A Pain in the Journal

My tongue hurts. When I stretch it out as far as it will go, that little connecting part on the bottom hurts like John Cena’s mom. I assume it’s blood poisoning because the only other time it hurt this much was when I was partying like it was 1999. It was bourbon, not tequimo – and it was 2015. Who’d thought George Orwell, David Bowie and Prince would be so off?

I wondered if I should tell my doctor. It was his idea that I keep a journal to record every pain, mutation, and morphing that occurs. At my check up, I was prepared to say, “my tongue kills me when I do this”, while I stuck my tongue out, but my youngest son has taken to talking like that normally and it annoys the shit out of me. It’s no surprise he got it off an “Annoying Orange” Youtube video because that’s what he does – watch highly irritable shenanigans and copies them until you’re ready to strangle fruit.

Thank goodness I have the juicer to take out my aggression on produce in a pro-active manner.

So instead, I mentioned to the doctor that my fingertips were going bald. Added to my depleting hair, eczema is one of those “expected” side effects. Not only is it painful, but my stupid iPhone won’t recognize my thumb’s touch ID anymore. I get a text and wind up cursing my phone out when all I have to do is punch in the four numbers that escaped my memory when I’m feeling like the Hulk.

The doc tells me to use cream – not lotion, for my eczema. For some reason, I am baffled by his recommendation. It’s because I assumed that cream comes in a tub – like cold cream – the stuff every child has tasted at one point because it looks – so – edible. I’m thinking, where the heck does one find hand cream?! Then I discovered that hand cream comes in regular tube dispensers and apparently, I already had some.

I know – where have I been, right?

Obviously, I don’t read the labels thoroughly. Although lately, I couldn’t even if I tried because that’s another casualty: vision. You’d think with the gallons of carrot juice I’ve been consuming, my vision would improve. BUT NOooooo. Blurred vision is yet another side effect and I’m not Nell Carter or anything but GIMME A BREAK. Like, why can’t I be riding the subway with my chemo-fanny pack and lo’ and behold, Keanu Reeves gets up and offers me his seat? Why can’t that kind of thing happen? Because in reality, nobody gives a seat to a person with a fanny pack – not even Keanu. It’s just unfathomable. Fanny packs are so….80’s.

Speaking of 80’s, I’ve been contemplating wearing a beret for the spring. Yes – a beret. And MC Hammer pants. With an Annie Lenox pixie cut. Of course, back in the day, a pixie cut meant “possible lesbian” and that’s where the pants come in to say, “definite crazy-ass.” Actually, I wouldn’t even know where to find MC Hammer pants, much less know what tops even go with them. Come to think of it, I remember thinking they looked like giant sagging diapers if you weren’t dancing like an Egyptian in them…yeah, I’ll just stick with the beret idea.

And this is probably why the doctor hasn’t asked to actually see this “Journal of Pain” even though he was adamant about me keeping one. Who can blame him – we’re all guilty of that at some point in our life: suggesting people do this or that and feeling dumbfounded that the person was clueless-er than you to take your advice seriously. It makes you realize that there are bigger losers than yourself out there and that makes you feel happy and guilty for feeling happy at the same time…but at least that means there’s a little room to abuse some sort of substance – y’know, just to even the playing ground.

In all honesty, writing a chronicle about pain was rather a relief. Perhaps that’s what the good doctor intended. Because if I ever forget how scary it was to be unable to fart, then surviving that scare becomes meaningless and the possibility of it happening again becomes inevitable. Pain is a formidable teacher. And that’s really hard to say with your tongue sticking out between your teeth.

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Infusion Number Eight

It’s looking like Chemo is yet another thing that drains brains. With the brain cells I have left, I don’t recall if the doctor ever said it would be a side effect, but lately, I’ve been doing some pretty fucked up shit. For instance, I could not calculate 73 cents to save my life. I poured the change into my hand, fished out two quarters, two dimes, and just stared at the nickels and pennies – stumped. I gave up and held out the lot to the cashier and asked her to do the math. She got kind of pissed her off – probably didn’t have a clue herself.

