First year home-2009


This is the story of our first year back in America, other installments can be found here:


Idaho 2009

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”


First year back home 2009-our story



I edged closer to the tiny parking spot that stood above Frat row. It was a cement slab just big enough to accomodate a large vehicle but still unnerved me each time I navigated onto the platform.  Plastic bags were grabbed in batches and hauled over the rugged path and into the door of the old brick building. It was grocery day and that meant unloading and preparing a “fast food” meal including plenty of variety for those with dietary restrictions. I stuffed bags inside of each other forming a large ball of sacks that would be used for trash bags at a later time. Several packs of ground beef were placed into a large skillet and stirred, smashing them into smaller bits. The familiar sound of sizzling and the smell of taco meat would soon bring girls into the kitchen. Soos, Heme and Deeja made themselves busy with coloring books and crayons, cards and stickers. They placed themselves at a wooden table just outside the kitchen where residents would soon sit after dishing up their last meal for the day. Sullen faces stared blankly at my workstation and I knew that our discussion regarding school had still left them confused and fearful.

That day we had walked through the rickety wooden gate and into the school yard that lead to a side door. I kissed each one goodbye and delivered them to their respective classrooms, leaving my youngest for last. We had been to see the teacher days before and although she was inexperienced, she was also bubbly, kind and understanding. I was sure that everything would go as planned and so I walked with an air of confidence and pride.  We reached a brightly colored door that said Welcome to first grade. Other students sat at standard desks and tables, hanging hoodies and jackets on a coat rack, backpacks were shoved into cubbies and parents waved their goodbyes. The teacher nodded her head as if to tell me that it would be fine and it was time to leave. I gave a quick wave and returned the same way I had entered, leaving the wooden gate and parking lot behind.

From the upstairs window I scanned the school playground hoping to catch a glimpse of at least one of my four children. The recess bell rang and with it a massive exit from the side door of the one story school. Children carried balls and toys and quickly started in with their mid day break from books and lessons. A tiny figure stood alone in the large grass area, a hood tightly wrapped around the shiny hair of what appeared to be a small child. A stark contrast became unsettling as he crouched near the brightly colored playground equipment looking from side to side and finally giving in to tears. Classmates ran, laughing and giving chase, engaging in childish games that only youngsters play. Their smiles and shrieks of glee only heightened as activities progressed into throwing, catching and eventually climbing onto a metal structure. I watched him cover his face, firmly placing it into the school yard grass until a familiar figure with dark brown hair placed herself next to him and gave him the company he longed for.

First year-2009


DSC05486Several of my friends as well as acquaintances in Riyadh had departed without their children in tow, returning to various locations around the globe. While the choice to leave appeared to be voluntary none of us knew the circumstances that had lead to their decision. Marriages that had fallen apart, abuse and the inability to legally remove youngsters from the country resulted in little ones who were left behind. Memories of dear friends separated from their toddlers as well as teenagers were still fresh in my mind and so the tiny window that gave a view from the walkway into our apartment had been spray painted and covered by a piece of printer paper. Although we had made it back home, the idea of losing my children kept anxiety out of control for years to come.

Summer faded into Fall and a routine that was oddly familiar took shape. The tiny townhouse had come together with furniture that had been procured from the Union Gospel mission as well as odds and ends from mom and dad’s wood house. An alarm buzzed and prodded until we climbed out of bed and readied ourselves for the first day of school. There were no more long trips with a driver and the past few years of homeschooling had been exchanged for a public school that could be seen from the upstairs apartment window. We were together and no one had been left behind in Saudi, making it seem as if somehow all would be well.

Documents and papers were shuffled and stacked until everything was finally in order. A quick trip to the school meant walking out of the apartment door, into the parking lot and through a rickety wooden fence. Vaccination records were not available and birth certificates had taken weeks to arrive, being classified as a Birth abroad report from the consulate. I had met with the principal, teachers and office personnel but still felt that this was somehow wrong and I was at the center of upheaval and a leap into uncertainty. Mother reminded me that it was for the better good and school was part of a new freedom.

The brave

He stood in front of the mirror shaping his hair into the style he had become accustomed to. The blue backpack that had been purchased in fifth grade still looked almost new, he carefully placed a binder inside and stacked his lunch on top. “Goodbye mom, love you, keep your phone on high” and with that he walked down the steps and to the bus stop, leaving me with a warm feeling of affirmation.

His little hands clasped my purse and the standard words were spoken, “You won’t leave right mom, you will be right here, promise?” I smiled and hugged him issuing the words that had become well known to us both, nodding and motioning for him to join his class as they filed down the hall. He stood as he had each day, unable to leave my side until I spoke the words in exact order, with a resounding and unshakable tone “I will not leave this spot, I would never lie to you, I love you” and with that he reluctantly fell into line.

I took my place along the wall, each day inching further away, hoping that it would not prompt a negative response and push us back to where we had started. Progress was slow but at least he was sitting at a desk, only leaving class every hour to make sure I kept my solemn vow. The teacher peered out with a curious look as I took my seat, tucking my purse to the side.

In the four years since our arrival there had been several attempts made at getting him into school and each time the result had been the same. An overwhelming shame and guilt followed me and eroded an already shaky resolve that told me I was justified in moving back home.  I questioned my abilities as a mother as I watched my children struggle with things that seemed basic to other students. His words rang clearly in my ears and were a reminder of my failures, “Lynn, you don’t know how to raise a family”.

