Friday, December 14, 2007


This is LE's first Christmas. He's exactly the same age I was at my first Christmas. I don't remember my first Christmas, but I have some implanted memories from the grainy Super-8 films my parents made. It makes me feel old that these 'memories' are black and white, with no sound. On my first Christmas, I found a shiny ball, red I suppose, hanging from the Christmas tree, and reached out to appropriate it for my own. The whole tree started to come down, and the ubiquitous grown-up legs appeared to save the day. Later, I was crawling around on the floor in the army-guy style that was considered 'wrong' in those days, which had my mother perpetually lifting my belly off the floor trying to teach me to crawl 'properly' in order to avoid further developmental delays. As I crawled, our schnauzer puppy Max came along and started trying to pull my sock off. Undaunted, I kept going, and a happy Christmas memory was made.

For LE's first Christmas, there will be some going overboard with gifts and toys, even though we all know that he doesn't care about this. What he'll care about is boxes and wrapping paper, and the even more appealing tissue paper inside the boxes. As his interest in some of his baby toys has waned, I've given him some shoe boxes with tissue inside, some water bottles with a bit of water inside, a plastic bag with a knot tied in the middle to prevent him from getting it over his head, and an empty shampoo bottle. He's pretty happy with this stuff, making me wonder whose benefit baby toys are for. I recently found an old tennis ball behind the credenza, and I've been his hero for days. Babies are easily amazed.

Next year, LE will be more sentient and responsive, and I'm locked in a debate with myself over whether to tell him about Santa or not. The idea of Santa is magical. He makes Christmas a tremendous event. He loves children and makes special gifts for them. He sneaks into your house on Christmas Eve and leaves wonderful things. He's also a good disciplinary tool throughout the year, because he's always watching you, deciding which of his lists you're on. If you're good, you're on the Nice List and Christmas will be wonderful, but if you're bad, watch out! You're on the Naughty List and you may expect coal in your stocking. Apparently one's name can change lists. We mostly were on the Nice List, even if we were bad sometimes. One year right before Christmas, my brothers got onto the Naughty List for lighting a fire in the wood stove and filling the house with smoke. They got coal in their stockings. I suspect if they had done this earlier in the year, they would have had a chance to make it back into Santa's good graces.

You want to know something really sad? I believed in Santa until I was ten. That's right, ten. To put this into perspective, I also started wearing a bra when I was 10. Granted my parents were a little more elaborate with the whole Santa hoax than most. One year my father got a Santa suit and snuck out the bathroom window onto the roof, then climbed down onto the balcony to tap on the window of the room where my brothers and I were bickering in front of The Muppet Show. We turned around, and there was Santa waving at us. Having actually seen the real Santa, it was pretty hard to give up on him long after I realized that Santa used the same wrapping paper as my mom and that he seemed to have her handwriting too. It seemed suspicious to me that Santa wanted us to leave him, instead of cookies and milk, two snifters of brandy, but no matter. By the time I was ten, I was reading books that regularly referred to the Santa myth, but I still believed in him. By the time I was ten, all of my classmates had gotten tired of the revelation that there was no Santa. I even joined in holiday schoolyard conversations about how uncool it was to believe in Santa, which was for babies, while silently apologising to Santa in my mind. At ten, I no longer believed in silliness like the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy and definitely not the Great Pumpkin, but I still believed in Santa.

I was pretty devastated when I learned for sure there was no Santa. I presented to my mother a long list of evidence that pointed to his non-existence, things that my mom couldn't explain away with logic or magic, like why doesn't Santa bring food to the starving kids in Ethiopia? Why doesn't Santa get the dogs from the pound and give them to kids who want dogs? Why doesn't he give houses to homeless kids, and why do poor kids get such crappy gifts? Even though she really wanted to keep the fantasy alive, my mom was unwilling to say the Ethiopians or the dogs or the homeless or the poor were somehow undeserving. It wasn't because the Ethiopian kids were bad, or didn't believe in Santa, or even because they didn't write him letters. It was because there was no Santa. She finally crumbled and said I was right but admonished me not to spoil it for my brothers. And I didn't. It was nice being in on the secret and keeping it alive. I still enjoy it with my uncle who has Down's and who still believes in Santa. I'd never spoil it for him because it's so sweet.

