Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Well Prepared Meal


When I was a little girl in Turkey, I used to help my grandmother make tarhana. It's the traditional Turkish soup mixture, which can literally take most of the summer months to make before it's placed in mason jars and then cooked during the colder months of autumn and winter. Like my family, most Turkish families make their tarhana during the hot months of summer when the plants and vegetables are plenty and cheap. Although, tarhana originated hundreds of years ago from the need to preserve, many families continue to make it despite being equipped with the latest refrigeration methods.  

On the first day of tarhana making, my grandmother would prepare the fire oven on her rooftop as I'd wash and sort the tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. Once she'd set up the fire, she'd chop the vegetables enthusiastically as if she was hosting a cooking show, as if cutting the vegetables so proportionately would add to the taste of tarhana. She'd give me hand fulls of the vegetables she had cut and ask me to throw them in the copper pot on top of the fire oven. Then she'd add the yeast, yogurt, chickpeas, and flour into the mixture. "It's all about the consistency of the dough," my grandmother would say as she'd circle the wooden spoon around the copper pot. Once the mixture finished cooking, we'd wait for three to four days for it to ferment and settle.

After a few days, the dough would have been long fermented and settled at the bottom of the pot. We'd lay a large rectangular cotton fabric on my grandmother's rooftop and uncover the copper pot. Then, we'd start to roll small pieces of the dough like meat balls and line them on the fabric. Depending on the dryness or the humidity of the summer days, we'd wait for a week or two for the tarhana to dry and harden under the sun.

Once the tarhana balls were dried throughout, my grandmother, mother, aunts, uncles, and cousins would each grab a sieve from the kitchen, kneel around the fabric, and start pushing the dried tarhana through the small holes and watch it fall onto the fabric like talcum powder. After we'd finish sieving, we'd fill the mason jars with the powder and my grandmother would give us all a few jars to take home. Then, we'd cook a pot of the new tarhana with cubed lamb, set the table, toast some homemade bread, place the appetizers everyone had brought around the table, and have a joyous family dinner where the sounds of our conversations would create a lovely little harmony echoing around my grandmother's house. 

Preparing meals together has always been a huge part of my family.  When my immediate family and I immigrated into this country, my mother, who had spent most of my childhood as a stay-at-home-mom, had to start working. She'd work during the days while my father had to work multiple jobs during nighttime. Although they were beyond busy and tired, we'd always have a prepared meal in the kitchen. On certain weekends, we'd help my mother cook multiple meals for the week. Other days, we'd cook daily. Eating dinners as a family was important. Especially during a time in our lives where all we had was each other for support. So, for us, dinnertime wasn't just a time to chow down the food in front of us like savage animals. It was during dinners we'd talk about what had happened that day. My parents would ask us about school. They'd talk to each other about work and their finances. They'd talk about the progress they were making in a country where they were working so hard to obtain a better future. They'd tell us about the new goals they had set for themselves. They'd tell us about the dreams they had for us. We'd talk about the things that made us happy. We'd talk about the things that bothered us. We'd find ways to reason and come up with solutions. Dinners were a time to be reconnect, come up with new game plans and goals, and dinners continue to hold a special moment in all of our days.

Some of you may think cooking consistently well prepared meals is a Turkish thing. You may think it doesn't really exist in an American culture.  Food is a part of every culture. We may all be different, but consuming food is what we all have in common. Take my amazing mother-in-law Marla and her phenomenal family, for example. She and her siblings were raised in Champion, Nebraska.  When I asked her about what it was like for her to grow up in an American family that cooked together, this was her response: 
"Growing up in a family of eight on a farm in Western Nebraska, I learned many lessons and values that I still cherish and practice today. One of the most important things my parents shared with me and my siblings is the importance of food preparation and mealtime. We grew most of our produce and raised our beef, pork and chicken. So, at an early age, I learned the skills of gardening and the nutritional value of home grown foods. I learned the skills of canning and freezing our produce. I learned how to milk cows and clean chickens. I learned to prepare foods from scratch rather than open a box mix or a can of already prepared food that just requires the microwaving. To this day I have never purchased or prepared instant potatoes or spaghetti from a can. I am a firm believer that if a person can read they can cook. There are a multitude of resources that can educate people to make nutritionally sound foods that are good for them and their families.

My parents taught us to value our time together as we prepare family meals. Each of my brothers and sisters had a chore when it came to meal preparation. Everything from actually cooking together to setting the table to serving the food to cleaning up after the meal. Even today, when we are fortunate enough to get our family together, we still work together to make a memorable meal. It was very important to my parents that we sit down together as a family for meal time. Great conversation and comradery resulted from this habit. Today our conversations continue and our family relationships have grown stronger."
You see, it's not just a Turkish thing. It's not something only other cultures do. Having a busy lifestyle and not knowing how to cook are just excuses to avoid adapting an important family ritual. Also, let it be known that I'm not perfect and I'm not going to pretend like I am perfect. My husband and I keep takeout menus on the top of our refrigerator for those times we desperately crave some greasy goodness and give into temptation. If we're lucky to get a babysitter, my husband and I try to plan date nights at various restaurants around the city.  I'm not against occasional ordering take-out and going out to eat. What I don't agree with is ordering take-out and going out to eat replacing cooking all together. I'm not the only one who feels strongly about this. Many experts have done extensive research on the correlation between cooking and building strong family bonds. You can read about it here, here, here, and here.

I don't believe in the sentiment that any food you eat is a meal as long as it is eaten with family.  It's comical, really. Ice cream is food, too. You may argue with me about this, but ice cream is not a meal. Cooking a meal as a family takes initiative. It takes planning and preparation. It takes collecting ingredients. It takes everyone sharing responsibility to create something every family member can be proud of and enjoy. Cooking a meal means wanting to share stories, laugh and cry together around the dining-room table. Cooking a meal as a family is to build a strong family dynamic. It takes wanting to do something nice for yourself and your family on daily basis. And that is exactly what I want to do for my family. 