It reminded me of this time when I was about ten, a kid named Frankie Lupo asked aloud, “I have a quarter and I have a dime, how much more do I need to make fifty cents?” Now, if Frankie was six or seven, I’d kind of understand, but he was thirteen. What was even sadder, nobody from his group of morons could answer him correctly. By the way, that’s his real name – I should Google him but I won’t – watch he turned out to be Greenspan’s number cruncher or something.

So you see what I mean about the toxicity affecting my thoughts. I can’t even stay on one subject for a single paragraph.

Originally, this post was supposed to happen at the halfway point of therapy. That would’ve been infusion number six. Yes, two cycles ago. Truthfully, it kicked my ass. The seventh was even worse. I couldn’t write about it without being super stabby, so I took it out on my husband instead. And the kitchen cabinet door, which I broke off and made him fix because it was either cabinet doors or his head that I was ready to rip off.

There are three probable causes to this brain-drain-psychosis-mode: the Chemotherapy, the medication that’s supposed to quell this maddening nausea and/or/most likely it’s my Miami Uterus. I think of it like a timeshare that’s only been rented twice and losing its market value. I can’t seem to fire the maid and tell her to stop changing the wallpaper every month, so she just – keeps – doing – it. And she’s been terribly erratic about it, like showing up two weeks late then showing up on time, sometimes doing a light job, sometimes doing a full out Spring cleaning. What kills me is, the doc said that my Miami Uterus should be shutting down during therapy, but obviously, nobody gave Uterus Maid the memo. Clearly, she hates me.

At infusion number eight, I must be in the category of Swamp Thing. Every once in a while, I detect a whiff of something strange and realize it’s me. I read about a guy who detoxed after chemo and his wife complained that he smelled like a corpse! Seriously, I have to try that. Anything that promises drawing gross stuff out of my body in the grossest way is just the cat’s meow. It’s like The Exorcist, for crying out loud – who could resist?

Yes, I did write “the cat’s meow” – because that’s how toxic monsters think. Small animals, Uterus Maids and ripping husband’s head off (I’m sorry, honey). Maybe I should consider trying that “medical” marijuana, huh.

For the record, I am adopting every natural cancer fighting regimen anyone bothers to tell me about. Chomping on apricot kernels, terrorizing fresh beets and carrots through a juicer mafia-style, popping vitamins as if they were prescribed by Michael Jackson’s doctor. But I know the real cure lies in the support I’m getting. Without the crazy bunch of friends and family telling me to get my ass in gear, I can honestly say I can take the next four infusions.

And turn into The Fly.

The Fly (1986)

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Beer and Bakery DNA

Nothing sparked my dad’s interest more than a drinking handicap. If you told him you don’t – or couldn’t – drink alcohol, he’d render that a challenge. It would become his mission to transform every Shirley Temple sipping virgin into an emblazoned dipsomaniac with the perfect elixir. Well, everyone excluding the Muslim busboy who came to propose to my sister wielding a 6 pack of Budweiser like it was a bomb.

The busboy, whose name might’ve been Mohamed but we’ll call him Barry, staged his proposal thusly: he took the day off of work because he never had a day off (never), came over to our house when he knew my dad would be home, then he pulled the six pack of beer out of the brown paper bag he had clutched in his hand and threatened, “If you don’t let me marry your daughter, I will drink this!”

My dad looked a little stung. He coolly asked,”By yourself?”

I stared at my sister for being such a loser magnet. Who the fuck uses a six pack as a dowry and threatens not to share? I hardly knew Mohamed-Barry but all I could think was how sorry I felt for the little bugger. He was either clueless to the point of absolution or just another idiot stuck on my sister, but he was not going to leave a happy man, that was for sure.

My dad assessed the situation and spoke to me and my sister through pursed lips in Japanese, “He’ll condemn himself to Hell if he drinks that beer, right?”

“Yeah, or he might just puke,” I said.

I was going to suggest that if Mohamed-Barry was willing to go to Hell for drinking a Budweiser, he might as well have a bacon-cheese-hamburger to go with it and make it Armageddon. But of course, we had no hamburger meat. Or bacon. Plus, my sister seemed to be enjoying the sacrifices this boob was willing to lay out for her and I didn’t want to be an accomplice to Satan. Or France, or whatever the Muslim adversary is.

