Thursday, April 30, 2009

Breast-Feeding Nazis, Don't Read This!

A wonderful article, courtesy of my dad:

The Case Against Breast-Feeding

Breast-feeding and feminism collide once again, and it's totally ass-backward from the last time. Before, it was the formula keeping us from being Real Women and now it's the breastmilk. Will our breasts and wombs ever stop keeping us down?

I do love the dynamic tension between feminism and women's bodies, how no one can quite decide which part's a beautiful gift and which part's a limitation, and when, and in which context. And I appreciate the writer's honesty about being a nurser, which is also a gift and a limitation. Nursing is nice and also it really pisses me off sometimes. Nursing always sucks and it often bites. Hee! That was a little nipple joke. As I've said before, it's mainly due to my intense laziness that LE still nurses, and I probably won't try another way until this way stops working.

My dad told me about this article over the phone, and I told him I think LE is so darned healthy because he still nurses. He rightly pointed out that this is anecdotal. However, assuming it's really true that the benefits of breastmilk are exaggerated, this pleases me even more because that means LE is damned healthy all by his little tough-assed self. Good boy!

And fuck you to the Dr. Sears Empire with all your half-baked, spuriously-researched baby- rearing methods. I'd wager the Dr. Sears Empire has done more to make a lot of mothers feel really, horribly guilty for wanting to detach the screaming, poopy little succubus from time to time than it has improved anyone's "attachment" to their kid.

But man, my nipples hurt sometimes. And I think BE is pretty pissed off that they're off-limits most of the time because they're sore.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Family Visit, or, A Short Litany of Minor Slights

It couldn't be put off any longer. The Teyzes (aunts on BE's mother's side) were dying to see LE. For some reason, we see the Amcas (uncles on BE's father's side-- no aunts there except by marriage) all the time, but we rarely see the maternal family. They're nice people, actually. It's not them that I dread because they're very dear, it's the visits themselves. For my MIL, these events are a big drama party. She loves drama. She loves creating drama. It's like we all become stars in her own personal reality show, and the dramas she creates are about as intellectually stimulating.

It was already getting bad on the car ride over. She kept niggling at BE and going 'What? What? I didn't do anything!' when he got annoyed. He finally snapped as we were parking and she was wittering on how we should park in front of the house even though it was obvious that there weren't any spots. He started shouting at her when she began lecturing him about controlling his anger, as you would a naughty child. LE said 'Mad! Baba! Mad!' LE tends to speak in exclamations.

Once LE got over being shy and hiding between my legs, he realized that this was a House Of No Rules. The first time I tried to stop him bouncing off the furniture the horde of women all went, "No, let him bounce, he's just fine!" LE took this as his cue to begin acting like an insane monkey on crank.

MIL started saying how he never does stuff like this, and that he must have learned it at school. I wondered if somehow she had confused him with another child, since her house is also a No-Rule Insane Crank Monkey zone.

I took someone's cell phone from LE's hand right before he threw it and he whacked me on the leg. Despite the clucking about how his behavior was just fine, he got a wee talking to about hitting, with his arms pinned down to prevent him hitting me in the face. LE is a hitter. He has been since he was about 8 months old. It comes and goes, but has gotten worse since he started hanging out with that nasty boy Deniz who lives next door to MIL. Now he hits with his face scrunched up in anger just like Deniz does. The face-scrunching gives you a chance to get out of the way.

Nonetheless, MIL claimed he'd learned hitting from someone at school. BE and I said it was from Deniz but she just talked over us, talking about the bad kids at school as though she knows all about that, as though she knows anything about LE's schoolmates or his bouts of frustrated violence.

I tried not to take this as some kind of subtle indictment for sending LE to pre-school and we carried on. I refrained mentioning how PIL laughs and praises when LE hits.

Later, in front of a room full of people male and female, MIL decided to ask me if LE is still breastfeeding. She knows damn well the answer to this because she'd asked me earlier, in the car. The way she asks is this: "Hala şey veriyor musun?" (Are you still giving him the you-know-what?) while patting her chest above her breast. I thought, "You know what, if you're going to discuss my tits in front of everyone, you can just bloody well mention my tits." I said sweetly, "Efendim?" and pretended I had no idea what what she was talking about. "Are you still giving him the breast?" she pressed on. "Of course," I sighed.

LE ran out of the room and she chased after him going, "Çok ayıp! Çok ayıp sana! Meme something something, meme! Çok ayıp!" This means "Shame on you! Shame on you breast something something, breast! Shame on you." She then went to loudly report to everyone in the kitchen LE's shameful boob-related habits.

