oh, all right…

I have always been pretty grumpy on this, the holiday engineered to create maximum misery among the unloved. I would scowl at the bunches of flowers, and fantasize about jabbing mylar balloons with a hat pin. Then I took to ignoring it all. That worked great for a while. But this year, with Baki the 6 year-old budding romantic and total holiday enthusiast in the house, I shed my curmudgeonliness (temporarily, of course).

Good morning, Valentine.

In other words, on this day, the holy day of love, as on so many other days of the year, having a kid around the house has definitely improved the general outlook of things. Here’s to you. my little valentine.

New neighbor

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Finding a new apartment is one of my least favorite things to do. It just brings back visions of all of those horrible, horrible tiny smelly flats that I would find myself standing in, with a real estate agent intoning that this was the last apartment available on the planet Earth, so I had to make my mind up in the next five minutes. Antalya, being a complete unknown for both Ali and myself, was no better. We spent one soul-killing day looking at depressing places and it was enough to make me wonder if we should just forget about the whole thing and let Baki’s education go down the drain. Was it really so important that he go to a good school right away?

 

Then Ali remembered to call in his cousin, Cigdem, who moved to Antalya after she retired a while back. Within the day, she had found us a place to look at just a few blocks away from where she lives. I drove in to see it with Kaya, and it was such a far cry from the places we’d seen, I never looked back. We moved in on the first day of school, September 12 and Cigdem became out neighbor.

 

Since then, we see Cigdem often, and she has been an invaluable source of information and support. Hooray for extended family!

 

The Friday before last, after Baki had gone to school, Cigdem called. “We’re making helva. Come over and I’ll teach you.” She and a friend were making a wish, she explained, and they had to make helva to seal the deal. This was flour helva we were talking about. As far as I know, flour helva and semolina helva are kitchen work, while the sesame helva is left to the professionals. Still, flour helva is nothing to be sneezed at. I don’t know anyone who would turn it down, not even Ali, and he is certifiably lacking a sweet tooth. Flour helva is pure evil, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. That is to say, it is comfort food that is horribly bad for you.

 

Cigdem and her friend have on occasion, they told me, appealed to Aceleci Baci. You can ask him for favors, they said, if you promise to make him helva when they are granted. The helva can also be made up front, as they were doing, in which case, for good measure, you could think about your request while stirring. This makes flour helva a good match for the task of concentrated wishing, as there is plenty of stirring involved.

 

Cigdem’s recipe is simplicity itself:

 

UN HELVASI

1 part sugar

2 parts flour

½ part olive oil

½ part butter

 

The oil and butter went straight into the pan with the flour. Then the stirring began – in order for the helva to taste the way it ought to, the flour needs to be toasted in the fat until it is a nice biscuity brown. Don’t stop stirring, or it will scorch. The smell is a tip off – when it has a lovely nutty smell and is the color of a roasted peanut, you’re there. We took turns. Then Cigdem poured off about a third of the sugar and replaced it with water. She stirred it to make a sugar slurry and poured that into the flour. Stirring briskly to mix it all evenly, she then added the remaining dry sugar “to pull it together,” she said, stirring all the while. A few more turns of the spoon to melt the sugar, and the helva was ready. Cigdem took soup spoons and pressed the helva between them one spoonful at a time to make little egg shaped morsels. Then we sat for Turkish coffee and helva.

 

(Ali contends that without pine nuts, un helvasi is only half the pleasure it ought to be. If you use them, toast them first.)

 

It’s a pretty sweet deal (in all senses of the word) that you get to make a wish and eat the helva yourself. And as it turned out, I had a wish of my own. After years of absolute freedom, Baki was having a little trouble adjusting to life in the classroom. He came home every night with piles of homework, mostly due to the fact that, according to the terse notes that I received from his teacher, he was not doing any work at all in class. In addition, he was demonstrating his lack of classroom experience by leaving the room through the window. In short, he was behaving as if he had been raised by wolves. Homework sessions were torturous, and were driving me to madness. The minute that he sat down in at the table, Baki was suddenly bone tired, or starving hungry, or his back was itching. It was honestly the first time since Baki was born that I regretted becoming a mother. So I made a silent wish for Baki to settle down just a little and apply himself ever so slightly to his work.

 

On the following Monday, Ali and I went in to talk to Baki’s teacher and the guidance counselor at his school. I went feeling pretty defensive and expecting the worst, but it was not a bad meeting at all. His teacher could see that Baki wasn’t misbehaving because he was an animal. As we discussed the matter, it became clear that Baki just didn’t have the patience to sit and do the work, and we would have to slowly acclimate him to it. Last week, I changed my homework tactics and let him take more breaks so he wouldn’t burn out so fast. The homework still took ages, but while he was working he was far more focused.

 

Then on Friday he came home and he had done so much of his classwork that he barely had any homework at all. Thank you, Aceleci Baci! So on Sunday night when we got back to Antalya from a weekend in the garden, I made a small batch of un helvasi. As I was breastfeeding in the bedroom, I heard Ali offer Baki a piece. Baki was hesitant until Ali explained that it was dessert. “Oh…” said Baki. Silence. “This stuff is awesome!” he said. Another fan is born.

