Pandemic Parenting…Yet to end

Today my son is going to a part-time preschool for the first time since the pandemic started. I thought I would feel relief, a break from parenting while working but I don’t. I won’t relax until he is vaccinated, or really until all our friends’ and families’ children can be vaccinated as well. Life cannot begin to resemble normalacy, until there are vaccines available for all ages. The rates of hospitalization and death in children are low, and the long-term health effects of COVID-19 are unknown, though information on lower lung function and increased risk for diabetes has already been documented, not to mention the issues connected to “Long COVID”.

When the pandemic began, March 2020

Bulent went back to in-person classes in September, and I have been home while I work on my own with Kayra three days a week. Before, we had traded hours, so had separate work and parenting time, but no more, or at least not on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Friday. However, I left my previous role in October and I started an incredible new job in November (more will be revealed) and so thought I would be able to do it for a short period of time. But that short period of time has stretched on, plans changed, the start of our daycare was delayed, and delayed and delayed again, now until fall.

We made it work, Kayra and I, for months. But now it is no longer working for Kayra, so things need to change. We have spent an incredible amount of time and effort over the last two years to provide him the activity and stimulation he needed, to safeguard his mental health without preschool and “regular” playdates, but he needs more than we can provide at this point, which means our decision was made for us.

We have kept our social circle small and have masked in any larger events, including any outings to parks or playdates. We still only participate in outdoor activities. Kayra will be vaccinated soon or later, and at that point, we will re-evaluate. But until then he will continue to mask in any setting where there is the inability to social distance, which basically means with other kids.

The preschool is mostly outdoor, but had never been on our radar because it is only part-time and far from our home. Also, we were not comfortable with the exposure risk when Austin was at a high rate of community spread. However, local numbers are lower now, and through the hour round trip will cut into my work day, I am thrilled for Kayra. He is incredibly social, loves making new friends, and this will be exactly the fun and engagement he wants and needs.

Our two-year quarentine has been difficult, but has only been possible because we were gifted with one of the kindest, most positive, bravest, and thoughtful children that has ever existed. We are so lucky. So many have have lost so much, their liveliehoods, their health-mental and physical, their lives. We made sarifices, to protect our child, and protect others. Today we are seeing the other side of the storm, if cautiously.

First Day Back to School

Did the pandemic break me? Or was I already broken?

Pandemic Parenting Part II

Originally posted on Medium 11/25/2020

It has been nine months since the start of the pandemic. I no longer have to make my own bread, toilet paper can be found in the stores, and we now have a variety of patterned masks I no longer have to bribe my child to wear.

Daycares have re-opened, but we have chosen not to send our three-year-old back to school. Our concerns are many, but foremost are the unknown long term health effects of COVID-19 on his small, growing body. My husband and I still shift-parent, but we have gotten better at it, and more used to the load. I still start work at 7am, and work until naptime, when I take a few precious minutes to snuggle my kid to sleep. My husband starts his workday at 1:30pm, and as soon as I have convinced my kid that he needs to sleep to grow big and strong, I get back to work as well. When he wakes up, it’s my turn to parent and my husband continues to work into the evening to make up for the time he missed in the morning. He also works most weekends.

Child looking at ipad while adult computer is open
My son “working” as I presented at a virtual conference.

This used to be hard. Every morning used to feel insurmountable and I was in a panic about the list of things to do before I had even stumbled to the coffee maker. Each morning I was already at a deficit, trying to get done the work needed to help pivot our non-profit toward a new direction mid-pandemic. I also struggled to be the parent I was socialized to be, raising my son with little to no screen time, engaging him in creative arts and crafts, preparing homemade and low-sodium organic food, often in attractive shapes and presentations, and so on.

I used to miss the morning snuggles because I raced straight to my desk after I had spent my time making oatmeal muffins or eggs. Now, while I clear my inbox sitting on the couch, he softens into me, and pats my hand, and giggles at the TV while he watches Moana for the 87th time and eats his breakfast of cereal, or toast with hummus, or a good old PB&J.

My husband may work afternoons and weekends, but he spends all morning with our kid every weekday, a far cry from when he used to leave at 6:30 am and come home at 6:30 pm, exhausted from his day. After working a long week, he still had to spend his weekends grading, because he lost 3 hours a day to his commute.

Dinner is …served. Sometimes it is a home-cooked meal, sometimes it is spaghettios. The sourdough starter is still alive, but is used as often to make chocolate cake or waffles as it is to make bread.