Just when I was wondering whether my dad’s intention was to get Mohamed-Barry to leave my sister alone or to get him to leave the beer and get out, the busboy broke down in tears. My dad put up a hand of solace and said, “Okay – let’s talk about the beer.”

After a brief lecture, my dad said something along the lines of love and an ice cold beer having this in common: it’s enjoyable when you earn it. Then he shoved him out the door with the same three words he always gave me: do more research.

My dad was a hero for a day. He spared the beer from consumption by an amateur and my sister was free of another fanatic. She eventually married a moron anyway, but one who could drink without condemning us all to Hell.

My dad’s Happy Hours came to an end after he suffered a stroke. It was sad seeing him sit in front of the TV with a banana instead of his edamame and beer. When reality set in, he took to sweets to take the edge off. According to him, cake and booze DNA were one and the same – if you could eat an eclair, you could down a White Russian. That sounds good to me, especially now that I have to be dry.

Currently, my happy hour consists of a cinnamon roll from Nita’s European Bakery. I have to say, it’s the shit, yo! They usually sell out by 8:30 am, so if I manage to get one, I will literally rip the hands off the person who tries to infringe upon it. Sometimes, very rarely, I’ll share it with my boys, and unlike Mohamed-Barry, they do not have to enslave themselves to me for some. Well, technically they’re already enslaved to me, so I just make them promise not to fart at the table during the sacred cinnamon roll break. Otherwise, it’s a regular toot-and-chew.

With chemo, there are very few things that remain palatable – everything tastes like you’re sucking on a metal spoon. Yet, the cinnamon roll stays true – that’s love right there. I start singing Neil Young’s Cinnamon Girl and replace girl with roll, “I wanna live with the cinnamon roll…” If I were in middle school, the kids would tease me with, “if you love it so much, why don’t you marry it?” – which I would seriously consider, but then what would my husband do?

He’d probably search for beer-bomb-wielding-Mohamed-Barry.

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Mummy on the N Train

On an Astoria-bound N train at 10:35 am on a Monday morning:

She was probably around 65 years old but she could’ve been a reanimated mummy. Skin so wrinkled and hardened, her face was like a walnut tucked into a shawl, albeit a colorful shawl, because nothing else would flatter the single tooth in her head more. Her happiness was obvious – untouchable, even. Who knows if it had something to do with her demeanor or perhaps she was just happy being with her unemployed-looking son. I assume he was unemployed because he was wearing a hoodie with cannabis leaves stamped all over it and he was doting on his toddler with the expertise of a nanny, especially when he snapped an elastic headband on the child’s head.

Because they appeared Indian, I was tempted to ask him if he knew the botanical significance the hoodie was promoting but then decided not to, because Hell, that could be the reason his mother looked so full of bliss. After all, weed isn’t restricted to those dressed in reggae regalia. If Harold and Kumar could show that Asians make hip and geeky potheads, why not mummy granny?

So, she may have been high, but she sat with an expression that was more than stoned – it was beyond cheerful, beyond peace. As if she knew all there is to know about everything and didn’t give two chickpeas whether it was true or not. She could care less that her son dressed like an Indian Joey Buttafuoco, that her grandchild looked like a boy with a blue-flowered headband. Even the single decaying tooth in her head was ready to fall out any day – so what? Pudding. The only other person who may or may not be high and this happy is Gary Busey (I’m gonna have to put that werewolf movie he was in on our Netflix queue – I think it was called Silver Bullet? Or had something to do with a silver bullet – or I may be having a Gary Busey moment here…).

The point is, never in my life, had I ever looked upon such a weathered and ancient soul and saw it as a goal. I sincerely thought – could I have that? Could I grow that old and aesthetically-not-giving-a-shit and obtain that shell of immunity? Of course, I might stick with lotion because I really hate being itchy, but all the other solvents – would be thrown out the window. Forget deodorant and shampoo – fuck Fluoride and teeth whiteners. What kind of person meets a friend for lunch and compares her teeth to the whiteness of a napkin because her “friend” told her to? The same kind of dumbass who asks if her teeth are white enough!

