The Chase: A Tale of a Public Timeout

Like many writers, I sometimes need a little inspiration before sitting down to write a post. Every Monday, I look forward to receiving an email with just that—inspiration in the form of writing prompts from Mama Kat’s Pretty Much World Famous Writer’s Workshop (you should read her latest post—it made me burst out laughing). Needless to say, this week* it worked—I’m inspired. So, today I’m going to tell you an embarrassing story.

This story takes place in the late fall, about four years ago, when my son was three. My daughter was in desperate need of a winter coat, but because she was fixated on getting a Northface jacket—something I refused to buy for her—she rejected every coat I picked out. So, in an act of desperation on a particularly cold evening after work—with both kids tired and hungry—I took them to Burlington Coat Factory. As we headed toward the children’s section, I told my son that if he sat nicely in the cart while I found a coat for his sister, I would get him something. Like most words of bribery, the incentive to remain “good” lasted approximately five minutes. I ended up warning him a few more times that I would not be getting him the “Thomas the Tank Engine” book that he had just grabbed off of a nearby shelf if he didn’t behave, but it was to no avail—he refused to do anything other than whine and struggle to get out of the shopping cart.

I soon found myself running between two children: my daughter who was sulkily trying on one winter coat after another, and my son who was crying, desperate to be set free. Within minutes, my patience was completely shot, and all of my kind negotiations were over. Fortunately, it was at that moment that my daughter grudgingly settled on a coat, and we were finally able to head to the checkout.

Once there, I took the Thomas book from my son’s hands and handed it to the cashier saying, “we aren’t going to take this.” When my son saw her put the book behind the counter, he began screaming “Thomas!” at the top of his lungs. I tried to pay for the coat as quickly as I could so that we could get away from the shocked stares of the people around us.

As we approached the door, I took my still-screaming son out of the cart so that we could walk to the car. Within a second, he was running back through the store screaming “Thomas!” over and over again.

The chase was on.

Even though he was only three, he was fast—he was half-way through the store before I finally caught up to him. At this point, I was sweating, embarrassed, and completely out of my mind. I had two choices to make: 1) I could pick up my rather large, screaming son while simultaneously dodging his kicking and punching while running to the car; OR 2) I could put him in timeout. Even though there was a voice inside my head that was saying “You’re crazy,” I decided to go with option 2.

I had just started doing “timeouts” with him, and I think he had the general concept down—sit quietly in one spot for three minutes (he was three), if he gets up, the time will start over again. However, I had never actually attempted to perform one with him in public. I somehow got him to sit somewhere in the middle of the Women’s section, I set the timer on my iPhone, showed it to him so he could see that he had three minutes, then pressed “start.” He sat there for about 5 seconds before he pulled himself up off the floor in an attempt to bolt away from me. I restarted the timer, and the next time he sat for about ten seconds before once again trying to flee. This went on at least eight more times, each one tearing down my resolve just a little more than the last. Every time I glanced up, I would see yet another person staring at me and the commotion that my son was causing. I was mortified.

But I didn’t give up.

On the 10th or 12th try—I’m not sure since I lost count—he finally sat still. He cried silently, but he didn’t get up for the entire time, and finally the alarm went off signaling the end of this embarrassing ordeal. I then helped him up off the floor so that we could finally leave. As I hurried both of my children toward the exit, my son let out one more feeble cry for “Thomas” as the door finally closed behind us.

This may have been one of the most embarrassing situations I found myself in as a parent, but it also ended up being an incredibly successful one. By following through with that timeout, my son learned that I was serious about the importance of listening to me—for the next few months, he was incredibly well-behaved when we were in public. I also learned an important lesson. I shouldn’t care about what others think of me when I know that I am doing the right thing as a parent.

*This prompt was actually from last week’s Writer’s Workshop—it takes me FOREVER to finish a single post!

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Holding On To Bedtime

My Daughter, Age 11

When I started this blog a year ago, I often found myself dwelling on the ways that my daughter was growing up. Although she had just turned eleven, I still believed that she was more child than teen. Then there were the moments when I would catch a glimpse of the teenager she was slowly turning into. These moments would force me to confront the heart-breaking fact that my baby was growing up faster than I was prepared for.