Living my pre-pandemic life and its attendant expectations was going to break me, maybe irreparably. Or maybe I was already broken and didn’t know it. The pandemic forced me to find a new balance, and let go of self-imposed mandates. Most of my friends with children don’t work outside of the home, but that means my comparison for “typical” mothering comes from those whose full-time role is to do so. So when I was trying to work as if I didn’t parent and parent as if I didn’t work, I was doing a great dis-service to myself and my child. By making my work invisible on both sides, I was denying myself my dual identify of being a working parent, and denying my child the realistic example of a balanced life.

Now I make choices on how I am going to fail today. What things am I going to let go of to make room for others? Spaghettios translates into an extra hour of hiking in the woods with my kiddo. A simple dinner instead of the more complicated recipes means that my three-year-old and I can work together to make it. And lo and behold, he is more likely to eat it! The clean laundry waits and watches us from the basket while we do arts and crafts after dinner. Sometimes it waits in the basket for folding until we are almost out of clean clothes, but it doesn’t seem to mind, as long as I don’t. Instead of the anger my son used to feel when I left him to go to work, to attend meetings instead of playing with him, he has worked towards acceptance and understanding. He understands that I work to help other children and their teachers, to make sure everyone can have education and a life filled with good food and a warm home. He also understands now that my work helps pay for the organic juice popsicles that are the highlight of his day during the sweaty summer months in Texas — one of the bougie pre-pandemic parenting things I can’t let go of.

Spaghettios for dinner! Hiking in Austin

This new understanding of my work, and why I work — both the purpose and the economics — has allowed me to to start the harder and more complicated conversations of privilege, which we have in abundance, of inequity, of racism, and the structure of oppression.

When the pandemic started, each day was a race to finish, to make sure all the balls being juggled continued on their trajectory, and the struggle to not drop and shatter some or all of them. Now I choose to just not pick up some of those balls. I evaluate each one before it joins the others in the air: Is it an immediate need? Is it required for social, emotional or physical wellbeing? If not, sometimes it doesn’t get thrown in the air. It is tucked away for another day, or sometimes outright buried, never to see the light of day again, because it is just not important enough to divert my focus.

My kid is never going to remember that I stopped making an entree with two sides and a salad for dinner each night — he is going to remember that we saved that energy to play word games during family dinner when we feast on pancakes and eggs. He is going to remember the mornings he played with his father. When he looks back and reminisces about those sweltering afternoons of the pandemic summer, he is going to remember how he sat in his seat on the front of my bike, armed with a bougie popsicle, and while I pedaled us through shaded bike trails he flapped his arms and pretended to be Maui, demigod of the wind and sea, how I kissed his sweaty neck from behind, and how I was able to make room for joy because I let things go.

Shift Parenting during COVID-19

Originally posted on Medium 4/13/2020

Pandemic Parenting Part I

The other day I walked by a neighbor’s house with my small son, and he called out to me from the yard. He has a daughter only a few days older, and a newborn. He asked, “Isn’t is great to be working from home?” I stuttered out an agreement, then stopped and turned back. “No, it is really, really hard.”

His surprise was visible. When I asked him a few questions, it was clear. His life was great working from home. He spent some time in the morning with his wife and kids, went into his office and shut the door, came out for lunch, spent a few more minutes with his sweet children, went back into his office and shut the door, and came out at 5pm, ready to help with dinner and be an active co-parent. His question clarified he had no idea that my work interferes with my parenting or vice versa, since his partner has been at home since the birth of their first child. Sure the Shelter in Place order was chafing, but his work-life continued much the same despite it.

At my home, we shift work and shift parent, and it is a struggle to do both well. My husband is a professor and I worked for an amazing non-profit.

. When it was clear daycares were not going to restart after spring break we set up a schedule so we could have designated work times that best fit our toddler’s needs, our personal skills, and biological clocks.

“Helping” me work

I sit down at my desk at around 7 am and get straight to work. Gone are the morning snuggles and making breakfast and jokes with my 2-year-old. My husband takes care of him, and does yard work, folds laundry and cleans up the flotsam and jetsom that follows an active toddler, throughout the morning. At 1:30 I take my lunch break to put our kiddo down for a nap, and my husband starts his workday. Now that we are limiting outings to prevent exposure to COVID-19, it is a struggle to get him to sleep.

After rubbing his back until he dozes off, with his sweaty hair plastered to his face from the epic nap battle, his open mouth and limp weight against me, it should feel sweet and tender but just make me anxious because I need to get back to work. After I ease him to the bed and sneak out, I’ll work until he wakes up.

