When we announced M’s imminent arrival, friends immediately started asking us what help we were looking for. Already thinking poor G’s acquired a wife of the bonkers kind for my refusal to hire a cleaner, our refusal of a live-in-nanny simply solidified this belief. Am I bonkers? Is it crazy to want to look after your child as though its your job – is it anti-feminist to state that if my husband’s out at work then cleaning the house falls into my job remit as his partner?
Here in Istanbul, as in any metropolis city, there are diverse groups of people, with varied backgrounds, education level and job prospects. While the class system isn’t anywhere near as defined, set-in-stone and defining as, say, in the UK, the lifestyle you lead reflects your status in all of the above and – inevitably – like often attracts like. Amongst our (combined) friends, I can only name two who don’t hire cleaners. Amongst our (combined) friends with children, I can only name one without a live-in au pair. Maybe it’s the do-it-yourself Brit in me, maybe it’s because the concept of live in help seems so alien, but I can’t imagine inviting a stranger into my home and entrusting my child into their care – whether I’m in the home or not.
It’s not that I don’t see the benefits. Oh that I do! Having spent the better part of today attempting to shop while babywearing M amid the holiday crowds all vying for the bargains and then navigating the hour-long public transport crush home with our purchases – most of which need to be returned as trying on while babywearing is a no-go – after today, yes, I more than certainly understand the benefit of having someone on call to watch your child for an hour or so. Right now M’s sleeping – it’s the first night in weeks he’s gone down before me. As in before midnight. Since G generally leaves for the office after morning prayer and comes home gone 8pm, time to myself is a rarity, but still I just don’t want a nanny.
One thing I’ve found disconcerting since M’s been born is the lack of babysitting offers. A Twitter friend, talking recently about running, made me wistful for the buzz a good run gives. This friend asked if there wasn’t anyone I could leave M with, just for half an hour, to relive that buzz and the answer is no. There isn’t anyone. It seems in Turkey the child is either left with the nanny or family. We’re not in a position to leave M with family and as we opt out of the nanny-root, we’re left with no help. A friend of mine, realising that in 9months M’s never left my side offered to have him for me to go take an hour out sometime. I was so touched by the offer – the first that’s been forthcoming – but due to the distance between our homes, it would be inconvenient for both of us were I to take her up on it. For now M and I are stuck together, like peas in a pod. Love it though I do, yes, I see the benefits of a nanny.
Each to their own; if you want a nanny, whether you work or not, more power to you — I’ll drop M off on a play date! The thing that frustrates me about the trend is not people choosing that childcare/housekeeper option, but the judgments made against me for not. I am a very different Mum to my Mum, and she to hers, but they both raised their children, kept house, fed the family. My mother-in-law too raised three boys while her husband was out-of-town for weeks on end with work; no-one looked aghast at the notion of them doing it alone, nobody questioned their ability to do so. People either ask “so, what do you do with your days?”, not comprehending that housework + cooking + plus baby can take so much time; or they say, “how can you find time to cook/clean/etc”. People assume that I stay at home either because G wants me to (yes, those same who presume G makes me wear hijab too), or because I can’t find work as a foreigner. The notion that I choose to be a Mum and a housewife is harder to grasp – and not just for Turkey folks, either; more than one of my family members have asked why I’m not using my degree, if this is really all I want to do with my life. When we did we come so quick to pass judgement on each other, to jump to conclusions, to assess others lives? And why are women-to-women the worst?
When we are gather with friends their kids are around just like mine and there’s always a nanny there too. When M and I rock up, normally with him tucked into a sling, the nanny makes a bee-line for me just as she’s supposed to do. “I’ll take him,” she says. “No thank you,” say I and she looks ttaken aback. “You mean you don’t want a break? How do you do things at home?” I just smile sweetly back, reiterate that we’re fine but I’m thinking my reply every time: I do just what they do, only I receive my wage through the smile that M gives, through the words that he speaks, by being there when he stands on his own. Turks may think I’m going backwards, Brits may think I’m becoming Turkish: I think I’m truly blessed to have a husband who supports our family and a son who has become my whole world.
Alhamduillah. Thanks be to Allah.