[Photo: Summer of 2008 on my grandmother's rooftop]

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Note: I'm not ignorant to those who can barely afford to buy food. I'm not ignorant to the fact that many Americans are on welfare and have to use food coupons. I understand that some people can only cook or eat what they can afford. This piece isn't directed at those experiencing financially difficult times. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Writing and Guilt


“If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”  Stephen King from On Writing

I've had many jobs. I worked in retail and managed numerous stores. I worked in restaurants. I babysat. I worked in a bakery. I worked as a makeup model and artist. I sold concert tickets. I currently teach at a prestigious university in Philadelphia. I can be a team player. I can make plans like no other person you know. I can manage hundreds of people. I can take care of any baby like they're my own. I can convince you to buy anything. I can teach and explain you concepts that will make an impression on you forever. 

I've made wonderful friends and gained brilliant references by working many different types of jobs.  It's these jobs and experiences that enabled me to build the life that genuinely makes me happy. I took advantage of many opportunities and I can happily say that I don't often I regretfully think, "What if I had done this and that." So far, I've lived a pretty full life for someone who's just turned 30 years old. I may have worked many jobs but the only thing that remained consistent in my life was writing.

No matter where I worked and whom I've interacted with, writing was always in the background. I searched for other activities to get in touch with my creative side. I tried painting. Knitting. Sewing clothes. Making candles. Scrap booking. Pinteresting shit that other people came up with that I pretended to have patience to recreate. Nothing worked. After many years, I finally admitted to myself that writing makes me happy. It doesn't just make me feel happy. It makes me feel free and content.

Although I can confidently say that I was very good at my previous jobs, I can't confidently say I am a very good writer. That's what makes me want to continue writing. I like that I can sit at my desk and let it all out from my heart, through my fingertips, onto my computer screen. It's lonely. It requires a lot of coffee. Tears. Patience. Self deprecation. Half of the time, I can't stand how much time it takes to write, edit, write, edit, and write some more. For me, it's the most impossible yet ultimate form of self-expression. I strive to be a good writer and I know my limited time in this world isn't enough for me to fully master this one thing that I cannot stop doing.

I write fiction. I studied fiction with phenomenal writers. At this time, I don't have the luxury of waking up at a decent time, sip on freshly brewed coffee, and write fiction all day long without  interruptions. So, I created this blog. On certain days, if I have some energy left, I sit for half an hour and write about the things that matter to me. I've many strong, independent, and powerful girlfriends who are also mothers. That being said, the pieces I write aren't necessarily about what matters to me and me only. They're a reflection of my strong, independent, and powerful girlfriends and the motherhood stories they share with me as well.

For example, my last post, I Want to Meet Your Baby, resonated with so many mothers and those who aren't yet parents that it had over 1,000 views the week it went live on this site. I was inspired to write this piece after I had coffee with my girlfriends who've gone through the first few postpartum weeks and months of their lives with very limited support from their family and friends. I received numerous e-mails thanking me for writing a piece that explained what it's like to be a new, nursing, and clueless mom. Many people shared the link on their social networking sites, and I've connected with many mothers that I've never even met in person. I listened to their stories of what it was like for them after they gave birth.

At the same time, the piece offended some family members and friends. Many people became defensive, like, we weren't asked to help, you could have been more open with what you wanted us to do, we weren't around long enough, etc. The point of writing this piece wasn't to offend anyone.  It was meant to depict the blurry craziness the first few weeks and months of being new parents. No names were mentioned and it certainly wasn't meant to make anyone feel slighted after having read the piece. It was a post that was meant to illustrate how I felt at the time as a new mother and reflect other moms' experiences. Naturally, I was very happy that the piece succeeded in accomplishing that goal.

Many writers say that you should write for you and your writing will find an audience. For me, I first write for myself, but I think about who might end up find my writing appealing. Who will appreciate my writing? Will my writing help other people? Will my writing serve a greater purpose? Will it hurt other people? At the end of the day, one thing that's always obvious is that as a writer I make choices that will not always please everyone. I will not feel guilty for writing. I will never apologize or censor myself.  If there is one thing I know about writing, it's this: The moment a writer begins to write for the acceptance of other people, their writing becomes stale and completely inauthentic.

So, excuse me while I express myself the best way I know how.

(Photo: Me. Drinking coffee. It ain't easy being a writer mom!)

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

I Want to Meet Your Baby...


Until I had my son, it had never occurred to me that the first days, weeks, and months of being new parents would be sheer hell. I mean, it. I don't envy any of you who are currently trying make it through the first two months of parenthood. It's difficult. Don't believe anyone who says otherwise. They're lying. It's beyond difficult. For us, it all started when we took our son to his first doctor's appointment.

When our son's pediatrician told us how much weight he had lost because I thought I was breastfeeding him, I broke down in the exam room. I don't think you're lactating, she said. That was enough for me to have an I-feel-like-a-horrible-mom-I-don't-think-I-can-do-this type of breakdown accompanied by an uncontrollable sobbing fit. It happens, his doctor said. It happens? Why was it happening to me? Not breastfeeding wasn't a part of my plan. She told us that we had to get him started on formula. Formula! What good parents start their child on formula? Bad parents! Well, at least that's what I had always said before I gave birth and here we were getting ready to stock up on Enfamil and bottles. Then, the very next day, my milk came in, and I had to deal with engorged milk ducks that felt like hard and fiery pebbles stuffed under my chest. I panicked and called my doctor. You have to pump every two hours, my doctor said. Keep pumping. Be aggressive about it so you increase your milk supply, she added.

In the evenings, after Jeremy would get home, I'd take long and cool showers. It was my only time to be alone. I'd sit there under the running water feeling numb while trying to remember a part of me that existed before I gave birth. It was as if I couldn't remember doing anything else with my life besides operating a breast pump and taking care of a colicky infant. Did I go to college? Had I lived in New York? I actually had the time to write? I taught college students? Was I able to enjoy a glass of wine while reading a decent book? What was it like to hangout with my friends? What was it like to sleep through the night?