So why am I so torn up about keeping the Santa story alive for LE? It seems all good, right? A wonderful fantasy for kids, where something magical happens for you every year at Christmas. But this is also the problem. By the time I was 10, I had developed a fairly sophisticated world-view. More sophisticated than, say, Max the schnauzer. Santa had a place in this world-view. While I was generally pretty clear on reality and what was possible and impossible (that magicians used sleight of hand, that I would never turn into a boy no matter how hard I wished, that dead people don't come back to life, and that Peter Pan wasn't ever going to come for me-- man, I had a crush on that guy!), the existence of Santa allowed for the possibility of magic, the unknown, and the impossible. Maybe I'd never witnessed the impossible, but I'd witnessed Santa, meaning maybe sometimes it was possible that something magic could happen. I'd never seen God either, but the existence of Santa allowed for the possibility of the existence of God. And the parallels between Santa and God are undeniable. Both are watching you all the time, even when you're going to the bathroom, and they know when you're even thinking something bad. Both keep some kind of catalogue of your deeds, which will either be used for or against you at some point. Both give you things if you wish for them hard enough. Both mete out a sort of justice. I wasn't a very religious kid, but it was nice to know there was a Santa, just as it was nice to know there was a God. But without Santa to create the possibility of God, there was suddenly nothing. It's quite a spoonful of nihilism to eat when you're 10.

Don't get me wrong-- I don't harbor any resentment towards my parents for the trouble they went to in order to create a Santa. I think it's really sweet. Okay, it was a Big Elaborate Lie, but as far as lies go, it was the best one ever. I'm grateful for those years of real innocence and belief in the impossible. But it was still pretty heartbreaking, and it took me a good two years or so to get my head around this sudden change in everything I'd previously thought to be true, and all the ramifications thereof.

So what to do about LE? Give him this chance to believe that magic happens and that the impossible is real? Or settle him into reality early? If we stay in Turkey, I do like the idea of him being able to lord it over the other kids that Santa came to his house and brought him cool stuff. I expect he'll get a lot of crap for not being 'pure Turkish,' so the least I can do is give him something to make the other kids jealous. But at the same time, I don't like the idea of seeing the look on his little face when he realizes Santa isn't real and that I've created magic for him, then snatched it away.

It's quite a conundrum.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Siobhan's Interview

This isn't the meme interview. The questions are from Siobhan, a fellow Istanbul Mommy.

1) If you could go back to day 1 with LE what, if anything, would you do differently and why?
For this blog, I've vowed to myself not complain about my mother-in-law (I think I do enough of this on forums and in real life) except to mention funny things she does, because I never know who might be reading. My brother-in-law and cousins-in-law speak very good English, and I don't want to cause problems or hurt anyone's feelings. But I really could have done without her being being around within an hour after LE's birth creating stress and trying to make the whole thing about her. In fact, I really wish my husband and I could have spent the first night alone together with our amazing new son and held off the flood of in-laws until the next morning, but it was not to be. One reason MIL was put out was because we didn't have her come to be with me during labor. So in light of that, one hour after the birth was pretty good.

More importantly, I wish I'd been stronger standing up to the doctor about the induction (Warning! Detailed birth information to follow! I won't mention my vagina, but if you're squeamish you might want to skip the next few paragraphs!). LE was 12 days late, and she said the water was getting worryingly low, creating a danger of the cord getting compressed and LE going into fetal distress which would mean emergency Cesarean. Given Turkish doctors' love of cutting women open (the Cesarean rate is over 90% here, though that includes elective ones, as almost no one does natural births, and in fact, many OB/GYNs aren't confident doing natural deliveries), I was dead set against having a Cesarean. All the first babies on both sides of my family have been late, so for awhile, I tried not worry. I put her off about inducing as long as I could stand, but by 12 days, we were scared. I mean, she had scared us. In fact, I was having contractions by that time, but I didn't recognize them as such, and just thought it was LE pushing his bottom out and up against my ribs really hard. The night before the induction, I drank the midwife's magic recipe for causing contractions, and by morning, I still wasn't in hard labor, but I could feel things starting to happen. The doctor mislead me a little by telling me she'd give the oxytocin just enough to 'jump-start' the labor. I expected she'd examine me before putting me on the drip, and I'd hoped I'd started enough on my own for her to change her mind. But she wasn't even in the hospital yet when we arrived, and before I knew it, I was attached to the IV and crying because it wasn't how I wanted it to go. She did examine me an hour later, and I had indeed started dilating, but she kept me on the drip anyway.