For the last year, I have attempted to prepare myself for the inevitable by forcing myself to become numb to the shock of seeing my daughter changing. To do this, I instead focused on the positives: watching Saturday Night Live with her on Saturday nights; enjoying many of the same shows, including Friday Night Lights; being able to leave her home with her brother for an hour while I am at the grocery store—all things I couldn’t do when she was younger. That’s why, when I do see a glimpse of my little girl appear from beneath this ever-changing creature, I feel an overwhelming need to grab hold of her—to hold onto that moment for just a little longer—never knowing if it will be the last time I see the little girl she used to be.

My Daughter, Age 12

More often than not, this appearance occurs in the evening, a little before bedtime. Although there is always plenty of room on the couch for both of us, my daughter inevitably ends up sitting right next to me. Before I realize it, she is leaning against me, her head resting on my shoulder—and if the computer isn’t on my lap—her hands encircling mine.

Unfortunately, not all nights are like this, and if I am in the middle of something—like writing this blog or just wasting time on the Internet—the closeness of her body makes me feel crowded. I will sometimes snap at her, telling her to give me some space. It isn’t until long after she is already in bed that I realize that I once again lost an opportunity to hold my daughter close. In my regret, I am left worrying that maybe the next night she will be the one telling me “to give her some space.”

The same is true at bedtime. We no longer have the rituals of her youth: reading a story (or two or three); lying down next to her until she falls asleep; or telling her stories from my childhood, each one ending with the words “one more.”

Today, the routine is much simpler. Lately, some nights, after she has gotten ready for bed and brushed her teeth, she comes back into the living room for a hug and a kiss goodnight—and nothing more. I’ll admit, I don’t mind that I don’t have to stop what I am doing—or that I don’t have to get up for the 283rd time that evening—just to tuck her in. Other nights, she will stand in the doorway, silently waiting for me to walk her to bed to tuck her in. Less often, she may even ask me to cuddle with her for “just a few minutes.”

The worst nights are those in which she heads off to bed without a word, not needing a hug or a kiss good night. It is on these nights that I usually find myself standing in her doorway, watching her as she sleeps, silently praying that tomorrow she would need me once again.

When I was a child and afraid of thunderstorms, I remember being told of a way to know whether the storm was getting closer or if it was going away. The trick is to count the seconds in between seeing the lightning and hearing the thunder. If the number of seconds decreases in between each burst of lightning, the storm is getting closer. If, on the other hand, the seconds were to increase, the storm is moving further away.

I wish there were a similar correlation between bedtimes and growing up. If there were, I would be able to predict how much longer my daughter would be a child by the number of times per week she needed me at bedtime. As the number of times she barely says “good night” increases, I would know that the end is near. On the other hand, if the frequency of her needing to be tucked in suddenly increases, I’ll know that I can enjoy the child in her just a little longer.

Unfortunately, there is no way to actually predict just when unselfconscious silliness will be replaced by teen angst, or when constant questions will be replaced by indifference. I wish my advice for my daughter could be to stay my little girl for as long as possible, but I know that she would laugh—or roll her eyes—at the suggestion. Instead, I know that my advice should be for me—and it begins tonight when I’m done with this post. I will take advantage of each any every moment that my daughter wants to cuddle with me, chooses to sit right next to me, or asks me to tuck her in one more time.

My post will be hanging out with others here this week where you can check out some other great blogs.

In Defense of My Children

Most people would probably agree that I am not a confrontational person. In fact, I will do just about anything to avoid conflict. Even when it involves my children’s well-being, I am not quick to attack. Instead, I gather all the details, spending endless hours running through all possible scenarios until I have either decided on a plan of action or I finally come to terms with whatever it might be and put it to rest. This is why I am having such an issue deciding on what do about something that recently happened with my son.

