Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sunday, March 24, 2013 - 3 comments

A Year of Overdue Firsts

I’ve done a lot of things in my life that are on other people’s bucket lists.  I’ve walked on the Great Wall of China (multiple times), visited the Pyramids, and seen Mt. Ararat up close.  (Though I am not entirely convinced that the “petrified wood” we saw in Noah’s Ark National Park was the real deal....)  

I’ve done some of the things on my own list of  “things to accomplish before I die,” too, like starting my own greeting card company, becoming fluent in another language and, as of last year, eating Swiss chocolate IN Switzerland.  (Those truffles were totally worth the layover...)

Last month, after having been a longtime fan of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy on screen, I finally got around to actually reading Pride and Prejudice.  (If Kathleen Kelly in “You’ve Got Mail” has read it “over two hundred times” then I have a lot of catching up to do!)  Around the same time, I had another first:  my first ever batch of homemade applesauce.  (So delicious!)  And I got to thinking.  There are a lot of “normal” things that “normal” people have usually done, made or experienced that I have yet to do.  

So I declared 2013 my “Year of Doing Normal Things I’ve Never Done.”

I’d never learned how to drive a stick shift, for example.  It all sounded so complicated - too much to think about all at once - and I’d never really had the desire, despite living in a country where nearly every car is a manual.  But when I was going to be staying with my friends’ kids while they were in India, they wanted me to be able to drive their car. (Two kids and their overloaded school backpacks on my scooter wouldn’t be fun in the rain.)  And so I had my first lesson in driving a stick.

Yes, lesson.  As in one.  We couldn’t seem to co-ordinate our schedules as the time of their departure drew near, but since didn’t run over any goats or sheep during that 45 minutes or stall TOO many times, they figured I could handle running the kids to and from school, and off they went.

Needless to say, it’s one thing to do something new when you have someone experienced sitting beside you, and another thing entirely to have a pile of kids aged ten and under staring blankly back at you when you ask, “What am I doing wrong?!?!”  The car and I were not friends for the first while.  It took a huge amount of emotional energy just to get behind the wheel, and once I got so frustrated I actually ended up in tears.  

But I was determined not to be defeated by 5 gears and an extra pedal, and between sweet prayers from the backseat every time we got in the car and another hour of practice with a very encouraging friend, by the end of the two weeks I felt a hundred times more confident behind the wheel.  And while I’m still a million miles from joining the “I’ll-never-go-back-to-an-automatic” club, I do feel like I’ve crossed some kind of threshold that makes me feel like, well, a normal adult.

Several of the things on my list involve basic foods I’ve never made.  Moving to Turkey has turned me into more or less a total “from scratch” cook.  (I’m ashamed to admit I actually used to import Bisquick for pancakes when I first lived in Istanbul!)  I’m definitely adventurous in the kitchen, churning out exotic creations like saffron apricot chicken and cilantro avocado quinoa salad, but there are some “classics” I’ve never attempted at home.

Baking bread, for example.  Except maybe in Grade 8 Home Ec class, I can’t recall ever making it.  That’s on the list for this year.  And roast beef.  My grandma used to make it for my birthday dinners when I was younger, but I can’t say I’ve ever done it myself.  (I’ll be saving that one for sometime when I’m in Canada, though, cuz beef is way too expensive here.)

Two things that aren’t all that “normal” but that I’d been wanting to try were red velvet cake and macarons.  They’re all over the foodie blogs and seemed like things I oughta know how to do.  My Valentine’s Day red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting turned out amazing and, well, addictive.  Won’t be making those again for awhile.  :)  The macarons....they were pretty much a flop.  Granted, they were from a box, and I made them in someone else’s oven.  And I should always re-read directions that are in Turkish, just to be sure.  :)  Still, after having introduced the kids I stayed with to “cookies that taste like clouds” they were excited to make them with me, and, wonky-looking or not, we had no trouble finishing off the whole batch.  

I hadn’t put homemade sushi on my list (I love it - it just hadn’t occurred to me) but when a friend came to stay for the weekend and brought rice wine vinegar and seaweed sheets (all the way from Sweden) as a hostess gift, I was excited to give it a shot.  I’m all about food that involves a lot of tiny pieces and looks amazing when it’s done, and these rolls were definitely yummy.  So, do-it-yourself sushi:  check.