This is where I wish I'd stood up to her, or had the sense to call the midwife (she and the midwife were friends and worked together often) to lean on her a little. There was no 'jump-starting' of labor. It was using chemicals to control the entire thing and to push it as fast as it could go. After the birth, I told the midwife the number on the drip machine (indicating cc's per minute or something), and she said it was three times the amount she had ever seen used. By noon, the non-stress test was showing LE's heartbeat to be not quite right, and I got whisked up to the ultrasound machine to have a look. All was well, but for that hour I was absolutely furious that this goddamned intervention was endangering my baby and making it possible they'd have to cut me open. An hour after lunch, I was feeling the contractions. Two hours later, I was hurting. Three hours later, I was screaming in pain, with hard contractions coming every minute or so, with no breaks in between. It was like one long contraction that ebbed and peaked. The midwife later told me they should have turned the drip off at this point, which I was repeatedly begging them to do. It turned out my cervix dilated 8 cm in less than an hour. Of course, birth and labor should be painful, but that was unnatural, suddenly laboring like that without a chance to breathe between contractions. They finally took me off the drip before taking me into the delivery room, and the contractions became more 'normal,' giving me a minute or two to rest in between. It was such a relief that I actually dozed off in those little breaks. The labor hurt so much that pushing the baby out was a breeze.

It's a long story, I know. But in retrospect, I wish I'd either waited another day or two for LE to come out on his own (I still believe he would have been born on my birthday if he hadn't been forced out two days earlier), or that I'd been stronger about controlling the induction and made it work more for me and not for the doctor.

2) You've lived in Istanbul for quite a few years now, what advice would you give to a newbie?

When I first came here, I had an attitude about things that I could probably do with a bit more of these days. Back then, I just went with the flow, didn't get surprised by much, was easily delighted, and never had a fixed plan. It was like a big adventure for three years straight, nothing was serious, and most things were fun. Fixed plans only result in stress. Better to just set things in motion and wait and see how it all turns out. So you woke up in Maltepe 2 hours before a lesson in Bakırköy? No problem. Even if you're unsure as to how you ended up in Maltepe, or where Maltepe even is? Whatever. Takes 8 hours to get a stamp in your residence permit? People-watch. Stuck with 7 days of split shifts a week? Tea garden. Cops at your door to bust up a party? Give them 20YTL, a sip of whiskey, and invite them in to look at the girls because that's the only reason they're there anyway. Since when does it take 17 cops to bust up a party?

It's not so easy to be this laid back with a baby. Babies are the most conservative people on earth, and it doesn't do to mess with their schedules. But one thing I still love about Turkey is how well everyone can do nothing. It's so nice to spend a few hours just sitting somewhere nice and chatting, and not having to worry about when you're going to do 'something,' or kicking back on someone's balcony in the summer not worrying that you're keeping them from doing 'something.' In America, we always had to get somewhere and do something. Here, doing nothing is doing something, and it's a good feeling.

3) We're both married to Turks, does the fact that you've entered into a 'mixed marriage' say anything about you or was it just down to fate?

I think I may have been fated to marry a foreigner, though I don't know why I think this, except that maybe I've always been fascinated with foreigners. There was also an element of fate in the time BE and I met, I think, in that I was starting to be ready to settle down. I'd been in love before, no illusions there about my innocence, but BE was the first person I fell in love with who seemed like someone I could make a home with, who I could keep loving even when everything sucked, and who would be a good, reliable husband and father.

I think that having a mixed marriage does say about me that I tend to do things the hard way, or that I'll always choose the more difficult path with the most unknowns. I don't know that I set out to do this on purpose, but it always ends up that way.

4)What is the one best and the one worst thing about bringing up a child in Turkey?

The worst thing about bringing a child up here is actually two related things-- doing a huge, scary thing in an unfamiliar setting without the kind of support I'm used to, and being away from my mother and family while I'm doing it.

