Friday, May 30, 2014

The Sapık Çetesi, or Playground Whispers

Yesterday, a heavily armed sapık çetesi came to my kid's schoolyard and kidnapped 5 kids.

It's no cause for alarm, I promise, even though in Turkish, "sapık çetesi" means "gang of perverts."

When I picked up LE yesterday, he announced that he wouldn't be coming to school today. "Why's that?" I wondered, assuming it was one of those surprise days off they like to spring on us and I immediately began planning what I'd do with the boy while I was cooped up in a classroom for 4 hours managing the grading of student exam essays. In two seconds I'd developed two viable plans when he said, "There was a çete (gang) at our school today so I'm not coming tomorrow."

"Is school closed?" I asked him, looking around for other signs of alarm.

"No," he said. "I'm just not coming."

So I pressed him further about this gang. There were five of them. They were perverts. They had bombs strapped to their arms and held the fuses in their mouths. They carried clubs in their hands and had axes on their backs. They went into the preschool and took five kids. LE wanted to call his dad as soon as we got home.

"Um, okay." I was being super cool. "So... how old was this gang?"

"I dunno," he said. "I didn't see them. But Muhammet Mustafa and Umut saw them. The service bus driver saw them too, so it was real. They were young. Old. Like 30 I guess?"

"Hmm. Were they wearing masks? Did your friends see their faces?"

No really. They're totally real. Some guys in the news keep telling us.
"No, they weren't wearing masks."

Ok. So they weren't wearing masks. My whole panic-theory of Syrian terrorists or fake MİT provocateurs coming to kidnap kids was deflated because I'm pretty sure if it had been Syrians or MİT agents, they would have been wearing masks.

"Are you sure the bombs and guns and axes and stuff were real?" I asked.

He stopped walking. "Mom," he said in this voice he's developed when he's preparing to prove I'm the dumbest person in the universe. "They were grownups. Why would they have toy weapons. God!" and he stalked off.

Duh, mom.

"So what happened. Did the police come?" Oh, sure they had. Lots of them. "And did they get the kidnapped kids back?" Maybe. Probably. Yes.

"And do you know what my teacher said? She said it was nothing. But you know what? She was lying just so the kids wouldn't get scared. She's a liar."

As soon as we got home, Baba was called. LE told him about the sapık çetesi. BE went way less batshit than I was expecting. "I think there were just some kids being obnoxious," I told him.

"Serseri çocuk," he said. "Serseri" is like hoods or thugs. Neighborhood toughs, if you will.

And we went back and forth about it for awhile, theorizing. We decided it was probably nothing. He tried to be more manful, saying he was going to call the karakol (I still have their number from when we got robbed), and the principal, and LE's friend Kaan's handsome dad. I told him I'd talk to Security Guard Kemal in the morning. Security Guard Kemal is a bit of a dipshit, but the kids like him. They call him Kemal Abi. He's like a Turkish security guard version of Groundskeeper Willie. "He won't tell you anything," said BE. I didn't think so either. Security Guard Kemal is extremely unsettled by me, which is why I've only talked to him twice and he didn't care for it either time.

LE went and hid under a very small table and cried. It took me awhile to find him. He was crying because he thought his dad would be mad because apparently the kids were sleuthing around the playground every recess looking for the sapık çetesi and asking Kemal Abi a lot of questions and Kemal Abi got mad.

They always look at you with their dead eyes.
And then MIL called in a dither. Christ, BE, why don't you think these things through? You told your mom, seriously? She was freaking out, wittering on about the poor security and the chaos at the gates when the morning kids are leaving and the afternoon kids are coming in and did they have cameras there? All of it of course came to me as a subtle indictment about how I do everything wrong, including choosing a school for my kid. I told her yes they have cameras even though I'm not sure if they do or if they do have them, whether the cameras actually work. I told her it was nothing, probably. Mostly I just wanted her to shut up so I could eat my dinner, which I was holding in a plate in my hand waiting for her to shut up. It had been a long fucking day for those of us who have jobs.

So this morning, I went to talk to Security Guard Kemal. I was standing right next to him saying "Excuse me, can I ask you something?" and he wouldn't turn his head. After several tries a bunch of kids had gathered in a circle around us and I kind of grabbed his shoulder and he had no choice but to deal with me.

"Uh, I just wanted to know what happened yesterday? My kid was talking about some weird thing..."

"It was nothing," he grumbled. "Nothing happened."