My time as “temporary mom” provided me with a couple of “firsts” I hadn’t expected.  One was my first parent-teacher conference.  (It was fun to receive praise for “the smartest kid in the class” even if she wasn’t mine!)  The other involved a needle and thread.  I may be Suzi Homemaker in most other areas, but sewing is not my forte, nor have I ever desired for it to be.  Apart from making a pot holder and an apron in Junior High, I have probably sewed on a total of three buttons in my whole life.  (We have great tailors everywhere here, and I know they are grateful for my business!)  But when the reindeer fell off my little buddy’s sock, I decided surely I could handle reattaching it.  His reaction was priceless:  “You’re so good at this - I’m going to ask you to fix my stuff all the time!”  It certainly won’t fall off again anytime soon - just don’t look at the stitches on the inside!  :)

I’ve been trying to think of some classic movie that “everyone has seen” that I ought to watch this year, just to round out my list.  “The Godfather?”  Yeah, I could die happy without seeing that one.  “Citizen Kane” is listed as the best movie of all time, and I can’t recall watching it, though I’m sure my mom has it recorded on at least three different tapes.  Movies aren’t a big priority to me, but it seems I ought to have at least one on my “normal things” list, so I guess I’ll add that.  

Perhaps it’s also time I start compiling a list of “Things Most Turks Have Done that I’ve Never Done.”  I’ve memorized that national anthem, visited Atatürk’s grave and gotten pretty good at making stuffed grape leaves....perhaps this should be the year I run from Asia to Europe in the “fun run” part of the Istanbul Intercontinental Marathon!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sunday, March 17, 2013 - 1 comment

Two Weeks on the Other Side of the Dream

Thirteen headscarves.  Thirteen pairs of şalvar.  And me.

I crossed and uncrossed my jean-clad legs, self-consciously tucking a piece of uncovered hair behind my ear.  

The teacher entered the library, nearly twenty minutes late.  He passed around an attendance sheet and began his speech with a welcome.  Around the time he switched topics from how wiggly the girls are now that spring is upon us to whether or not the school will allow street clothes instead of uniforms next year, the paper arrived in front of me.

“Name of student.”  I filled in her name.  “Name of guardian.”  My name in the blank space.  “Relationship to student.”  I glanced down the previous entries in the column.  Mother, mother, mother, mother....  I sighed internally.  “Mother’s friend.”

It was my first ever parent-teacher meeting.  Except the child I represented wasn’t mine.    I’d been braiding her hair, washing her ballet costume and tucking in her and her little brother for two weeks, and tomorrow I would be taking off my “temporary-mommy” hat and wistfully replacing it with my usual “favourite abla” (“big sister”) one.

People kept asking me how I was holding up. “Motherhood is a lot of work,” they’d say with a knowing smile.  Yes, my days were fuller than they normally are.  No, I hardly spent a minute on writing or my taxes like I thought I’d do “in all that spare time while they’re at school.”  But the truth was, I loved every minute.

For two weeks I got to be someone I’m not, but long to be.  I got to test drive all the ideas I’ve stored up for my own kids that have sat collecting dust inside my heart for so many years.  I got to be the one posting all those “My kid said the funniest thing” Facebook statuses.  I got to be “that mom” who makes cinnamon rolls with the kids on Sunday morning (and lets them lick the frosting bowl), who takes them hiking up to the caves behind the house and laughs as they conquer rocks and dodge hungry goats, who helps them create their very own Mary Poppins board game (complete with bonus “spoonfuls of sugar” to help your umbrella cross the finish line faster), and who writes lunch box notes on the day when Girl has a big exam that she’s worried about.  

I remember a time a few years ago when I was having coffee with a friend who is a mother of two active boys.  I was telling her how very ready I was to have a family of my own, and she kept having to put me on pause to go chase down her two-year-old.  When she finally got him to sit still, she looked down at her now-cold cup of coffee and then back up at me and said, “Are you sure THIS is the life you want?  It’s exhausting.”  

“I’m sure,” I replied, knowing she’d give anything for an hour of my single-person free time.  “That’s the kind of exhausted I want to be.”

