Trees grow in the land of mothers

This month I ran to my mom in the U.S. for help. My husband is away shooting a film and with much work to do, I wasn’t up to single parenting. I don’t know how my mom did it.

When she’s not live via Skype or laboring across continents to visit us, I have raised my son, who turned two Thursday, in a foreign land far from my mom and closest friends with kids. At 36, it’s not easy making new friends; it can be harder than dating. But the fellow moms I’ve met are key to survival. The Turkish women in the bunch are like oxygen-giving trees in Istanbul’s crush of metal and baby-hungry hands, cement and noise.

I had lunch recently with a friend whose daughter wraps gifts for her friends and plans the menu when they come to play. Her mom respects this devotion by making it to our Saturday playgroups despite flying in from work abroad as an executive sometimes at 5:00 a.m. Defne Su tells us her tired mom has been away earning money for her.

Another friend, a Turkish civil engineer who worked in Russia for seven years, brings to the group her wild-child beauty Nehir, her lack of self-consciousness and a wicked sense of humor. Talking with her while overseeing a bed-jumping session, I learned that she takes herself out on a date once a week. She always goes to the theater after some restaurant she is trying for the first time. It’s the most romantic part of her life, she says with a wry smile.

A virtuoso harpist with a new album and a concert schedule, Şirin Pancaroğlu, told me that things got better for her with the birth of her first child after forty. She said suddenly she was more in touch with what was essential to her. "For me, I found a new person inside myself, someone who could do more with less time."

So that’s possible, I thought. Or not, but nice to hear. As is explaining to Max that my work equals coins Ğ he loves coins, which conveniently for him is what I make. And, yes, I should find time for solo ventures out of my neighborhood to keep my humor. Or at least look for it in a dirty crevice down a dark alley.

Pushing borders
Not long ago, I met a Turkish rapper and deejay in her late thirties who was pregnant for the first time and turning out one new project after another in Istanbul, from plays to late night shows. The native Berliner told me that in Turkish society "you have to live within careful borders if you have a different sexuality or want to know a different way of expressing it." But she lives out loud and pushes those borders when many expectant mothers become more conservative. "That’s who I am," she said.

Naciye, a single mother and our child’s babysitter, borrowed cake pans and an oven from her neighbors last month to make a cake for her daughter’s 13th birthday between working three jobs. My husband and I are in awe of how she gets by on her own in Istanbul.

On a solo trip through the east of Turkey a few years ago, I stayed with the family of my husband’s former coworker in Spain. In this Kurdish family in Gaziantep, the mother was too proud to tell her son thriving at his own restaurant business in Europe that she had been ill for months. They had no phone and no heat that cold November. But she fed her adult relatives and neighbors seated in a circle on the floor whenever they came. She told me to treat her as my own mother.

My mom misses us. I suppose it’s hard for her living alone without her only daughter closer, especially after the loss of her beloved dog and three surgeries in five years. But she doesn’t say so. Instead she believes that my husband and I have made a good life for our family in Turkey, and says in this economy we would be wise to stay put.

Lale, a retired teacher and painter in Izmir, has two grown children, one of whom is my husband. She started taking English classes a few months ago because she wants to have "real conversations" with my mom who visits us in Turkey a couple of times a year. I’m glad to celebrate my mom on her turf this Sunday. Happy Mother’s Day to you and yours.
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