Actually, I could be that dumbass but I’m lucky that my friends don’t offer Rachel Ray solutions at the tip of their fingers. If I said aloud, “My eczema is flaring up,” Rachel Ray disciples would suggest a homemade remedy along the lines of olive oil and squirrel feces, but ask any one of my best friends and they’d suggest I try weed in any obtainable form, because obviously, my problem is that I’ve stopped drinking beer – another side effect of chemo, apparently.

My husband has even offered to make me Funny Brownies, but considering how much the boys love brownies, it seems like a dysfunctional-family-sitcom-episode waiting to happen. On the other hand, it could be an experience of a lifetime. Something I could look back on in another twenty-years. And I’d smile through every thirsty pore in my aging face, riding on a Queens bound N train with my fully grown weirdos.

gary-busey

…and what does this even mean?

 

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Letting The Days Go By

No one wakes up in the morning and says, today – I’m gonna get cancer. But in a way, that’s how you find out.

When it happens to someone you love, you become the warrior – walking for miles wearing pink ribbons to show your support and camaraderie. You’re hyped like an inner-city-girls-basketball-coach getting all up in the Grim Reaper’s face, waving splayed fingers saying, “yo, cancer – we kicked your butt!”

But when it’s your own body, you’re like the sissy that just discovered a roach on your shoulder screaming, “Get it off me! Get it off me!”

Like many people, I spent a good portion tailoring my lifestyle to what I thought would thwart becoming a cancer victim: a healthy-ish diet, exercising somewhat regularly, and steering clear of those people who can be best described as albatross. But life in a city of 10-minute lunch breaks, subways devoid of elevators and a ratio of five assholes per square foot, you can’t get far enough from the stress that makes you one of those things: a fluke candidate.

Or is there such a thing?

The day the pain started, I knew something was wrong but instead of seeing a doctor, I took to posting encouragement quotes on Pinterest. Denying was equivalent to running – but we all know how that ends. Whether it’s Jury Duty, the I.R.S. or the P.T.A. – inevitably you’ll wind up tied to a chair. Or, in my case, lying helplessly on a stretcher, in a freezing cold room, with a camera up my butt.

For three weeks prior to the camera up my butt, I juggled a slew of self-concluded prognoses: lack of sleep, too much cheese, a garden hose kink in my intestine. Ideas so outrageous that the somber truth was almost simpler to solve.

The doctor said, “It’s cancer,” and that was that. Luckily, there was no pseudo-Italian outburst by my drama-prone husband. There were no tears or sighs or even a hint of resignation because my doctor was good like that. Straight away, he gave us a plan – he gave us….homework.

Have a plan, put priorities in order and most importantly, dream big. That’s what they don’t tell you about cancer. If anything good came out of this so far, it’s clarification. Nothing like excruciating pain and the prospect of death to put life, love and lyrics into perspective.

The life part was easy: all those infinite To-Do lists, shopping lists, agendas, texts, and emails that were tended to so attentively, suddenly had the urgency of any statement by Kanye West. My friends agreed,”Take care of yourself,” they all said, “shit’s never gonna change.”

And with that peace of mind, the day by day process of restructuring life began.

First, my goal was to be home for my son’s 12th birthday. And when that was reached, all the previous “priorities” like money, housekeeping and the cat, became ghosts to my new goal of seeing his 16th birthday – and so on, and so on – until he mentioned that he couldn’t fathom paying taxes or rent and asked if I’d be okay with him living in our basement for his adult years.

I pictured Will Ferrell in Wedding Crashers demanding meatloaf. Mainly because it was one of the many inane movies I watched during my hospital stay. I suppose if there were better movies to watch I might not have been motivated to get the hell out. It was the looming prospect of a Rush Hour movie marathon over the weekend that was incentive enough to get well enough for discharge. The doctor was astounded by my recovery and the RN said, “Wow, you’re like Wonder Woman,” but really, there’s only so much Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan I can take. If I needed to be entertained by two guys wrecking furniture and spewing smart ass remarks, I can go home to an interactive theater in my living room known as “Nerf War Zone.”

