Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Meeting People Part 2

My recent post about an expat's difficulty meeting people led me to think of another difference between expat and native social norms, namely the 'hows' of meeting people. On more than one occasion, I've noticed that the way I meet people here in Turkey reminds me a little of dating.

Random Public Place Meeting:
At a mall, gym, park, etc., one or the other overcomes initial shyness, no doubt the result of a subconscious fear of rejection, and "makes the first move," starting a conversation.

I have noticed that Torontonians and New Englanders are particularly loathe to use this method of establishing contact, perhaps afraid that we might be bothering the other person. On more than one occasion I've explained to my Turkish husband, much to his bafflement, why I didn't say something to that tourist we just saw. He's led me to question my assumptions about others -- that they have an itinerary and are too busy to make conversation; that they want to meet Turkish people, not fellow Canadians; that they would be insulted at my presumption they need help, having in fact well-researched their trip.

Book clubs and rugby teams, professional women's organizations, mom and tot groups are all great ways to bring together people with similar interests. A fun distraction, while you surreptitiously see if there is one person in the group with whom you might form a closer friendship. Kind of like taking a cooking class in an effort to find a boy/girlfriend?

An introduction by a mutual friend, aka The Setup;

followed by The Getting-to-Know-You-Better Coffee Date.

In the end, you're left exhausted and defeated; perhaps you should just settle for the people you already know. Sound familiar?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Cultural Assumptions

Whether it's endemic to a whole country, city or just a single family, 'culture' leads to assumptions. And if you're a foreigner in that culture, get ready for misunderstandings.

Thankfully I was not involved in this illustrative example, a classic case of my understanding of "plans" vs. a Turkish understanding:

We're at the summer house with my husband's extended family. (NOT all staying in one house, I should add.) Every morning for weeks now, my 70-something mother-in-law goes for a morning swim with her daughter, who has a house two doors down, at 8. But this morning I saw D in the garden chatting with a neighbour returning from a swim at 7.30! Apparently her husband had woken her up early for a 6 o'clock swim. She made no mention of the fact that her mother might be expecting her shortly for their usual workout.

Meanwhile, my mother-in-law was still sleeping at 8; she came downstairs at 8.30 in her bathing suit and went down to the beach, not at all concerned about the fact that she missed her usual 8am date!

To strengthen my case: my other sister-in-law arrived last night and told my mother-in-law she'd be by at 8 to go for a swim. I saw her in the water at 9.30am; apparently she'd slept in.

So now we have two more jilted people: daughter number 2 stood up her mother; mother potentially stood up both daughters! Never mind the fact that she'd double-booked both women!

No one was considerate enough to call anyone else in this triad to inform them of a change of plans; and no one was in the least put out by having been stood up or concerned about flaking out of plans (note my cultural bias, as revealed by my word choice).

So which came first; did repeated disappointment lead people to stop having expectations of others? (In my opinion actually a healthy frame of mind.) Or does everyone just know that no one has expectations, and that a missed date won't be a big deal, and so feels no need to communicate changes? Either way, I envy my in-laws' and other Turkish people's easy-going nature in this regard.

At least as long as I'm not the one being stood up. I have yet to get used to or to appreciate the mental/emotional health benefits of that.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

On Vacation

I've been slow to realize that my being on maternity leave means I am free to go anywhere, i.e. I don't need to spend it at home. My husband suggested we go to the yazlık, the Turkish equivalent to a beach house or cottage; not only will my toddler get to spend time with his Nene and cousins, uncles, aunts, etc., but I'll be surrounded by helping hands and might actually get some sleep. (Remember my plan to nap at least a few times a week? It's not happening.)

My knee-jerk reaction was a panicked, "No!" I can't leave my house! What will happen to my toddler's routine, which is already precarious these days? There are no cribs there! There's no high chair! If we fly, what about the kids' car seats?

But I've talked myself through each excuse and am pushing myself to get out of the house and my comfort zone. I'm sure I won't regret it.

Anyway, all this is to say that I'll be gone for a few weeks and you may or may not hear from me. Happy Labour Day and Happy Bayram, everyone!

Monday, August 22, 2011

More Lost in Translation

Appropriately named ... but a wise marketing strategy? Would you want to live here and be an "ant?"

