Heart and soul heart and soul
Mindless fury takes its toll
Live to please
just play my role
Heart and soul heart and soul
Mindless fury takes its toll
Live to please
just play my role
This is the story of our first year back in America, other installments can be found here:
A sharp buzzing pressed in my ear waking me from a restless sleep. It was time to rouse one of the girls, spoon coffee into a filter and pour a pot of water into the reservoir. Thoughts of school and the day before held a nagging place in my gutt. The sad little figure that lay sprawled in the grass amongst students and helpers remained fixed in my memory. I had overlooked the possibility that this was my youngest child and instead a mask of denial coated my brain leaving it in an unrealistic fog. But after his sister sat beside him taking her place in a stance of not so much concern but possibly comfort, it was clear that things would not be as easy as I had hoped. My focus turned to the thought that there were only two more weeks of the paper route and then a new routine would take shape; no more nights spent wrapping bundles, sorting orders and jumping out to deliver to each and every home. Cooking for the co-op, cleaning once a week at a building and the odd sub job assured me that we could keep afloat and each time mom and dad visited they unloaded boxes of bread, croissants, peanut butter, canned vegetables and chicken, candy, school snacks and staples. Provisions were hauled into the apartment, stacked on the kitchen floor and put into cupboards. I watched as hot coffee dripped into the carafe and pushed away the idea that I was truly at fault but still I couldn’t help but wonder if leaving Saudi was for the best. I heard his words ring through my ears triggering shooting pangs of guilt to my core. “You are torturing me and the children with your stubborn and unhappy ways, you have become one of those women that I hate”
As many of you know this weekend our boys turned two! Of course time does fly but this was especially fast. To be honest I never imagined I would be feeling this overwhelming love again and it took me by surprise.
Friday after school we hopped in the car, picked Heme up from practice and left for Spokane. Osama made bbq chicken for dinner and Jacki started working on decorations after the boys went to bed. The theme was luau/Moana and it was all done to perfection! The kids helped and an assembly line of sorts was made that evening in order to get the balloons ready and keep them from flying away!
The next morning Heme and I woke up early and took care of Aiden. He was surprised at the decorating his mom had done while he was sleeping! Bennett woke up later and poor little guy was feeling a bit under the weather!
We tried our best to help out and do what we could. Allot of fun times were spent with Aiden, Bennett and Alayna! Fun and precious moments were too many to count.
Guests started to arrive around noon and everything looked very festive!
Jacki’s dad has a large, close knit family like ours and so everyone felt at home! Osama made stacks of burgers that were amazing and Jacki made popcorn balls and delicious chicken sandwiches! A lovely array of fresh fruit and cookies were also on hand.
Gramas and Grampas, Great Gramas and Grampas, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors and friends all made their way inside, outside and wherever they felt comfortable.
The cake was served and our little ones were not sure what was going on as cameras snapped pictures and candles were lit.
A friend and cousin were also invited to celebrate their birthdays with our boys and so it added to the fun and chaos!
We watched the boys open gifts and then made our way back to our little town!
I cannot let an event like this go past and post these blessings without reminding anyone who is in a bad situation that things can get better. I never imagined this joy was possible and I am very proud of all of my children for making the most of their freedom. With every crib that has been assembled, each finishing touch on a child’s bedroom and care that is given for my sweet babies, I celebrate changes and freedom!
My mother with her great granddaughter!
Shaky hands and sweaty fingers tapped and pressed on numbers furiously until the phone toppled to the floor. It was a new device and one that had been purchased so that communication would be convenient and regular. Only a month earlier he made the first visit and with it a case for being forgiven and resuming family life. Tears streamed down his face and explanations were offered that revealed motives for this rash and quick decision. Each night coming home to an empty home, losing everything he had worked so hard for and the idea that we were never coming back had all driven him to a marriage that had become tenuous at best. He vowed to do anything that was requested of him in order to make things work, even divorce was an option and sending her back to her family. There was no real marriage only a life of convenience and obligation and the only thing he knew with certainty was that he could not live without me and his children.
