The Circle Game

i love my children.

Not just because 10 million years of biology has programmed me to care for, and protect, my offspring to assure proliferation of my genetic code. Come to think of it, that certainly is a factor… but not the primary factor.

i love them because they are smart, funny, thoughtful and good citizens of earth.

With the holidays, they were both able to visit for about a week.  First, The Boy arrived – stepping off a flight at midnight, completely soused, having learned the joys of holiday travel with a military haircut.  People just love buying drinks for our servicemen, even when not in uniform.

On Christmas day, the two of us headed for the airport to retrieve The Girl arriving from across the Atlantic.  A happy reunion, with a stop near The Trailer Park to pay respects at Mom’s grave.

We enjoyed a great visit, they had places to go, friends to visit, and spent time with their dad and his wife.  They spent time wrangling the manimals, eating shitty food, and yakking late into the night.  The Girl did a bit of shopping, as she needed to take 100 pounds* of America back to Turkey.  The Boy farted around with his pod of sk8rboyz.

As it got closer to departure time, they were ready to go home.

The Girl has a job, a serious boyfriend and a life back in Turkey.  The Boy has made some incredible friends in the Army, and it was clear that he missed them and his routine.

i had to smile with complete understanding, and just a bit of melancholy.  i remember that feeling…

When i was married, we’d make an annual trip to visit my in-laws.  People i genuinely adored!  Since they were 1,000 miles away, we’d spend a week.  They made an effort to keep us entertained, with excursions and adventures so we wouldn’t get bored, but we were often just happy to hang out and visit.  But after about four or five days, i was absolutely itchy to get on the road and get home.


i remember when i left home – 18 years old, leaving for university, and knowing…. KNOWING that i’d never go back.  Not because my parents were bad, or i’d had a horrible experience, but because i wanted my life to be my own.  Of the four of us, i was the only one that never ‘bounced back’.

When i’d visit my old home – now the home that houses my niece and her family – it was comfortable and ‘known’ in a way, but it was never my home again.  There were only a few weeks i stayed – maybe in the summer after my first year of university.  A few nights spent in the recliner in the living room, looking after Mom in later years.  But i never went back… i loved it, but didn’t miss it.

While my children will always find a sense of comfort coming to visit – wherever i may be – it will never be their home again.  As a minimum, they’ll stop by to eat my food, drink my booze and wrangle my critters….

There’ll be new dreams, maybe better dreams and plenty
Before the last revolving year is through…**


* It’s less expensive to check an extra bag than to ship. i’d say most of the weight was bourbon and peanut butter…

** Joni Mitchell.  The Circle Game.  A song i did at open mic nights when i was 20, thinking “wow, this is, like, sooooo deep.”  Now when i do it, i can’t finish without breaking down in tears…

Driving Toward Istanbul

It was only 60 miles, but i drove The Girl closer to Istanbul last night.  She was spending the night with The Boy, and then catching a flight home today.


Yep.  It’s her home now.  She’s been living there since July.  Her bed is there.  Most of her friends are there.

The only incentives i offer?  A large brown dog and a surly orange cat.

Her dad bought the ticket.  Since he’s busy with work and hates travel, it seemed a reasonable solution.  She spent a few days with The Boy in the big university town, hanging out with her best gal pal there.  The Boy drove them north to visit their dad for a few days.

They arrived at my place last Thursday night.  As always, there was an ‘over/under’ bet involved.  This time?  They bet on Mr. Pickles abilities as a guard dog.

The Girl:  How long do you think we’ll be in the house before he wakes up?

The Boy:  Two minutes.

The Girl:  I’ll take “over”.

The Boy actually won this round, as the sleepy old brown dog shot out of my bed like a rocket as soon as the front door opened.  Even the cat went to investigate.  The Boy had been chauffeur for the week, driving her where she needed to go.  He needed to get back to work.  And by then, they’d had more than enough “brother-sister bonding time”.