These last two weeks, so many times as I was hanging Scooby Doo footie pajamas on the line, squirting nasal spray into stuffy nostrils at bedtime, or simultaneously French braiding and flipping pancakes, I thought to myself, “This is the life I was created for.” 

I felt like, for thirteen days, I got to live inside of my most cherished dream - one that I’ve longed for from the outside for what seems like an eternity.  I suppose it was really only half the dream, since the other half is the husband that made the children possible in the first place.  But waiting with the other moms at the school gate as I scanned the crowd for “my” little dark heads, carpooling home (amidst encouraging cheers for “not stalling the car even once today”), and sitting on the couch with a head on each shoulder as we watched “My Three Sons” episodes on You Tube, I could pretend that the place that fit me so well was mine, even if only for a little while.

The night of the parent-teacher conference, the power was out for several hours, so we scrounged up all the candles we could find and the kids finished their homework by flickering light.  Papa called from India during the blackout and said that Mama was on the plane and would be home in the morning.  They wrote one last entry in the “Meanwhile, Back in Turkey” journal we’d been keeping and then we settled around the gas heater with gingersnaps and milk for their bedtime story.  I found myself wanting to read “just one more chapter” of Johnny Tremain before tucking them in - partly because we were right in the middle of the Boston Tea Party, but mostly because it was our last night together and I wasn’t ready for my coach to turn into a pumpkin just yet.  

The kids got up extra early the next morning, practically dancing with excitement over the fact that Mama was almost home.  I stuffed away the tinges of sadness threatening the corners of my eyes and focused on getting breakfast on the table and helping them hang their artistically scribbled over “Welcome Home” poster on the front door, along with the special decoder glasses with which to read it.  When I dropped them off at school, they gave me extra big hugs.  “Now we’ll have a new problem,” said Girl.  “We’ve missed Mama so much, but now we’ll be missing YOU!”

I’ve seen them twice now since I put my “abla” hat back on.  They’ve kept me up to date on what’s been happening with Johnny Tremain (“The Revolutionary War has started!”) and My Three Sons (“Katie had TRIPLETS!”).  And yesterday Girl proudly informed me that they got the results back from that exam she’d been so nervous about and she not only got first in her school and the city, but in our entire province!

I know I had it easy with these two well behaved little gems.  And I know that there’s a whole lot more to motherhood than just inventing games and going on picnics and singing lullabies after nightmares.  But I am more convinced than ever that this is the life I want.  And while I’m grateful for all I’ve learned through my extended stay in the tension of the “now” and the “not yet,” my two weeks on the other side of the dream have got me spending more fervent time on my knees, asking the One who “graciously gives us all things” and “opens His hand at the proper time” to hurry up and provide the one who will do French braids and footie pajamas with me.  

And, as Boy and Girl have reminded me, right about the time I’ve got my own little munchkins, they’ll be old enough to babysit.  So when my mommy-glasses are no longer so rose-coloured and I need a break from clothespins and lunch boxes, I’ll know who to call!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Monday, March 04, 2013 - No comments

Baking, Bruises and Buried Treasure

When I woke up this morning, I rolled over and found a raccoon staring me in the face.  Behind him, two pairs of coffee-brown eyes blinking back at me, the nearest pair crinkled up til they almost disappeared when their owner smiled his missing-tooth smile.  

“We’ve been quiet for a whole twenty minutes waiting for you to wake up!”

I’m on Day Four of my Twelve Day Crash Course in Motherhood.  My friends needed to make a trip to their home country and didn’t want to pull their kids from school, so I have the extreme privilege of hanging out with a ten-year-old princess, a seven-year-old charmer and a goldfish called Prince Abooboo.  I’ve been looking forward to this time for months as these two have been a great source of entertainment and delight to me since they were itty bitty.  Besides the sheer amusement of their company (Boy does a great impression of an American speaking Turkish with a mock hillbilly accent...) it’s been nice to be able to give my “I can’t wait to be a mom” wiggles some relief, and sobering to get just a glimpse of the grace and supernatural strength required to shepherd little souls.