Shortly after we would make it in bed to get some rest, we'd wake up to the cries of our baby. I'd reach for the breast pump to place the suction cups around my scabbed nipples, while Jeremy would warm the milk I had pumped earlier to feed our baby. We'd change his diaper and try to put him back to sleep. Of course, he wouldn't immediately go back to sleep. We'd rock him in his bassinet as he'd continue to cry. His incessant, relentless, high pitched cry. Then I'd start to cry out of frustration of not knowing what I could do to ease the unpleasantness of each passing night. Then, he'd finally fall asleep only to wake up again in less than forty minutes for us to do it all over again.

Of course, things didn't seem to get easier. Each day, I progressively began to produce less milk. I felt like I was failing at the one thing I should have been able to do as a new mother.  I decided to meet with a lactation consultant, invested in herbal teas full of promises of increased milk supply, read a lot of books on breastfeeding, and continue to pump, pump, pump!

While we dealt with all of the craziness that had ensued our lives, our friends and family relentlessly insisted on vising us to meet our son. Visitors meant that I had to look somewhat presentable by finding something decent to wear. Something that would fit my postpartum body and not make me feel like an overstuffed sausage link. Visitors meant that I had to put on a little bit of makeup to feel less insecure about the dark circles under my eyes. It meant that I had to quickly fix my hair and figure out a way to make it look like I didn't have a fuzzy animal sitting on top of my head. It meant that I had to pick things up off the floors with the very little energy I had to spare. If I weren't feeling like I was falling through a postpartum black hole where I couldn't get a grip of my life, I would have told all of our family and friends that they had to wait until I was emotionally and physically ready to accept visitors. I would have told them that if they wanted to meet our baby, they should come with food or cook for us. I would have told them to grab the mop, scrub the toilets, and do a load of laundry.

The last thing Jeremy and I needed were visitors to stop by our house to meet our baby.What we needed were friends and family to come over to help us with the chores around the house, take care of us. The truth is, I didn't feel comfortable with people being around my baby because it made me feel anxious. I only felt comfort in the presence of Jeremy and my mother. For the most part, I wanted to be alone with my baby. I wanted to close my bedroom door to cuddle with him for hours, kiss his little cheeks, and smell the nook of his neck while feeding him. Most mothers I spoke to told me that they also felt this nauseating protectiveness toward their newborns. I never met or heard about a new mother who wanted other people to take care of their newborn while they keep themselves busy with the chores around the house. It doesn't work that way. At the very beginning, nothing else matters about the life that surrounds you besides attending to the needs of your baby. At least that's how I felt at the time.

Those who aren't parents don't realize that a newborn doesn't need anyone except their parents, mostly their mother. What's interesting is those who've had children many years ago forget what it was like being new parents. Selfishly, everyone gets caught up in wanting to meet your little bundle of joy. They want to hold them and play with them. People don't realize that they could be much more helpful if they ask about what they can do to help to ease the pressures new parents feel.

Don't get me wrong, we had people kindly volunteering to help us. My dear, dear parents traveled from Turkey and stayed with us to cook, clean, and do whatever else we needed to get done around and outside of our house while we took care of our child. Unfortunately, not all of our guest were as understanding and helpful. Two weeks after I gave birth, we had a particular group of visitors who flew in to spend a long weekend with us and didn't volunteer to do anything to help us during their visit. While our baby took naps during the day, they sat around the living room and played games on their cellphones.  In fact, with my husband's help, I cooked them a full-blown breakfast and dinner. The day before they left, after I finished cooking, I started to wonder why I was putting up with our guests' rudeness. Instead of acting like an outraged maniac, I walked upstairs, grabbed my breast pump, settled on my bed, and called my mother.

"Why make things awkward when they're only around for another day?" my mother asked after I told her about our guests. "I mean, it could be worse," she said. "At least you don't have a mother-in-law, who knocked on your door early in the morning to tell you to dust her furniture, wash her laundry, and cook dinner the week you gave birth."  I know I shouldn't say this about my Turkish grandmother, but she was apparently the epitome of that mother-in-law you wouldn't wish upon your enemy. "Just be kind and calm down." she said.  I listened to her advice.

Obviously, I wasn't anywhere near the ruthless mother-in-law situation my mother had to endure. Sure, I may be Turkish, but I wasn't the timid little Turkish bride my mother used to be either. At the time, I should have realized that being kind is different than not speaking your mind at all. Without losing my temper, I should have spoken my mind. I should have told our guests that they were being rude. I should have told them that if they wanted to stay with us they had to help. I didn't do any of that. I remained completely quiet. 

If there is one thing I've learned about being a mother so far, it's that I have to address my needs. It's the only way people can alter their views, behavior, and expectations. Otherwise, I know I will spend the rest of my life as a frustrated people-pleaser who was never understood. The recipe to becoming a parent isn't bottled and sold over the counter next to ibuprofen or coffee (surprise!). Once you become a parent, it takes a long time to figure out what works for you and your baby. You go through many mental and physical changes that enable you to adjust to your new life. It's impossible to find a new norm overnight. Nothing makes this process harder than saying yes to everyone and not expressing your needs and feelings. I now know that it's perfectly okay to say no without fearing that I'll offend my friends and family. I don't care to be the super mom who wants to be complimented with, I can't believe you just gave birth! Nothing slows you down! The thing is, I gave birth. I've slowed down a bit. I'm not the same. I'm still trying to figure out what works for us and our baby. From this point on, I will do my best to make sure everyone else understands that as well. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Advice to My Son


My husband and I are new to parenting. Although our son was born over seven months ago, everyday is a challenge. On most days, when I wake up a few times between midnight and 5:00am for diaper changes and feedings, I have to try extra hard to remind myself that sleepless nights will pass. Soon, I will be a morning person again and wake up with a tremendous amount of energy to tackle the day's chores. I have to try extra hard to remind myself that one day I will miss waking up to my son's giggles; to see him waiting impatiently for me to pick him up and cover him with kisses. He's already rolling over on his own.  Soon, he will start crawling, stand, and take his first steps. My son who I only daydreamed about meeting during my pregnancy is already becoming, dare I say, independent. I can't control any of this. None of it. Only thing I can do is continue to have an open mind to learn more and built a life that makes me feel proud. So proud that one day, I'm capable of giving him the kind of advice that will guide him through the joys and struggles of his life.

