ILLUSTRATION: CEM KIZILTUĞ
Growing up in the US, my grandparents played an important part in my life. I can honestly say that there was not one thing they wouldn’t do for my sisters and me, and we knew it.
Part of my parents’ job was to discipline us, while at my grandparents’ house we were spoiled rotten. Every week at least one or all of us would spend the night at their house. We would stay up late watching movies or cartoons, eating candy and drinking pop, all forbidden fruits from our normal daily life. According to my mom, we would all come back to our house as little monsters, and it would take her a day or so to get us back on track. Funnily, I don’t remember those days, or maybe I have blocked them out.
My son, Eren, also shares a special bond with his grandparents on both sides of the Atlantic. As an infant, my father-in-law and mother-in-law loved him but were a bit afraid of him. Given my already tense relationship with my mother-in-law then, I was worried. Since he could not talk, they could not anticipate his needs. They would come over to the house to help me, but usually I was not able to even shower without my mother-in-law banging on the door in a panic at his slightest cry. We did not have childcare then, and it was really tough to not have any help. In those days I wondered if Eren would have the same bond I had with my grandparents growing up. This was a bond that was very important to me. Two of his grandparents near us but too highly strung, the other set thousands of miles away on the other side of the world. Would he be able to develop that special relationship like I had as a child?
Trips back to my hometown eased my mind a little. My parents wanted to spend as much time with Eren as they could get. My dad would whisk him off with him on errands, even some as mundane as a car wash. He taught him how to jump on beds with gusto before he could even walk. My mom would take him on long walks through the woods near our house, with tons of cookies and candy in tow. I would get angry, and tell her that one cookie was enough. She would hide bags of snacks from me in her pockets, which Eren knew about, of course. He would come home totally wired and I would be furious, but there was nothing I could do.
As Eren grew older, my in-laws became less afraid and more involved. He learned how to speak his needs or show them what he wanted, so they felt more comfortable. One of Eren’s first words was “Dede,” which means “grandpa” in Turkish. Eren wants to be one of the guys, and loves both of his grandpas. Even talking via Skype with my mom, the minute my dad enters the screen grandma is toast. He has eyes and words only for my dad. The same with Dede, to my mother-in-law’s chagrin. I think the bribery for both grandmas has increased. Eren knows how to play this game well.
Where I would fight with my parents for spoiling Eren rotten while in America, my husband Can fights with his parents for the same reason here. Just a few weeks ago we went to a nearby restaurant with them for dinner. Like many Turkish restaurants, there was a nice play area for kids inside, and Dede took Eren there right away. When I went to get them when our food arrived, I saw Eren with an ice cream cone in his hand. Ice cream before dinner! Every mother’s nightmare, but every grandparent’s right. I couldn’t say anything because when I saw that, memories from my childhood flooded back. I think I was given ice cream before meals a few times growing up. Still, Can was furious.
My grandparents weren’t all about giving us forbidden candy and snacks. My best memories are going with them to their cottage on the lake. My grandma would take us swimming at the little beach. My grandpa would take us fishing off the dock. He also loved to bird watch, and when I was about 4 years old he got me my own pair of binoculars and we would go off into the woods together to see what avian species was in our vicinity that day. My Grandma would take us down to the lakeside in the early morning to feed the swans. She taught us how to be really still and calm, and the wild birds would eat right out of our hands. Back in town they had a garden that seemed huge in my eyes but was maybe small. My grandpa’s pride and joy were his tomatoes, and it was from him that I learned how good a fresh tomato tastes with just a pinch of salt. It wasn’t until I moved to Turkey and had fresh tomatoes as a standard breakfast staple that I remembered that first childhood taste.
Eren is creating his own memories with his grandparents on both sides. With my father Eren shares a love of snowmobiles and hockey, with my mother a love of nature and animals. My mother-in-law takes Eren to the local pazar, a place he loves. My father-in-law has shown Eren a love for fish, and one of their favorite activities is to go to the nearby fishmonger to see the fish. It warms my heart to see these relationships bloom, and makes me bite my tongue most of the time about the excessive candy and snacks.
I know personally that different rules apply when at the grandparents’ house. I try not to and urge Can not to put too many rules in place, but rather let them set their own rules and schedule while Eren is there. It is a bit hard to let go I will admit, but it does need to be done. By respecting my parents and in-laws and not interfering too much in their time with Eren, they have actually started to respect me more. This is especially important with my mother-in-law. I try and urge Can to do the same, but it is a lot harder for him to step back, surprisingly.
Since we do not have steady, reliable childcare, I like that I can rely on my in-laws to take care of Eren, and want to do it, once every two weeks or so. Recently he has even felt comfortable enough to spend the night there. It’s an odd feeling for me as a mother, especially given my at times rocky relationship with my mother-in-law. I am so happy with these new developments, and even happier to see Eren’s special relationship with all four of his grandparents. The seeds sown with these relationships will hopefully bear the fruit of many future memories. Eren and I will have different childhood experiences, but I really hope that we will have similar fond memories of time spent with our grandparents.
Elle Loftis is an American expat, writer and mother living in İstanbul. Reach her at [email protected] for comments or questions.