I scooped the phone up and forced myself to view the photos that I had requested. It was time to face reality and facts that were undeniable. I thought of my mother and the countless hours she had spent helping us and the way she chose to live her life. She could not be dissuaded and continued to collect outfits, toys and other accessories as she shopped for sales and discounts. Bags and sacks were stuffed under the guest room bed and handed out when she came for visits. As our family grew there were larger sacks and more space was needed for her many items. Snap up t shirts, pajamas for winter, little socks, pants and shirts all provided with each child in mind. Basically she and dad ended up supplying the majority of clothing and household items which included sheets, towels and even furniture. Mom continued this tradition as we moved to Saudi and each year boxes were packed and shipped or brought along with her and dad.
Some clothing was standard for everyday use and then there were more treasured items that were tucked away until the right time, delicately positioned between crisp layers of tissue paper and then placed into a gift bag. Both boys and girls received the same at the time of their birth, something to wear home from the hospital and a memorable garment that would be passed down to siblings for years to come. Tiny ruffled sleeves and delicate pink material complete with lightly embossed flowers and a white bow. This was the treasured newborn outfit for my first daughter and one that would be worn by her three sisters as well. Years passed and eventually baby clothes were placed in a bin and stored along with each child’s first outfit from Grandma.
Disbelief and shock still presided along with a sick and contradictory emotion. My mind could not process the picture that been requested and then casually sent. I already agreed to allow him back in and now felt ridiculous and small. The bedroom seemed dark and overwhelming and so I stood and took my place in the hall, agreeing not to panic. A walk outside might help or add to fury and unrest but nothing could be managed beyond a simple and unnoticed spot behind the closet door. I dialed his number one last time waiting for an answer until one was given. Yes that was a picture of his new daughter in the outfit that my mother had given to my first born daughter. He had every right to use whatever he wanted and it had been left behind so must not have been important.
After my 7th child I started exercising and losing weight. With each new pregnancy I gained much of it back but always kept trying. The photo above was me on a visit to his family in Damascus in 2001 after losing 60 pounds.
The clink and clatter of dishes meant the meal had finally ended. I mustered a smile and wiped away tears that made an incessant drip drop into the sudsy water. I made an effort to mask the telltale signs of anxious humiliation but now it seemed as if nothing mattered and there was no return to normal. A frozen state of existence had taken hold and I was no longer able to keep this new-found rebellion under control. Frustration, sadness and confusion all peaked and waned each day. The children asked for items, suggested new ways and with every minute his fury grew until an unusually violent eruption had taken place just days before. I scuttled past the hall and made my way into the dining room unsure of how to proceed.
The rage that had triggered my rebellion was now quelled and had returned to the usual resignation. I asked each child if they wanted more potatoes, chicken or salad, not realizing I had broken yet another rule. His fists slammed squarely on the as-is newly purchased table. “How many times, how many times, how many times do I have to tell you, do not talk to my children while they are eating!” I quickly stacked plates and utensils in a pile of messy indignation, circling several times to give reassuring glances and the usual warning look that meant stay calm and do not intervene.
He went back to his job of picking pieces from the chicken bones, placing them neatly on the only tray that remained. Each child took their turn in giving him the customary greetings and slowly left the table. I heard his ship ships (sandals) as he marched into the kitchen. The tray was placed near the sink, water poured from the thermos and the refrigerator opened and shut. He walked back and forth past the shell of a person I had become. A rise in panic came and went with each noise that he made and the realization that we were now alone. Finally he stopped behind me, placing his arms around my waist, pushing his body into mine. I shuttered at the thought of what was to come but knew what was expected. His hands swept stringy hair from my neck and he spoke gently reiterating words that had blasted loudly just an hour before, “If you cannot eat what you have served you are not allowed at the table!”
This story is about worthiness and that is something that I still struggle with today, a residual effect of domestic violence.
Tears stung my eyes and a flood of emotions seemed to make a steady barrage on my senses. I stepped outside and down the walkway marching, sighing and feeling indignant at the thought. It was hard to contain my anger and now tears fell into a steady stream until I finally sobbed. Shame, guilt and confusion overrode my logical mind. I felt betrayed and sickened, it was wrong and strange and there was nothing I could do about it, nothing. I looked once again at the box that had been pushed onto the front porch and felt a tinge of calm take over. It was a fancy coffee maker complete with milk steamer and accessories. I would find a simple and kind way to return the contents but I wasn’t sure exactly how. I had cooked for this family member that was all, it was nothing. Why would he buy me such an expensive gift and how would I explain to myself that I was worthy.