Of course, as you grow older, your opinions change, because you change. In most cases, this is a great thing, because it shows self-awareness, maturity, and willing to try new things. Things you used to love become the things you dread. The things you always dreaded become sources of inspiration and happiness. I'm sure in another thirty years, the way I feel about certain things this very moment in my life will take new shape, but for now, here's what I've learned about this ephemeral thing called life. Here is the advice I would give to my son (and maybe a daughter one day...)

You have to surround yourself with empowering, encouraging, and positive people to succeed. There is nothing worse than a friend or an acquaintance who constantly sees the worse in every situation and everyone. They feed off of other people's misery and wrongdoings. Ditch them. Life is already full of challenges and your job isn't to entertain anyone's bad disposition toward life.

You can't change the past. If you can't let go of the past, you will never move forward. Stop thinking about that one time when someone did you wrong and how something so unfair has happened to you. You're here now. Dwelling about the past will only slow you down. Remember that things will not always be perfect. There will be unexpected, unpleasant moments in your life you will have to endure. You plans will change and you will feel like you've lost valuable time. This doesn't mean you should give up. Make a new plan and move on. 

Create the life you want to live. Don't nag. Don't complain. Nagging and complaining are crippling qualities and they will get you nowhere. You're not happy? Make changes. Do something about it. Don't blame the way your life turned out on other factors. Don't be a victim. It's sickening how many people complain about their lives and do nothing about it. If you're not doing something about it, it can't bother you all too much, right?

Know that you're strong. You're really, really strong and have incredible potential. Unfortunately, most people don't know how strong they are until they take a risk and do something they've always been afraid of doing. Take risks especially while you're young. Otherwise, there might come a time when you begin to think about what ifs, should haves, and could haves.

Be honest with yourself. We're often advised to be honest with others, but we're never advised to be honest with ourselves. That's not to say don't be honest with other people. It's just when you're not honest with yourself, you're more than likely harboring the maybe-I-can-get-away-with-it outlook. I'll get away with not trying hard. I'll get away with having someone else do it. I'll get away with keeping quiet. Maybe no one will notice. No, you're wrong. You'll never get away with it. Your dishonesty with yourself will always catch up with you and impact you more than being dishonest with other people.

Work hard. Very, very hard. No one owes you anything. Not one thing. No one will give you anything for free. Nothing will come easy. Although I hate using cliches, here is the thing: patience is a virtue. You have to work days, months, years before you arrive where you want to be in life. This is  the problem with my generation of 'kids' who are between 18-34 years old. As an educator, I  deal with the you-owe-me attitude every single day. According to some of the responses in my students' papers, they all want well-paying jobs, big houses, fast cars, nice shoes, stylish clothes, and take fancy vacations, but very few them show determination to obtain these things. Nothing will get handed to you. Why? I'll repeat it again. No one owes you anything and you have to work hard.

You don't have to go to college. Shocking, I know! Especially coming from someone who's spent a huge chunk of their life working toward multiple degrees. Look, unless if you want to be in the healthcare industry, lawyer, teacher, or other fields that require a very special training and licensing, you don't have go to college. Going to college is about obtaining the knowledge to succeed, right? If you're hungry for knowledge, you will seek it even if you don't go to college. I know this because I went to college and I teach college students. You want to be a writer? Write. You want to paint? Paint! You want to work in fashion? Do it. You want to be a cook? Cook something. Although I don't regret going to college for many years, I think I would have been just fine if I didn't get my BA, MA, or MFA.  Your desire to want to learn will push you to seek the necessary knowledge to succeed. Having a diploma in a fancy frame won't do that for you. 

Show genuine interest when given the opportunity to learn something new. I find it that most people don't take these opportunities seriously. Their biggest excuse tends to be that it doesn't interest them. It's okay to not be interested in everything, but understand that you've nothing to lose when you're willing to show interest in exposing yourself to something new.

Admit to being wrong and learn to apologize with sincerity. I know this is very hard for some people, but seriously, you can't always be right. Admitting to be wrong and apologizing will not make you look weak. By admitting to be wrong and apologizing, you will display your confidence and strength.

Realize that no one has to appreciate and accept your bad personality traits. By saying, "Well, this is how I am," you're trying to rationalize that everyone should deal with your bad attitude. No one has to deal with your bad attitude and how badly you treat others because of it. There are no excuses for this

Don't underestimate anyone's story. Be kind. We've all been through tough times. We've all had to deal with many mentally and physically challenging experiences.  Realize that life isn't  about one-upping others. To put it plainly, don't get into a pissing contest. Listen to your family members and friends who confide in you to tell you about the bits and pieces of their lives. Really, really learn to listen. Don't think people's feelings and experiences are unsubstantial while your feelings and experiences carry much more meaning.

Impulsive behavior is toxic. It's always a good idea to sleep on it before snapping at your co-worker and quitting your job, buying the $900 Louboutins, or accepting a big offer. Sure, certain things may require quick decision making, but in most cases, there is nothing wrong with asking for some time to think about things and walk away.

Every day, remind yourself that you've one body to live in and that you must take care of it.  Unless if you have a serious medical condition that prevents you from being in shape, you do not have an excuse. Be mindful of what you put inside of your body. Eat healthy, watch your portions, and take your vitamins. Don't find happiness in alcohol and drug usage. We all know that becoming dependent on any substance never ends well for anyone. Remember, your body is engineered to work in miraculous ways and in most cases we mess up its perfect order.

Don't share your heart, mind, and body with just anyone. Set high standards for yourself. Don't settle because everyone else is doing it. Don't be pressured to have intimacy with another person because it's expected. You're the boss of your body and life. Don't let other people pressure you to do anything with their shallow and useless expectations.

It's quite possible that you may hurt or be hurt by someone else. In an ideal world, people would excel in their careers, find their soul mate, get married, have kids, settle in house of their own, and live happily ever after. Unfortunately, we don't live in an ideal world. It takes an incredible amount of energy and many compromises to make a relationship work. Breakups happen because people change. People don't always live up the promises they've made to one another. Why? Because we're not perfect beings. We make mistakes. Sometimes, you have to walk away from certain people to find true happiness. Sometimes, you will be the one who is left behind. What matters is handling your given situation with grace. If you're the one leaving, leave without regrets. If you're the one being left, there are two things you can do: Move on or act like a victim for the rest of your life. Move on. 