This required both a jaw clench and an eye roll from me. BE assures me when she says crap like this it's meant to be cute. Perhaps I'm just missing something, but I just think it's mean. It's mean to me and I don't like anyone telling LE "Shame on you," for some baby thing he does. Before breastfeeding became shameful, she used to tell him "Shame on you" for crying and soiling himself.

An aside: Another thing that's considered cute is when people say, "Pipini yiyeceğim." This means "I'm going to eat your weiner." I've gotten to be okay with, "I'm going to eat you/your nose/your eyebrows/your pants/etc." but I'm not cool with someone saying they're going to eat my son's pipi. They even have a pipi recipe, which seems to involve frying up the pipi and eating it with pilav. My husband assures me it's adorable. I asked him if there was an equivalent thing they say about eating girls' genitalia and he was shocked but failed to understand why I'm shocked about eating boys' genitalia.

Anyway, after my tits became a topic of public rumination once again, LE was going mad chasing a balloon, and he managed to fall and bash his mouth on the corner of a coffee table. Two fat lips and a source of much blood I couldn't identify right away which later turned out to be a nasty cut on his gums, the kind where one debates the necessity of stitches. I was so glad his teeth were all in place. When he first cried, MIL more or less elbowed me aside and rushed to get to him first. While she held him back from trying to run to me, she shot me a dirty look, presumably for not watching him and failing to rush to him quickly enough. He escaped by punching her in the mouth mid-flail and was so quickly attended to by such an enormous flutter of women and tissues that he forgot to cry.

As I mopped the fourth mouthful of blood from his teeth, MIL decided this was a good time to tell everyone that, although she'd given me several nazar boncuk (evil-eye-keeper-awayer beads), I never pinned them on him and wouldn't you know it that very day one of the neighbors was saying how handsome LE is.

That's right.You cannot argue with the power of the nazar boncuk or the evil eye. LE's poor bashed mouth was All My Fault. I might as well have smashed his head into the table myself, leaving him completely vulnerable and unprotected like that. My fear of LE getting stabbed with a cheap safety pin coming open in his shirt is beans next to the damage nazar can do.

Funnily enough, MIL gave me very cuddly and sincerely affectionate goodbye when all this was over. I guess I'd done my part, playing the idiot next to her superstar, to make this drama party one of the most stunning successes yet.

I can't wait for the next one.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Dear Mr. President

I know you're really busy, but I'm writing to let you know that after such a short time in office you've managed to piss off the Turks. Yes, yes, I know. Last week it was all sweetness and sunshine and hearts brimming with adoration, but no more. See, the thing is, you went and talked about that Thing That Never Happened. There's always a lot of talk here about that Thing That Never Happened. For something that Never Happened, it's a very popular topic.

But they don't like it when other people talk about the Thing. Other people have no business. When other people start sticking their nose into the Thing, it implies judgment and incidental hatred of Turks and Muslims coupled with a worldwide conspiracy to denigrate both. The argument goes like this. "America has no business talking about the Thing That Never Happened because America has also committed atrocities. Wait, no, not atrocities because the Thing That Never Happened was never an atrocity. It was a tragedy. A mere incident. It hardly happened at all. And anyway, lots of Turks got killed too, why isn't anyone talking about that? Because that's what the Thing That Never Happened is really all about."

So there's really nothing you can say about the Thing That Never Happened that won't make Turks mad. Your predecessor, may he grow like an onion with his head in the ground and his feet in the air, always referred to the Thing as a "tragedy." At the time, the Turks got mad at him too, but now they're thinking "tragedy" sounded pretty good. See, the thing is, although you didn't use what is being referred to in the Turkish-translated-to-English press as the "g-word," you did say "atrocity."

(Every time I see "the g-word" in a newspaper story here, I think "What? Do they mean girl? Gay? G-spot?")

"Atrocity" got translated in Turkish to "felaket," which I've always taken to mean disaster. I have heard felaket refer to everything from earthquakes to the time my mother-in-law went to Germany with the kids and they didn't bring warm enough jackets. So it's probably better they're all thinking you just said disaster, which is way less bad than atrocity.

In any case, it's obvious from your speechthat you're clearly some kind of unreasonable madman. I thought you should know some stuff they're saying about you here.

This writer is mad as hell, as you can see, and clearly in need of a native speaker editor. So is Erdoğan, for that matter. That "one minute" thing will haunt him to the grave.

I'm sure they'll come around once this blows over and they start thinking about your middle name again. But as an American I feel it is my duty to inform you that there's a chink in your gleaming armor now. I didn't think it was possible but that might be because I temporarily forgot this is Turkey.

