I took a one-year maternity leave when the twins were born. My sabbatical just came to a chaotic and painful end, even with a whole year, being entrenched in mothering four kids and running the household it somehow snuck up on me. Time is the sniper behind the grassy knoll and we are the shocked victims of its precise aim. BAM! Conference calls, meetings, mandatory training in Raliegh, a strange woman in the house to take over a job I am most territorial of, but I must suddenly disappear for hours at a time. Nafiseh is coping by staying on my breast the entire night, every night, a helpless little human’s demand to reconnect physically and get the nurturing she needs. Little did I know that right around this age, all the anti-bodies I supplied at the twins birth are wearing off, and their virgin immune systems have to kick in to fend for themselves, so the onslaught of sickness and sleepless nights has thrown me way off my axis. I am trying to get my brain to function at a high caliber, strategic and analytical level after nights of screaming that sometimes don’t end until 4 am. I start to crack, the tears well every time I speak to my husband. If you have ever experienced extreme sleep deprivation, you know all too well the toll it can have on your relationships. You become void of all tolerance and instead of surfing the waves of life stresses like the Big Kahuna, your crash and smash into the reef and feel a momentary hopelessness under the weight of it all, until the spark of life somehow, miraculously pushes you to the surface. The strange but familiar will that gets us all through the tough times and forces us to breathe and trudge onward. My husband is in the same toiling ocean, two babies, both parents are on call 24/7, we are fending for ourselves and the emotional support we usually have to offer one another is temporarily out to sea.
In the midst of all of this, my sister in law is showing signs of early labor, she is exhausted and her two-year-old is running the show with a string of high-pitched tantrums that sometimes seem to go on all day. I have contemplated a strict regimen of Xanax and gin to drown it all out, but I don’t have time to get to the liquor store, so my liver is safe for now. Her husband is arriving soon and while it seems impossible that yet another person will be living in this house, I find small comfort in knowing that at least he will be able to manage the two-year-old and get her out to run off all the pent up energy from being stuck inside with her pregnant mom. The night he is to arrive, the labor pains start and we all hope she will hang on until he gets here. At 10:30pm on the night of his arrival, rather than getting a call he is safe in Seattle, we are bombarded with calls from O’hare airport where he has been detained by the customs agents. They are calling every member of the family to corroborate his “story”. When my husband finally gets on the line with the power tripping and low ranking agent he is told Rayed will be sent back to Jordan on the 6am flight and there is nothing anyone can do to reverse this decision. They will give us no information as to why he is being deported and tell us to save our breath because no lawyer, no journalist, not even the president can stop this. I think my husband must have had some flashes of what life would be like without this man for the next month and a half; new baby, exhausted new mother, screaming two-year-old, sleepless twins, argumentative teen, acting out 11 year old who feels lost, work, wine making….desperation pushes him to the limit. He refuses to accept this reality and starts making his way up the food chain, negotiating and begging with agent after agent and forcing them to “let me speak to your superior”. He finally gets pretty high by 2am and after convincing this official that Rayed has no intention of immigrating here, that we are supporting the wife’s birth because the family here is all working professionals; doctors, pharmacists, engineer, architect generating plenty of income to help them. They won’t rely on any taxpayer dollars for this baby’s birth! They love their homeland, they have professions and a home and other family to go back to! This agent is more reasonable and diplomatic, he agrees to look into things and tells Khaled he will call back soon. We are all awake pacing waiting for the phone to ring. After a tense hour, he calls, he has let Rayed go and will let him book through to Seattle but he has to leave in two months or else. So after nine hours in a holding room, and being welcomed to America for the first time by relentless interrogation, he finally arrives to the sound of the hallelujah chorus in my head and his wife’s water breaking. As my brother in law shows up from the airport with Rayed, my husband loads his laboring sister into the car. I have enough time to feed this poor man and drown him in coffee before we follow along to the hospital. We arrive in time to wait. The rest of the family trickles in to celebrate another life and by the time we leave there are no less than 11 loud and excited Arabs hogging the waiting room to welcome the healthy 7.5 pound baby girl into the family. One thing this girl can be sure of, she will never be alone in the world.
As to why my sister in law has chosen to have her babies here in the U.S. and give them the gift of a coveted citizenship, it is probably not for all the reasons many Americans may guess. While our country’s current state of Nationalism would have one believe that people all over the world are waiting and dreaming of leaving their home to come to the promised land, I can assure you this is not the case. Most people take great pride in their heritage, their culture and their land. They are in most cases driven out by extreme or corrupt governments, war, anarchy , ending up on the wrong side of a polarized country they find themselves in desperate need of shelter. Jordan is currently a safe and peaceful place but it is surrounded by regions at war, in the midst of genocides and crumbling societies. All it would take is a subtle shift in power to throw Jordan into the same mayhem, and god forbid this were to happen, at least we know we could get some of the kids out . If need be, they would have warm homes to run to and not be left orphans at the mercy of a world so ready to reject them. The truth is, many of my husband’s family in the middle east have no real desire to come to the U.S. , they are afraid of it. My teenage nieces and nephews watch documentaries in school about Columbine and Sandy Hook and crime in our cities. They suspect it is a bad place, with loose morals and criminals running wild. This comes as a revelation to me as I have never been able to look at my country from the outside and this glimpse while shocking, makes perfect sense. As for the other family members who have immigrated here, they all have different reasons. For my husband it was education, he chose a branch of engineering with very little career opportunity in Jordan, and while he almost ended up in Finland, ultimately the U.S. offered him a great opportunity for a graduate program. His sister came for her son, born with a rare blood disorder and little hope of cutting edge medical intervention in his home, so she followed her brother. Another sister followed to study architecture but dreams of moving to Germany. His mother, a US citizen who lives in Jordan, came here when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, to increase her odds of survival. While they were not running from a war torn country, they had their reasons. And here they settled into successful and lucrative careers and are outstanding members of the community who give back every chance they have. They all have a story to tell.
As a humanist, I am puzzled over the current stance on immigrants, especially being from a country that was founded and built up by them. I don’t feel proud of my country listening to Rayed retell of his 10+ hours in custody, an honest and good man just visiting and welcoming his new baby to the world. But I can understand the fear that drives this extreme vetting out process. Being a part of an immigrant family from the middle east has connected to me to this issue deeply. I try to unlock the historical reasons for all the unrest and anger in their part of the world. I know that Islam has become the henchman, but I also know, no religion in its purity preaches hate and intolerance, but those who desire power molest those teachings to prey on unsophisticated minds. I listen to the history from my husband’s perspective and read political and religious histories of the middle east. I try to cast a wide net and capture as many opinions as possible and cut through the crap the media puts out there. I hope I am applying empirical and evidence-based logic to my search for answers, for I feel through this lens is the only way to gain historical depth perception.
I reflect on these things as I lay in bed waiting for the twins to wake. But they do not. A peaceful reprieve has finally found us and I am lulled to sleep by the soft breath of innocent and uncorrupted life. I hope and pray that all these young lives grow up to meet a peaceful world, or at least have the courage to demand one and the skill set to make it a reality. I mean here we all are, having babies and raising children and caring for them the best we know how. And in any given country on any given day the scene is not so different, families coming together, sleepless nights nursing children, marital ups and downs, the ebb and flow of life is not unique to us. It is really at the heart of everything, it is all anyone really wants, to know that life goes on and we can be unencumbered by the politics of the day, rest assured that the powers that be truly do have our best interests in mind, so we can enjoy the short time we have here with the ones we love.