I realize that writing a post about the first day of school when it’s basically October is late, very late. And now I’ve not even gotten around to posting it until the new year. But being behind the rest of the world is the way we live here in Turkey, and it’s the story of my life anyways. So I’m doing it. I sent off two of the kids to Turkish school today for a new start. We’re not the new ones anymore. We have no excuses for our stupid mistakes and embarrassments, because by now we should know better. It’s freeing in a way, having a whole year under our belts. We’re all over it. We’ve got the uniforms, the lunch bags, the supplies, and we even know our teachers and classmates. But in another way, it’s scary. We’re really doing this. We’re verging another year away from the English curriculum that everyone else we know is cruising through. We’re taking more and more steps for our kids to fit in, and therefore not fit in with their home culture. Sure, it’s free, they’re out of the house, and they’re learning more language with a better accent than both their father and me. But on the other hand, their daily experiences and the things they’re exposed to are virtually out of my frame of reference. And it’s beyond my control. When their teachers yell and humiliate or even hit the kids, I’m not there to protect them. When they get made fun of for being different, I’m not there to tell them it’s ok to be different. When they don’t understand what’s going on around them … well most likely if they don’t understand, I probably wouldn’t either, so I couldn’t help if I wanted to. But at least we’re usually in it together, ignorant but together.
I’m so proud of them for their bravery. I’m so inspired by the ease with which they open their hearts and minds to something so different so quickly. They’re embracing the call that God has given to our family, and doing their parts. They never ask us why we have to be living in another country, and not just safe in a place where we all fit in. They have asked how long we will stay, but I have no answers for them on that one. But the beauty of it is that we’re a family, and that means God has a plan for each of us here. When I look at my little two year old, Daphne, it’s hard to imagine that she has any other purpose in life other than being the most adorable thing a person could ever look at. Just existing seems like a present for me every day (Okay, maybe not this week as we’re learning potty training, but every other time). But just like I felt that for my other daughter who is now nine, I understand that Daphne’s got a lot more to offer this world.
I’m always so busy focusing on adjusting here, on myself, and on what I’m doing that’s productive and helpful. I spend so much time processing and going in and out of different phases of culture shock or reverse culture shock, that I hardly ever put myself in their place. They’ve always been different. What is that like? They’ve never had a Thanksgiving or Christmas with all the relatives and cousins. What’s that like? No one is actually even celebrating those around us, except us. Is that weird for them? Do they even know better to ask themselves if it’s weird? Their normal is so different from mine that I wonder if I’ll be much of a help sometimes. Their whole childhood will be tinted a different color than mine. I got a major slap in the face reminder of that when we went home to Indiana this summer. There used to be a phrase on commercials when I was younger that said, “there’s more than corn in Indiana.” As someone who grew up there, and whose grandfather had a very large farm where the predominant crop was corn, I can unproudly say that phrase is a lie. There is actually not more than corn in Indiana. But as someone who was also fortunate enough to escape the cornfields, I still do have a bit of hometown pride in our sweetcorn. It’s better than any other corn I’ve tasted, especially considering all they have in Turkey is feed corn. So when we were driving through Indiana this summer and one of them asked me what all that stuff in the field was, you can imagine my shock and horror. I told them all it was corn, of course! But my oldest son proudly announced that he knew it was corn, because he watched a Curious George episode about it. Wow. Just wow. My children are learning about their cultural heritage not by experiences, but by Sesame Street and other cartoons.
This is not the worst thing in the world, I realize. Maybe they’ll skip over all the bad parts of a childhood in America. They’ll get the highlights like Disney World, Legoland, the zoo, and thrift stores on furlough, and they’ll miss out on the materialism, individualism and busyness that I sometimes feel relieved I’ve left behind. They will in turn experience the negatives of growing up in Turkish culture. And I will be unable to identify. I might always feel I got the better deal. I might always wonder if I’m making them sacrifice too much. I might secretly wonder if that particular issue wouldn’t be so bad back home.
But in the end, this choice is the one we felt God led us into. And I’m going to have to release all this to Him. I’m going to try my hardest to embrace the good and the bad, and not to compare. I’m going to try not to use words like “them” and “us”. I’m going to pray with them about all the things I feel helpless about. After all, anyone who sends their children off to school is in pretty much the same boat on that front. And I’m going to be thankful that we’re a family. A family that’s committed to walk this path together, to stick together through each and every change and experience. I’m committed to being a mother who listens and tries to empathize with their struggles, even if they’re different from my own. We’re all new at this, we’re just jumping on at different points. And I’m going to hold on to the prophetic word that Jesus gave to Lucy that she has a recipe to the most delicious baked goods her friends have ever tasted. She’s going to be a bringer of light, just like her name means. She’s going to bring that recipe to kids who’ve never tasted that The Lord is good. And I’m going to keep training them to expect miracles. We need them here. We need them in our family, in our church, and especially in their schools.
So yes, I’m nostalgic as a mom that another year is on its way, that they’re all growing up. But I’m even more filled with anticipation of what will unfold this year. How will we be impacted by what we experience, and how will the people around us be impacted by us? I don’t know how long we will continue down this educational path, but for now we know it’s right. And that fills me with faith that God will work all things together for good. And as my kids grow up and have their own kids, they might not be able to relate to them. But I can show them that it’s not something to be afraid of. It’s just another adventure. Like most parts of this life we’ve chosen over here.