Four days.  We made the most of it…

Friday night was “My Drunk Kitchen” night.  The Girl and her best gal pal went with me to a big downtown hipster bash, and we stopped for supplies on the way home.  i made “Froot Loop Russians”* while they baked S’more brownies from scratch.  It was a good night.

Saturday morning?  Off to the local market for crepes, cheese, veggies and people-watching.  She got in lots of shopping – access to a car, rather than public transportation, made it far easier for picking up gifts, and essentials.

The Girl:  I’m buying America.  I need to find things to bring back that are inherently American.  Do you think they’d have Busch beer coozies at the gas station?  Belt buckle beer bottle openers?

Studley and i took her out to dinner at a Turkish restaurant that night – in case she was missing the cuisine of home.  i’d been using my pigeon Turkish on the poor servers at this restaurant since my trip in December, and was excited to show them how cool my daughter was, being comfortably conversant in their native language.

We never stop being proud of our children.  Or coming up with new ways to embarrass them…

We stopped at the liquor store on the way back home.  Mostly to get more Froot Loop vodka, as she knew she wouldn’t be able to get that in Turkey.  Still jazzed from the chance to let her show off her language skills, i continued to brag on her to Studley.

daisyfae:  That’s my kid!

Studley:  Yup!  You made her!

daisyfae:  She came out of my vagina.

The Girl:  It was a c-section.  Technically, out of your stomach.

liquor store clerk: Do you want all this in a bag?

daisyfae:  Nah.  We’re just going to drink it in the parking lot.

These kids are remarkably tough to embarrass…

We both sort of dreaded it, but Sunday was the visit to The Park.  She wanted to see Mom, but it was when i told her that the entire Clampett Clan would be descending upon the ol’ Hibachi Grill and Buffet** that we both cringed.

The Girl:  I really want to see Granny.  And Aunt S is ok.  Would be great to see Uncle T, too.  But DQ?  BJ?  Their spawn?

We made it through.  She had a good time talking with Granny.  And Granny loved her gifts… And the time with a functional grandchild.  Who doesn’t ask her for money.

We also listened to BJs tales of training for “Mixed Martial Arts” cage fighting.  Of their newest 4-wheeler toy.  Their four-year old saying “I’m gonna fart on you and give you pink eye”.


The Girl managed to get all the liquor her gifts packed up, and we drove eastward last night.  Met up with The Boy at his place around 11:30 when he got home from work.

Seeing as i’d missed Easter for both of them, i was prepared.  There is a history of coming up with ridiculously blasphemous easter basket inclusions.  This year?  i think i outdid myself.

The Boy found this in his kitchen when he came in from a long day at the factory.

i left shortly afterwards.  Drove westward in the rain.  Only cried for the first 20 miles.  i’m getting better…


* From the “I can’t make this up” files.  Three Olives Loopy Vodka.  If you mix it with milk?  Tastes like the leftover stuff in the bowl after you finish your Froot Loops We were hammered before the brownies came out of the oven…

** Pronounced “boo-FAY”.

Old School Discipline

We try to get together at least once a year… The old neighborhood gang. These are the friends that i don’t remember meeting because we played together as babies.

Terri hosted a gathering recently, which consisted of us spending a few hours at her kitchen table, drinking Coors Light and bashing the best damn taco dip ever invented. And talking. About everything.

Family – Who’s dead?  How’s Mom?  Dad?  Did the foreclosure happen, or did your brother keep the house?  Cancer?  Damn… He’s young for that.

Life – Between jobs. Teaching middle school is a bitch*.  Kids buying houses.  Rehab (of both kinds).  Hair Salon politics. Husband going back to truck driving after surgery. Living single.