After frenetically cleaning up from lunch, which somehow includes both food and arts and crafts, and diving into work while eating the leftovers from my toddler’s plate for lunch, I finish the last hour or two of my workday.

After nap, things slow down, but my day is far from over. We play, read books, and if I can’t convince him that it is a privilege for big boys to help me cook, he watches Daniel Tiger while I cook and hope the social and emotional learning aspects of the show sink in. The meal is made from scratch, since there is really no other option. I didn’t realize how much our household depended on takeout and prepared foods, until they were no longer available. I have even been making my own bread, since it is so hard to get a curbside or delivery spot at the grocery store.

At 7pm, my husband takes a break from his work to come down for dinner, and often has to go back to his office to finish recording his class lectures and provide support for the students who have found their whole world rearranged. After he leaves us, kiddo and I play some more and read books until bedtime, around nine since he is ready to drop his nap, but we are not, because we desperately need those hours of productivity during the day.

So now it is 9:30 or 10 pm, my husband and I convene and have a conversation for the first time that day, watch the latest news on COVID-19, take care of personal emails and some basic chores. Things like cleaning up the kitchen, emptying the dishwasher, and price shopping water heaters, since ours started leaking through our kitchen ceiling last night, generally fun, exciting and romantic things. Then we decide if we will do the right thing and go to bed early or just take a goddamn minute to relax and end up going to bed way too late, to repeat the whole cycle the next day.

So, no, neighbor, no, working from home with no childcare is not fun. It is not extra time to spend with my child. It is a battle to carve two eight hour workdays out of one, to simultaneously meet my goals at work while taking care of my child’s needs, physical, emotional and educational. It is survival. Every moment is a struggle to not drop and shatter the ball. It is watching your kid play “work” and have your heart drop into your stomach when they play-act and say “I have a meeting, I can’t play with you now.” It is having to drop out of a meeting, — or worse, not being able to — when your child wakes from his nap screaming from a nightmare stemming from the anxiety caused by the cancellation of his whole world of routine and order, and you hear the plaintive sob, “I want my mommy.”

Working from home while parenting feels like that little hitch in your throat when you see your child about to take a fall because they were running too fast, there is nothing you can do to stop it, and you know it will hurt, that it will be bad, and you just hope that in the end, it won’t require a trip to the hospital.

Finding my way back

Creating sense of normalcy in a new post pandemic world

I am working on finding my way back to writing, finding my way back to my creative space, and my voice. I will be reposting some previous essays originally published in other locations, and using them as a springboard to move forward. The toll of moving back to the US, navigating the job market, re-acculturating was a lot. I had to redefine myself multiple times in the last few years.

I moved from being an ex-pat to a “local” but with a different understanding of life and feeling apart and displaced. I left my role as an educator, which I had been for over a decade, to then create space for myself to fail (and succeed) in a new career. I started a new life as a mother, and a parent. With each new transition I lost part of myself and developed new facets of myself, which I didn’t always fully understand.

These years apart from the world, quarantined, set apart, with no vaccine in sight for the under 5 age group have allowed our family time to bond and better understand each other and ourselves. This time has forced me to take the time I needed to develop and reconcile my sense of self(s).

Over the last few years, I have taken risks, made changes, made sacrifices, and at this point would change none of them because I learned from all of them, and they have brought me to where I am now.

Giving Thanks without Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. I loved the food and family and gathering with friends, especially as it was one of the few non-religious holidays. I love stuffing and gravy and cranberry sauce, but I had never thought about how the smell of the pies baking was shadowed by a history of colonization, of genocide, and stolen children, stolen lands and languages.

But over the last few years, I have become more unsettled to “celebrate” it. I have noticed that in many ways it has been recast it as a day of gratitude. However I should be grateful every day, and reshaping a day that celebrates colonization and genocide of peoples and cultures seems like another act of aggression. And one of erasure. Again.

So instead, my four-year-old and I spent today learning about indigenous people and colonization. Today we talked about the real history of Thanksgiving. After some discussion of Pilgrims, family history, whiteness and white privilege, his response was, “We killed the indigenous people?!?” Why would we do that?!” So simple. He learned about the history and at four, quickly extrapolated the historical significance.

It sparked a conversation about money and capitalism and land use and culture, at an age-appropriate level. In that moment, when he was so sad that white people were oppressors that they had killed indigenous people, I wanted to comfort him. I wanted to assure him it’s not us, we didn’t do it personally, it’s not our fault.

