A few weeks ago, my ex told me he wanted to take our daughter to Turkey for the summer holidays. This would require my written permission, as I had needed his to take her to Australia last November. With all the unrest at the Syrian border, I was reluctant, but I agreed. I told myself the resort town of Side in Antalya was a long way from the areas that were subject to travel warnings, and tried to ignore the reports that said militant groups may target tourist areas.
I have virtually stopped watching programmed television altogether; when I watch anything, I stream Netflix or Amazon Prime, or I watch a DVD. But my apartment building has a deal with a cable company, so I get cable and internet as part of my common fees. Recently they provided me with a new box, and it was late one night—literally the day after my ex had given our daughter the exciting news that they were going to Turkey with her kindergarten friend and his dad—that I was tuning in the new channels and saw the news that Istanbul airport had been hit by a terror attack. My heart sank and my stomach seized. I messaged my ex. He sent back an expletive, but that was it. The trip was paid for in full—and Antalya is a long way from Istanbul, after all.
When I signed the permission form, I asked him to send me regular texts so I’d know everything was okay. I admitted I was more than necessarily anxious about the trip. I asked him to humour me, which he did for the first few days. I received texts when they landed, when they arrived at the hotel, and a few photos of my little girl swimming, and wearing a new sunhat by the pool. Then the texts trickled to nothing and I relaxed and got on with my week.
On Friday night, I went out with a friend for dinner and a movie. I’d just had my hair done. I was wearing a new dress. The sun was shining. James McEvoy is lovely. I got home about half an hour after midnight, kicked off my high heels and sat down to check Facebook. Lots of likes on my new profile picture—something that brings me more pleasure than it probably should. And then—oh God. A headline. Two headlines. Turkey is trending. I felt sick.
A military coup was underway, and the Turkish President sent out a FaceTime message from where he was holidaying, on the Turkish Riviera, asking Turks to take to the streets. Not to let the rebels win. The news was so fresh, and it was the middle of the night, it was almost impossible to get any details. I had feared a terror attack, but this was so much worse. There was no way to know how coordinated this uprising was, or which areas were being affected. Within ten minutes I had four or five browser tabs open to all the major news sites, and had running searches on Twitter for #Turkey #Antalya and every other hashtag I could think of that might give me news on the ground. I texted my ex. No answer. Phoned him. No answer.
They’re probably asleep. They’re probably fine. I’m sure they’re fine. Antalya is a long way from Istanbul. But . . . but . . . but. BUT.
I watched the news feeds until 3.30am. Chaos. I watched Periscope feeds from downtown Antalya and Side. The streets were lined with men, waving flags, chanting, shouting, cheering. In Istanbul and Ankara, there were sounds of gunfire, but on the coast things seemed calmer. But . . . but . . . but. BUT.
At four, I slept for half an hour. At 4.30, a message came through saying everything was fine, my daughter was safe, and they hadn’t even known it was going on until the morning. The internet was down at the hotel, but they assumed they’d get their flight out as planned on Sunday. That was 4.30 Saturday morning. I was relieved, of course, but fear had crept in and wasn’t going to let me relax, not fully.
I have been lucky, really. My daughter has never broken a bone or fallen from a height. The scariest things we’ve had to deal with as parents have been a couple of asthma attacks and a mistakenly ingested peanut (she’s allergic, but not critically so). Even so, all mothers worry, and I know that. Sometimes, when I forget to worry, I feel bad afterwards, like I fell asleep at my post. Stupid, maybe, but I allow it because it feels biologically right.
The problem is when real fear takes you over, it’s not that easy to get rid of. Even after I knew she was safe, that she didn’t even know what was going on and was having a great time on her trip, the fear wasn’t ready to let me go. She still had to get through the airport, and what if something happened there in all this turmoil? Or, since life seems to like it’s ironies, what if the bus crashed on the way to the airport? What if the plane crashed? What if the CAR crashed on the way back from the airport here in Norway? Suddenly, every stupid, unlikely, unfounded fear seemed too likely, just because one legitimate fear had come true. And no amount of rational thinking and self-talk could get rid of it. I spent the weekend tied in knots, unable to work, rest, or do anything much. I spent most of it playing Final Fantasy and binge-watching Stranger Things (excellent show, by the way—take a look). I wore a string of beads my daughter had made around my neck, and slept with them under my pillow, when I could sleep. Sometimes I cried. Sometimes I felt numb because, on a whole other level, I couldn’t believe anything so terrible could ever happen. And then I tried to imagine how I would react. And then I cried again. Round and round and round.
The end of the story is predictably anti-climactic. The flight was delayed a couple of hours, but they made it home safely and without incident. All that worry for nothing. Right? Maybe. Did I learn not to worry so much next time? No. I will never not worry about her. Should I, could I have done anything differently to avoid stressing out so much? Maybe if I’d gone out and seen friends I might have stopped thinking about it all the time, but the guilt of forgetting to worry probably wouldn’t have been any nicer to deal with. There’s possibly nothing to learn from this whole situation other than that when your child is in danger—real or imagined—there is no way to not worry. Just hug them extra tight when they get home, and try to let them go next time, knowing you’ll probably go through it all over again.