Learn to forgive and find the good in people. Holding a grudge will gain you nothing more than negativity. Forgiving will set you free. Forgiving will help you move on. Forgiving will help you build a better, happier life.

Don't gossip if you care about personal and professional relationships. Don't gossip to bond with people. Talking about other people is pathetic. If you want to know the truth, ask. If you know that it isn't your place to ask, then let it go. Stay out of the things that aren't your business and you will not have a reason to gossip.

Know that money isn't everything but it's necessary. Money won't bring you happiness. Money will help you live a comfortable life that will enable you to pursue the things that make you happy with ease. Of course, this doesn't mean you can't pursue your dreams if you don't have money. Not everyone starts out with having a lot of money. Money simply takes away the burden of feeling anxious about not being able to pay for your bills which in return will make you unhappy. So, know where your money goes and avoid being frivolous.

Don't compare yourself to other people. Sure, you can have a role model or someone to look upto for inspiration. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about feeling bitter and envious. Know that jealousy and envy are harmful and toxic for one's mental well-being. Remember that no one lives a perfect life. No one. The polished snapshots of some people's lives displayed across their social networking sites may seem like they're living an immaculate life. Don't let this bring you down. Don't let anyone make you believe that your life is less meaningful than theirs.

Travel to as many places as you possibly can in your lifetime. I'm not saying drop everything now and become a globe trotter. I know that parents and young adults don't always have the luxury to gather up their kids and leave their jobs to travel to exotic places. I get it. I'm a mom. It isn't easy for me to travel anymore either. You can start by making plans to go on affordable day trips to your surrounding states or cities. Look, I grew up in New Jersey, and I've met dozens of people who've never set a foot in Philadelphia or New York City. Do I think this is weird? Yes. Very, very weird.

Read. Read a lot. Read everything. Read books, newspapers, and magazines written by different people with different points of views.  It's the best way to build your own opinions and beliefs about the world around you.

Don't be a victim to fashion. Don't let the latest fashion dictate what you should wear. Don't cut your hair because everyone else is cutting their hair. Don't wear the shoes that feel like hell around your toes. Don't wear the hat that makes you feel like a clown. Don't wear that short skirt because such and such celebrity was seen wearing it. All of the stylish men and women I know wear clean, comfortable, and carefully tailored clothing. They have their own way of accessorizing and mixing and matching the pieces in their closets.Why would you want to so foolishly spend your money on what's in now and what will be out tomorrow?

Stop apologizing for your taste in anything. You want to listen to Britney Spears and dance to Katy Perry? Do it. To hell with those music snobs. Your favorite movie is Runway Bride? Love Actually? Watch them over and over again. Your favorite book is Harry Potter or a love story by Danielle Steele? That's fine, too. You don't like wine? Don't drink it because everyone else thinks it's delicious. You like milk chocolate and not dark? Eat the milk chocolate. Why? Because you should do what makes you happy.

Cherish your family and friends.Tell them you love them. Tell them you love them often. Only thing you can depend on is your family and true friends. Don't expect them to be perfect. Appreciate their honesty, because their honesty is most likely an indication of how much they care for you. In return, be honest with them. Always talk about your issues and express your feelings. Best families are the ones that are open with one another. Best friendships are the ones built on honesty.

Show the appreciation you feel toward those who are/were there for you. Not by e-mailing, texting, or calling them. Grab a pen and write a thoughtful thank you card or letter. Send them flowers. Take them out to dinner.

Feed your soul.Weather this is participating in the practices of a particular belief system, meditating, helping those in need, or whatever it is that makes you feel fulfilled. Many of us don't realize how important it is to connect with our spiritual center by removing our focus from worldly and materialistic things that pollute our minds and lives. 

When you're ready (and you will never be ready...), I hope you get to experience what it's like to be a parent. Love takes on a new definition when you hold your child for the very first time. Sometimes, I start cry out of nowhere, because I feel overwhelmed with the love I feel for (you) my son.  I can confidently say that becoming a parent is the best thing that has ever happened to me. That says a lot because many amazing things have happened in my life. Although it is the most crippling kind of love, I would never want to not feel this way. 

[Photo: My son & I]

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Thirty Years Old? You're a Day Old Fruit

 
By the time you turn thirty years old, you're supposed to have your shit together. You're supposed to have your career and personal life in order, because, you know, after thirty, comes forty and then it's all downhill after. Well, at least that's what they say. They
Although, I'm where I want to be personally, I know I'm not quite where I always imagined I would be professionally. On the brink of a recent breakdown regarding my writing career, I e-mailed a beloved professor whom I've had the privilege to work with while I attended Columbia University for advice. In his email, he said,  "The beautiful thing about writing is that there's no shelf date, really. Until you are ready, it doesn't exist, your "book," so you make it on your terms, on your time, and if you search through it for truth and beauty you really can't go wrong. Yes, you'll have to edit, and show it to people, but you're not off track, really. The best recipe against these fears is a life lived fully, without regrets, and if you do that -- and observe, and live mindful -- you will not feel you've chosen writing or living. There shouldn't be a choice." It was some of the most encouraging advice that I've ever received. I read his e-mail over and over again. I cried for hours.  I was relieved.

It made me realize that personal and professional achievements come along when the time is appropriate. The crippling thought of how time is ticking away before you become a day old fruit shouldn't be the way I  live my life. As long as I wake up everyday to work hard to create the life I want to live, I know everything will workout.  To be honest, I think I've done a lot in my thirty years of life. I feel like I've truly lived every single one of those years. With its tremendous joys and crushing struggles, every single year I've lived through to be here is packed to the seams with a life well lived.

Today is my birthday. I'm thirty years old.