Please give my warmest regards to your family. And also can you fix healthcare so I can afford to come home?


Istanbul's Stranger

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Where Are You From?

This is a question I get asked pretty much every time I leave the house. It’s okay. I don’t mind. I even appreciate people’s curiosity and need to categorize. And it’s not like anyone can tell from looking at me, or even from hearing me speak English—few people can identify accents.

But it’s a loaded question, in its way. So recently, in those dark days when Bush was president, this was a question I answered with care. I mostly told people the truth, but not without taking pause and trying to guess what sort of person they were, and if their vitriol against Americans was more than average. I think in the seven years I’ve been here, I’ve told maybe five people I was Canadian. Once I told a guy I was German, but he started speaking something like German to me so that was a mistake.

I hope Canada doesn’t mind that I’ve been a sometime fake citizen of that country. It’s just that no one has anything against Canada. Canada is nice to everyone. They offer gravy with their fries. The only time I know of that Turks were mad at Canada was a few years ago, when there was a flurry in the media about baby harp seals being clubbed in there. Suddenly everyone was indignant about Canada and this unspeakable cruelty and I just defended the Canadians and held my tongue about how street animals are treated in Istanbul.

But when I said I was American, about half the time someone had something nasty to say about Bush. Everything from, “He’s an idiot,” to “He’s a baby-killer.” I never minded about joining in with a few choice comments about Bush. I don’t think of him as being my fault, though I often felt like apologizing for him. And I can’t disagree about the mess he’s made of everything. “Just three more years,” I kept saying. “Just one year left.” It’s not so much that I was ashamed of being American as I was ashamed of the things being wrought upon the world in our name.

And then came Obama. Wonderful Obama. Handsome, debonair Obama. Obama who promised to keep his nose out of the Armenian thing. Obama who hasn’t even pissed off the Turks with a position on Israel. Obama whose wife hugged the Queen of England and got away with it; even the BBC was gushing and dribbling about that one. Obama who’s a full foot and a half taller than Abdullah Gül, and Gül is always the tall guy sticking out amongst the people who usually surround him.

Obama whose middle name is Hussein. But let’s just say it’s Hüseyin, okay? That Fox News rumor from early on in the campaign that Obama is Muslim took root here. While the Turkish media tried to dispel the rumor that he was Catholic after they’d reported it, they left the Muslim rumor alone. In America, that rumor was meant to be Obama’s undoing. In Turkey, it makes him a god. He’s one of us. He’s on our team. He’s greatness itself. Turks even congratulate Americans on finally electing a Black president, because as everyone knows, there’s no racism in Turkey.

A lot of people have heard that Obama isn’t really Muslim. They just let that go. While the media doesn’t outright say he’s Muslim, newspapers still have headlines like “The Obama Church Mosque Issue,” where the article talks about how mad the Christians are because Obama visited mosques in Turkey, but didn’t visit any churches. Not that he’s a Muslim, but we’re just saying is all.

Religion, in places where people care about religion as a way of identifying and categorizing people, strikes me as similar to football teams. You’re either on our team or you’re not, and it’s better if you’re on our team because then we can be friends. In my early months here in Turkey, three friends insisted that I choose a football team to support. It couldn’t be any other way. I couldn’t live my life sitting on the fence about this, never mind that I don’t care about football. I had to choose, and I had to make the right choice: Fenerbahçe, Galatasary, or Beşiktaş. So I chose Beşiktaş because I like their colors the best. Here and there people have come along and tried to convince me to become Muslim. The conversation was very similar to the football one. You should be Muslim because it’s the best religion. All of us are in this religion so you should be too. Then there was that whole class of students at the ultra-conservative university who got very upset I’m not Muslim. Some of the girls looked ready to cry. On the break they came to my office and begged me to convert because they didn’t want me to burn in Hell.

The other day the greengrocer, in between bellowing for slow-witted Recep who never materialized, asked me if I thought Obama is Muslim. I couldn’t bring myself to say yes, and for an instant he looked so crestfallen I felt bad. So I quickly added that Obama grew up with Muslims, and he knows them, and he’s not scared of them like Bush. Obama doesn’t think Muslims are the enemy. The greengrocer seemed to feel a little bit better, then said sadly, “It’s going to take Obama a long time to undo what Bush has done, but America sure looks better now.”

And it’s true. For now, at least, telling people I’m American doesn’t lead to an angry rant. While I got pretty good at dealing with those in Turkish, I’m still relieved that I don’t have to.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Baby Makes Mommy Buff

But maybe it's true bigger muscles make you stupid? My dad tells me the US media is all abuzz with Michelle Obama's big muscles, and she doesn't seem stupid. So perhaps it's just me.