Let’s not omit the other perk to being home: elevating one’s blood pressure without a doting nurse to monitor your vital signs. Although my boys do ask me how I’m doing on a regular basis, their reaction is the same whether I say I’m feeling fine or feeling like dried mummy shit. It’s just one of those things you find out about the process – ultimately, you’re on your own. Like finding yourself on a smelly lifeboat with expired bottles of stale water and astronaut ice cream while everybody waves to you from the giant cruise ship you’ve separated from. Well, in my demographics, it’s more like the Staten Island Ferry, which only has life vests – much like the Titanic.

I suppose I should take the strong-woman stance and say something like, when I beat this cancer, I’m gonna finish a triathlon, slay a dragon and give free counseling to puppet addicts…but I’m not that great of a bullshitter. It wouldn’t be long before somebody discovered that I was supplementing my fresh pressed carrot juice with cheese danishes saying, we’re all gonna die anyway.

But that’s the crossroad you reach when life gives you a pink slip. It’s either happiness or time. When the things that make you happy start killing you then you simply give them up. But not everything. Sometimes, it’s okay to savor the little joys, even if they are just a nail in the coffin because each irritating moment amounts to who you struggle to be: a person at peace in letting the days go by.

candles

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Don’t Worry A Troubled Mind

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
― Corrie ten Boom

“Worry Wart” was my middle name. I was born to worry. As a matter of fact, worrying was my main reason to become a parent. Parenting, I thought, was the perfect excuse to worry for every little thing.

Worry if the baby’s healthy. Worry if the child gets hurt. Worry if they’ll make friends and do well in school. Worry if my worrying is borderline psychotic and thus raise a serial killer with an unoriginal Modus Operandi.

That would be lame. Not even book rights. Oh my God, so much to worry about and so little time!

But like sleep and quiet moments, I soon learned that there is really no time to worry with kids. Shit just happens – regardless.

So I learned how to prepare.

There’s a distinct difference between worry and preparation. True, preparation is pretty much taking precaution on nothing more than an assumption; but to worry was just – immature. To give into it, gets you nowhere and actions based on it brings nothing but trouble. Just the thing worry was trying to avoid.

Ask anyone what they’re worried about and basically what they want to say is, “I’m worried that we’re gonna die.”

I didn’t want to worry to the point of becoming one of those moms. You know, the ones who are like, “Life? Oh no, that’s too dangerous for my children and I’m far too busy for that.”

It’s amusing how the modern mother became so irrational when the world became more accessible. They wipe everything clear of germs, pluck their children out of every challenging situation, fight their kids fights for them and then sit them down to a cardboard box of Chicken McNuggets because they forgot to pack a snack.

Their kids can’t eat fruit but they’ll eat mystery meat from a clown.

Okay, hungry children are demonic. Over time, we’ve accumulated a mountain of lunch coolers and water bottles to make sure my kids don’t “turn”. Our pantry is single-serving snack central and can city. All that’s missing is a Milky Way candy bar and we’d be ready for James Franco.

In all the years of outings with boys who are convinced we will resort to cannibalism when the subway stops, I’ve learned to be prepared.

While I can’t say that I never worry, I’m certainly not a wart anymore.

So, what are you worried about?

Troubled Mind

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Mean Green

#07. “Never be jealous.” – Miyamoto, Musashi (Book of Five Rings)

At the first sign of envy, my mother sternly said to me, “Don’t be jealous!” To this day, she still pronounces it “gel-ASS” but like her “strage” for storage and “turn reft at the right and make light at the corner,” it’s the message that counts – not a Shakespearean delivery.

At the time, it seemed unfair to expect a five-year old not to be jealous of her cute baby sister. Now, I see why. Jealousy and envy breed uncontrollably – like cockroaches – it infests and causes nuisance and at it’s best, Stephen King stories. You have to squash it immediately.

With my mother, it was a constant reprimand, “Don be gel-ASS! Don be gel-ASS!” She was too busy looking after my baby sister to bother with my antics. “I’m not jealous,” I’d say, “my belly hurts,” or “I didn’t know it was aspirin,” or “I was just trying to make Flambe.”

She’d just give me that look of disgust, which I too mastered and put to full use during the years I managed a hair salon. It’s a look that says, “Don’t try to play me without serving cocktails first.”

Scares the shit out of people. Especially minors.

While it’s simple to demand, it’s not so easy to turn a jealous cheek. My two boys show me that all the time. Should I offer any kind of praise to their friends or classmates, my sons will whine, “You love him more than me!”