But my favorite category: “The Good Old Days”.

i had a glorious childhood, and the three women sitting around that kitchen table were a huge part of that…

Most disappointing moment: When Sherry informed us that she had, in fact, faked all of those slumber party trances.

daisyfae: NOOOOOO! i’ve been telling those stories for years!  “There was this one girl that we REALLY DID put into a trance! She’d act like a lamp and shit…”

Sherry: Sorry. Faked it. I’m good. Just ask my husband about that…

We talked of school days. Teachers did things in the 60’s and 70’s that would get them jailed today!  An offhand comment then = a fourth degree felony now.

The neighborhood squabbles. We’d pretty much duke it out amongst ourselves – parents were rarely aware of, let alone involved in, dispute resolution. Every summer there was some drama, and one of us would end up being held down and forced to eat a handful of grass. Or two.

daisyfae: Is it just me, or are we coddling the kids today by giving them the “bully” option? We went through all that crap, and i don’t know if any of it damaged me…

Terri: I think it thickened our skin a bit. Taught us how to deal with all the nasty people out there in the real world. We were all afraid of Tammy, though, and learning to leave the really crazy kid alone was probably an important lesson.

They asked about my sister, T. Relayed that she’s doing well – after many bumps and tribulations along the way.

daisyfae: She had a breakdown while working on her PhD. The therapists got ahold of her… rather than stick with the fundamental diagnosis of “bipoalar disorder” given by the docs, they thought there must be more causing her troubles. “She must have been abused!”  They swarmed in on the fact that we got hit with a belt on occasion by the parents.

Jenni: We ALL got hit with belts then!

Sherry: We got the paddle, or whatever my Dad had handy to throw at us.

daisyfae: Yep. It was community standards at the time. That’s what the parents in our world did back then…

Jenni:  Did you hit your kids?

daisyfae:  Yep.  But not as punishment – i’d slap a hand if they were about to stick scissors in the electrical outlet, or pop ’em on the ass if they were about to run in the street.  i figured it made sense to reinforce potentially dangerous activities with a bit of pain…

Sherry:  Me, too…  If anything, I probably should have hit my son more…

Terri:  Do you think it traumatized them?

daisyfae [snorting]:  Oh, hell!  i’ve done far worse to traumatize them!  i suspect, given a choice, that they’d have taken the damn belt…

* My favorite line from my teacher friend, Sherry: “Once school starts, I cannot smile again until January. You can show NO weakness, until the year is well underway.”

Danger Monkey Has Landed

Last May, The Girl (aka “Danger Monkey”*) packed up for 6 weeks in London to get her certification to teach English as Foreign Language.  With the local support of her “Shoulda Daddy“**, she successfully completed the course, and then set about planning her next adventure…

Most schools start in September, and she was operating under the assumption that she’d have plenty of time to seek employment, interview and plan for a big move out of the country. 

When she got the offer to teach in Izmir, Turkey, however, it came with the requested start date of July.  That gave her about a week to think about it, then two weeks to plan, pack and buy the damn one-way ticket.

Which she did…

So while i’m off farting around in the big city, my kid is unpacking three over-stuffed suitcases in a gorgeous city on the Mediterranean.  And launching her life in another direction… 

Could i have done this at 25?  Maybe… but i was busy changing her nappies, watching her take her first steps, and being sleep deprived as a new mother.  She was a seasoned traveler by the time she was 18, and has independently traveled the world since.

No worries. 

Very proud of her…. and may have to pack up The Boy and see about making a family road trip over the winter holidays.  Stay tuned.  And check your local listings for episodes of  “Locked Up Abroad” in January…

photo found here


* She earned the name “Danger Monkey” after sailing around the world at 20 with “Semester at Sea” – where she managed to get booted out of a Turkish brothel in a fight, and visited the pyramids on camel back, after being adopted by a Bedouin family in Egypt.  And then there was her solo trip to Morocco when she was 21… And that semester in Beirut the following year…

** Not to be confused with “Sugar Daddy”, Bob is the father she was supposed to have… they really should be genetically connected.  i like to pretend that they are… although i know that biologically, it is impossible for conception to be delayed for 6 years or so.  right?


