My husband returned today from his travels/tour leading in the more interesting parts of Turkey -- the East -- and is just beginning his round of the house.
These invariably start with the kitchen. As our kitchen is part of the downstairs open plan environment we -- in retrospect -- foolishly designed when building our house, it's impossible not to be aware of his every move despite my best attempts to avoid glancing at his inspection.
Dishcloth in hand, he starts poking around the cooker surface, removing stains invisible to the average person (me) but clearly a cause for concern to the more aesthetically aware (my husband). Moving on to the fairly expansive shiny black work surfaces, he sets to reorganizing the condiment set, securing the lid of the olive oil bottle, checking the supply in the muesli jar, dusting away a few stray bread crumbs from around the bread bin and generally wiping away yet more invisible marks on the outside of the cupboards and drawers. I know from many years of experience that his next port of call will be the living room area where numerous eye sores are no doubt lurking just waiting to be rearranged and put back in their rightful position.
I've also learnt from practice not to make any comments during the course of his maneuvers -- these are after all just a part of his settling in process and not really meant as a criticism of my household skills.
However this time, there is a subtle difference, one of my daughters has been living with us for the last few months, enjoying Turkish life to the full. She is a splendid girl, full of life, enthusiasm, energy and confidence. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way she has failed to accrue any idea of tidiness, neatness or indeed any sense of order in any area of the house. Wet towels can be found strewn over the bathroom floor, toothpaste tubes drip out their contents over the sink due to the missing lid, bedroom floors -- both hers and mine -- are littered with clothes discarded as being unsuitable for the day, coats dangle precariously out of the cupboard, and as for the kitchen -- cooking being a favorite pastime of hers -- well the less said the better.
So returning to my travel-weary husband, there are many extra challenges on his return this time and somewhere, too, is the implication that somewhere along the line I have failed as a responsible mother to instill a mature attitude to housework. This is not to imply that she is lazy. Far from it, and given an instruction to clean up the kitchen or bathroom, she will set to and complete the task to a reasonably high standard. But what she is incapable of is to regularly maintain the status quo in any room. The butter dish lid will remain separated from its rightful place, the sofa cushions are not repositioned, light switches are not automatically turned off when leaving a room and mugs are left littering the sides of the bathtub.
“Rhiannon's been busy cooking again I see,” I hear my husband muttering under his breath. “What was it this time?” Since the results of her recent culinary experiments are currently waiting in the fridge shortly to be produced for our supper, I maintain my silence. “Mmm… do we need these lights on or shall I turn them off now?” “Curious -- jam but no lid.” So it goes.
Having my grown up daughter to stay has of course been fantastic. She left home at 18, firstly to travel around Africa followed by three years of university and several years of working in the UK and therefore I have not had the pleasure of her company for such an extended period of time for many years. Her youth, vitality and unflagging sense of adventure have been a continued source of surprise and inspiration to me. I moved here as an expat seven years ago, when I was approaching 50, and at the time felt very brave that I dared to make such a bold step at that time in my life. However, I found every small hurdle -- finding the right dolmuş to get to the shopping center, driving a car around the Antalya city center for the first time, paying a bill, coping with importunate shop assistants, etc. all very stressful and exhausting. Not so my daughter, who has been able to take all these minor obstacles in her stride and sail through every “crisis” without so much as batting an eyelid.
This is where the balance of mother-daughter relationship has shifted completely. Although I always did my best to encourage an independent streak in all my children, as a parent it's still hard to accept that even when they reach their mid to late 20s they are actually capable of living and functioning without the continued support and advice from their parents. However, by moving to a very different country from the one in which they grew up, I was living under the allusion that I would remain at least one step ahead of them. On her many visits and holidays to Antalya, this had seemed to be the case, with her willing to be advised as to the best beaches to visit, the good places to buy cheese, the whereabouts of the Tuesday market, how to buy a card to board the new tram. Living here, complete with her very own resident permit, soon changed all that.
No doubt, the same change in family dynamics would have happened had I remained in my home country, but I had certainly made the assumption that I would remain marginally ahead by moving to a foreign country. Not so. Nothing has fazed my independent minded offspring and she is now more than happy -- and able -- to dole out information to me or her step-father on the best places to eat işkembe çorbası (tripe soup) at three in the morning, the coolest bars to drink in, advise me on the latest changes to the bus routes, or the best way to make patlıcan salatası (aubergine salad). Though I expect and willingly accept that she is far more technologically competent than me and easily able to sort out any problems I have with my computer or digital camera, it has been more difficult to come to terms with the fact that she is able to function in my adopted town without needing my support.
So when my husband's grumblings have finally ceased and he has completed his rounds of the house restoring order to the “chaos” produced in his absence and settles down to catch up on the latest premier league football, I am able to produce several delicacies from the fridge, prepared earlier by Rhiannon, who is currently out on some social activity to which I have not been invited. Keeping the family balance on an even keel in any household requires a fair amount of patience; in an expat household there are several other challenges to meet, but these are in no way insurmountable, and surprisingly easy to overcome with the pleasure of good food, sunshine and magnificent views of the sea and mountains.