The kids gathered around me and held out boxes wrapped in bright colors with bows. I was shocked and unsure and saw him glance our way. They told me that they wanted to do something special for me and so they had come up with a plan that included gifts and making lunch. I continued to monitor his gestures as he sighed and gave a chuckle. I opened the package carefully removing tape and ribbons slowly, savoring each moment. It was as if for that brief minute I was a real mom, entitled to love and affection and even gifts. I smiled and hugged each child as they clambered to smell the fragrance of this set they had personally put together. The basket containing special lotions, perfumes and body wash was organized neatly and wrapped with a pink ribbon. A second parcel lay on the counter, a large piece of paper that had been covered with a delicate layer of tissue, topped with a tiny bow. I gently removed the outer layer and looked at the contents. A poem and picture including hearts and flowers had been written and designed by See See. I read it over silently and hugged her telling her it was perfect. The little ones grabbed my hands and drug me to the dining room where eggs and toast lay on the table.
It was a joyful day and although he skulked in the background it appeared that he had accepted this little celebration, forgetting his unwritten rule that no gifts would be given to mama. Later that night he held the paper and words that described me as a mother, faithful, loving and amazing. He picked up parts of the gift basket and looked at each label, turning them from side to side. Finally his silence was broken and he laughed holding the paper in hand looking as if he would tear it in half. “This is who? Who? Your mother? “He laughed until he could no longer breathe and threw it down onto the bed half rumpled. “Look ya See See do not ever ever give anything to mama without my permission, NEVER!”
Her smile had faded and stringy hair had been cut into one even line, but it was obvious she still existed. No modern styles were allowed and like the children, she would be summoned to sit in his chair and wait for scissors to chop and shape until this task was complete. Her skin had wrinkled and bits of grey washed through a dirty blonde but there was no mistaking, it was really her. A red shirt hung loosely over her chest and spots of bleach dotted her pants. The space was noticeable but only with a wide smile which could easily be avoided. It had been years, even decades since I really looked at her in the mirror.
His job ended and once again he would stay at home for 12 months looking for the perfect employment opportunity. Offers came and went but none were at the standard that he had become accustomed to. He held a U.S. passport which entitled him to benefits and a salary that were in line with his status. His frustration built with each passing day as he slept till noon, drank tea with friends and walked through the house making random inspections.
The balance that was kept when he was working had now come crashing down and although money had been saved and was plentiful, it was not to be touched. The boys were at University, children needed immunizations and our teeter totter balance could not be disrupted. Eating and drinking had become difficult and avoiding the fractured tooth that hung precariously was no longer possible. It wiggled and moved sending shooting pain along a rugged path that ended only to be agitated more frequently. One last warning was given and an offer to see the dentist. He was of course the best provider and always thought of his family first. I nodded my head in agreement, handing him the pliers and a tissue. He placed his hand firmly on my head and gripped the jagged piece of tooth ripping it loose.
Foof at the American school
As things stayed the same living on the large Riyadh compound, they also changed in different ways. Friends became a normal part of life, sharing plates of food, recipes and cooking lessons. He still drove up to the front of the compound and worked in the office at the position that he felt would change his level of happiness. He visited the “sheik” three days each week bringing the dessert trays that were prepared under his watchful eye. My little “bakery” continued to provide sweets for neighbors and I hosted dessert nights from time to time as my way of connecting with other ladies on the compound. The children played for hours at the park, the recreation center and on the front porch, they made friends and life seemed carefree. The boys new school brought with it hope for a somewhat positive experience. It was not like the very westernized school in Al-Khobar but it had numerous good points and the boys seemed to settle in easily. Saleeha (See See) was now six and Foof was four, pressure was mounting to get them into school. After the previous failed attempt at getting See See into first grade, he formulated a plan. The company paid school fees for 3 children and while the American school in Riyadh had a prohibitive tuition, the two girls would be covered. They would be enrolled at the American school of Riyadh for the first year, an adjustment period where they could learn in their native language. The following year they would transition into the Arabic school system with their brothers.