Thirty years from now, I don't want to look back and say how I didn't take my time to enjoy the company of my loved ones. I will cherish every second of being a mother and not think of it as the thing that slowed me down professionally. After all, motherhood is truly one of the most precious gifts I've received as a woman. This feeling I get when I think of my little son, the love I feel for him is so paralyzing that without a thought, I would give up everything I ever wanted professionally just to make him happy. I will enjoy every second of being a wife, because, besides my son, my husband and his unending support is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Of course, I will enjoy the moments I set aside to write and not allow myself to think I have to publish my book by  a certain date. From now on, I will remind myself to live my life without regrets. I will observe and live mindful. I will not rush to get to the next point in my life. I want to truly live every moment of every day and give it the attention it deserves. That's the secret to a happy and productive life and I'm ready for it all.

[Photo: Me blowing out the candles on my birthday cake my husband baked]

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Introducing


Hi! I present you our healthy baby boy TS (Terrence Șevket) whom we've decided to name after our fathers. I realize this introduction should have happened four months ago when he was born only two days after my last blog post, but things have been quite hectic around here. The unannounced blog hiatus was much needed to adjust to our new life. To be honest, after four months, we're still adjusting to our new life with a baby who has brought us a tremendous amount of joy and laughter along with many sleepless nights. I'm looking forward to sharing so many wonderful happenings with you. If you have questions or subjects you'd like me to explore, please email them to me. Until then, I'm glad to be back and I will write regularly about being a new mommy.

P.S. Our little munchkin is much bigger now. You don't believe me? Here he is.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

So We Wait



Nine months ago, our doctor told us that today would be the day we'd meet our baby. Unfortunately, I still have swollen feet, numbness in my fingers from pregnancy carpal tunnel, and still wearing maternity clothing. Our house feels extra quiet even though both of my parents are with me and my husband will be home from work shortly. We're all trying to stay busy to avoid thinking about how I will mostly likely not go into labor today. My mother is in the kitchen fixing us afternoon tea with cookies, my father is talking to our relatives in Turkey on the phone, and I just woke up from my second nap. I haven't been getting enough sleep lately. Tossing and turning all night and having the need to use the bathroom every half an hour is the perfect combination for a restless sleep.

Between yesterday and today, we're received beautiful, thoughtful texts, emails, and phone calls from friends and family. Just like us they can barely contain their excitement. Just like us, they also thought the baby would be here by now. A few minutes ago, my mother-in-law texted "HAPPY DUE DATE!!!"  as if this arbitrary date should break my water, bring on the contractions, and lead me to the birthing ward on the third floor of the hospital where Jeremy and I toured a month ago with other pregnant women. After all, we prepared for the baby's arrival based on this date. From picking a color for the nursery walls to registering for our baby shower to rearranging furniture in our house to organizing the miniature things our baby will need, everything was planned for this day.

Yesterday, after my doctor told me that I was only a centimeter and a half dilated, she asked me to get a few precautionary tests done before the end of this week in case we end up having to go through induction.

I was disappointed. It felt like a backhanded slap, to hear the word induction. Of course it's not my doctor's fault that my body isn't ready to go into labor. I was lucky to have an amazing doctor who was encouraging but very firm. She's made me feel at ease and never hesitated to answer any of Jeremy and my questions. On top of that, I've had an amazing pregnancy. I've never experienced morning sickness or other pregnancy horror stories that you may have heard of from other mothers. So, the possibility of being induced which will increase my chances of having a C-section wasn't a part of my plan.

I know I may sound like someone who watches too many romantic comedies where the women have their water break at an opportune time, end up at the hospital with their husbands, scream out funny things while they're in an excruciating pain, have the doctor place their (unusually grown and clean) newborn babies on their chest, and smile at the camera for the most perfect family portrait.

No, those aren't my sentiments toward labor. My life is certainly not a romantic comedy (even though we all have romantic comedy moments at times...).  I'm married to a scientist and we're both well-read about pregnancy and aware of the consequences of various ways going through labor. After reading so much about pregnancy and talking to many of our friends, it made sense to give myself the chance to go through it all naturally under my doctor's supervision. My body is made for this. No matter what your pain threshold may be, if you're a healthy woman and your baby isn't at risk, your body is made to go through this. So, for me, choosing to go through labor with drugs and opting out for a scheduled C-section would be incredibly unfair.

Now, I'm in a position where I might have to be induced in a few days. I might also go into labor tomorrow. Maybe I won't until next week. Maybe I won't go into labor at all. All I know is that I can't be pregnant forever. No one stays pregnant forever. I have to remind myself that I can't control everything that happens to me. Sometimes, I have to remember to let my body do what it needs to do. In the opening passages of Ina May Gaskin's book Spiritual Midwifery, it says, "When a child is born, the entire Universe has to shift and make room." Whichever way our baby comes into this world, the Universe will in fact make room for our baby and we will fall in love with him or her every single day.

So, for now, we take a deep breath, let go of what we can't control, and continue to wait.

[Photo: The cover of the book I'm currently reading- Waiting for Birdy by Catherine Newman]

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Upon a Closing Door


During the fall of 2008, I was stuck with a pathetically low paying teaching job at a South Jersey community college where I taught students who couldn't spell their own names. I was also stuck in an even more pathetic marriage that I knew I shouldn't have agreed to be a part of.

No, I didn't want to 'work my way up' at a job where most of the full-time faculty were made up of those who've been teaching there for forty years with very little credibility to hold their tenure track positions. I no longer wanted to be part of a marriage that lacked of love and trust. It all felt like I was swimming in murky waters, lost, without a sense of direction. I wanted to make permanent changes that would forever separate me from everything and everyone that stood before me like endless hurdles. I wanted to shove my fears aside and make life changing decisions with so much ambition that giving up or settling for anything less was no longer an option.

That winter, after I passed my comprehensive exams to earn my Master's Degree in English Literature at Rutgers University, I began preparing a manuscript of stories that I wanted to use to apply to MFA programs. I loved writing stories. Being part of an immigrant family from Turkey, I had a lot of stories to tell. I wanted to write stories about the political, social, religious, and gender issues in Turkey with proper settings and strong characters. I had hoped that these stories would get me out of my incredibly unsatisfying professional and personal life and put me in a place where I'd be inspired to create the life I wanted to live.

