Parks in Istanbul are few and far between. Nice parks, I mean. There are lots of places called 'parks,' which are in fact miserly patches of hard dirt which may or may not have had grass on it at one time. There may or may not be some sort of play structure, new-ish or in a state of increasing neglect, and this 'park' will invariably be crowded with about 8,000 children, and the ground will be strewn with spit-out sunflower seed shells, cigarette butts, popsicle wrappers and sticks, and other things LE really wants to eat but probably shouldn't. As often as not, a creepy man will be leaned up against something in or near the park. You're never sure if he's there checking out the kids or their mothers.
For our playgroup though, we finally found a decent park. It's huge, clean, and well-maintained. We'd driven by it a bunch of times, but never realized it was a public park because from the outside, it looked much too nice. Real, green grass. Flowers. Relatively empty, at least on weekdays. We figured it was some sort of posh holiday village.
So yesterday we packed up our little ones in a caravan of strollers laden with snacks, and went off to this park. We found a play structure that wasn't too crowded, and let the kids go. The play structure had limited appeal for toddlers because after a few minutes on the swings and a couple of trips down the slide, they lost interest, not being able to climb around on everything. So they started running off. Naturally this pleased us. Running means tired kids who sleep better. LE doesn't even like me when we're outside, since all I seem to do is spoil his fun by not letting him eat things he finds on the ground, and because I keep him off of roadways and away from jagged metal and out of prickly bushes. So I tail him at a polite distance, only there to hold his hand and help him up and down curbs or up and down hills. It's so nice how he stands with his little hand up waiting for me.
Near the play structure was the go-cart course. Both LE and his little friend love watching cars pass by, so that got their attention and, squealing with their arms in the air, they both hurried over to have a look. The mommies followed, and we stayed over near the go-carts and started wrestling in the grass. LE played 'knock Mommy over' while his friend played 'throw grass at Mommy.' Everyone was delighted on this balmy May afternoon.
A security guard approached us. She said, 'Çimler... No! (çimler means 'grass')' We all stared at her. I thought she was talking about LE's friend throwing grass. So I asked her to clarify. It turned out she was telling us we weren't allowed to be on the grass. Miles of clean, green grass as far as you can see, but you're not allowed to be on it. Naturally there are no signs to this effect. My friend told her this and the security guard just shrugged and pointed to the play structure. I said, 'But these are just babies, what are we supposed to do, trap them in there and have them cry all day?' All around us people were walking on the grass, and I pointed out a few of them. Again she just shrugged and started back to her security guard place, where I couldn't help but notice another ten male guards were standing around smoking and drinking tea. Typical. It's just like when you go to the police to get your residence permit renewed-- eight working computers, twelve male cops having tea, and one female cop with a foot-high stack of passports feverishly entering data with one finger while a three-hour line sits outside.
So we decided to leave the grass until she went away. Back in the play structure, there was a little girl about four running around while her mother and two other women made tea and ate. LE headed over to the swings and the girl ran towards him and knocked him over, causing him to bang his head on a metal bar. I said (in English), 'You stupid girl!' and picked up a crying LE to comfort him. The previously over-attentive women had suddenly found something very interesting to stare at in other directions, as they did later on when their girl pushed, hit, and hurt two other toddlers. This is another thing that happens here that drives me mad, when mothers won't discipline their kids, or even apologise when their kids hurt other ones. They just look away and act like they didn't notice. They sure as hell notice, though, if you bawl out one of their kids for hurting yours.
Partway into our picnic a horde of about 200 big kids (perhaps eight or nine years old), probably from some school field trip came swarming up from the seaside road, covering in seconds the play structure, the two neighboring ones, and all of the nearby grass, so we gathered up our food and our little ones and moved on. We noticed a bunch of the kids playing football on the forbidden grass (ironically in front of signs that said 'Please don't play with balls on the grass') while the hapless security guards looked on. The woman guard wasn't among them so it was easy to see why they were unable to do anything about this. We found another play structure that was empty of big kids. LE and his friend found some freshly dug up dirt, so all seemed well.
But then another group of ten or so kids, these ones about twelve or thirteen, came running to the play structure and started going down the slides all at once, ignoring the little kids at the bottom. Fortunately, the park's ample signage was in our favor with a sign that said, 'This park is for children under 10.' One of the mothers went to the big kids' minder and asked if he could please take the kids away because it was too much for the little ones. He said 'They're all nine.' Yeah, nine with breasts and changing voices. Remember my previous post about lying? Anyway. After a few minutes a few minutes he and his rowdy group were driven off by the glares from the mothers and grandmothers holding onto squirming, screeching toddlers who just wanted to play.
LE and my friend's daughter L started to play on the two swings. Another little girl came up and asked whiningly, 'What shall I do?' and then pouted. 'You're going to wait,' I told her. 'But I want to swing,' she whined. 'Well, you have to wait,' I told her. 'These kids got here first, and they're small. You're big and you can wait.' She stuck her lower lip out even farther, then started pushing L in the swing, nicely at first, but then rather roughly. L looked nervous and gripped the chains. I told the girl to take it easy and not push so hard, so she gave the swing a good shove and L decided it wasn't fun anymore and ran off. The girl jumped into the swing and looked at me, waiting for me to push her. LE decided he wanted to be under the swing with the girl in it, so I took him to go push a metal donkey he found very fascinating. That all worked out nicely, as there was another boy who wanted to sit on the donkey and he thought it was wonderful that LE wanted to push him. So at least there was one nice kid at the park yesterday.
And the moral of the story? One, is that parks here suck. For all the fuss Turks make over kids, there is very little public policy devoted to making kids' lives better and few public places that are truly kid-friendly. The public places that are good for kids are woefully overcrowded. The other moral is that I, with a few exceptions, just don't like kids very much, particularly spoiled or undisciplined ones, or kids in large numbers. I suppose these are just things I'll have to get used to. But it doesn't mean I have to like it.