As the day approached it was nerve wracking and stressful thinking that my girls would now be leaving each day and going to school. We toured the campus, met with the counselor, took the proper entrance tests and it was confirmed that they would soon be attending American school. The counselor suggested that their father accompany them that first day to help with separation anxiety that often comes when children say goodbye to their mothers. The day arrived and I knew like everything else in our lives, it was inevitable, so I made sure it would be as smooth and voluntary as possible. I spoke of the kind teachers, the activities and the new friends they would make at school. They took their lunch boxes and back packs and headed out the door full of hope and teary eyes. They piled into the car with their father and he drove them to their first day of school. Foof settled in and made friends, climbing under the bathroom stalls, locking the doors and then exiting! See See had more trouble, she sat on the teacher’s lap and threw toys around the room until she finally realized she would be staying. It was a rough first day but after that both girls made a speedy adjustment, making friends and looking forward to school each morning. They seemed to settle easily, unlike their brothers who still struggled most mornings with making their way to school.
I loaded Abude and the baby and boarded the big “bumpy bus” as the girls called it. We made the 30 minute trip to the American school and back each morning. Driving in Saudi is dangerous with boys as young as 13 years old whizzing past, skidding, racing and going the wrong way in traffic, so a bus monitor was needed in case of emergency. The children that rode the bus and attended American school were from various countries and had differing ideas on bus riding etiquette. Children ate food, left wrappers, wandered around while the vehicle was moving and at times instigated fights. The Pakistani driver had little authority over the children and so a monitor was mandatory and required by the housing director for the overall safety of students. This concept was not popular and many days no one showed up to fulfill their duty. I made the decision to ride the bus and serve as the monitor to ensure that an adult would be present at all times. We sat in the back and watched the desert pass, camels and bedouin tents dotted the outskirts of town, then apartments and bukalas (mini market) until we reached the school. We entered the secure gates and lined up with buses from all over the city and various compounds. The girls looked back at us with a smile and headed off for school. When we arrived at our door step it was back to the morning routine and life as usual. In the afternoon we made the same trip back to the American school, the girls jumped on the bus smiling and beaming, art projects, stories of friends and new adventures. Although I should have known it would be this way at a Western school, a part of me worried that it was indeed something inside of me that made my boys nervous and unhappy at each school.
I felt a tiny crack in the exterior of my being that had been created through his eyes and I began to question my reality. He had ingrained a sense of urgency inside of my brain that held me accountable for any and all child related woes. The slightest unhappy moments or school issues would randomly bring about days of anger and unrest on his part. My inability to successfully mother the children was directly reflected in the children’s anxiety and unwillingness to “just go to school” and that was the line that I heard most days. As I watched the girls come and go from the American school, a smile firmly planted on their lips, giggles and whispers of things that brought them joy, it reaffirmed my own thoughts. For three years I had tried to explain, taking great care not to offend or incite his anger,that the boys felt uncomfortable in Arabic school, not knowing the language or culture and being subjected to a harsh environment full of corporal punishment and humiliation. But there was no relenting in his character and the message had always been clear and non negotiable, until now.
As I walked with Gloria around the little loop in the compound, now weighing easily over 200 pounds I wondered how it had all gotten so out of control. I was in my 8th month of pregnancy but this excuse had been used throughout the years and now I weighed a good 90 pounds more than I had in college. Weight had always been an issue in my life but with each passing pregnancy extra pounds had been easily added on. I had five babies in 6 short years so there wasn’t much time in between to hit the gym and lose the weight. I settled in to the busy role of mom, and life moved along without thinking about diet or exercise. But now as my hips and back ached I thought about this sore subject that had followed me for years.
I stood and barked like a dog with a little woof woof, the whole class erupted in laughter and the focus was then switched to the class bully who only moments before had made a comment I had become accustomed to hearing. “ Lynn could use Cycle 4 dog food for over weight dogs, ha ha get it??? ” her voice rang out in the 7th grade home-Ec class, everyone sat staring at me, waiting. The whole room tensed and a sick silence fell as they all focused their attention on the opposite side of the room. Students stared at me while I sat nervously tapping my pencil against the desk. All eyes boring down on this 7th grader who stood at 5 foot 2 inches and weighed a mere 105 pounds. It had all been said before, “pleasingly plump” “chubby” and of course, “over weight”. I did what I had learned to do after many comments like this one, I stood with ease and made my snarky retort .