Saturday, August 20, 2011


A few thoughts on sleep:
  • When I'm tired, the littlest thing like spilled milk or a leaky diaper - five minutes after changing the last one! - can make me cry.
  • But a short nap can turn my day around.
  • Although logic would have it that a child who wakes up too early should simply be put to bed later, the experts say this is wrong -- put a child to sleep later and he'll still wake up at whatever early hour his inner clock has decided to wake up at every day. In our case, we struggled for months to get our firstborn to sleep until 6am; if he went to bed a little later than his usual bedtime, he'd be up at 5 or 5:30am! However, Marc Weissbluth, author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, a book I swear by, does concede that occasionally, a too early wake up time can be corrected with a later bedtime. (Several other factors have to exist, such as your child being well-rested and having a regular routine.) We tried it, and it worked!!! So for the past week, Firstborn has been sleeping until 6:30am!!
  • This morning, for who knows what reason, he didn't wake up until almost 7am!! I cannot adequately express how much good those extra twenty minutes did me! (Of course Newborn decided to wake up at the exact same time, which is another story. At this age, I think I prefer staggered wake up times!)
  • A carefully-timed cup of coffee (immediately after a feed so as not to affect Newborn at his next feed; far enough ahead of my own opportunity for a nap so I don't miss out on that) can immediately bring me out of a sleepy stupor and fool me into believing I've had the most restful night of sleep ever.
  • Last night Newborn only woke up once (at 2:30am). Shocking, but I'm not questioning it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Meeting People

Meeting people as an expat hasn't been difficult; but meeting people who can make up for the fact that my best friends are thousands of miles away, has been. We've been in Istanbul exactly a year now, and believe it or not, I'm only now starting to feel settled. Of course that's mostly because I threw myself into my new job immediately upon arriving (and I feel very 'settled' there!); during my non-working hours I was busy being a mother. And so I devoted little time to my social life.

Yes, I socialized at work with colleagues; yes, I arranged play dates for my toddler and enjoyed coffee with the other mothers; yes, I joined an expat womens' association; and yes, I joined a book club. But in my thirties, I've noticed one doesn't usually become instant best friends the way one did as a teenager or even in one's twenties; in fact, I've found that as an expat, such friendships never end well. Drawn to each other out of loneliness and relief of recognizing a familiar accent, it usually takes a few weeks or months to realize you would never have been friends with this person back home -- and for good reason.

One needs time to let friendships develop. But who has that time? When you're working, mothering, navigating a city whose infrastructure is such that small errands take hours ... Come evening, you only just have the energy to take a hot shower, have a glass of wine and go to sleep, rather than head out to meet people for dinner.

But perhaps none of this is unique to expat life; I'm sure my friends in Toronto report similar exhaustion. The difference, presumably, is that they've got old friends nearby with whom they can pick up where they left off when they see them once every few months.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Giving Birth in Istanbul -- What It Can Be

I'm happy to say that for the second time I gave birth in a Turkish hospital and left a day later on foot. In other words, without having had a Cesarean section, as anyone who's lived in Turkey likely knows is the prevalent method of delivery in hospitals.

For women in Turkey and especially in Istanbul interested in a "normal" birth, as they refer to non-Cesareans here, I thought I'd give a little bit of information on the subject.
  • My hospital was Acibadem Maslak, and I found both the obstetric and pediatric nurses to be excellent -- knowledgeable and possessing excellent bedside manner.
  • The hospital, but more importantly my doctor (send me your email address if you want his details), supported my birth plan, even though much of it went against what is 'standard' here; my doctor was open to trying things he'd never done before, most notably delivering my baby in any position I chose, i.e. not lying down on a delivery table.
  • What is 'standard' here in Turkey? An epidural and Pitocin; an enema; episiotomy; hooking you up to a fetal heart rate monitor and IV, thereby pretty much forcing you to spend your labour lying down; no food or water for the labouring woman; and in the end, a Cesarean, the reasons for which are usually one of a handful, including the baby being too big. (Note: I have done no scientific research; these are my observations based on talking to women, foreign and Turkish, here in Turkey and hearing their stories.)
Me, 5 minutes after having given birth in my room -- Acibadem pediatric nurse in the background, obstetric nurse in the foreground, Baby in my arms.

I could devote a whole separate post to DO-UM, but don't have time these days; instead, I'll simply recommend you look it up and use it if you're so inclined. In brief, though, it's a natural childbirth preparation center, and I only had good experiences there.

I had to become extremely knowledgeable and be proactive, advocating for myself constantly; but it is possible to have the birth you want here in Turkey -- just make sure you surround yourself with the right people to support you!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Inspired - Barefoot Books

This post is the first of a series I'm dedicating to people I find inspiring. Perhaps not coincidentally, the people tend to be women who have started their own businesses, often related to children. I'll let you read whatever you like into that.