I know that most people apply to five, ten, or even fifteen MFA programs. I only applied to Columbia University's School of the Arts in New York City, because in my opinion, it is the best school to attend for writing. If I was going to work on a terminal degree, it was going to be at an institution located in the center of all major publishing where the best writers visit and boasts a faculty of world renowned authors. I didn't want to settle for anything less. A few months after submitting my application, on a cold March morning, while I was sleeping, I missed a phone call from a number with a New York City area code. I was alone. I pushed the sheets away, and started to pace in my bedroom as I listened to the voice mail that went something like:

"Hi, this is Gary Shteyngart from The Columbia University School of the Arts. I'm trying to reach Nagehan. I'm sure I mangled that name so I'm sorry about that. Please give me a call at ***...."

I didn't care if he called me Nancy, Nina, or Nona. I immediately dialed the number but I couldn't reach him. I left a voice mail, sat on my living room floor, put my phone on the coffee table, and waited for what seemed like an eternity until my phone rang again with the same New York City phone number. With shaky hands, I answered the phone. To this day, I still can't remember what was said over that phone conversation other than Shteyngart telling me that I've been accepted into Columbia University's School of the Arts to study fiction writing and me thanking him over and over again as I tried very hard not bawl my eyes out. Once I hung up the phone, I cried. I called my parents. I cried some more. I called my brother. I called a handful of my good friends. I called my ex-husband. 

For the rest of the spring, I made the arrangements to move into an apartment located a mile away from Columbia University's campus. I packed, bought whatever I needed for the move, and attended accepted student events and orientations. During the last week of August, I moved to New York City. From the moment my ex-husband drove away in his car, I wanted to feel guilty for moving to New York as a married woman. I wanted to cry. I wanted to think of myself as selfish. I wanted to feel lonely and scared. I wanted to call my ex-husband and say please turn around and take me home, take me home, because I can't do this without you. I wanted to call and tell him how much I missed our house and two cats. I wanted to feel sad. But for the first time in years, I felt happy. I felt free. I felt inspired. I felt it with my whole being that I had made the right decision to move to New York alone. I went out onto the balcony of my apartment and watched the sun setting across the Hudson River. I lit a cigarette, finished that cigarette, lit another cigarette, started to laugh then cry, poured myself a glass of red wine, put on a nice summer dress, grabbed my purse, and met up with a friend for dinner.

After a successful first semester of writing, meeting incredibly famous and talented writers, attending exclusive literary events, I asked my ex-husband for a divorce. I was relieved and he was dumbfounded. I didn't have any plans to change my decision and I had my family and friends' full support. I wanted a mature and simple divorce. He wanted nothing of the kind. He wanted to work on our marriage. And by 'work on our marriage' he wanted me to move back to South Jersey and quit school. Needless to say, the following months were filled with an endless filing of paperwork which lead to our final court date. Finally, after a journey that could only have been thought up by Dante himself, we were divorced in early summer.

Once my divorce was finalized and before I started my second year at Columbia University, I became financially independent and moved into my own apartment. I fell in love once again when I least expected it. During my second year at Columbia University, I continued to make new friends, became even more inspired by other writers, and learned to write fearlessly about many topics. I got engaged and got married again. After Jeremy was accepted into a Ph.D program to study Neuroscience at Temple University's Medical School, I spent many hours in making plans to move to Philadelphia. I got a job teaching creative writing at Columbia University, concluded my coursework, and decided to take an extra year to put together my thesis.

Life isn't slowing down for me. I'm not complaining. After three years of starting at Columbia University, I'm still writing. I'm still teaching. I'm married to a man who restored my faith in marriage, love, and life. In less than a week, we will have been living in Philadelphia for a year. In two weeks, we will welcome our first child into this world.  My parents and friends continue to be a constant source of unconditional love and support.

Just a week ago, I finally submitted my thesis. I titled it 'Upon a Closing Door.' It's made up of three stories, and they're not happy stories. They don't end with happily ever afters. They don't have characters who are saved by a miracle. What these stories have in common are characters who don't have it all. They're stories about loss. There are characters who are on the verge of giving up but are redeemed by the strength they didn't know they had. These stories are filled with characters making choices and decisions that will lead them toward a fulfilling life. They're stories about characters letting go of their regrets and accepting each day as an opportunity to find life's many gifts. These stories are filled with hope.

I think the title of my thesis is aligned perfectly with the happenings of my life in the past three years. What I've learned is that life isn't like the movies where the characters have perfectly rehearsed things to say or do. It isn't always easy to find the right things to say or do the things that will make everyone happy. I've made decisions that made me happy and hurt others. Sometimes, I got hurt. I'm thankful for realizing that choosing to live my life in denial and regret would have been no different than volunteering to wear blinders preventing me from seeing the opportunities to create the life I always wanted to live.

It's cliche to say when one door closes, another opens. What's important to ask yourself is what to do when you come upon a closed door. Do you look so long and regretfully upon the closed door with the fear of failure? Or do you choose to make bold decisions that will lead you toward happiness? Only you can make the decision to change your life. I decided to change my life three years ago. I made a choice. I chose happiness. I've no regrets. From now on, I will always choose happiness.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Beautiful Things



Thursday morning, I woke up like it was any other day. I got ready, looked over my lesson plans, taught my classes, and as I was erasing the board before leaving my last class to go home, my heart started to race, and it felt as if a malevolent force was destroying what had been a great day so far.  

I finished erasing the white board, grabbed my bag, and threw myself outside of the building at the corner of 32nd & Chestnut. I started to walk. Fresh air will help, I thought. Fresh air, going in and out of shops in Center City, and maybe treating myself to something nice would make it all okay. I kept walking with determination, but the more I walked the more I wanted to run. Run and hide. I dove into the first subway station I saw and took the train home. At home, I quickly changed out of my clothes and laid on the couch until Jeremy came home in the afternoon. When he asked me about my day, I started to cry like I've thought of my worst memory. He quickly pulled me into his arms as I told him that I didn't know why I was crying. He said he understood. When I say he understood,  I mean, he truly understood what was going on, because he studies neuroscience.  He didn't try to explain what was happening in my brain in fancy scientific terms. Instead, he kept whispering that he will always be there for me as he continued to hold me a little tighter.