It was my second year of University when I made the decision to shed the 25 pounds I had gained in high school. I woke at 5 a.m to swim at a near by pool, jog and walk around campus, drastically cutting my calorie intake. I lost the weight and faced the fact that I was not fat. My sister looked me over and informed me that I had a “fat” image and needed to change how I felt about myself before I would be successful in keeping this weight off. She challenged me to really look at myself and see who I was. Looking back I had never really been “overweight” until I hit high school and I gained 25 pounds. Still I had spent my youth hearing every bit of advice regarding my fat body. I was an extrovert but had grown shy to enter a room or sit with people who I knew would make jokes about fat.
The following summer is when I met him, a thin, well mannered, beautifully tan and soft spoken man. We spent that summer locked in a lover’s bliss that only true love can elicit. I had transferred Universities to be near him and continue with our relationship. Over the summer I had gained back 5 pounds of the 25 that had been shed. As school started I got back into my routine and lost the weight easily. I started exercising again and vowed to continue to be at my best and healthiest. Our communication was accompanied by hand gestures, dictionaries and often his friends with better English threw in the odd comment to help out. He had been in the U.S. for 2 years but his comprehension and verbal skills were still rough. One message I got very clearly was that I needed to eat. He insisted on feeding me and wanted me to be “healthy” as he put it. At first this was endearing and sweet that he cared so much and didn’t seem to care about my weight. But I was happy with my new body image and chugged along sticking to the plan. I didn’t have a scale but a tight pair of jeans did nicely to gauge whether I had gained or lost. The school year started at the new University, classes were large, sometimes 500 students, strange faces every where as I had left my jazz singing buddies behind. Fall leaves were making their way to the ground, creating a colorful blanket under trees and holidays would soon be approaching, but I still forged on and kept my promise to be healthy. We got to know each other better and he proved to be the man I had dreamed of. He was kind to a fault, he stood beside me at the grocery store unable to chose a salad dressing to purchase, pushing me to make all decisions. He was strong in many ways, he was not afraid of anyone or anything and encouraged me to stand up when I felt weak. We spent our days separated by 10 miles being at different University campuses, but he still came to see me every couple days. As Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas approached he easily took part in every festivity. He purchased a 14 karat gold necklace, a leaf, lined with intricate details hung from a delicate chain. He did not have money, his father owned a shop in Damascus, Lira did not go far in America. He still he insisted on buying gifts for me and for my parents. Life was sweet being lost in a haze of love and romance. As each day passed I felt more and more enthralled with him, his life and his background. The only constant disagreement we faced was over my calorie intake, a small issue it seemed. I managed to stick with my new healthy image for several years and stood my ground on this issue. As time went past and I had several pregnancies it seemed lovely and sweet that he did not care as others had about my weight.
Each tear made a drip drip drip down onto the plates and into the kitchen sink. They fell into the sudsy water, melting and gone forever. Tears mixed with soap and water, tears of confusion and sadness as many tears are. The clanking of dinner plates, the tiny scrapes of forks and spoons, happy sounds of eating together, a family. Sounds of giggles and laughter echoed in the empty space. Only a dining room table purchased from “as is” and 8 chairs stood in this bare and vacant room. Things had come full circle 15 years after moving to Riyadh and we were back to where we had started. The older kids did not laugh, now adults, they sat, sullen faces, moving bits of food around on their plates pretending to eat. They glanced to the kitchen where their mother stood hunched over the sink doing pots and pans from that night’s meal. She swept and mopped and finally came in to collect the dishes. Her eyes were red and it was obvious she had shed tears but she smiled and collected plates. She was no longer allowed to eat at the table if she refused to eat the meal she had prepared, banished until she came to her senses and quit trying to lose weight.