I feel like saying, “Don be gel-ASS!” but boys don’t respond to commands. You yell, “STOP,” and they’ll look back at you while they continue running forward and smack into a mailbox.

Unlike girls, boys not only have a hard time registering their feelings – they don’t want to talk about it either. Almost every time I ask a boy if they want to talk about what’s bothering them, they’ll respond, “No. I just wanna blow something up.” So you see why Minecraft is so popular.

Boys can’t see that praise and kindness given to other people doesn’t lessen the amount given to them. They think of affection like a pizza pie. You give a high five to a buddy and a thumbs up to a classmate and there goes two-eighths of his hugs! It might be a Common Core thing. But there’s a security thing, too. When you point out another child’s merit, you are unwittingly pointing out the shortcomings of your own.

So now, when I pay some kid a compliment, I’ll search my brain for a compliment to give my guy as well. It could go like, “Katie, congratulations on your perfect score. And Zuki – you remembered to bring home your lunch box everyday this week. That’s outstanding!”

Although my mother’s upbringing of not giving into jealousy got me over my jealousy of my sister – and of ex-girlfriends – and of people who have summer beach homes, I fear one day it’ll rear it’s ugly head again when my boys grow up and start dating sluts. Ooh, did I say that out loud?

Hopefully, my mother will still be around to slap some sense into me when the time comes. Though from experience, I’ve noticed that grandmothers are far more picky over their grandson’s partner than anyone else.

Perhaps it’ll be my turn to tell her not to be gel-ASS.

Don't be jealous - smile dammit!

Don’t be jealous – smile dammit!

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Practice Fight

“You can only fight the way you practice”
― Miyamoto MusashiA Book of Five Rings: The Classic Guide to Strategy

At the same time, you realize what a person practices in the way they fight. Headstrong and reckless? Cold and calculating? Honest and admirable. We all encounter foes and obstacles – it will never cease. No matter what preventive measures you take, life is about fight.

If it’s not people, it’s disease. If it’s not the government, it’s the weather. And should you be fine with all of the above, you still have to contend with supermarket cashiers. Plus their supervisors. Don’t even bother with Wendy’s. It makes you wonder how this nation has an obesity problem when you can’t buy food without stress.

But you can’t fix insolence. You can’t “fix” anything, really. You just have to keep on going. While people grow less ambitious and more aggressive, curb their compassion and become unbearably imposing, you realize to your despair, that you can’t change the scenery, only the way you see it. It becomes what you make of it – that’s how the quote translates to me.

There was a pivotal time in my life when I started saying yes to everything. Jobs, outings, committees, meetings – you name it, their invitation was accepted. Of course, a lot of them were a waste of time, but my father used to tell me over and over, “do more research” and I figured that’s what he meant. In actuality, he was referring to my dates, but whatever.

In the end, the research paid off. After saying yes to everything, it became clear what work was worth the effort; which person would stand with you; what beer would give you the squirts. Now, I can tell what a person is conveying – despite what they’re saying. Sounds deep, but it’s easy because it’s usually bullshit.

Since it’s my turn as a parent, the practice I’ve been trying to instill is – not quitting. If it were up to my boys, they’d quit everything in an hour. Initially, when it’s fun, they’ll fight each other over it, but when it becomes a procedure – they’d rather pick their nose. To their defense, they do have some monumental boogers.

So, when they ask me, “How long do I have to do this?”

The answer is, “Forever.” And then they’ll gasp and I’ll add, “Or until I die,” to which they appear hopeful. Totally void of remorse. It’s disturbing.

With time, maybe they’ll get the big picture. If they learn one thing out of being tenacious, I hope it’s commitment. It seems to be a fading characteristic these days. I give them the whole shpeel, good things come to those who don’t quit, when the going gets tough, the tough get enemas, and they look at me like, “huh?”

They are confused for the moment. For instance, all the lavish weddings they’ve been to, they think that the only couples who actually marry for love – are gay. “That’s why they’re on the news – because they’re so happy.”

Might have a point there. Or they could be confusing the word gay. Either way, I should give them credit because they are genuinely children – and fight like ones, too.

IMG_2130

Beating up Daddy. Again.

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