Yesterday, I received a call from the school nurse. Her first words were “No one is sick.” My first thought was “Then, why are you calling me?” She went on to explain that my son had come into her office during recess complaining of a cough. She was concerned that he may have been having an allergic reaction to something because his face was red and splotchy. After asking a few questions, she soon discovered that he was very upset and the splotchiness was due to fighting back tears. He told her that he had gotten in trouble during lunch and had to “sit on the stage” (it is a multi-purpose room, and the stage is a place for kids to sit and ponder what they might have done wrong—the equivalent of public humiliation for my son). He had gone to the nurse because he was too embarrassed to face his teacher or his friends. When she asked him why he had gotten punished, he told her that he had accidentally dropped his football on the floor. The nurse did her best to make him feel better, and within a short time, she was able to walk him back to class.

On my way to pick him up a few hours later, I decided that I wouldn’t ask him about what happened unless he looked upset or if he mentioned it to me. When I finally laid eyes on him, I was relieved to see that he seemed fine, and I thought that maybe he had put the whole thing out of his mind. When my daughter got out of school, however, I could immediately tell that she already knew what happened and wanted to talk to me about it. I stopped her before she said something that would have reminded her brother, and instead waited until we were alone to find out what she wanted to tell me.

As it turned out, she had witnessed her brother getting in trouble. The way she explained it was that as he went to pick up his football, the woman screamed at him “What are you doing?” and immediately told him to sit on the stage. My daughter, seeing her brother holding back tears, went over to check on him. Just as she asked him how he was, the woman yelled—this time at my daughter—telling her to “get away from him.” This made my son cry, and as my daughter relayed the details of how she had no choice but to walk away from him, her eyes filled with tears.

The detail in all of this that made my maternal protectiveness kick in was that the woman who punished him was not a teacher, an Aid, or even someone who worked in the school—it was a mother, a woman whose daughter attends the school and who volunteers during lunch. It wasn’t the fact that she punished my son, it was that she screamed at him, and that this was the second time this had happened. It is not that I expect this woman to know the personalities of every child in the school, nor do I expect her to somehow treat my son differently. However, the very idea that an adult would actually yell at my child just seems to somehow cross a line.

Something very similar to this happened to my daughter a few years ago. During lunch one day, the kids were directed to sit with their own classes. When a boy in her grade—who wasn’t in her actual class—tried to sit at her table, she told him to sit somewhere else. This boy’s mother was volunteering that day, and witnessed her son being told to move to another table. It’s possible that my daughter may have given him an attitude, it’s even possible that she may have been rude, but she didn’t deserve what happened next. This mom yelled at my daughter, calling her “rude” and a “brat” in front of her friends. She then continued to rant about my daughter to the other table of students, and even to some of the other mothers who were volunteering—all while my daughter was listening to every word. The moment she got in the car that evening, she burst into tears. I had never seen her cry about school, and for the next few hours, all she could talk about was what had happened. Her main concern was returning to lunch and seeing this mom the next day. I had never seen her so distraught—filled with so much anxiety—that I realized that I had to do something.

I was able to find the woman’s email address, and I wrote her a letter. I did not yell, or swear, or write down empty threats. Instead, I tried to make her see things through my daughter’s eyes—my sensitive, kind, loving, and compassionate daughter. I reminded her that she is an adult, she shouldn’t have humiliated my daughter, nor behaved no better than the 4th graders she was serving. I told her that even if my daughter had done something wrong, she should have gone to the Principal or a teacher—she should never have taken it upon herself to publicly berate my child.

I received a response back from this woman that same evening, but nothing could have prepared me for her words—she apologized, and she thanked me for being so candid and heart-felt in defense of my daughter. She told me that she was ashamed of how she acted, even if it came in defense of her own child. We ended up writing back-and-forth over the next few days, and when she saw my daughter at school, she apologized to her as well.

I wrote about finding my “Village” in a previous post, and I am left wondering if by writing that email a few years ago, I might have—even in a small way—altered the way this mother may have since interacted with other children. Now I feel I am faced with a similar situation—here is a mother who is acting in a way that is hurtful to my son—should I reach out to her, a woman I do not know? I normally end my posts with my words of advice, but today, I am asking for your advice. What would you do in this situation, as doing nothing feels as if I am waiting for it to happen again? I am at a loss.