But thanks to LE's wise insight about his teacher lying to the kids so they wouldn't get scared, I played the man card. "I have to tell his dad what happened because his dad was wondering is all." The kids around us all went silent, looking up at us with their moon faces.

And you know what happened? It was this guy. He made the papers and everything.

He's just having a cola at the bus stop.
I'd seen him around a few days before and I admit he was kind of scary, though he wasn't actually doing anything. He reminded me of this guy.

But really the fellow was just mentally ill and fairly harmless. According to the article, the police got him cleaned up and gave him some clothes and sent him on his way.

So you see? It really was nothing.

But in one day, among all those kids, an oral tradition was formed. They filled in the blanks of the things they didn't quite get and they made the story way more exciting throughout the day even as they freaked themselves the hell out. It must have been delicious.

And it certainly is not the first time people have created a myth out of seeing a strange man.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Mother's Day

This was the first year since I've had my kid that he wished me happy Mother's day. Given that it's a very small situation in host of other small situations, I just try not to think about it very much.

But I do think about it. And it was really nice that he did it.

Some backstory. Last week I got really mad at the MIL. Hella mad. LE had been staying with her the whole time he was sick (he's back now, by the way, and all better, bomba gibi) and we missed each other so I went to visit him and check in.

Apparently the whole time he was staying there, MIL was feeling like all her naggy little hints on the phone to me about how I could have taken better care of LE to prevent him from getting sick weren't enough for her. She'd been saving up for the real thing. So we, the whole family I mean, were packed into the little bedroom where LE was trying to get his dad to let him use the computer. MIL just ripped into me. I should have taken him to the doctor sooner. I should have taken better care of him. What did I do to make him sick? I don't make him wash his hands enough. I don't make him wear a coat when it's 70 degrees outside. The kids at his school are dirty. His preschool is dirty and no one makes the kids was their hands enough. I took him to Yeşilköy, where, despite its high-end appearances, is one of the most filthy-child-ridden regions of Istanbul.

I didn't handle it well. I lost it a little. I cut her off and told her she was wrong. I told her I look after him. I
Fuck you, Internet. I learn nothing from your infographics.
told her he looks after himself. I attempted to explain germs and their mysterious workings. I assured her no one is filthy. I assured her the preschool looks after the kids.

She was having none of it and started going off how he's been coughing and sniffling for a month. That's allergies, I told her. It's nothing to do with scarlet fever. I explained to her about exposure and incubation periods, which of course I knew off the top of my head after all the learning I'd been doing on the Internet.

She wasn't having any of that either. "Why didn't you take him to the doctor right away? You never take him to the doctor. What's wrong with you that you don't take a sick child to the doctor?" I told her the first day he was too sick to go to the doctor, and since he was eating a bit and taking fluids and his fever was under control, I didn't see any reason to torture him by making him move around. Anyway, what would have been the point? His dad took him to the doctor the second day he was sick, but since he had no rash yet, she misdiagnosed it. I mentioned the doctor was probably overworked from seeing so many kids whose parents were taking them to the doctor needlessly for every little sniffle.

We were talking over each other at this point. FIL kind of dragged her out of the room. I asked BE (sitting with his back to me wearing earphones while he played a video game on the computer) if he thought I'd fucked up. He said no. I told him I was sorry I'd been rude to his mom just then and he grunted.

MIL came back and started screeching again. For everything she said I just said "okay." She hated that. So she tried to drag BE into it, telling him how mad she was at the two of us for not looking after our kid. "Change the subject," he told his mom. "Stop talking about it." But she kept going. "Are you trying to start a fight?" he asked her? "Yes," she said. "Yes I am," and LE giggled. "Change the subject," BE said to her again, and FIL dragged her out again.

Look, I get it a little bit. She's high strung and a bit nuts and doesn't handle stress well. Sickness is one of her things, and LE was a damn sick little boy for a few days. Stress gives her dandruff and I could see huge flakes of it hanging on her hair. Her face was pale and pinched.

But still. Fuck her. Seriously. I'm still pretty mad.

After her tirade, FIL came in by himself and he and I talked like grownups for awhile. He asked after my family and sent his love and we talked about scarlet fever and where it could have come from. I told him all the fun facts I'd been learning about scarlet fever, and he was interested, especially because when he was a kid it was still a thing people died from. He, like most people, thought there was a vaccine for it now. He said everyone was really surprised to hear LE had it. I told him most people didn't even believe me that he had it, but that probably was not just because it's so rare, but also because I'm foreign people might assume I'm saying the wrong word. And also because who the hell gets scarlet fever?

