten Island, not that Staten Islanders aren’t friendly in their own way.

I am here for my aunt’s funeral. It’s all very sad. She should have lived a good twenty, thirty years further. God gives and god takes away.

The Pelican People

After her first psychiatric stint my daughter stabilized somewhat on a cocktail of anti-psychotics. She continued to pace, talk to herself, but was far less paranoid and accusatory. She stopped picking out her gorgeous hair and it grew back in short, pretty tufts.

A few months ago I noticed a decline. As did her grouchy psychiatrist, who prescribed an array of new anti-psychotics to no avail. My daughter reverted to constant pacing, constant chattering, and picking out the new version of her hair. The grouchy shrink eventually gave up. Perhaps she should go back to the psych unit.

So off we ventured one bright saturday morning. By this point I was accustomed to the double locking doors (the second locked door doesn’t unlock, until the first door slams shut) and even remembered the names of most of the nurses and doctors. My daughter was bright eyed and chipper throughout. I’ve gradually learned she has two modes: happy crazy, and paranoid crazy. Today she was happy crazy.

“I am not a goose to swim in murky waters!” she announced gaily to the empty waiting room. “I fly with seagulls in salty skies, I sing with the pelican people!” She pronounced those last words, pelican people, with great flourish. We sat together in the waiting room, endless episodes of Sponge Bob on television, her eyes darting to and fro like a cat watching bugs. She laughed, frowned, cocked her head to the side with serious expression as though listening to god’s secrets. She nodded her head, smiled warmly, and relaxed into her plastic seat.

They brought her in. They brought me in. I went through the whole spiel yet again. She was normal and happy until age 14. She grew withdrawn. She started pacing incessantly. She stopped sleeping. She began talking to invisible people. She picked out her gorgeous hair until nearly bald. She accused us of conspiring against her, accused us of poisoning her food. Whatever hair grew back she refused to wash or comb, and she hadn’t showered in months. Her hair was tangled in thick mats. Like you see on homeless people.

She looks like a homeless person,” I said flatly. Because this was it: defeat. Game over. Your turn.

They admitted her to the psych unit which housed just one other patient, a surly african american kid who kept sticking his hands in his pants, even in front of me. She was oblivious, cheerily playing Uno and watching movies with him until his discharge. Then it was down to just her on the unit, the lone adolescent patient.

She chattered incoherently to the nurses at their station. She read aloud classified ads in case they might need a new job (waitressing! that might be fun!). She explained to me, during visiting hours, that we are the construct of a mathematician in a simulated reality. She penned rambling letters to her psychiatrist and social worker. In one she ended succinctly: Finding myself here I realize I am easily confused and have great difficulty with basic functioning. I hold no ill will against you.

She decorated it with hearts and curlicues.

The unit psychiatrist, an almost handsome man with glittering eyes, likewise surrendered. She was on an elephant’s dose of seroquel with no effect. They lacked the resources to help her, he said, and perhaps she should transfer to the long term facility.

And that’s precisely where she went, carried by two young EMTs glued to their cell phones. My daughter smiled and chattered as the ambulance tumbled. She would meet turkeys! (The wild turkeys of Staten Island originated at this psychiatric facility.) She would receive turkey hugs! Nothing like genuine turkey hugs! And we saw them- the wild turkeys- as the ambulance barreled over locked grounds. Males with feathers outstretched, brown mothers, fluffy chicks scampering.

“Turkeys!” she cried in elation, “They waited for me!”

Yet another intake interview. Yet again the same spiel. Though this time I recalled a few details. “She says she has Jesus powers,” I explained matter of factly, as though the notion weren’t ridiculous.

The psychiatrist and social worked nodded, scribbling in notebooks.

“When Jesus died on the cross, he granted a select few special powers, she is one of the select few.”

They continued to scribble.

The unit coordinator took me on a tour of the facility; in the distance I could hear my daughter chattering happily with her fellow inmates. Then they ushered me out; the facility is located near the beach and the salty breeze washed over me, bright perennials nodding in the wind. Crows soared overhead like watchmen; I was reminded of the Norse mythology I learned from Vikings (an excellent series, highly recommended) where ravens operate as the envoys of Odin.

 

Pretzels From God

I’ve been making homemade pretzels for the kids recently. No, not the kind you heat up from the freezer. The kind you make from strange items like flour and yeast.

pretzels

My fourteen year old said they taste like they were made by God. Well, if ever a cook has received a compliment, that is it! I used Alton Brown’s recipe but tweaked it a little. I used vegetable oil instead of butter, paid more attention to the dough texture than his ratio of ingredients (the texture is incredibly important since you have to shape and boil these) and eventually shaped them differently– the above picture shows Alton’s method. Good but not great.

My picky eaters devoured them like locusts and my oldest daughter has begged me to make them every day.

The irony is that I can’t eat them, as I have type 2 diabetes! I did try one bite to verify their verdict, and yes they are delicious. So go ahead and give these a try, you’ll never buy regular soft pretzels again!

First Comes Love

First Comes Love is a 2012 documentary from Nina Davenport detailing her desire to conceive a child sans husband, as she has failed to find Mr. Right by age 41. Having yearned her whole life for motherhood, she enlists the sperm of handsome gay friend Eric and we’re off to the races.

I watched this documentary twice. The first go-round it rubbed me the wrong way. Nina and her vast social network are cringeworthily solipsistic and emotionally stunted. I began to wonder how this small army of navel gazing intellectuals manage to pull their pants down in the morning to pee. And half of them, including Davenport, went to Harvard! I even stated aloud to my husband: “I can’t review this; it would be too cruel.”

Yet when I watched her film a second time I felt far more empathy for Ms. Davenport’s plight. Despite copious dating, no relationship grows to fruition. She even dates when she’s pregnant, to a charming film critic named John (note to Nina: if you ever read this review, get John back!). I had to wonder if these aging men and women, after so many years of ill-fated prospects, simply lack the ability to connect to one another long term. Nina even has to attend couples therapy with her best friend Amy to navigate their interactions.

Yet beneath Nina’s whiny exterior burns a bona fide desire to be a mother, and this is an urge none of us can criticize. After all, the maternal instinct is what transformed us from slimy fish to land dwelling mammals: concerned mother fish flopped in the mud for safer ground to lay eggs, and eventually that led to legs.

And oh does Davenport flop around. Between awkward conversations with the sperm donor, viscerally painful battles with her father- who perpetually hides behind a print New York Times and barks that she “Get an abortion!” after her pregnancy announcement- and her floundering sense of self, I began to feel maternal toward this poor creature and wondered if perhaps I could adopt her.

The filmmaking is choppy, neither here nor there, and the docu is fundamentally not about Davenport’s burgeoning motherhood, but rather her tumultuous relationship with her family of origin. In that respect I was disappointed to see details of pregnancy glossed over: she goes from taxi with sperm donor to suddenly third trimester pregnant, though the birth scene, which handsome Eric decides to avoid but later attends, is not to be missed.

All in all First Comes Love is a confused and confusing enterprise that nonetheless affirms the beauty of motherhood. And despite their flaws, Nina and Eric manage to produce the cutest baby in human history- but you’ll have to watch the film to see him!

Currently First Comes Love is available on Netflix streaming.