By unfamiliar setting, I mean many things that seem 'normal' to me for what is needed to take care of a baby just aren't here, or if they're available, they're prohibitively expensive. Some of these, like things you buy for a baby (food, certain toys, baby equipment) can be improvised (like jamming the front seat of a taxi back against the carseat to hold it in place while crossing your fingers you don't actually get into an accident, because I've yet to get into a taxi with working seatbelts in the back), some can be splurged on (like a decent carseat), some can be gotten on trips home (like clothes that are actually made for babies and aren't just shrunken versions of kid clothes that don't have snaps int he crotch or don't fit over a diaper or a baby's big head), some can be shipped (like an ear thermometer), and some can be done without (like nice organic baby food in a jar so you don't have to make it all yourself, which I do but it's time-consuming). Other things, like parks you'd let your kid play in, are rare and overcrowded. Places like a Gymboree are like 40 bucks a pop to use, and are across town in the posh neighborhoods anyway. Changing tables are virtually non-existent. On the other hand, these things can be made up for. I have a nice playgroup that I go to every week so LE gets to hang out with other babies and play with someone besides me, plus I get to hang out with other foreign mommies. Where things are hard with babies, Turkish people can be really kind and accommodating, like they'll jump to help you get a stroller up and down the stairs which are suddenly everywhere (and now I wonder what on earth handicapped people do here!), and waiters are happy to let you change a baby on an unused table (though as a diner this troubles me to think about). As for the kind of support I'm used to, I just have to go home to America for that. My husband is great about backing me up on my crazy foreigner ideas, like that the baby doesn't need a snowsuit and 40 layers in 70 degree weather, and he's quick to shut up family members who think you should ride in the car with the baby in your lap because it's cold and someone doesn't want to wait for you to strap the seat in. But a lot of what some people here think of as 'support,' I think of as 'meddling' or 'not listening to me or respecting my ideas.' When I'm in the US, I can trust that I can leave LE alone with someone, and he won't be told 'Shame on you!' for crying or pooping, or fed lots of candy, or given pens and lighters to play with. But here, this child has been (literally!) attached to me from day one, because I don't know anyone who thinks my ideas for my child are worth respecting or who I trust that he'll be okay with. And again I'm seeing my lifelong trend of doing things the hard way, with the most obstacles and the most unknowns. I took LE home to the US this summer, and I couldn't believe how easy everything was.

Being away from my family for the pregnancy, birth, and these early baby months is really devastating and feels totally wrong to me. My father and I have always had an easy relationship with a lot to talk about, but pregnancy and birth and babies are something you need your mother for. I can't say my relationship with my mother changed when I got pregnant, because we've had a great relationship since I got over my lengthy pubescent and adolescent period of serious stroppiness. However, I can say our relationship deepened somewhat in that one never gets over needing one's mother, but it had been a long time since I felt so consciously how much I need her. I'm just loving it how thrilled my parents are with having a grandchild, and they're absolutely fascinated with every little thing he does, but at the same time, I feel so sad and guilty that they're not nearby to enjoy every minute of it.

The worst things are easy to go on about. The best thing about having a baby in Turkey, though, is by far the most important to me, which is here, I have this wonderful luxury of getting to stay home with him. I say 'luxury,' because economically, it's possible for us to get on nicely on one salary. I can't imagine having to leave him in day care so I could work, and what it would feel like to have to work. When he was 6 weeks old and my leave was over, it broke my heart imagining dumping him on strangers when he was so small, which I would have had to do if I had to work. Culturally, it's also a luxury in that no one really looks down on me for choosing to stay home with him. I think in the US, feminism has reached a point where women are expected to be mothers and have careers, and people maybe think women are giving up or selling themselves short if they choose to be 'only' mothers. But my mother stayed home with us, so to me, this is normal, it's the best thing for the kid, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Of course, I don't believe staying at home is the best thing for every woman, and nor do I think anything negative of working mothers, but having a choice about it is so important, and I'm glad I made this choice. Despite the difficulties, every day I think about how lucky I am, and how lucky LE is for us to be doing it this way.

5)What 3 things would you grab (apart from LE) when running out of your house in an earthquake?

Hmm. It's not quite the same as the burning house question, unless we assume my house is about to be rubble. But the answer in any case is practical and boring. Passports, glasses, shoes. With a little more time, I'd make sure I had LE's birth certificate thingie from the consulate. With a little better planning, I'd have all this stuff ready in an earthquake kit, plus a working cell phone and some spare diapers and a blanket for LE. Then it would be earthquake kit, CDs, and my wedding rings.

So that's the interview. Thanks Siobhan! It was fun being so self-centered and writing only about myself there. I apologise if it was boring.