Christmas in my rear view mirror

At 5 years old… Jumping up and down on my oldest sisters bed on Christmas morning, with my sister, T.  “Wake up!  Santa came!”  The orchestrated chaos of Mom’s Christmas morning.  Had to have breakfast before gifts were opened – usually some nutritious PopTarts – but we were allowed to dig into the stockings.  Mom liked to drag things out – only one gift opened at a time to “make Christmas last”. 

At 10 years old… The year i ruined my own Christmas by peeking at every gift with my name on it under the tree.  i was good with the letter opener, and carefully slit the tape to reveal what was inside.  Lesson learned:  Don’t fuck with anticipation.

At 15 years old…  After a tumultuous year of battles with my sister, T, we reconcile.  She was suffering quietly through fights with her girlfriend – she wasn’t ‘out’ to anyone then.  After my best friend, J, had come out to me earlier that year, he suggested i just go ahead, tell my sister i knew she was a lesbian, and offer support.  It worked.  My gift to her that year was a collection of  ‘gay lit’ books – “The Front Runner” and “Rubyfruit Jungle”, suggested by J.

At 20 years old… My first Christmas away from my family.  i had been living with EJ for a year, and he was going to Florida to spend the holiday with his parents.  i go with him.  Calling home on Christmas day is weird.  A little bittersweet – a sense of independence as i start something new, and a sense of loss as i leave something behind.  And the weirdest thing of all:  Having a family meal with people who were quiet.  i could hear myself chew! 

At 25 years old…  A baby? The girl at about 18 months old.  Our first house.  Having a baby gave us an excuse not to travel, so we don’t have to go to Florida, but we are required to bring the toddler to The Park.  Overloaded toddler by 5:00 pm, as we retreat homeward as soon as we can possibly escape.

At 30 years old… The peak years for me “doing” Christmas.  Love buying gifts and wrapping them beautifully.  Baking with the kids.  Driving through the neighborhoods looking at holiday lights.  Hitting the road for “warm” Christmases in Florida every other year.  Our own family holiday traditions emerging – saying “It’s the most beautiful Christmas tree ever” as soon as the tree is done – which has to be said every year.  Still the ‘Santa’ years… One kid serving as “elf” to distribute presents.  Learning that dogs can smell wrapped chocolates under a tree, and will eat an entire pound box.  And then paint the household a horrid shade of brown…

At 35 years old… Mellower.  Santa puts scratch off lottery tickets in stockings, and the emphasis is now hanging out, watching movies, and eating junk food until we achieve sugar comas.  Travel every other year to visit grandparents – despite the fact that no one really wants to do it, we made the best of it… sometimes renting a beach house for a few days en route. 

At 40 years old… Awkward.  My husband and i are effectively separated and living in two different homes, but we converge on the vacation place up north for Christmas.  The kids are REALLY over the hype.  We spend our time watching satellite tv movies.  Playing with dogs.  Staring at the frozen lake.  Drinking.  A lot.  The Trailer Park Christmas has gotten ugly, with disagreements percolating in many corners.  i develop the ‘avoid and minimize’ strategy.  Mom grumbles that the family has fallen apart and that Christmas just isn’t the same any more.

Today… It’s noon.  i’m still in my pajamas.  The Girl is sleeping downstairs because she works retail now, and had to work late last night.  The Boy is visiting his dad up north, because Dad needs company after losing both his live-in girlfriend and his father within the past month.  Drank a half pot of coffee – with a little Kahlua in deference to the holiday.  Read the newspaper.  Basically, it’s kinda like any other Saturday,  only everything’s closed.   We’ll get together and hang out when The Boy drops by early next week.