I have written an update to this post, which you can read here. I want to thank you all for your incredible words of support and advice—they mean more than I can say.

My Daughter, The Parent

When my daughter was four, she begged and pleaded for us to give her a brother. We weren’t planning on having another child, we were even toying with the idea that maybe one child would be enough. My husband had just started his own business, and I was due to be promoted within the next few months making me one of the lead editors on a new program. On top of all that, we were finally seeing the light at the end of the very long tunnel known as “paying for others to watch our child”—just over a year left until kindergarten. Although it was sweet that she wanted a brother [NOTE:  She did not want a sister. She had informed us that we already had one of those and we didn’t need another one], it was not in our plan. So, when we found out a few months later that we were indeed pregnant, we jokingly told her that she had wished him into existence.

Nearly seven years later, I believe she loves her brother as much today as she did when she wished for him as a small child. There are times that I also believe she may even think he owes his existence to her—and should therefore do everything she says. Most of the time, what she tells him to do, in fact, comes from a place of worry and love for him.

Not unlike a parent.

She yells at him if she thinks he’ll get hurt when we are crossing the street. She corrects him when he mistakenly uses the wrong word in a sentence, and she teaches him the correct pronunciation of words he finds difficult to pronounce. She yells at him when he does taekwondo kicks while walking down the street, in part because she is embarrassed, but also for fear that people may think that he’s odd. And at times, she is my echo, repeating every “no” or “stop it” I tell him, chiming in to somehow strengthen my point of view.

The problem with this is that my son does not want two mothers.

Each correction, raised voice, accusation to “stop it” or “don’t do that,” causes him to react with complete and total outrage—screaming, yelling, and threatening her with bodily harm. As their mother, it often feels like I am living in the middle of a war zone and I am meant to be the peacekeeper. In the end, at a loss for how to stop the fighting, I dole out punishments—somewhat arbitrarily—as I am unwilling to listen to the who-did-what-to-who’s.

I had always prided myself for trying to see life through my daughter’s eyes, especially when I struggled to understand her behavior or attitude. Up until last year, I don’t think I ever truly did this with my son. Depending on how their arguments started, I would often tell him to 1) ignore her; 2) not take everything she says so seriously; 3) understand that she loves him and that she’s just trying to help him. He would reject all of my rational justifications for her behavior, and his anger would turn into tears, while stating the unthinkable words “I hate her!” These words—words that were banned in our home—would sting like a slap in the face. No matter how I much I tried to nurture their relationship, I was failing.

Then one day—after a particularly terrible fight between the two of them—I suddenly found myself remembering what it was to be a child with an older sister. Unlike my children who are nearly five years apart, my sister is only 15 months older than me. When I was young, I remember looking to her as if she were the keeper of all the answers to my every question. As I grew, I remember wanting to be like her—and even more than that—I remember wanting her to love me, to like me, to think she was lucky to have me as her sister. But as children, this was not meant to be. Her every word or opinion about me—the music I listened to, the friends I had, the clothes I wore—left me feeling that I somehow wasn’t good enough. There were times I even felt ashamed to be myself in front of her for fear that I would be ridiculed for it. It would take us many years to mend the relationship that was so damaged when we were children. More than anything, I want to prevent my children from hurting one another so deeply that their relationship may be fractured as adults.

Looking back, it’s possible that my sister’s only intention was to help me find my way in the world—just as I know my daughter is trying to do for her brother. More importantly, I now know that this isn’t her job. My advice to my daughter is this: in order for her brother to grow up to be a confident young man, he needs his sister to show him the way through her actions—not her words. No matter her intentions, he needs to feel that she sees him—and loves him—for who he is, mispronunciations and all. My advice to my son is to know—even when his sister inevitably corrects him or gives him unwanted advice—that she loves him more than anyone else in her life. And, he should always remember that it was she who wished for him, and that she has always been thankful that he has come into her life.