If you would like to be interviewed by me on your blog, drop me an email at I'll write 5 questions for you, and I promise not to ask anything I wouldn't want to answer myself.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Fake Christmas

For the first time in three years, I'll be going home for Christmas. I can't tell you how great this feels. I've felt great about this since it first occurred to me when I was pregnant that not working meant I was free to go home for the holidays. And of course, there's nowhere else to spend LE's first Christmas than at home with my family. Try as I might, I just couldn't make a proper Christmas here.

My first Christmas in Turkey I got married. It was a really good, important, wonderful day, but not exactly Christmas-y. Of course my family was here, and we gave gifts and wished each other 'Merry Christmas,' but with the impending nuptials it was somewhat of an afterthought. For the next two Christmases, my folks sent gifts, and we had a little tree with lights and A Christmas Story on videotape, and the year I wasn't pregnant we drank mulled wine all day plus mimosas for our anniversary, but it still wasn't Christmas. Not really. A few times throughout the day I closed my eyes and tried really hard to make myself believe it, but it didn't quite work, not for more than a few seconds. BE humored me but he didn't get it, and A Christmas Story bored him so he went to the barbers' for tea.

So what is it that makes it Christmas? Every year in America, I read the same articles bemoaning the increasing consumerism of the holiday, and they always end with something pithy about how it's not about the gifts and the lights and the shiny things, and everybody goes, 'Yeah, yeah, it's so much more than that,' while thinking 'Hee hee, it is so the presents.' I pretty much thought it was the presents too (or at least, the anticipation of presents) until I came here, but it turns out, it's not. Don't get me wrong. The presents don't hurt. Nor do the wrapping paper or the boxes or shaking the presents or admiring the presents piled under the tree while inhaling that marvelous smell and enjoying the lights and the shiny things. But the presents don't quite do it.

Christmas, or something like it which they call Noel, is getting more popular in Turkey. This has nothing to do with Jesus, and a lot to do with the global market machine and the selling of credit. Someone once told me you can understand a lot about a country by its TV commercials. There's some truth to this. In America, most TV commercials are for cars and food. In Turkey, the majority of them are for banks, credit cards, and cell phones. Other commercials, like for cars and stores, are connected to credit cards, and their competition is over various types of 'points' that can be earned, or how many low monthly payments (called taksit) they allow. The idea of taksit is interesting. You buy a skirt or whatever for 50YTL, which will be broken up into 10 seemingly manageable taksit of 5YTL each, so only the 5YTL appears on your monthly bill for the next ten months. With people thinking they're only spending 5 YTL here and 10YTL there, they start running up huge credit card bills they can't pay, and suddenly Turks' personal debt is getting as big as Americans'. When I first came here 6 years ago, it wasn't always easy to use a credit card, but now you can use them everywhere, even at the smallest mom and pop businesses. People used to run up all their debt among family members. An uncle would borrow money and eventually pay it back, and later he might loan money to an in-law, which would eventually get paid back. Or not. There was a lot of squabbling, and I just giggled wondering why everyone didn't just hang onto their own money. But now everyone owes their money to the banks, which do more than bad mouth you and give dirty looks and serve the cheap tea if you don't pay. And, just as in America, there are a lot of people who don't quite get the idea of credit cards, that it's not free money and it has to be paid eventually, often at usurious interest rates that the less-educated consumer may not have understood about from the fine print. After all, there are so many wonderful things to buy these days!

So every year, it looks a little more Christmas-y in Istanbul. The malls (of which there are a few more each year) are dripping in lights and tinsel, and there are winter-themed decorations everywhere-- snowflakes, candy canes, stars, even a few rosy-cheeked Santas. I'm starting to hear English Christmas songs. Last year, Jingle Bells got pretty popular, and for several months after Christmas, I was still hearing it all over as background music for advertisements and as the ringtone on people's cell phones. TV commercials start gearing up the excitement about the gift-buying aspect, and there are suddenly a lot of ads for clothes, jewelry, and perfume. Families are shown in front of fires in the fireplace, with decorated trees twinkling in the background, lovingly giving one another the perfect gifts.