Even though LE doesn't need to be hauled around as much as he used to, there's still a lot schlepping of him and his assorted equipment. He's over 14 kilos now (that’s about 31 pounds), and still needs to be pulled off tabletops, picked up from silent lays-down-on-ground-and-buries-face protests, discouraged from sitting in puddles, mud, and other filth, captured after daring diaper-change escapes, hoisted in and out of his high chair and carseat, lifted down from slides that have become suddenly terrifying for no apparent reason, and carried around because when he holds his arms up to be picked up I can’t resist. Then there’s the kicking and screaming side-hold, the swinging because it makes him forget to be mad, the riding on shoulders because he’s fed up with ground-level, and the bouncy fireman’s carry. This list doesn’t include the endless combinations that are possible while also carrying groceries, the carseat, a drink, or someone else’s baby.

The end result of all this is that I’ve developed bulging arm muscles. They’re as big as when I worked on a farm. This change has been gradual, so I haven’t really noticed it much.

So here’s the part where I was stupid. Without even thinking about it, I picked up the 19 liter (5 gallon) water bottle with one arm and carried it to the kitchen. Tra la la. I didn’t even notice I’d done this until I put it down because I was so busy trying to convince LE he shouldn’t be so upset that the water guy left and took the empty bottle. Then I noticed I’d just hauled the water bottle with ease and said ‘Holy shit, since when can I do that?’

And LE said ‘Shit,’ which means I definitely have to start watching my goddamned language.

Unfortunately, my back is not as super as my arms. My back sucks, and goes out every year or two. This is not as bad as the last time, where I could only walk bent double, but it freaking hurts and makes me grouchy. All I want is a handful of muscle relaxants and a bottle of red wine. And LE doesn’t get why I suddenly get so upset when he sits on my head or pushes my legs apart to walk between them.

So here I am, burly of arm and weak of back. Anyone know how to coax a two-year-old down from the table where we’ve hidden all the things we don’t want him to have?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Spam Poetry

I am fascinated with spam poetry, by which I mean those bizzare snippets of random text cobbled together in a spam message. I'm not a big fan of poetry in general, though there are a few exceptions, but there's just something so cryptic and evocotive about spam poetry. It's so meaningless there could be meaning hiding in there someplace.

Who's putting these together? Is there some sort of software that generates it, or is there a high-tech sweatshop somehere in Lahore where hundreds of educated wage-slaves madly cut and paste public domain text for 15 hours a day? I imagine one of these wage slaves, a young, Kafka-like man or woman quietly cobbling together deep and soulful poems to send out into the world's spam. He or she feels misunderstood, but thinks maybe someone out there will understand. It's all very mystical.

Here's one I got the other day. It's like that Kafka wage slave is speaking to me.

SUBJ: Your Account Was Banned. This is a joke :)

Source of all the error, guilt and distractions what should
not, and a treader of unrighteous should have to builde
a fortresse, i would make thy troops, while thy troops,
also, all battled to go to a far, new country of which little

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

One Fish Two Fish Dead Fish New Fish

Sorry Dr. Seuss. I got that title in my head yesterday following the death of Apache II, who died before he even got a proper name. I couldn’t even be bothered to do the toilet photo. After the one remaining fish from the last die-off survived two weeks, we decided to get more, but fewer this time. The one remaining fish, formerly known as General Chow, shall henceforth be known as Old General.

Apache II's deathwatch was a few hours long. He’d been hanging out in the Corner of Impending Death since the day before, a quiet spot behind the filter where most of the other past fish had gone to while away their final days. Then he got stuck to the filter and gasped for a little while before reaching the “Is he moving because he’s slightly alive or because the water’s pushing him?” stage. I find myself wondering which sucks worse-- being stuck gasping to the filter or being flushed. I can never be sure which would be a less painful and unpleasant ordeal for a fish, and I always figure it's better to die at home. It's not like the other fish were nipping at him or anything, not even Jerky Orange, another new fish who's a bit of a bully.

Then Apache II was for sure dead. I could tell because his mouth wasn’t moving anymore. I looked into the tank and said, “Ooh. Apache II is dead.”

LE climbed into the chair beside me and said, “Fish! Ooh, mess.”
“Yeah, mess, “ I said. “That fish died.”
“Die,” said LE. “Fish.”
“Yeah, he died.”

This was LE’s first lesson in mortality. He took it well, I think. Afterwards, he looked at me and said “Oy.”

Which means “olive,” actually. And that was the end of that.