Review and edit old stories– The first day of school

As the summer months drug on, the sweltering heat proved to be unyielding. The a/c chug and thud signaled the end to electricity and a day ahead with no relief, no t.v. or cooking. The children added Grama’s box to their pad house which served as a car, train and boat. Obstacles were to be avoided by launching onto a pad, skipping past pitfalls, lava and water. Quick trips to a nearby park during evening prayer time were a nice break in our mundane routine. See See and Foof played on the swings and little Abude crawled through patches of grass and dirt. He took the big boys to prayer and then returned to sit for a few minutes before carting us back to the apartment. This occurred twice a week until we were approached by children who stood, staring and chanting ABC, 123 Abc.”  They gawked, taunted and pointed, while their mothers sat sipping tea, glancing our way. I smiled, reminding myself that they were children, but one group was replaced by the next until there was a constant barrage of onlookers. When he came back he shooed them away, sputtering harsh words in Arabic, and with a wave of his hands they were gone. From that time forward I declined these little excursions giving a list of excuses. It was the beginning of years feeling displaced, branded as outsiders and misfits.

The first day of school had finally arrived and although we were nervous, it became a long over due break from the stagnant heat and days that stretched on without basic essentials. The previous year had been a disheartening experience, no supervision, children throwing rocks, and teachers hitting students. I was sure that this was not an accurate representation of the Saudi school system. This must have been an exception, nothing at all like the school that stood next to our apartment. I packed the boys lunches, kissed them, and reassured them that I would be at home cooking their favorite meal, waiting for their return. My oldest reeled off his ritualistic goodbye, “I love you, you won’t leave the apartment, you promise? I love you,  goodbye” and then they followed their father out the door.  This routine pledge began the year before when he was left repeatedly outside the rusty metal gates of the villa. They suspected he had chicken pox and so they put him on the bus, dropped him at our gate and left. He had no idea why he was leaving school, where he was going or his whereabouts. A 6 year old boy standing outside of the gate in a city of five million people, buzzing frantically, hoping this was his home. In an attempt to control this situation he insisted that I never leave home and I readily complied.

He had been told that this new school was well organized, did not allow corporal punishment, was famous for it’s kindly religious atmosphere and in general, a reputable institution. I ran through the apartment cleaning and cooking in an attempt to finish my routine before power was cut. Nervous anticipation filled the air as I stirred sauces, whipped up cookie dough and made my way through the first day of school. I knew that this year would be different, teachers would see the inner beauty of my special little boys, they would help them learn Arabic, be patient and embrace them, providing security and warmth.

The door swung open and he sauntered in, followed by two glum faces and a look, reminiscent of the year before. I smiled, hugged the boys and started to ask how their day had been, this was met with a standard warning glance, one that was well known and understood. I carried on about the food, their favorites and the special cookies, complete with forbidden ingredients from the list.  One day at a neighborhood Bukala (mini mart) I had nervously shoved m and m’s up to the cashier, a  last minute purchase when I saw his watchful eyes were not in sync with mine. These were mixed in with peanut butter and chocolate chips, to make large, warm cookies, waiting on a swap meet plate. The boys drug their backpacks into the empty bedroom and dropped them onto the floor. I served lunch and watched them pick at their meal, exchanging small stories of their first day.

He eventually wandered to the bedroom to take his afternoon nap and at that time I sat next to the boys hoping to extract any small details about their treatment at school. I put my arm around them and told them about my day, how See See and Foof made a pad fort, how little Abude pushed it down and how the box had now become an airplane. They laughed and sighed snuggling in for hugs, devouring warm cookies and milk. My oldest son then pronounced that in the first class a teacher asked every student to place their hand, palm upward in front of them. He then hit them with a ruler several times and followed it with a lecture. Their Arabic was not fluent but they got the message that this would be the result for any lessons missed,  incorrect answers or bad behavior.

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119 thoughts on “Review and edit old stories– The first day of school

  1. I remember my kindergarten teacher taking me into another room and hitting me with a ruler. I don’t even remember why but I’ll never forget being hit. And this was almost 35 years ago. Hitting is definitely not an effective teaching method.

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  2. Of course it is easy to say you should not feel guilty. Because you should not. But you are a mother. A mother who adores her children. A mother who wanted and wants to protect them from everything. A mother who feels she let her children suffer. You didn’t. You were the one sane spot in an otherwise very confusing world for them. You were and are their anchor. You were and are their comfort, their warmth, their protection. Their mother.