If Christmas ever felt empty in the US, if it ever felt like a flood of consumerism and fake family love and an excuse to throw money into the air, that empty feeling is nothing like Christmas in Turkey. For one thing, they've got it all wrong. Here, Noel is celebrated on December 31. They also call this yıl başı (New Year's), and since I've been here, New Year's has always been celebrated as usual, with big dinners, all-night drinking, and the expected midnight countdown (though I'm sure that type of celebration isn't traditionally 'Turkish' either). But Eastern Orthodox people celebrate Christmas starting on or around New Year's (I'm not exactly sure of the dates) so Turks now call it Noel, and they've added the gift-giving and all the other trappings of Christmas. So, okay, it's not 'wrong,' it just feels wrong to me when December 25 passes like any winter day without even time off work and everything is business as usual. Well-meaning people might wish me Merry Christmas with something like 'Hey, don't you have some foreign holiday today?' to which I sadly reply that it's passed but thanks, to which they may reply by insisting that Christmas isn't the 25th. And, of course, being here without my family on Christmas, without the perfect Christmas house my mother does every year, without our same decorations and ornaments that have been pulled out of storage and dusted off every year since I can remember, and maybe even just being without the other people in my life who are like me, the whole thing just becomes as empty and as sad as can be.

I don't know what it is that makes Christmas feel nice. My husband will be coming home with us this year for his first Stranger Family Christmas, and I'm at a loss to be able to make him understand what's so great about it, and why we're all so excited. And it's not just the day itself that's nice, but the whole time leading up to it, starting around Thanksgiving. Maybe it's because it's been pounded into me by the US media year after year that Christmas is a special, snowy, magical time where people are extra nice to each other and little kids with leukemia miraculously recover and if you wish for something hard enough at Christmas it'll come true. I wonder if this notion can be traced to Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, the idea that Christmas brings out the best in us and that bad people can turn their lives around and become good. Too bad it isn't really true. As a religious holiday, it's meaningless to me because I'm not Christian, so it's not that. I used to think it was the gifts and the decorations and the songs, but it's not that either. It could be some other Christmas things they don't have in Turkey, like the Christmas specials on TV, and Christmas music on the radio including the dogs barking Jingle Bells, and the winter ales the microbreweries release, and those garish red Christmas sweaters some people insist on wearing, and the smell of pine everywhere, and the parties, and everyone wishing each other 'Merry Christmas' upon parting, but somehow I don't think it's any of these things either. I'm curious if my husband will 'get it' when he's home with me, but I won't be surprised if he doesn't. That's okay. There's still the presents and the special Christmas food and alcohol, so I think he'll be fine.

I think for me, it's as simple as this: for my whole life until I came here, Christmas has meant home, and for this time of year it feels like I'm as far away from home as I can possibly be. For now, of course, Istanbul is my home, and my husband and my baby are my family. Most the time I feel okay making my new little family in our little home. But around Christmas I feel especially alien, in that I don't share a language or a common cultural currency with the people around me. Throughout the year it doesn't bother me much that my husband doesn't know who Gilligan is, just as he's only upset about my lack of knowledge about and adoration for Atatürk on national holidays. But these days, I'm especially sensitive about the home and life I've left behind. I might be doing a pretty good job making a new family, but I don't think I'll ever be able to make a proper Christmas as good as Christmas at home.

Saturday, December 1, 2007


What is it about the word 'housewife' that I find so derogatory and insulting? There is, of course, the old joke that a woman isn't married to the house. But it's more than that. Since I stopped working (outside of the house, for money, because I should point out that I'm still working), there's nothing that gets my dander up faster than being called a housewife.

Even before becoming a stay-at-home-mom (you'll forgive the PC-like mouthful), I bristled about the idea of the housewife. In beginning English classes, I always found talking about jobs to be good way to teach possessives. Or maybe that's how the dreaded Headway series did it, and I just never found a better idea. Plus, I'd cut out a nice set of bits of paper with pictures of jobs on them. 'What is your job?' 'What is your father's job?' You have to ask the question in this unnatural way to practice the possessives, and also because using the more common 'What does your father do?' often proves to be too confusing even for more advanced students, partly because there's nothing about jobs in that question, and partly because the grammatical difference between 'What does your father do?' and 'What is your father doing?' is often lost on students. For years, and for hundreds of students, only their father's jobs varied. My father is a policeman. My father is a lawyer. My father is a businessman. My father is retired. For years, and for hundreds of students, their mother's jobs never changed. My mother is a housewife. In six years of teaching English in Turkey, I don't think I've had a single student whose mother worked outside the home.