Life is good.  Merry Christmas!

taken a couple of weeks ago when The Boy was home for his birthday…

The other’s gold…

We played together as babies.  We must have, because i simply don’t remember meeting them.  TAB and JLB were the two girls across the street.  Age-wise, they were snuggled neatly between me and my sister, T, making for perfect playmates.  TAB and i were in the same grade at school, with my sister, T, two years ahead, and JLB a year behind.
We became ‘blood sisters’ somewhere about eight years old, using a Boy Scout knife we hijacked from an older brother.
It was the era of “Lord of the Flies” parenting.  Once we reached school-age, we ran wild.  Dads went to work in the morning, and Moms booted us outside in the summer, expecting us to stay gone until lunch time or injury, whichever came first. 
In addition to the four of us, there were five other girls of similar age in our pack.  There were also several boys in the neighborhood, but they were clustered at the end of the street, and we only connected with them for “Girls vs. Boys” games of Capture the Flag, or the big neighborhood wiffleball and football games*. 
Adventures?  All the damn time!  Tree forts were made with construction lumber and supplies swiped** from construction sites.  We’d camp out in sleeping bags at least once a week during summer – often doing a bit of backyard pool hopping on the hottest nights. 
Winter months forced the adventures indoors.  The younger years involved hours of “playing Barbie”, where we’d transport suitcases full of Barbie gear to an empty garage or basement.  We’d set up complex scenarios, our Barbie dolls living out our projected lives as adults.  Oh, there were Ken dolls, too, but they were mostly used as props, or torture victims.
Rather than the four of us descending upon one household for sleepovers, we did something called “trading sisters” – asking parents if we could swap out a sister for the night.  This way, no parent had to deal with more than two squealing girls at a time.  The logistics were nearly perfect.
The four of us stayed pretty close until my sister hit high school and some of her friends had cars.  By the end of her freshman year in high school she’d moved on.  The remaining trio remained close for a couple more years, but over time, we found other friends, got our own cars, and our connectivity naturally declined. 
TAB got married right out of high school.  i remember going to her wedding – to a guy she’d been dating for over a year, but i’d never met.  Having left town for school, i felt a little out of place.  JLB went to nursing school in town.  The next time i saw either of them was six years later, at their mother’s funeral.  After that? Three years later when one of their brothers died. 
We vowed to stop meeting up only at funerals – and did manage a few fun gatherings of the old neighborhood gang.  But life, babies, jobs and the universe colluded to make such events rare.  TAB and JLB were both at Dad’s funeral.  When JLB, who remained single, adopted a son four years ago, i brought Mom with me to the baby shower. 
Last weekend, i was a little surprised to find TAB at the high school reunion – she was always shy in crowds.  As i fluttered around the room – mixing up visits with pleasant people and dodging a few whack jobs – i’d find myself seeking refuge in the corner, where TAB and another shy friend were hiding.  Snippets of conversation, family updates, pictures of kids…. But not much time to really talk.
Yesterday, i got an e-mail from TAB:  “It was so nice to see you at the reunion. I’m a fish out of water at those kind of things but you made me feel more at ease. Wish we could have chatted a little more… maybe next time we see each other.”
The memories i acquired with TAB and JLB are the ones that made my childhood idyllic.  In fact, it’s that idyllic part of my childhood that probably kept me from noticing that i lived in a trailer park.  The more i think about it, TAB and JLB may have provided the foundation that got me out of there, reasonably intact. 
It is my hope that my final words can echo those of my father – “I have no regrets. No unfinished business.  I can go now.”  If there was someone you grew up with that got away from you?  That’s the stuff regrets are made of… 
We’re looking for a free weekend in October…


* Tackle.  Flag football was for girls…
** The ONLY word for this is “swiped”.  Not “stolen”, “misappropriated” or “purloined”.  There are a few other words that come close, such as “pinched”, “filched” or “ripped off”, but in the world of my childhood, the word was “swiped”.


All the snow has turned to water,
Christmas days have come and gone.
Broken toys and faded colours are all that’s left to linger on.
I hate graveyards and old pawn shops,
For they always bring me tears.
I can’t forgive the way they robbed me of my childhood souvenirs.