But that’s not true. If you look at our nation’s current policies and political situation, it’s still happening. Tho bodies of stolen children are still being found on the grounds of boarding schools. Activists protesting pipelines and tribal sovereignty are still being arrested. So if we don’t learn, and we don’t do something, it is our fault. It was and continues to be. So as a parent, I had to dig past that discomfort, own it and continue the work.

We didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving this year, but instead reflected on history and how we can contribute to change, each day and every day. Because just like being grateful, this is work that needs to be done every day, not just once a year.

Hard to believe.

It has been eight years since my father died. Sometimes it seems like forever, sometimes I still just can’t believe it. His death, while expected, was a surprise. I had actually spent the day speaking with the palliative care team to arrange hospice care at home. There are lots of things I remember about that day, and just as many I wish I could forget.

The following days were difficult, but not as difficult as they could have been. Because he died so suddenly, we hadn’t planned our transportation around it, as we would have being practical people. My mother, brother and I all had to drive home separately, grieving and stunned, in the dark winding roads of rural NH, in January. I remember calling one of my dearest friends, and giving her the terrible burden, and responsibility, of distracting me for the hour drive home. She somehow was able to keep my mind both occupied and on the road with her light banter, while being the right amount of sympathetic and empathetic.

Thinking back on it tonight, I remember the grief, and the loss, but I also remember the support and love we were shown.

I remember my aunt Laura calling me and telling me she thought I should come home from Turkey earlier than planned. I remembered when my Uncle Patrick and cousin Tess visited my father in the hospital, making time while she was home from college on break, thinking it might be their last visit. They were right.

I remember how my husband got on a plane the next day to be with me, and how my in-laws offered to fly to the US for the funeral. I remember my friend going into my closet in Turkey to pack clothes for Bulent to bring with him for me. I remember how another friend tried to get treats delivered but was thwarted by the remoteness of our home, and instead mailed a whole crate of wine. I remember my brother’s college friend who brought us food in the hospital, and went to pick up Bulent from the airport in Boston at midnight. I remember friends driving hours to the service even though they had to turn around and drive hours back that night. I remember how our community rallied around us, prepared and brought all the food for the reception after the funeral, and cleaned up everything after. I remember all the cards, and notes, and emails. I remember the meals dropped off by friends, and the lingering hugs.

I remember the sadness, but I also remember the love that surrounded us.

A visit to Amos

A couple of weeks ago, our good friends were visiting from the US and we decided to take a day trip to Amos. Amos is a small village a few miles from here on the coast. In this area of Turkey, each town or village is nestled in at sea level surrounded by high mountains. To get to them you have to drive UP into the mountains and then down the other side. These roads are twisty, narrow and have breathtaking views down the side of the cliffs.

The mountains we drove through.

From İçmeler we drove to Turunc, and the road was merely narrow, however the road from Turunc to Amos was essentially a one way path through the mountain pass, so narrow that you have to pull to the side and stop to let the other car by. My mother in law actually go vertigo during the ride from sitting in the passenger seat. I could see her visibly flinch every time we went around a curve.

Amos is an ancient city on the road to The city is surrounded by 1.8-meter-thick and 3.5-meter-high walls and towers. The largest surviving structure is a theater, was settled from the Hellenistic era until the Roman era. It is quite a climb to the top of the ridge, and since there were so many cliffs, I carried Kayra up on my back. From there he was able to enjoy the view, watch me sweat, and not fall off of a cliff or rock formation. #ParentingWin

The ruins aren’t particularly well preserved, but it is still fun to go and poke around in them. The view is also absolutely stunning. The whole area has wild thyme growing all over it. When we first arrived I saw two men harvesting it. Those bags in the trunk, wild thyme from the Roman ruins.

After the hike we went down the mountain to the beach in the cove and spent all day resting. There is a restaurant on the cove that has a serving area with couches under the shade of trees, beach chairs and cabanas, and a pool as well. It worked out wonderfully. We swam for a while, then had a nice leisurely lunch while Kayra took a two hour nap on one of the couches next to our table. Then we were able to spend the rest of the afternoon swimming and playing in the sea and the pool. Actually I am hoping to go again this weekend.

Photos courtesy of Larinda Bucklew

The Med.

Doesn’t that sound smarmy? One of the best parts of visiting İçmeler is being about a mile from the Mediterranean.

My in-laws summer house is snuggled up against the mountains that surround the village. While it would be nice to be closer to the water, it is kind of an either/or situation. The summers are really hot here, and you need to either be right on the water to get the sea breeze, or back by the mountains to get the winds that roll down from the higher altitudes. The center of town that is closer to the beach but not right on the water actually suffer from the heat more. So while we are in the part of the village that is farthest from the water, it is still only a 20 minute walk, and we are surrounded by green mountains and chickens run around the parks wandering loose from the village houses that have livestock and fields in the middle of a vacation town.