In theory, I think there's something to be said for a culture that so strictly dictates its gender roles. Everybody knows what's expected of them as they negotiate the world. Perhaps there's comfort in this. I admit I've felt this comforting feeling when watching old movies from the fifties, when the man and woman fall in love and get married, and the man has a good job with health insurance and the woman has a pretty house with a garden, a baby on he way, and lots of things to starch. It feels safe. I can see why the media-watching public of the fifties enjoyed eating up this myth so much.

In practice, however, and as a foreigner who wasn't brought up to negotiate the world this way, pre-dictated gender roles suck. Men work. Men do things. Men go out and drink tea and watch football and discuss current events and insure the world's continued activity. Women don't work (of course, no one considers cooking and cleaning and looking after kids to be 'real' work anyway). Women stay home and drink tea and gossip with the neighbors. Women go shopping and to the hairdresser's and watch Brazilian soaps on TV and insure that men and children never have to lift a finger to do anything for themselves. A lot of women don't even seem to like leaving the house very much, and they really do seem to take some kind of satisfaction from clean children, polished moldings, and spotless windows. Most men seem to find any excuse they can to get out of the house, and I don't hear many women complaining about being stuck alone at home all day and half the night with a screaming baby and a pile of ironing. But that could be because I'm also home alone, and not gossiping over tea with my neighbors who I find I have very little in common with, even the ones my own age. Luckily my baby doesn't scream much and I leave the ironing to the cleaner.

Amazingly, most people seem happy with this arrangement. Or is it that the men are happy and the women aren't, but no one cares about them enough to ask? Or is it that they don't even dare ask themselves? BE's mother seems genuinely happy. Her mission in life, it seems to me, is to serve others. Literally. During meals, she may sit down and eat now and again, but she usually stands at the head of the table, ready to spoon more food onto people's plates, or to run off to the kitchen to fetch more. Whenever someone sits down, she appears out of nowhere to try to shove a pillow under them. She lays out on the bed the clothes her husband and sons will wear that day. She wakes up around 6am and you can hear her whirring the house into life by making tea, shaking out tablecloths and bed linens, and getting the washing started. She doesn't complain when her husband arrives home drunk at 2am wanting a cup of Turkish coffee, and she sits with him while he drinks it. She gets on my case because I don't iron underpants and baby clothes because it's 'un-hygienic' not to. When we visit her, she always talks to me at great length (but not in a complaining kind of way) about the housekeeping she did that day, and I suppose I'm expected to join in, though I have very little to contribute (I don't suppose telling her I ran the dishwasher that day is good enough). She has a chronic pain in her right shoulder that comes from, I think, a lifetime of the repetitive motion of wiping and ironing.

Shortly after we got married, BE's father took great delight in getting me to serve the food at their house, and always told me what a good job of it I did, as though it's some kind of rocket science. Once BE's brother greeted us at the door saying, 'I don't like this T-shirt I'm wearing,' and I said, sarcastically, 'What, did your mother choose your clothes this morning?' and he replied, nonplussed, 'Yes,' which is how I found out she puts their clothes out for them. BE, until a few years ago, didn't know how to pack his own suitcase. He seemed to think dirty socks pick themselves up off the floor. The origins of clean underwear were a mystery. For the first few months of our marriage, BE would get upset because I'd call him into the kitchen to get his dinner plate and expect him to spoon out his own food, as it was always done in my house. At first, I got mad at him for expecting me to be his servant, but then I realized his feelings were hurt because he thought I didn't love him very much-- the Magic Fairy service of the devoted housewife is, indeed, equated with showing love.

Look, having a baby is rewarding. I was ready for this. I had my first job when I was 17 and have been working ever since. I was tired of going out and getting drunk every weekend, really. I was ready to settle. I felt this reward yesterday, for example, when LE clapped his hands for the first time, because goodness knows I've been clapping my hands at him for a couple of months now. It seems like a small thing, hand clapping, but it was momentous. AT the same time, the work that's expected of me now is among the most tedious, repetitive, and mind-numbing work I've ever done, rivalling the temp job I had once of attaching the price tags onto clothing in an Emporium factory (I lasted two days at that one). No matter how much I do, or how much I finish, it's never quite done and all the same work awaits me again a few hours later. LE is cute and cuddly and smiley and he's happy to see me and he's learning how to give kisses (which are sometimes toothier than I'd like), but he's also an unending cycle of diapers, baths, feeding, wiping, and tidying up after. It's menial. It's mundane. It's rocking someone to sleep for 45 minutes only to have his eyes pop open as as soon as I put him into his bed. And, like scooping food onto plates, none of it is rocket science. I thought staying at home with a kid would give me some time to do other stuff, some kind of work, perhaps, like the kind of work that's considered 'real' because you get money for it. Maybe stuff I didn't have time to do when I had a job, like reading and writing and I even had plans to pick up my poor violin again, lying dormant in its case for so long it's getting stiff and tinny. I didn't expect loads of time, but I thought a couple hours a day wouldn't be unrealistic.