Summer’s end

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It happens gradually, of course, but it is in brief moments that I notice the changing seasons. Driving home yesterday evening, with the windows rolled down, I felt the mild air and enjoyed the mellow light and realized summer was ending.
Baki had been swimming and he spun in the water, his hands trailing. I watched him laughing in the middle of those concentric rings in the water and felt as if I were watching a chapter come to a close.
It is easy at times like this to let go of all perspective and allow myself to wallow in a great sea of emotions.

In the deep end

I remember seeing a parenting book with a title along the lines of “I was a great mom until I had kids”. It is so true that the lofty ideals of who we want to be as parents often do not stand up so well to the messy reality of actually having children. And of course along with the long list of things that we will do comes an often equally long list of things we won’t do.
I had never understood the madness surrounding getting your child into the right preschool. It seemed to me far too early to be worrying about such things. Still, the local school that Baki went to turned out to be a far cry from what could have been called “the right sort of environment.” Baki went to school willingly enough, and it was good for him to be among his peers, since there are no kids his age out by us.
I began to notice, though, that Baki never wanted to talk about school; he evaded my questions by either ignoring them or running off. And his teacher complained that he wasn’t joining in during class. One day he was watching Sid the Science Kid and he marveled at how the teacher was always smiling and never yelled.
I realized that I had not been looking the situation in the face: Baki was really unhappy at his school. I hated the idea of him disliking school, especially when he is so curious and eager to learn by nature. Suddenly, I found myself desperate to find him “the right school”.
I felt completely out of my depth for the first time since I hit rock bottom when Baki was about a week old (I was in the shower trying desperately to relieve the insane pressure building up in my engorged breasts and Baki was on a sheepskin on the floor screaming). It was such a huge decision to make for Baki, and I wanted for him to be happy so badly, I felt a sort of madness gripping me.
My mother said, sensibly, “Go see a school and you’ll feel better.” How true. Baki and I went to see a school in Antalya (though he only conceded to join me after I promised him that he would not be going to class, just looking around). He liked it, and seemed to want to go there, and it seemed great to me. A weight lifted from my shoulders; as trite as it sounds that’s just what it felt like.
Now we are looking for a flat in Antalya so that Baki won’t have to commute 3 hours a day to school. I’ll go there with the boys during the week and we’ll come home on weekends. He will start first grade on September 12.
It must all sound pretty drastic. So I have promised myself that next time I hear of parents going to seemingly extreme lengths for their kids, instead of rolling my eyes I will remember that I’ve been there too.

Superhero

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I was watering the pots when Baki ran up all super heroed up. Then he ran down the hill, past our garden, to the bottom of the land, where he found some folks from Sundance. He called me down and I chatted with them a little while Baki ran amok with their two children. All the while I was thinking how nice it was that he’d turned up in a mask, looking as if we do creative projects together all the time. The reality of course is that my mom did the mask with him. She’s been doing all sorts of wonderful projects with Baki, and he’s going to miss her a lot when she leaves this Sunday.
Of course, no one will miss her more than me. My mom has been here covering my back for the past two and a half months, helping me to get dinner on the table, clean the kitchen, keep Baki busy, you name it. She is largely responsible for how mellow and frankly fun the first two months with Kaya have been. And that really is saying a lot because the first two months can be pretty hairy, at least I know they were with Baki.
So maybe I will completely freak for the next two months, since I haven’t been thrown in at the deep end yet. We’ll see. But to look at this photo, taken just now by Baki, you’d never suspect what might be in store!

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Baby for breakfast

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I remember before Baki was born, a friend told me I could forget about reading ever again. I was disheartened by this, but I needn’t have been. Breastfeeding chained me to a chair for hours, and I read stacks of old New Yorkers from my parents’ house.
This time around, my iPod has changed things slightly (I’m typing this with my thumb as Kaya drinks), i have been thumbing through a few old New Yorkers. In one of them, I read a piece on Christopher Walken, in the Shouts and Murmurs section. He went to Astoria, where he’d grown up, and visited the building where he’d lived. He described how they’d laid him on the kitchen table to change his diapers and said that his earliest memory was of turning his head and seeing a plate of eggs next to him on the table. Naturally, this came to mind when Baki shot this picture of Kaya on our table in the aftermath of breakfast.

Brothers

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Of all of us, Baki is the one who’s seem the biggest change on his life. After all, I was already a mom and Ali was already a dad. But Baki has only just become a brother.
Naturally, we all wondered how he would take to it, especially once he voiced his disapproval at having a baby brother instead of a baby sister. We found out Kaya would be a boy months ago, though, which gave Baki time to come around.
And it seems that he has. He was so excited to see us that he met us at the gate when we returned from the hospital, and he reacted with calm approval upon meeting Kaya for the first time. Since then, he has been loving towards Kaya, hugging and kissing him, or, like us, just staring at him. And he’s been very helpful, fetching diapers when I need them and wetting wash cloths.
No doubt it helps a lot that my mom is here, and we’ve managed to get back to some of our old routines, like a bedtime story or two. Still, I am amazed at how open-hearted Baki has been and at how much he seems to have grown up.