Last night I gently rubbed my little boy's eyebrows, helping him relax, and go to sleep.
Suddenly I was standing in the golden afternoon light with my next door neighbor by her baby brother's crib as she taught me to pronounce his Afghani name and softly ran her finger along first one of his downy eyebrows, then the other. I had no idea that as he drifted into dreamland I was forming such an important memory.
Time passed and I got married, moved away, and soon my first son was born!
I flew back to my parents home, holding my tiny three week old. My stomach twisted into a knot when I saw the look on my mother's face at the airport. She was trying to be polite and kind as I presented her first grandson, but, as only a child can know, my mother was not pleased. Why didn't she have that happy glow? Why didn't she like him? What was she worried about?
He was such a cute baby, looking so grown up already in my eyes. I could see that he had his father's strong jawbone, and such red little lips. Yes, I had said he looked ugly when I went to my grandma's house for 4th of July.
But his eyes didn't have those dark circles anymore! He had only had one instance of projectile vomiting. It was normal, the pediatrician had said. He wanted to watch his weight, he needed to get back up to the 8lbs 8oz he had at birth, but sometimes it took them a while. "99 degrees is not considered a fever in infants," the doctor repeated, "but you should have a pediatrician's number available if you fly down to California."
By two days later, my mom and aunt were definitely exchanging worried glances and having private conversations. My mom dug up the baby scale she had used for us and we weighed him to see if he had gone up from the 8lbs 3oz he had weighed at the last doctors visit. No - 7lbs 9oz! It was Sunday afternoon. Was it an emergency? We phoned my cousin, a pediatrician, a few cities away. "Yes," he said, "you should definitely take him Monday morning to see the Doctor, but I can't tell from here if he needs to be seen sooner."
Our neighbors, next door, were having a family celebration. My friend's dad was a doctor. We thought might be able to give us some advice. My sweet aunt crashed their party and asked for help. He came, along with a pediatrician who was also celebrating with them and they examined him. Scariest, at least to me, was that when they gently pinched up his belly skin it stayed up like a raisin and only slowly, slowly eased back into place. "Yes," they agreed, "take him in first thing in the morning!"
Through the years their family had become more like family to us than just neighbors. They invited us to their celebrations, the father had given a blessing at my wedding, they brought platters of delicious food over at the drop of a hat. But the greatest gift they ever gave us was given that night when a few minutes later my friend's dad came back over.
His eyes spoke the worry before he even opened his mouth. "I don't think you should wait till morning! Take him now!" He told us which way to get to the best hopital, "There are good doctors there. They will help him."
I don't think he would have made through the night if I hadn't followed his advice. He weighed in at 7lbs 3oz - over a pound less then his birth weight! After a few tests the young doctor rushed to check him into the Pediatric ICU.
With all the sensors, tubes and needles they had hooked up to him, I was afraid to touch him. I was allowed to hold him (still connected) when I fed him, but otherwise I relied on gently stroking his eyebrows to relax him as the machines beeped around him and he slowly drifted into sleep.
It took almost a whole nerve wracking month for them to find a possible diagnosis and send us back to a urologist in the Northwest who surgically removed the small Post Urethral Valve that had caused the infection that had so nearly taken his life.
He grew healthy and strong!
Soon I rubbed the eyebrows of his little baby brother.
Who also grew strong and healthy.
Then, two towers crumbled, and Afghanistan became a household word. For better or worse, we went to war. And every Afghani casualty seemed to look at me from eyes edged with eyebrows that had been tenderly caressed by loving fingers, as they relaxed and fell asleep, as children in their war torn homeland.
Last week, I spoke with a friend about world events and politics. The words they spoke expressed disdain for what they had heard of the culture of Afghanistan. I could not disagree that what they spoke of was terrible...but, I'm also sure that every other country has it's atrocities as well. How could I convey the tender beauty that I knew and loved in my Afghani neighbors? It contrasted so much with the horror they described! I chose to change the conversation instead, afraid to bring such precious memories into such a moment of strain and stress.
"Should I have said more?" I wondered as my third son relaxed and drifted off to sleep.
I slowly stroked one eyebrow then the other. My mind, distressed by news and politics, drifted to the golden light where I stood beside my childhood friend and learned to say her baby brother's Afghani name and watched him relax as she tenderly caressed his downy eyebrows.