Hah. The only reason I'm writing this now is because it's Saturday and BE is home to watch the baby. Other times I post in spurts when LE's sleeping, or leave him to crawl around on the floor, blocking him with my foot from getting into the computer cords while he whimpers and shouts at me to pay more attention to him. Even with BE home, I can hear increasingly frequent screeches coming from the other room telling me LE is going to want to nurse soon. I've been planning to attach the childproofing thingies to the cupboards for over a month. It's a good thing the friend who loaned me the drill for this three weeks ago also has a baby, so she's understanding about not getting it back anytime soon. She probably doesn't have time to use it either.

The value of work, of course, comes down to money. While it's easy to see that raising a baby and making a house into a home are invaluable, apparently they're so invaluable that they're worthless. Priceless and worthless. I mean, I don't expect to be thanked all the time for this stuff, but I also don't like feeling denigrated for it, like I do when someone calls me a housewife. When I started my pregnancy leave from work, BE's mother said, with a glint in her eye I couldn't identify, 'You'll be a housewife now,' as though I were joining some great secret club, and my heart just sank. Would I be ironing underpants and shoving pillows under people too? Of course, not working means that BE supports me now. This is something I'm still getting used to. For months after I quit work I was draining my savings on things like groceries before it occurred to me that BE should be paying for this stuff, and that my savings should be going to things for the baby, or his schooling, or just be sitting there as my cushion-fund, money that's there so I don't have to worry about money or feel dependent. It took me several weeks before I could bring myself to ask BE to leave me money, because I haven't asked anybody for money for a long time. He felt weird about my asking too, because he knows how much I guard my independence. The money tacitly left on the table is just an embarrassing topic we avoid now.

BE is pretty good about helping out. That is, he's pretty good in comparison to most Turkish husbands about helping out with the house and baby. Like most Turkish men, though, he regards this kind of work as 'women's work,' work that is below him, and work that he's now absolved from doing because I'm not earning any money. He can spoon food into LE's mouth. He can change a diaper as long as it's not poopy, though I have to secretly go behind him and re-attach it because it's not on quite right. Occasionally, he'll take night duty, but he regards this as a favor to me and not something that's required of him. The fact that I've been getting four or five hours of very broken sleep a night (if I'm lucky) for the last four months doesn't make him feel any obligation, as in his mind, he's going out to 'work' the next day while I'll just be sitting at home, free to take naps whenever I want. Quite when I should take these naps, yet still get in an hour or so of doing something for myself that's not related to laundry or baby, is my problem and not his. The women in his world don't require time for themselves. They manage the house and baby and lack of sleep without complaint, so I should too. To these wonderful, magical models of perfect womanhood, I offer you a nice biscuit. You've won. I'm losing. And seriously, I'd like to know who you are. I'm somewhere between hating you and not believing in you.

I'm foreign here. I can't be expected to be like Turkish women because I wasn't raised that way. But I suppose even in America I'd feel a sense of not matching up to some model of the good wife and mother. Millions of women before me have felt like this. Sometimes when I complain (and I complain a lot, sometimes even just weeping weakly because I'm too tired to elaborate with actual, troublesome words), BE tells me 'You're a housewife now, get used to it.' It's that word, housewife. He's not trying to be mean, because even though he thinks of this work as below him, he doesn't think there's anything wrong with being a housewife. That, and Turkish doesn't use terms like 'stay-at-home-mom,' probably because they would seem redundant. But I seriously hate being called a housewife. It rankles. It hurts. And it makes me so mad. Because even though this is what I'm doing now, I also regard myself as above this kind of work. I have 25 years of education under my belt, with two BAs and an MA, and I chose to stay home with my kid because I wanted to, not because it was expected of me. In fact, it might be the opposite of what was expected of me. I have the luxury of staying home with him, and yes, I regard this as a luxury, because in the US this would probably be impossible. But I am not, nor will I ever be, a housewife.

I just have to find the time to do something more.