The raccoon episode came about as a result of a scary tarantula on a Brady Bunch re-run which prompted a request to all sleep in the same bed.  After a good tickle fest and some stories about the “stuffies” I had when I was little (“Tell us the one again about how you put your mom’s hand cream on Snowy and Leo and pretended they were wearing sunscreen to go to the beach...”) Girl went into the living room to work on a sewing project and Boy and I headed to the kitchen to mix up some apple cinnamon muffins for breakfast.  He’s a little baking natural and was a big help measuring out the flour and mixing up the sugar and pekmez (molasses) to make brown sugar.

Since it’s the weekend and the sun was out, we decided a little adventure was in order, so over breakfast, we made plans to head over to a nearby gully to climb around and have a picnic.  The “sinkhole” is massive, with a creek flowing through it that heads underground and appears again several miles away in the form of a waterfall.  Making our way through a rocky field of newly awakened daisies and poppies, we stood on the edge, oohing and aahing over the layers of striped rock of the cliff face opposite us.  We spied out a patch of grass on one of the lower levels and climbed our way down past goats and other picnickers enjoying their lunches to our spot in the shade.

We were sitting there, enjoying our picnic, no greater worry on our minds than whether or not a bug would poop on our sandwiches, when suddenly the peace was shattered by a rock falling from above and landing right beside Girl.  We looked up just as another one sailed down, this one (thankfully small) pelting Boy on the back, followed by the howls and scary noises of a pack of boys up to no good.

I hurriedly helped the kids get their shoes on and hustled them under a nearby overhang, frustrated that all I could do was shout back, “Stop throwing rocks!  Shame on you!”  Our attackers were a good thirty feet above us - too far away to grab them by the ears and march them home to their fathers, but close enough to nail me in the head with a pebble as I gathered up the picnic blanket.  A head peeked over the edge, and then pulled back when he realized I could see him.  What made me more angry than the fact that they were deliberately trying to hurt us was the fact that I recognized them as the same seemingly polite boys we’d talked to just a few minutes earlier when one asked if he could leave his backpack with us while they explored by the creek.  

Grateful for the overhang, the kids and I stayed under cover, hoping the boys would get bored and leave.  The kids were shaken and I felt a welt coming on, but we were safe.  Wanting to prevent fear from taking root in their hearts, I tried to keep things light while we waited.  We prayed - not only for protection, but also for the boys, forgiving them, knowing that they must have been bullied themselves to be so violent at such a young age.  The kids’ compassion towards the boys amazed me, and I was proud of them for how they handled the whole thing.  

We weren’t exactly in the mood to explore the gulley anymore, so when the boys had apparently tired of not having a target at which to throw things at, I made sure the coast was clear and then we climbed up to the top.  The little hooligans were nowhere to be seen, so I gave up on my fantasy of giving them an earful, and we headed home.

All danger and drama were quickly forgotten when the landlord/upstairs neighbour of our apartment had a relative come to till the soil in the garden with his tractor.  The guy put on quite a show for the kids, singing silly songs and lolling his head around, acting as if he’d fallen asleep at the wheel.  I laughed along with them for a bit and then left them downstairs with the neighbour kids to watch the “silly farmer.”  

Not long after I’d come up, Girl appeared at the door with a look of panic on her face and an “Um, I need to talk to you.....”  

She and all her little friends had been standing on the back balcony when she spotted a pair of her cupcake underwear directly in the tractor’s path.  They must have fallen from the clothesline at some point.  She didn’t figure it was safe to jump out and grab them, so she just willed everyone not to notice and then watched in horror as the tractor blades scooped them up and then ground them into the dirt.

We waited until the tractor had rumbled off down the road, sent Boy out front to distract the others and give us some privacy, grabbed some beach shovels and started digging.  We turned over a good pile of soil, giggling the whole time, but alas, never came up with the sought after “buried treasure.”  In the end, we decided the tractor must have made crumbs out of the cupcake underwear and decided to stop digging and just hope it didn’t turn up anywhere embarrassing.  

We’ve been keeping a journal about what we’ve been up to while Mom and Dad are away - stories and pictures so they don’t miss out on anything fun that’s happened.  When Girl sat down to write about the day’s events, I was happy to see that the rock-throwing boys took up very little space compared to her dominant memory - the hilarious “Underground Underwear” episode.

Her closing sentence:  “I sure hope Uncle Ismet doesn’t find a surprise when he goes to plant his eggplant!”  :)