Almost Fearless

Landing in Istanbul


Just a glorious little vacation with the kids, while the husband is away working. Ha.

Istanbul. Everything is a hassle. No cab driver knows where anything is, even with an address, map and GPS. The city is like Rome, built on hills and old. Our apartment-hotel (as they call themselves) offers free breakfast, but I have to go to the reception desk, get walked over to another building and then climb three flights of stairs with a four-year old and a 23 month old, to eat bread, cheese, olives and salami on a terrace wrapped in plastic for the winter, but overlooking the ocean, the blue mosque and city skyline nonetheless.

I’m on my own with the kids for the first time. Losing Drew is like becoming mute. There are volumes of conversations left unsaid, just rattling around in my head now. It makes me feel like a ghost. Like I don’t exist. Plus, I’m in the most touristy part of town, the old historic area and I doubt anyone actually lives here. The streets are empty of children, just men between shifts, tourists between mosques. For me, it’s like living between worlds. So strange.

I’ve been doing little things to figure out this new life. I don’t cook. I want us to eat at restaurants. I pour the kids water into the wine glasses on the table and I mentally force myself to not flinch when they nearly drop a glass or actually spill water. I walk slowly, and when the kids stop, I stop. I look at the sky with them, at a stick, a rock, an ancient hull of a mosque. It feels like traveling alone, that long meditative expanse of time that is never really interrupted, even when you make conversation or have a strange interlude because you’re vastly alone, which sounds terrible, but at the same time it’s kind of delicious. It’s in this place that I’m slowly figuring out how to be their mother in this new way. Even simple things, like sorting out what to bring with me in my backpack on our daily excursions. Is it their books? Extra clothes? Snacks? Should I write in my journal while they play at the park? Read my guidebook? Remove a spouse from the equation and everything feels lopsided.

I’m enjoying it, although I can’t imagine anyone else will be rushing over to Istanbul in January. I like that the city is a little more empty than usual, I don’t know if I could take the summer crowds. The grey skies are moody, but the temperature is manageable, no less than 55 degrees during the day. It’s Istanbul. I’m here with my kids. It was only by the reactions of people around me that I began to realize this was strange, a tourist woman  in Turkey in the middle of the winter with her little baby girl running around. What the hell is she doing here? No really, why are you here?

“My husband is working.”

Ah, you poor trailing spouse, left by your husband in a strange city to look after your children while he makes business deals.

I know the unspoken story they are constructing and I just let them. I am a ghost, and a liar. I am the wife of an important business man and these are my children. We are wandering the streets of Istanbul to wait for him to finish signing contracts then it’s off to one of our many houses.

By the way, this lie is enhanced by my son’s chatty and adorable ability to insert himself into the conversation by announcing, “We have so many houses!”

(He just means we travel a lot. I don’t correct that misconception either.)

I will see Drew in just shy of 90 days. It seems trite to think that such a short period of time can change you, but I’m very interested to find out what this experience will do to me. Will I lose my mind? Possibly. Will I figure something out about myself or parenting or travel? Maybe. Who the hell knows. These days I fall to sleep with a child in each arm and I wake to the sound of the muezzin calling to prayer. All I know is, absolutely anything can happen.

Christine Gilbert

I’ve been dragging my husband around the world since 2008 always with the promise that, “Yes, Drew there will definitely be hammocks there.”