The principal walked past and nodded, stopping to make a few light hearted jokes about my daily presence and the incessant nature of my journey. I laughed awkwardly repositioning myself closer to the wall, trying to ignore the sound of scraping from the plastic chair. A dull silence fell around me as she swished away, stopping to instruct both students and aids. Her no nonsense demeanor unnerved me until she turned and offered a soft grin, a silent reminder of her commitment to our arrangement.

It seemed as if nothing had changed and each small step forward was met with resistance and complications. The house had fallen into chaos or at least it seemed that way as I sat for hours thinking of all the things that had to be done.

Days became weeks, well-meaning suggestions and advice were offered. I was told to just leave, he would get over it, to take a stand and make my move. I knew a shaky trust was on the line and so my position remained immovable. I was asked to help out in various classrooms, to serve lunch and sharpen pencils. A steady trickle of hope eeked its way out with any small but significant advance until I found myself outside on a bench, and then in the car.

Almost three months had passed when he suggested that I go home and make lunch, maybe I could return at recess. I held my breath and tried not to look back.


A Crosswalk is a beautiful thing!– Memoirs of Arabia-4

After two weeks things had changed somewhat in the villa. We had a stove, a used refrigerator and a few kitchen items like a colander, some utensils and a couple pans. So, it was easier to cook and to live in general. Jet lag had faded and it was a bit cooler but not much. It was now November and temperatures in Riyadh were still in the mid 80’s. But at least it was bearable with the window and door ajar. We had settled into a routine of sorts where we slept at a normal hour and woke in the morning when it was light out. The days still blurred one into another, with no phone and no contact with the outside world it all seemed like one very long day!

While living in Seattle I had home schooled the boys. They were at that time almost  6 1/2 and 5 1/2 years old. Our life was very homey, we spent most days doing little school art projects and playing outside. It was a free and easy time for me as well as the kids. We had many dinner parties where elaborate Arabic foods were prepared. I spent my days cooking, baking, cleaning and doing what I loved best, being a mom. I had several female friends (Hala-aunt) and they might come over during the day or with their husbands at night.  The children laughed and played while we chatted and exchanged recipes and stories of our daily routines. Amu (endearing term for father’s male friends) would visit and sit in a room designated for “men”. When any amu came for dinner he was sure to bring candy, gifts or just a glimpse of the outside world.  In Arab society visiting is just a way of life. There is a steady stream of family and friends dropping by to say hi and have a cup of tea.

As we sat in Saudi the idea of school hung heavy over our heads, we knew it was inevitable and approaching soon. I had full confidence that this would be the most amazing experience for my children. They were nervous to leave me and head off on their own but also filled with anticipation. I was also very nervous but felt this was for the best. They would learn a new language and culture and also meet new friends. They would, of course be treated very well, a kindly Amu would explain the rules and understand that the boys didn’t know any Arabic. I am a worrier but felt very confident that this would be a brilliant new chapter in life.

Evidently this villa was chosen because it was 2 blocks away from a boys school. The first day of school came, the boys had their best clothes on, and new shoes I had purchased and packed in our boxes.  My oldest was not happy to be living in Saudi and did not want to make this move. He did not want to go to school or to live in this villa or be away from his home. His younger brother agreed to go to school and  try it out and report to him afterwards.  His father took him and dropped him off. I was to walk the two blocks to the school to pick him up at the end of the school day. I put on my black abaya (floor length, silky coat worn by women) and my scarf and pushed my double stroller down the street.

I made my way towards the school, a very pregnant lady in a long black abaya pushing a brightly colored side by side double stroller with two fair haired toddlers. This is not something that you see in Riyadh! Women have drivers who take them to and from places as well as carrying their bags and helping with the children. Western women take a driver or bus from their compound. So, as I walked confidently down the street, heads turned,  I became an anomaly in this tiny traditional Saudi neighborhood.

I arrived at the street across from the school, it didn’t seem like a busy street but I found it might have been easier trying to cross the Red Sea. I saw no cars coming and carefully started out into the street. I quickly jumped back and stood in amazement and fear as I watched cars, trucks and even bikes honk and show no sign of stopping, instead they sped up and whizzed past. I made several failed attempts at crossing, first walking to different areas of the street, then waving my hand a little as if to say, Please stop! I had to cross in order to get my son otherwise I would have turned back. I saw a break in the cars and ran, looking side to side during my sprint across the street. I felt as if we were invisible to these oncoming vehicles.  As soon as I found my way across the street I stood at a large metal gate where the boys entered and would exit after school

A wave of boys flooded out of the gates and it looked like an impending stampede. I stood looking for my son in the crowd of boys all wearing white thobes (long white garment worn by men and boys). Finally I saw my little baby, he looked tired and a serious grimace was planted on his face.  I approached him and grabbed his hand pressing it into mine. I squeezed a little blip blip pattern on his soft smooth hand. But, this was not met with his usual attempt at breaking my hand! His hand was limp and clammy and shut off from mine! I bent down to touch his face and ask him about his day. A look of sadness and confusion sat upon his face, his large brown eyes drooped where they normally turned up at the edges……

I asked him how was it, what happened are you ok?

Mom, Amu hit me on the head with a stick!