I just discovered Barefoot Books, a children's book publishing company, whose beautifully illustrated books both inspire the imagination and allow kids to explore the world. I love Nancy Traversy's story how she created the company as a new mother; I also love the diversity of Barefoot -- the website includes podcasts and activities for kids, a blog, and ways for you to get involved. I learned about Barefoot here, on Momfilter, where you can read an interview with Traversy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Spoiled ... and Cured

Another confession: I'm afraid I've become spoiled here in Turkey. The nannies we've had cooked and cleaned in addition to looking after my son while I was at work; it was lovely to come home and not have to worry about any domestic chores -- I could just play with Baby until bedtime, and then enjoy my evenings.

But then the summer holidays started, and I was home full-time ... with a nanny! And that's when I started to feel lazy. If she did the dishes while I played with Baby, I'd feel guilty. But if I did the dishes while she played with Baby, I'd feel resentful ... After all, I wasn't paying someone to replace me!

The thought of doing it all on my own, though, without anyone to help, was inconceivable. How would I cook and clean and take care of the kids? As much as I reminded myself that my mother and most of my friends back in Toronto did it, it remained much of an abstract concept. The day our last nanny called to say she was sick and wouldn't be returning, I was struck with fear and anxiety -- how would I survive?

But now I've been on maternity leave without a nanny for a few weeks, and although I'm busier than I've ever been, I'm amazed at what a powerful grip the I can't do it mindset had on me. Of course I can take care of my kids and house by myself! Life is of course messier now, but everyone's clean and fed and happy and safe.

I will go back to work in a few months, though, and the kids will have a new nanny. So soon enough, I will have to meet the challenge of finding the middle ground between being a spoiled Mommy who pays people to have everything done for her and the pushover whose employee walks all over her. Any advice?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Preparing to Exorcise

No, that's not a typo; I didn't mean to write about preparing to exercise, although I'm doing that too. One of these days I hope to once again have enough of a routine going so that I can carve out a tiny slice of time for myself between feedings to work out. But first I need to find child care, and that's a whole other adventure ... But back to exorcism.

I can be very lazy and a master procrastinator; but I also have a slightly manic, obsessive-compulsive, ADD side that, when "on," has me tackling every item on my to-do list before I can rest. I will not tire until every last item is done, no matter how small or pointless in the long run (hence the 'compulsive' descriptor) ... I don't know where it comes from, but I become filled with energy and can't stop (hence the 'manic').

But I've decided it's time to exorcise that part of my personality, if not for my own health and sanity (How long can a person go without sufficient sleep? So far so good, but I figure I should quit while I'm ahead!), for the psychological well-being of my children. I'm not sure the crazy me is a good role model; I hope my boys grow up to be calm, balanced men!

And so I've set a few basic rules for myself:

1. Set only one major task for myself each day; and if I don't get that task done, that's ok. ('Major' is something that takes more than 15 minutes, or is something I've been meaning to do for a while.)
2. Limit household 'maintenance' (a quick tidy, dishes, sorting laundry) tasks to two 10-minute sessions each day. This means I will have to prioritize; if the bed doesn't get made that day, there were more important things needing to be done.
2. Take a nap at least 4-5 times a week. At least until Baby is sleeping through the night.
3. Set aside 15 minutes each day for totally selfish, indulgent 'me' time -- I will do something that isn't on any of my to-do lists (yes, I have more than one list!) and would probably be considered a waste of time by the part of me that I'm trying to exorcise. Activities may include reading a tabloid newspaper or Googling stylish orthopedic sandal options. (Don't ask.)

Wish me luck!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

In Season, or Writing for the Sake of Writing

I'm not even going to look at the date of my last post, but I know it`s been far too long since I`ve written. I know, though, that I should `just write,`and so am doing just that -- am going to write about nothing.

In addition to being willing to write about nothing and post it, I also needed to be willing to let some other much-needed tasks slide. And so I`ll confess a little secret: right now, while both babies are sleeping, I am choosing to write this instead of tackling the to-do list below:
  • take a nap myself
  • do the dishes
  • clean the bathroom
  • put away scattered toys
  • get dressed and brush my hair
  • brush my teeth (yikes!)
  • exercise
So here is my post about nothing:

At the moment, I am enjoying the wide variety of delicious, fresh fruit in season here in Turkey. At this very moment, I have in my home bananas, watermelon, some other kind of melon (the oval yellow one with little flecks on its outside), raspberries, strawberries, purple plums, peaches, the cutest mini pears, and some kiwi.

And because I believe in either doing something fully or not at all, I`m even going to take a photo for this post.

p.s. I`d like to write about the Sisli Organic Farmer`s Market we went to yesterday ... Am putting this out there in the hopes that I`ll be more likely to actually write that post in an effort to avoid the embarrassment of not following through.