25 Things: Nothing Changes

It’s funny how little things actually change from year to year. Often, the things we notice are those that show a physical change: children getting taller, hair getting longer, wrinkles forming around eyes. Other parts of life, however, appear the same from year to year. Just today, I came across a list I wrote three years ago—you know the kind—“25 Things” about me shared with friends on Facebook. When I read the list, I was so surprised to see that much hasn’t changed.

I’ve decided to update the list to see how my life three years ago compares to my life today.

  1. This is the second time I wrote this list tonight. [Today: I still find myself spending possibly too much time writing. The main difference is that I now do it in a blog.]
  2. I find parenting a child (age 3-4) to be one of the most challenging tests of self-control—they have no concept of consequences, and “If” clauses mean nothing to them. [Today: My son is almost seven, and I am unbelievably happy to be past that age.]
  3. I speak Turkish fluently. [Today: The word “fluently” should probably be used loosely—I don’t speak it often enough. However, recently I found myself speaking with an elderly Turkish woman at my son’s taekwondo class. It’s still there—I think I just need to go spend some time in Turkey to help it come back.]
  4. I like to relieve stress when I get home from work by blasting music and dancing with my children. [Today: I now work from home, so I “get home” from work about an hour earlier than I used to, and my stress-level is much lower. That being said, most days as soon as I am done working, I have to take my children to at least one after-school activity—so no time for dancing.]
  5. My left arm is much stronger than my right because I unwillingly carry my son around and he weighs 45 pounds. [Today: My son now weighs 65 pounds, and I no longer carry him around. Although, I must admit that when he first wakes up in the morning, and he’s climbing down the ladder from his top bunk, I can’t help but grab him and hug him—and maybe carry him to the living room.]
  6. I met my husband on my second day in Istanbul—12 years ago today. [Today: Although it’s not the exact same date, the count is now up to 15 years, and tomorrow is our 12th wedding anniversary. You can read about how we met here.]
  7. My son’s middle name is Rohat which means “sunrise” in Kurdish. [Today: His middle name hasn’t changed, however he has recently adopted a nickname that more and more people seem to be using. It’s only happened a couple of times, but it’s very strange to refer to my son as something other than the name we gave him.]
  8. I have been driving the same car for 10 years, and I will drive it until it drives no more. [Today: The car is three years older, and still going strong.]
  9. Before children, I would read a book or two a week, now I read a book once a year (if you don’t count the nightly ritual of reading “Where the Wild Things Are”). [Today: I do spend more time reading, however my new distraction is writing, and reading others’ blogs—but that counts as reading, right?]
  10. My biggest pet-peeve is not closing cabinets or drawers (it makes my skin crawl, like that scene in “The Sixth Sense”). [Today: This hasn’t changed, but my husband and children have gotten somewhat better at making sure to close them.]
  11. My house caught fire when I was four (with the 4 of us kids still inside), and my older sister—who was five years-old—called the fire department. [Today: This is the house that I wrote about in “Looking for Home.” I just learned that it’s for sale, and I’m tempted to go to an Open House just so I can see if the inside is as I remember it.]
  12. I graduated from college with a degree in English and Art, and I specialized in painting and photography. [Today: The one thing about the past is that it can’t change, it is part of what makes us who we are.]
  13. I went to Paris and didn’t go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. [Today: I am afraid of heights, and I don’t know whether or not I will ever be able to go to the top.]
  14. A friend and I were kicked off of a train in Italy, and taken off of a subway in Berlin. [Today: I alluded this to in my post “My Journey Continued: Moving to Istanbul.”]
  15. When I graduated from college, I told my parents that there was no way that I was getting a job. I wanted to waitress, save money, then travel the world—which is what I did. [Today: I just realized that there are many topics in this list that are identical to the topics I used in my earlier blog posts. I either have a finite number of interesting facts about my life OR these are just the things that have had the biggest impact. I prefer to think the latter.]
After going through the first half of this list, I now see that it’s much longer than I had originally anticipated. For this reason, I’ve decided to split it up over two posts—the second half to be delivered in a couple of days, along with my advice for my daughter.
Until then, I’d love to know at least one important—lesser-known—fact about you, so please leave a comment.