Memories, they can’t be boughten.
They can’t be won at carnivals for free.
Well it took me years to get those souvenirs,
And i don’t know how they slipped away from me.

Broken hearts and dirty windows
Make life difficult to see.
That’s why last night and this morning
Always look the same to me.
And I hate reading old love letters
For they always bring me tears.
I can’t forget the way they robbed me,
Of my sweetheart’s souvenirs.

Memories they can’t be boughten,
They can’t be won at carnivals for free.
Well it took me years to get those souvenirs
And i don’t know how they slipped away from me.

– steve goodman


When did i first realize i lived in a virtual trailer park?  The recent family reunion afforded an opportunity to spend time with two of my siblings and my niece.  On Saturday night, after we’d returned to our rented vacation home, we spent several hours in conversation.  Tossing back a few beers and burning lungs with cigarettes, we stayed on that patio for several hours. 

The Genesis moment materialized in my head when my brother, T, asked me if i had known that his first wife used to beat him…  Something i hadn’t thought about in years.

i was twelve years old, and my sister, T, was fourteen.  We were spending a summer night at the small apartment of my brother and his first wife, D.  Joining us was D’s youngest sister, J, also fourteen.  T and D were twenty year old newlyweds, and were enjoying life on their own.  Bringing the three little sisters over for an evening offered the chance to swagger with independence in front of an awestruck audience.

The five of us got completely obliterated on cheap beer and skunk weed.  The night ended with my brother crying and passing out in the bathtub, feeling sorry for himself. The three girls slept in the living room.  As the youngest, i drew the short straw, and simply bundled on the floor in a pile of old blankets.  i was awakened the next morning to the sounds of angry voices from the kitchen. 

Through my hangover, i was able to discern that T was trying to get ready for work, despite a raging hangover of his own.  D had fixed him a sandwich, and unable to find a suitable lunch bag she had placed his lunch in an empty plastic bread bag.  My brother found this lunch somewhat undignified and slammed the offending baggie against the kitchen wall, causing it to blow out at the seam.

Hearing them arguing in the kitchen, the three of us hunkered down in the small living room – straining to hear what was going on.  Through the argument, D adjusted the bag, sliding the sandwich to the center, and tying off the other end, making the lunch bag resemble a small square head with a pair of plastic ponytails*.  Rather than laugh through this, the argument escalated.

Hearing crashing from the kitchen, i scooted commando-style toward the center of the room and looked in the kitchen from my place on the floor.  i watched D pound my brother with her fists while he ducked and covered to avoid the blows.  He didn’t hit her back, or even raise his arms to stop her, only to block her wild thrashing.

Not getting the reaction she was looking for, D took a heavy curtain rod from the kitchen window, and broke it over his head.  Finally reaching his limit, T stood up and deliberately slammed his fist through two windows, and the scene exploded in a torrent of blood and glass.

Faced with a serious problem, D calmed down and the fight was over.  She grabbed a towel from the sink and wrapped T’s bleeding hand and arm.  The young peanut gallery was now fully awake and terrified.  Taking my sister with them, D and T mobilized and headed quickly out the door to the emergency room.

J and i stayed at the apartment for what seemed like decades.  We rooted through overflowing ashtrays, and smoked half-finished cigarettes as we attempted to sweep up the glass and mop the blood in the kitchen.  We retrieved the pony-tailed lunch bag lying abandoned in a corner of the room, and placed it in the refrigerator.

As i recounted this tale to my siblings on the patio of the lovely rental home, my brother was apologetic.  He has mastered the art of strategic amnesia as a survival technique, and simply didn’t recall the presence of the three young sisters at his apartment that morning, about thirty five years ago. 

He still has the scars on his knuckles.

teach me...

teach me...

* My sister, T, and i later referred to this event as “The Ponytail Lunch Bag Incident”.