Life on the compound started winding it’s way into reality as school approached. Our summer of swimming, sitting at the play ground and living in luxury was slowly grinding down as we all thought of the school year to come. That old sick feeling kept cropping up but I managed to shove it back another day until it had actually arrived. All of the questions that I could not answer kept coming to my weary mind, but having no solution meant trying to have a fun and relaxing summer for the kids. I had a strong resolve this new year and vowed I would not accept any more excuses or half truths about school conditions. The constant inquiries that I had insisted on, only returned the same predictable response, “We do not hit the students it is illegal“. Unraveling the real truth would take years and only become clear when I could actually enter a school. I had complained numerous times through him, but after we finally had a working phone in the apartment I dared to call the school. I rambled away in my kindergarten Arabic and found a sympathetic ear in a secretary who spoke English. I could not contain my anger and asked him if this was the religion, no it was not! If this was the treatment that was prescribed for children, no it was not. My lecture and harsh words did little to help until the day I refused to send them back to school. A letter listing my grievances was dropped off at the school gate, explaining my sons would not return until the conditions were met. The school principal and supervisors were not sure how to react to this but agreed, things would be different. This did buy us a couple of months at the end of the school year and no more problems occurred for that small time period.
When I lived in Seattle I had befriended a Syrian lady who was married to a Saudi. All these years later we met again in Al-Khobar. She was a lovely lady with impeccable manners and a taste for the finer things in life. She was truly shocked when I spoke of the problems we had encountered at the schools. She told me about a school in Dhaharan that was very nice and treated students well. My first sign that things might be different was the refreshing dress code for this school, a pair of jeans and white polo shirt. At first I thought this was a joke. At the previous school it was mandatory to wear a thobe (long white gown worn by men and boys). In addition to all of the other issues the boys were not used to such attire and it was difficult for them to manage. I knew we were making the choice to send our children to this school system, so I did not expect them to adapt to my culture, but I had hoped for fair treatment as well as a measure of flexibility with small children.
The boys came home from the first day of school full of excitement and details about their day. They said that the teacher announced to the whole class that hitting was not allowed, that the teacher could not hit students, he could inform the principal, he could also not hit a student, but the principal would tell the parents if the child was naughty and that was up to the parents to chose appropriate discipline for any poor behavior at school. The children were given points for doing well and having good behavior, certain students would attend special field trips to reward their hard work and excellence. I was shocked at the organization, discipline and teaching techniques in this new school. In the other two schools, hitting, screaming as well as humiliation and name calling were the commonly used disciplinary measures and these tactics were also used on well behaved children as a deterrent to using bad behavior. This new school seemed to be very Westernized and the boys had already made friends with other children.
Our life in Saudi seemed to be looking up, a lovely compound and a fantastic new school. I was busy of course with three little ones at home, now pregnant with my 6th child, but life was easy and full of comfort. All of the old worries seemed a distant memory to me and I knew we were on track for the future I had envisioned. This easy life would surely make him happy and ease his burden making him return to the original man I had met. He came up with more rules while living in this compound, but that was fine, it was a small trade off. The rules seemed to change on a daily basis, the table could not have two legs on the carpet and two legs off, the couch could not be touching the wall, a small pan could not be placed on a big burner for cooking, there were spices that were on the “no use” list, cookbooks were retrieved and pages of dishes that were not satisfactory received a huge XXX and hand written notes scrawled over pages saying “DO NOT MAKE! NOT GOOD”. The rules seemed to change quite frequently and as soon as I would master them and feel I was on top of things, they were no longer enforced and heartily scoffed at. But, no matter, no one is perfect and peace in the home was all that I truly wanted.
When things seemed difficult and I started to survey the situation looking for answers, memories flooded back of true and everlasting love. Moments were sprinkled with kindness like the dew that glistens on the grass, gentle hugs and sweet reminders of a love that was endearing and abiding. Enthralled with young love and feelings of desire, it all flooded back for days only to return to a dead end for coming months. My pregnancy was not difficult, but tiring and morning sickness after 5 pregnancies had now taken on a new twist. I carried a towel with me everywhere, as I could not swallow my own spit. I had gone through this each time but it increased in severity. I dared not speak of this or complain as I had heard so many times that I was lucky and privileged. Life held many blessings and all I had to do was peek at the men hanging laundry as we rolled out of the compound on the air conditioned shopping bus.