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.


siobhan said...

As usual I totally relate and sympathise, btdt. Coincidentally we spent a long weekend with the mil's family and have been composing s post about it. It may or may not get published, depends if I can word it so that it doesn't sound so vitriolic

Stranger said...

(shudder) A whole weekend! (shudder) Words escape me.

It's controlling the rage that's the hard part. I'm never sure if family is reading this or how much English they understand. I deleted entire swaths before publishing this. I don't think I quite achieved lighthearted but it was the best I could do.

Jess said...

Oh dear God, I was laughing so hard as I read this. Although I don't have a mother-in-law, I totally understand the cultural dissonance, the safety pins, and what constitutes acceptable behavior in children in TR. And about that foreskin-and-pilav recipe -- I was initiated into THAT conversation by a couple of my high-school students. MALE high school students. Don't ask me how we got on the subject of circumcision (had something to do with cultural differences) but they assured me that the recipe does exist. I was stuck between complete embarrassment and horrifed fascination, and had to stop them before they gave me all the details of their own circumcision experiences. There I could not go. But I nearly burst when I got back into the office and asked my colleagues if this cooking tradition really existed. Only in rural areas, I was told. I wonder what other surprises TR has in store....

Your writing is delightful. I'm enjoying it so much!

Stranger said...

OMG! I thought the pilav recipe was just something they used to scare little boys about to get snipped. You know, because that's so funny.

Speaking of hearing about circumcisions, I was dating a Turk way back and I went with him to visit his family. His sisters pulled out the family photos, and showed me the pictures of the boyfriend and his brother actually getting circumcised. They just thought it was wonderful and cute.

You can imagine how hard it was to erase those pictures from my mind during dinner that evening-- the boyfriend and the brother as kids all spread-eagled on newspapers in the living room, crying and terrified and trying to look brave.

Definitely something I'll never understand.

Anonymous said...

Hi Stranger,

well, I can imagine it was weird thinking of your boyfriend's circumcision over dinner (and surely seeing pictures of it) and that is precisely why I didn't want my students telling me about their experiences. I sure don't want to think about my students in that context, no thanks!

But for what it's worth, they seemed entirely unembarrassed about it. We had been discussing a novel with what they deemed really culturally strange habits, and so I told them about all my visitors being freaked about by all the public huzzah over circumcision here. They really wanted to explain and defend the practice, and went on to mention that they had had either a local anesthetic or had been completely knocked out for it. No newspapers there, but maybe I didn't let them get to that part (?)

Now, about the recipe -- since that was an objective subject, I had to let them explain, because I was utterly disbelieving. They told me that the removed foreskin is put into the cooking pot with the pilav, but that it is not eaten. I suppose it is meant to be a symbolic gesture (you know, like a New Orleans king cake, maybe?) but still, it's pretty horrifying. When I discussed this with my office mates, they assured me that it is only still done in rural, very traditional areas. There was some speculation that it perhaps related to pre-Christian, older traditions, like human sacrifice. I have no idea if that theory would hold water... just reporting.