Later, I snuggled up to LE and asked him if it had been crazy house all week. "No," he said. "A little." I asked if it made him upset and he was all, "That's just how they are. What are you gonna do?"

My little fatalist.

So there was that. I've been mad all week. There's no point in listing here all the reasons why the MIL is under-informed and counter-productive and fucked in the head. I did tell BE once again they should take her to a therapist or something. I know. So American, right? I don't think anyone would ever be able to teach her how to break her little cognitive loops or manage her Big Feelings better, but I do think it would do her some good to have a professional, an All-Knowing Doctor, give her some attention and make her feel like her Big Feelings are something worth giving value to and dealing with. Goodness knows no one else does.
Oh, you wanna martyr? Cuz I can do that.

And now I'm just as bad as they are because I also failed to deal with her Big Feelings when they appear as a bunch of useless bullshit flying at my face.

Still, I called her up today to wish her happy Mother's Day. This is one of my assholiest moves in the great chess game of Divorce From the In-Laws. My other one is flummoxing her from time to time by telling her how much I appreciate her looking after LE and what a good job she does. But every year, I call her up to wish her happy Mother's Day or Happy Bayram and if anyone had bothered to know her birthday (the one on her ID is made up because no one could remember the actual day), I'd wish her happy birthday. When BE and I were married, I reminded him to call his mom on Mother's Day. I still remind him it's Mother's Day so he remembers to get her flowers.

That's the thing about Mother's Day. Some grownup has to remind the kids to do something nice for their mom. I don't see any point in reminding LE to wish me Happy Mother's Day. And when BE and I were still married, LE couldn't talk through most of that time and when he did learn how to talk, he didn't really get what everyone was on about anyway.

So I swallowed being mad and phoned her up. I braced myself for getting bawled out about the Popsicle.

Side Story: The Popsicle Incident
More like frozen death on a stick.
The other day, LE wanted a Popsicle after school. I said no, for no other reason than the fact that I like to exercise random parental authority. No, really. There was no reason not to get him a Popsicle except that I just didn't feel like getting him a Popsicle. He started acting like he was gonna get all pissy and make my evening unpleasant in some way so I promised him the next day, I'd get him a Popsicle no matter what, even if it was snowing. That night MIL called him and he told her about the Popsicle. I could hear her screeching in the phone from across the room and LE was covering his mouth giggling. "One of us is gonna get killed," I told him when he hung up. The next day I made him a bet that she'd call again to see if he'd had the Popsicle. She didn't call and I lost the bet and now I owe LE a massage. But when BE came to pick him up the following day, the first thing he asked was whether LE had gotten the Popsicle the day before. "Yes!" LE told him gleefully as we searched for some pants that didn't have a rip in them because all his good pants are over at his dad's and his dad told me LE couldn't go over there in shorts. "We couldn't decide if shorts or ripped pants were worse," I told him, because last time LE's pants were ripped, MIL screeched about it for three days. "You're in trouble about the Popsicle," BE told me. "Even my dad is mad."

"Don't forget you owe me a massage," LE said.

The End

Back To Mother's Day
Just deliver to Sarıyer, Colonel!
BE answered the phone. I told him I was calling to wish his mother happy Mother's Day. I could hear his brain remembering to run out and buy her flowers. I was having breakfast with a friend who knows about this whole family chess game and he was saying, loudly, "Happy Mother's Day, Stranger." BE put his mother on. She didn't mention the Popsicle. "Did the boy make you breakfast for Mother's Day?" I asked her.
"Of course we had breakfast," she said.
"But did LE make you breakfast?" I asked.
"Who, LE?" she asked.
"Yeah, or BE. Did one of them make you breakfast?"
"Of course we had breakfast," she said, sounding a bit annoyed. Clearly what I was saying was so foreign, and not because I'm a foreigner, that it was causing a complete breakdown in communication. I gave up and talked to LE for bit. He was pretty busy with Minecraft.
"He's not much a mutlti-tasker," I told my friend when I hung up.
"Happy Mother's Day," he said.
"Aw, thanks!" I said.
"I'd better remember to call my mom tonight. There's the window between when she gets up and church..." he said. My phone rang and it was BE. "Bythewayhappymother'sday. Here. LE wants to tell you something."
And LE did his filial duty even though Minecraft was still clearly calling. BE must have been being a good sharer today if LE still had the computer.

And there it was. For the first time in the three years we've been separated, BE remembered to tell LE to do something nice for me.

Granted he had help, but it's a start. And weirdly enough, I feel like I've won this battle.