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      1. I tell people that along with all the hormones that rage when we women conceive, bear and birth our children we release a slug of guilt that slooshes round our systems forever more. If it doesn’t exist, if a mother doesn’t beat herself up, something is wrong. Which doesn’t make you feel any better but perhaps hints that you are normal as well as extraordinary 🙂

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  3. You did your best back then Lynn and I feel sure, that your kids know this, also now. You showed them the way to a free life, for what I’m sure, they are grateful.
    I do really feel with you, it was tough times. I’m happy, that all of you survived. Big hugs.

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      1. One would think that the goal of education and faith is to produce a God fearing good person. Punishment should be logical and fair. There is a place for discipline and obedience. But, there is also a place for justice and equanimity. It’s very confusing.

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  4. Thanks for sharing. It must have been quite a balancing act to meet your children’s needs and to pacify him at the same time. Probably more of a tightrope than even the width of a balance beam. So glad it is passed for you.

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  5. Oh, my. That’s a little bit more than a slight culture shock. They must have lived in fear, not the ideal learning environment. I had my knuckles slapped with a ruler when I missed the right keys on a piano lesson. But,that was in the late 1950’s, by an 80 year old nun, armed with a ruler. I switched to a private practice the next year, and the same nun lectured my father for pulling me out of there. I was relieved. Your family survived so much, Lynn.

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  6. I agree with Osyth, as mum’s we are burdened to live with guilt for the rest of our days…even though both my kids are grown and living there own lives, I still have guilty moments, even though in reality they are completely uncalled for…LOL maybe that’s where the ole saying came from….whats a mom gonna do!!……LOL I guess just feel guilty…lol If it helps, in the small town of Forks, Washington when I was in 4th and 5th grade, they had a paddle board with holes in it…. that they hit us with out in the hall with no witness’s…I got it for having a smart mouth…LOL imagine that…LOL all my parents said was I should learn to keep my mouth shut…corporal punishment was accepted back then…I also have had my knuckles wacked with a ruler….just part of the normal classroom routine if one got into trouble…nice huh… I would of been all over the school if someone hit my kids…can’t blame my parents, it was what it was and it was accepted behavior back them….your one of the best mothers I have ever come across….to keep your kids safe, fed and happy in the situation you were living in….stop beating yourself up….your a wonderful mother and I would bet every single one of your clan would agree with me whole heartedly…..you win mom’s of the century for sure….. lots of hugs kat

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    1. Your so sweet Kat and yes it does help allot! I have moments when it hits me and I think WHAT was I thinking? I look at them and feel hideous! But you are right, it was the way. I fought hard but I had American friends in who said yes they were hit here in the states back then 40 years ago! Thanks, it does help!!!!!! xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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  7. So disheartening. The bright spot in your kids’ day was getting home to your snuggles. It’s so awesome to see how you all have come out on top. Sipping the lemonade you made from all those lemons! 💕

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  8. We carry the guilt as moms whether or not we could control the situation. Your children know you did the best you could to protect them and care for them the best you could in that situation. Forgive yourself. You did a great job raising them with what little you were given.

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      1. That’s the hardest. To forgive ourselves. We can forgive everyone else and understand their perspective and how they were doing the best they could but ourselves? The toughest one to forgive though it should be the first one.

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  9. You are a wonderful mother. I couldn’t imagine having to let my children endure this. But, isn’t that we we do? Protect our children and try to love them more in spite of foolishness?

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  10. I loved the first day of school picture you shared with us! Those boys are looking like, “What, a picture of us, really?!” Your daughter posed and looks so sweet! Hugs for all of your children through the air sent your way. . . ❤

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      1. It has a bigger screen and a better feel to the keyboard. It has more of everything, which should make it easier and more fun to blog. I decided to keep my old laptop for traveling. The employees at Office Depot told me it was in excellent condition, virus free and worth about 300.00. So, not worth selling as it costs 100.00 to clean it.

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  11. What a way to start out a new school year. Poor boys. I’m imagining the mind of the teacher, too, and thinking, What a way to start out a new school year. That’s pretty sick, walking around the room slapping the hands of young boys. I guess that was supposed to prove some kind of point to them?

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  12. Is this new? Some of it seems familiar, but there seems like more details than I remember… Anyway, I’m glad you made them cookies and milk. I’m glad they had the comfort of a loving mom waiting for them at home.

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  13. Oh how horrible and terrifying. I just think this is a horrible way to treat children! How can they hope to learn in such an environment! And heartbreaking for you too! Hugs…

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