After September 11th: Our Story

We lived not far from Manhattan—just fifteen miles north, on the other side of the river—when the tragedy struck on September 11, 2001. As my husband and I drove home from work that day, we could see the smoke rising above the place where the twin towers had stood just that morning. All we could talk about—all we could think about—were those lost in this horrific attack.

A few days later—after the initial shock and horror of the attacks turned into a numbing grief—I was suddenly confronted by a paralyzing fear. It was not just the fear of another attack occurring, I was struck by a desperate fear for my husband. We had started to hear stories of violence toward Muslims—even against those who just “looked” Muslim. My husband is from Turkey, and he is Muslim. These words are not the first two he would have used to describe himself. If asked, he would have said that he is a devoted father, a lover of history, and someone who enjoys anything alien-related. He is not religious—his being Muslim is the equivalent of someone who is born into a Christian family, but never attends Church. It was part of his culture, his background, and therefore part of his identity. But suddenly, this detail—out of the many that makes him who he is—was the only one people could see. The people at his office who were suddenly using the words “fucking Muslims” loud enough for him to hear, or the neighbors—who never before stopped to say hello—suddenly stopped and stared every time we were outside.

I was afraid for him to go anywhere by himself—afraid someone might hurt him. He was not a citizen. He didn’t even have his green-card—we’d had the interview, but we were still waiting for it to be official. It felt as if we were living on uncertain ground, and I didn’t know how to find a life that was safe once again—a life in which we could raise our daughter free from the fear and prejudice we now felt was all around us. As the weeks turned into months, this fear slowly began to ebb. It would take a long time, however, to once again feel a sense of equilibrium in our lives. During that time, when our daughter was still a baby, I would sometimes wonder about the world we were raising her in, about the identity she would take with her out into the world.

Years later, when she was starting kindergarten in a new school, we had to once again teach people how to pronounce her name. She has a Turkish name—it made her stand out, made her somehow different from the other kids in her class. The beauty of children is that they do not see these differences. As she got older, she would find that her friends would sometimes ask her questions about her life: What’s Turkey? Do you celebrate Christmas? Do you go to Church? Her answers were simple and straight-forward: It’s the country where my father is from. Of course I celebrate Christmas. I don’t go to Church because I’m Muslim. For my daughter, as it was for my husband, this is just a detail, not very significant, and not one to define her.

When she’d come home and tell me about some of these conversations—not because they upset her—she was just curious as to why they would be asking. I would do my best to explain that kids can sometimes be interested in details that are different from their everyday lives. I felt such a sense of pride in her strength. And when she would complain about the way people mispronounced her name—even going as far as wanting to change the spelling—I would tell her that her name makes her different and that someday she’d value that. In addition to wanting her to be someone who isn’t influenced by what others think, I also thought that maybe by declaring this detail about herself—this one small detail out of many—that she might get people to confront their own idea of what being Muslim means. In our own way, I thought our family might also do the same. We do not fit into a stereotype.

When my daughter was in 4th grade, she had to do a project for school about her heritage. She could have picked her Irish or Scottish side, but instead she wanted to teach her class about her father’s side—her Kurdish side. Being the competitive student that she is, she wanted to guarantee an A on the project. To do this, she decided to not only create the mandatory poster-board, she also created a Power Point to be used on the whiteboard, she brought in music to teach her classmates how to dance, and she dressed up in a traditional Kurdish girls’ clothing. Parents were allowed to watch the presentations, and I wish I had taken a picture of her father’s face as he saw his daughter gather her friends in a circle as they danced to the music of his childhood. The parents who stood near us were intrigued about the information she was sharing, and they asked us a long stream of questions. For both my husband and I, it was a moment we would never forget.

Looking back on these last ten years, I am amazed to see how far our family has come: my husband is a well-respected business owner, a man who is surrounded by incredible friends, and a citizen of the United States. We have settled into life in our small town, and we no longer feel that people see us as somehow different—or at least not in a negative way. I wanted to share this story with my daughter, in case she is ever faced with any type of prejudice in her life. My advice to her is to always be strong, and by being herself, she may inadvertently change people’s perceptions—and that is always a good thing.