On certain days, no matter how much I resist, my mind becomes convoluted with negativity. I know it's the pregnancy that causes me to feel this way, but it's nothing compared to some of the strange moods I used to experience before I became pregnant. It makes me feel like I no longer feel my body as my own but more as a foreign land that is slowly being overrun. So, I wonder in anxiety about how my body will make room for my constantly growing baby who is already kicking and moving around all day long. I worry if I'm eating right, sleeping right, and making sure that my daily routine won't potentially cause me or my baby harm. I wonder if I'm a nuisance to those around me and my husband. I fear that I'm physically becoming more dependent on others. Then, I fear the quickly approaching time during labor when I will feel pain, lose all physical control, and surrender myself to the help of doctors and medicine. I worry if our house is ready to accommodate our baby, and I worry if everything is organized. I feel alone. I worry that I don't know anything about breast feeding and bathing a baby. I want to cry. I don't want to cry, because I don't want to project the negativity that has its claws tightly wrapped around me onto my baby. I worry that I will leave an imprint of my negative feelings on my baby's psyche. I continue to worry about why I worry so much.

Then, these negative feelings slowly fade away like they never even existed. Afterwards, I feel foolish, exhausted, and relieved.

The next day, I called my mother in Turkey to explain to her the way I feel at times."Oh, I understand. I went through menopause," she said. 

"What?"

"Menapause!"

"It's not the same."

"It's more similar than you think. Well, let's see. I was pregnant with you thirty years ago."

"Twenty-nine," I said rolling my eyes.

"Almost thirty," she said."And I think I remember feeling that way when I was pregnant, but most recently, I remember feeling that way while going through menopause. It's the hormones!"

"Of course," I said with obvious pessimism.

"It's true! With pregnancy, you know you've nine months where you can expect to have really emotional days. Then, you've a baby and experience different kinds of emotional days. With menopause, you don't know when it will end, especially when you have to deal with hot flashes. Trust me. It gets better. It always gets better."

"Tell her beautiful things are waiting for her and Jeremy!" my father yelled into the phone.

"Did you hear that? Your father says beautiful things are waiting for you two! Beautiful things!"

When beautiful things seem so far away, I have to remind myself that life is already beautiful. With each passing day, it continues to become more beautiful. In less than four months, my husband and I will hold our baby in our arms. Our parents, siblings, and close friends will be there to give us their constant love, support, and advice. There will be plenty of surprises. Not everything or everyone will be perfectly ready, because nothing is perfect. We will make it work. We always make it work. We will make compromises to maintain our baby's health and happiness. That's what great parents do. That's what our parents did, and we will try our best to be great parents. It gets better and bad days don't last forever. It always gets better. 

Did you experience mood swings while you were pregnant? How did you deal with them? xo

(Photo: Our newly painted nursery)

Monday, April 29, 2013

Setting New Expectations


I found out I was pregnant the day after our holiday party. December 2nd, 2012 to be exact. By that time, Jeremy and I had been trying to conceive for a couple of months, but all of the preceding months had left us with disappointment. This time, I was a day late, but I've always been late or even early. I've never been lucky enough to have a clockwork kind of menstrual cycle. So, instead of waiting another day or two to possibly avoid wasting yet another pregnancy test, I grabbed the First Response leftover from the previous month and went for it. As I was fidgeting nervously in front of the bathroom sink, the pink vertical line slowly appeared on the oval screen of the test. 

My hands started to shake.

It was like seeing something that you've begun to stop believing existed. I began to hyperventilate, and ran downstairs to share the news with Jeremy. I stopped half way down the steps and sat down. I was trying to catch my breath as Jeremy was trying to figure out what had happened to me. I couldn't figure out a way to say that I was pregnant. By the way, if you've never been pregnant, say "I'm pregnant" out loud. Weird, isn't it? With my shaky, cold hands, I lifted the positive pregnancy test to show Jeremy who had ran up and sat on the steps with me. His eyes opened wide in surprise which was followed by a hug that left me sobbing in his arms. A few minutes later, we grabbed our coats and went to the drugstore to buy more pregnancy tests to make sure I was really pregnant. Sure enough, positive results popped up on the screen of every test I took.

The first three months were the most special time of my pregnancy. It was the time when Jeremy and I were keeping a joyous secret from the world around us. It was our secret. It was all we talked about with one another, and it was during these three months we started the first stages of planning for the arrival of our baby. It was a time when the thought of becoming a mother who will be the definition of safety, love, and all things true to a completely dependent little boy or girl began to fester in my mind in the form of anxiety.

During these three months, I also began to think about the social implications of parenting, specifically motherhood, and the conflicting ideologies that still exists in our society. As a society, we don't talk about how motherhood is still evaluated based on the antiquated ideal construction of a family: white, middle class, and heterosexual couple. We fail to talk about how women who fail to fit these unrealistic expectations are still evaluated as a less than an ideal candidate for motherhood, because a contemporary mother's culture, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and societal standing, prevents them from creating their own ideal pregnancy and motherhood experiences. In order for us to fulfill the ideal role of motherhood, we're expected to be emotionally available to our children and work full-time. Needless to say, proper childcare isn't always made available or affordable for working women. Although society expects us to be financially independent and emotionally available mothers, we're inevitably set to fail in trying to fulfill these highly idealized societal expectations. Of course, when we fail, we're conditioned to feel guilty. 

It's been two months since Jeremy and I announced my pregnancy to our family and friends, but I still think about these societal issues. I, too, am a woman who has been raised to think that I must fulfill these idealized notions once I become a mother. Although I'm just another woman who will soon become a mother,  I want to begin ignoring these unrealistic rules and expectations set by society. I want to accept that I might not always be the best teacher, mother, wife, daughter, sister, and friend, but I will continue to do my best with the professional and personal challenges I take on. I will not set myself up for failure, because I don't want to feel guilty. I want to set my own realistic expectations and goals. It may not seem like much, but it only takes one woman at a time to set new and achievable expectations for themselves to change society's perception of what it means to be a good mother. 

What about you? How do you deal with the unrealistic societal expectations?

(Photo: One of the many home pregnancy tests I took)