View of İçmeler from the mountains. Our house is in the section closest to the forefront.

Kayra’s first glimpse of the sea!

Kayra was almost two when we got here but we hadn’t brought him to the ocean yet. There are beaches on the Texas coast, but for the the quality of the beach vs the length of the drive we hadn’t bothered. So his first sea/ocean swim was in the Med. The water is cool, and clean and the beach filled with a mix of Turkish and international tourists. Despite the coolness of the water, he absolutely loves it. The water is so so salty that he is incredibly buoyant and can practically float on his own. He is working hard on swimming and paddles his little legs and arms all on his own, with just a little support from us. We chose not to bring his floaties to help him learn how to swim without being distracted or a false sense of safety. He will swim for so long that his lips turn blue and he shivers. At that point I try to get him out of the water, but only get as far as the beach because then he wants to play with the sand and stones. There are also little fish that play in the shallows, so that gives us endless reason to run in the waves and splash into the water trying to catch them.

Unfortunately we have not been able to go every day because I am working full time remotely while I am here and have to overlap my afternoon/evening hours with East Coast time. With only three weeks left I am going to make an effort to go after breakfast each day before my work day starts and get as much beach time and play time as possible!

Back to Içmeler

I have spent most or part of the summer in Içmeler since 2009. When we moved back to the US in 2015 we didn’t go to Içmeler that summer. I have missed it more than I realized. It has also changed quite a bit. Between the “attempted” coup, the bombing in the Istanbul Airport in 2016 and the rate of inflation, the tourism rate is down significantly. We can see the results in the community here, and the business that are, and no longer there.

What I have been enjoying the most is watching Kayra absorb the language and the culture. What I have appreciated the most, is watching his grandparents interact with him, and respect the differences in which we have been raising him. For example Turkish folks kiss and hug babies. This means waiters kiss his cheeks and touch his face, strangers will stroke his face and kiss his hands, teenagers will pick him up and play with him. We have been raising Kayra with bodily autonomy, meaning we ask him if he wants kisses and hugs, and if he says no we respect that. While it is hard for them to not smother him in kisses and hugs, but they do ask, and listen to him, at least 70% of the time. It’s a start.

Return to Ankara

It has been four years since I left Turkey. I lived there for most of my (young) adult life, from 24 to 30. I absorbed much of how I live my life from that time, learning to move more slowly, savor time, cook with the seasons, avoid waste and over consumption. I learned the language and culture, which means my son can grow up in a bilingual and bicultural household.

We speak Turkish at home to Kayra, and I cook Turkish meals often, but this first week in Ankara has been a whirl wind of newness for him. Rather than the normal vocabulary of daily life, he has been immersed in Turkish. I can practically see his head spinning to absorb it all. He is learning to code switch, as his grandmother and great aunt do not speak English, he notices and responds to them only in Turkish. He is learning tens of words each day and hundreds each week, it seems. I love to watch his amazement and wonder. The first time he heard the ezan, or call to prayer, reverberate off the hills and buildings in Ankara he looked at me and asked “bu ne? (What’s that?) The camii, I said. He repeated it two or three times, rolling it around his mouth, such a new word, such a new sound.

We were only in Ankara for a week. He met his extended family, and I was able to visit my old friends with him, some of my chosen Ankara family. We went to Kuğulu Park and visited the swans. We listed to the amca (uncle) playing the accordion for tips in the park, wearing Apple ear pods, of course the juxtaposition of old and new in Turkey is always there. We walked by my friend Terry’s old house and I practically stopped in for tea, so strong are the memories of love and adventure with friends.

Chasing pigeons in Kuğulu Park

The city I grew up in has grown, and shrunk, the politics have change, there has been a coup, there is an undercurrent that I can’t quite figure out. Many things were different, but many are still the same. Just like me. I came to Turkey as a young woman, fell in love with the land and people, found friends, lost family, and generally became an adult. The woman that came back to Turkey this summer is not the same woman that left four years ago. I have grown, developed, discovered a career I love and an ambition I didn’t know I had. I got pregnant, and birthed a child, I am stronger and braver and more full of love than I ever knew I could be. I am glad I left, it was the right time for us and allowed our life, personal and professional, to flourish in a way they would never had here. However, I am glad to be back, for the summer.

Listening to music in the park while eating a cookie from Mado.