As I sit with my enormous mug of dark coffee in jet lag fog, I am searching for words to leave you dear readers who have followed along this journey with my daughter. How nice to be able to tell you I’ve found some sort of magic key to unlocking the depths of our girls’ souls.
No, nothing magical happened during this extravagant surprise trip to launch Becoming.
I did not hear, “Mom, thank you so much for this extraordinary trip you’ve given me!” Or “I can’t believe how much time you put into planning this!” Nor did I hear “How did you know everything we would experience? You know this culture so well!”
No strokes for my ego for my cultural expertise, travel savvy, or thoughtfulness. She is just a newly 12 year old, still relatively self-absorbed and not naturally oozing with gratitude anyway.
Honestly, I put more time into planning the day and writing each letter than we spent discussing the meaning. I kept reminding myself, the goal is to build the scaffolding. Build the norms and frame of being that I want to become second nature: women are courageous; women are full of faith; women embrace their own and each other’s bodies; God sees us, even in our misery; God sees you, as do I, as the unique reflection of himself.
I knew a return trip was important for Ella. They say families should return to their second culture within two years of leaving for closure and a sense of well-being. My husband and I did, but without the kids. In the 8 years that have passed, we have talked fondly about Turkey. Turkish is our secret-in-front-of-kids language. We get excited about eating Turkish food. We have relics decorating every room of our home. But I had no idea how mythical it had become to the kids.
Ella was shocked by the real place. Her memories included a yellow house, far bigger than it was, a park with a staircase, and her babysitter. She had no memory of the water, the boats, the crowds, the congestion, the food, the call to prayer, the stray animals, the crazy drivers, the covered women, the amount of smokers, or the bazars. As I shared stories of the reality of life, real daily life, she was surprised by my tears, my negative experiences, the brutality of mega-city living. Unbeknownst to be me, she had taken our nostalgia and created a utopia on Earth; the city from which she came, but of which she had no realistic memory.
In that sense, the trip achieved its purpose: ground her in her roots and the narrative arc of the Bruno story. The letters conveyed this in ways my emotional and teary self could not. They were a brilliant tool and will outlive the trip. I’ve created the file folders we can revisit throughout the rites of passage process and years to come. It’s one thing I’ve embraced through this concept: becoming is a journey we are all on, not an event with a before and after.
Personally, I’ve had a particular phrase pulsing in my thoughts, growing in intensity through the years, yet unclear as to its meaning: if there’s a story in me, it was birthed in Turkey. Though I’ve returned twice, I haven’t lingered. I haven’t traversed my old stomping grounds, nor relived the stories with a companion.
I thought God was asking me to name the places where he saw me, like he saw Hagar, and for that reason, I thought there were things I missed and would be surprised by.
On the contrary, I realized I was the one who didn’t see Him.
Experiencing the city with a carefree, oblivious tween, who raced up the metro escalators, balanced on every post and curb, leapt across rocks and spoke English loudly made me realize how long I lived in tension, trying desperately to be invisible. My mantra: don’t stand out, don’t warrant the “tsks” from older Turkish women or the “dusersen”s (she’s going to fall!), don’t elicit the “yabanci” (foreigner) whispers trailing after you. Blend. Hide. Be strong. Don’t fear. Weakness is not an option.
So this week... I felt all the feelings.
All the fear. All the tension. All the shame, of being too much or not enough. All the vulnerability. All the exhaustion. All the stress. All the otherness.
Where have you come from? God asks. I’ve come from hard. It was hard. So hard. And choosing life always meant dying a thousand deaths.
But did I see him? He met Hagar at the well. He said I hear you in your misery. I’m going to ask you to return, but I’ll send you with my promise. I always thought Hagar found the courage and strength to return for 14 years. But maybe she didn’t. Maybe she was weak. Maybe she leaned into God, the one who sees, and he was enough.
Back then? I looked to my own determination to be enough. Self-reliance was my crutch. I was never weak.
So I walked the streets with Ella and I felt so sad for that Beth. I felt it all for her sake and I wept all the tears she never released. I don’t know how she did it and I don’t know why she stayed. But I sensed God was there at the well the whole time, seeing and hearing and waiting for me to lean in to him.
Here I am trying to show Ella that women are strong and courageous and needed, but does she already know all this? Is this a moot point to her generation? Perhaps what she needs to learn is how weakness can co-exist with strength and be a beautiful thing.
Her Mom is strong. I did life with small kids in a crazy exotic city and stayed sane. But, yeah, I get emotional when I think of what it required of me and tears trickle when I remember what it was like to push that stroller up the cobblestone street or drive through the bazar while in labor or hear that synagogues are being bombed and there’s one next to the preschool my son is currently at...
I guess what I'm learning is that Ella and I are coming of age together and all paths were leading back to Turkey, intertwining our stories. Becoming is indeed a process, a journey we are all on, and whatever story was birthed in me in Turkey is still being written, just as Ella's is being written.