An ode to Turkish mothers
Nazlan Ertan - firstname.lastname@example.org
AA photoI am at the age that “becoming my mother” is not a worry but a reality. The coin dropped when some of my friends thought that a candid shot with my mother, both in sleeveless black tops, pearl earrings and short hair, was a mirror image. The similarity extends to the way I purse my lips in disapproval, roll my eyes at poor service and frown at mothers, as well as kids, when five year olds scream at restaurants. I also give hell to our seventeen-years-old son when he leaves his shoes around, fails to pick up his things, forgets to call when he will not show up for dinner or utter clichés such as “but everybody else lets their children do it” and a million other things. Like my mother did with me.
My mother and her group of middle-class, stay-home Turkish moms, before the species of “Helicopter Mom” dominated the landscape, incorporated traits attributed to other mother stereotypes: Graduates of a posh American college, they were as well-versed as any Midwestern American on Dr. Spock. Not the one with pointed ears in the original Star Trek but the one who told you mothers to “trust their instincts but impose a routine on the child early on.”
My mother and her friends were as demanding as French moms and as ambitious and intrusive as Jewish mothers. They imposed eating and sleeping hours on us with the vigor of Germanic mothers, but had the relaxed hygiene attitude of Scandinavian mothers when we grabbed a fistful of soil or sand.
Here is a non-exclusive list of what 1970s moms have done to us and how they have become an extinct species:
1. They were NOT Helicopter Moms. Nor were they the “Personal Assistant Mothers” that Turkey’s most sarcastic writer Perihan Mağden described in her essays aptly titled “Motherhood as a Constant Source of Torture.” It did not occur to them that their kids would need help with putting on their socks, pushing food into their mouths as they gazed into a screen, or getting on the school bus. If we forgot our homework, too bad; we’d get punished at school. It would never occur to my mother to phone the mother of my classmates to find out what it was or to do it with me.
She did not consider herself part of a sorority of “the mothers of the children of so-and-so school” and formed a unified security belt around us. The idea to have “mothers and children” birthday parties simply did not occur to her. It may be why I was so amazed with the modern moms of Izmir who become best friends with their children’s classmates’ mothers. Having said that, what a great grapevine and coordination!
2. The 1970s Turkish moms were not the “outsourcing moms” either. They were, fortunately or unfortunately, unaware of the recent method of child-rearing that is aided by Central Asian nannies; private lessons and study center after school hours that get tutors to help students with their homework. Child psychologists for troubles, dieticians for baby fat, personal trainers to develop muscles, grandparents for love and care… Those of you unfamiliar with this method of child rearing should watch “The Nanny Diaries.” The outsourcing mom can be some hot-shot businesswoman or a non-working mother. The main rule is that she will never do it herself if she can get a professional to do it. In the 1970s, outsourcing had not yet been invented.
3. My mother and her friends were ambitious for us, but not fixed on prestige and status symbols. We learned about Oscar Wilde before Oscar de la Renta; and Nike was the Greek goddess of victory, not a shoe brand whose five colors would be offered to us. My mother, who is now seventy and lives on TV news, likes to joke that she taught me Oscar Wilde so that “in the off-chance that I became a deputy, I could follow the conversation.”
My mother read us poetry from Orhan Veli, Anatolian memoirs of Reşat Nuri Güntekin and sonnets from Shakespeare long before we understood them. Now that I think about it, what a great way to understand what we see in today’s world: doing anything for power (Macbeth), desire of the ruler not only for total devotion but limitless flattery (King Lear), back-stabbing and polemics (Julius Caesar), forced marriage and harassment of women (Taming of the Shrew) and femicide based on rumors (Othello). No wonder according to a British Council Survey, Turkey is among the first five countries that understand Shakespeare best.
4. The 1970s middle class mom was politically incorrect. She punished, ignored, dictated as she saw fit. She did not interrupt her conversation with her friends because we were pulling her arm. Nor did she ask us many questions on what we preferred. “Would you like to cross the street on your father’s lap or would you rather be hit by a car?” was not an issue she cared to discuss with a two-year-old.
5. The stay-at-home mothers of the 1970s wanted their daughters to work and be independent. Now don’t get Freudian on me about fulfilling ambitions through children. They did not believe in an easy life, short cuts, “the middle wife” or “quitting work.” Divorces were OK, but idleness wasn’t. They did not glorify motherhood or speak of “a mother’s heart,” “the most sacred thing” or “heaven under her feet.” They just did it.