Sometimes the answer is staring you right in the face so when you find it you feel stupid for not having seen it before.
Living in Istanbul one of the greatest challenges I faced was feeling so close and yet so far from his family. With mine, them not being a daily part of our lives was easy to explain in a very rational way, flights arent as easy as a bus ticket to come by – but with his..they lived a few kilometres away and yet seeing them, making them part of our routine was more difficult than travelling all the way to the UK; to travel from ours to theirs was often a four hour round trip, the boys and I crammed into overcrowded buses unaccomodating of prams, in traffic that never felt safe or travelable. The same journey for my inlaws was riddled with even more complications. I guess I felt frustrated by the unfairness of it all. Had we been in the UK where buses are child and pensioner friendly, bus lanes abided by and the worst traffic jam like Istanbul at 3am, this distance wouldnt have been a consideration.
The kaledoscopic generational lay out of our family means we’re navigating two generations of parents and siblings: 12 years between G and I, 11 years between him and his closest in age brother; eight years between G and my Mum with my brother-in-law older than her. It makes for an ecclectic family tree and for two different sets of challenges even before adding in the culture bit.
G’s parents are nearing their eighties. My father inlaw has alzheimers, G’s Mum a myriad of complications from strokes and back problems. Living alone is challenging now and it makes no sense that they keep doing so. The beauty of our life means we’re both home during the day; if they move in with us, the chaos of our kids will give daily stimulation and G & I are around if they need anything else. Multigenerational living seems the sensible way to move forward, with benefits to all of us from it. The boys are excited about regular stuffed vine leaves and another playmate, and when I’m not having palpitations about reconciling my housework routine with their definition of a tidy home, I’m looking forward to having them active in our lives and the chance for the boys to form a real bond with their other set of grandparents.
A few weeks ago we were in a city not far from “the forest”. For the second time in as many months we came across a free-access electrical wheelchair charging station; for the second time it was impossible for anyone in a wheelchair to reach it: not only was the pavement ramp blocked by a parked car, the charger itself was only accessible if the wheelchair user is a master in three point turns, to manouver around the tree blocking direct drive-in access. At least its there though, we say..progress.. “yavaş, yavaş”. But progress this slow won’t help the generation of wheelchair users that need those access points now, nor will it help normalise the usage of wheelchairs for daily life. In the almost decade I’ve lived here I can count on my fingers the times I’ve seen anyone pushing a wheelchair (outside of a hospital setting), far fewer independent wheelchair users. And this feeds -like the buses- feeds into preceptions of what access we should deem basic rights.
When we think of retiring in the west, we see a second chance to do everything we couldn’t afford to do whilst young. There are bus passes, discounted lunch menus and theater tickets. Holiday firms target this age group, golf courses give special lessons. Of course these are all health dependant but even that definition is different. Access. It’s all about access and what’s percieved as quality of life and it’s not simply a government problem. The current government (whatever its flaws) has made great strides in improving social funding and thereby the ‘extras’ that people can access, yet society, public transport, cobbled streets and vertical street ramps demonstrate little to make access realistic. It’s more about sustaining life than making it something worth living and even hospital discharge is guilty of this.
If you have suffered any health problem that will impact your day-to-day living, before you’re discharged in the UK there is an assessment of how you can manage. Are you able to take responsibility for your own medications? Can you wash, dress and feed yourself? Is your house both functionable and accessible for any physical ailments you may have? Stairlifts, rotunadas, wheelchairs, adapted cars..these are all words you’ll hear if you need them. In Turkey, not only are these considerations thought of only by family, adaptations are often financially inaccessible. Much like cheap fashion, if the demand isn’t there, the clothes don’t get made..or if they are they’re exported so it’s cheaper to buy them abroad.
Its unfair to compare Turkey and the UK; Turkey’s problems are much greater and wide-reaching but there are many small things that could be done that would make a huge difference to many lives. Some of these are starting..initiatives to get the elderly writing, more and more cultural centres..but progress is slow and uneven, accessibility is like school catchment areas. So for now all we can do is work slowly on “our oldies” and show them what they could be aiming for. We’ll lay out hobby traps for father-inlaw, convince mother-inlaw wheelchairs are cool and model our home on the Finish nursery/care homes. In time, once we’ve become used to each others quirks, I’m sure this will be a positive for everyone involved.
Now though its about adapting our home to get rid of mobility obstacles and already we are reaping the benefits of that. The house has been decluttered, the (unused) squat toilet downstairs replaced with a (bum tap) sitting loo and the kids toys have been streamlined and organised. And tonight i woke at four saying to myself “we really are bloody stupid” because I think I’ve just solved the logistical problem of the tricky marble stairs the kids love so much.
It’s twenty past five. Just time for coffee before I tell G we need to move all the furniture…….