By Salam Najjar
As a Ammani mother of the 21st Century, I was very reluctant to allow my kids to go off to the “7ara”.
Our streets are not as safe as they used to be when we were little, and the cozy Ammani society we grew up in is nothing but fond memories.
Memories, of all the 7ara kids playing Shor6A/7aramieh in someone’s vast garden, of boys kicking a ball around a dead-end street, and of girls playing 6ommayeh behind huge fig and berry trees. Memories of everyone rushing towards one’s mom who just made Zait and Za3tar sandwiches for everybody, and of a little boy of five at the neighbor’s door asking to borrow a couple of lemons for mom to finish off that Mlokhieh dish.
That was the Amman of the Seventies and the Eighties that I grew up in; the small town where everybody knew who’s who and where the street and the pavement were an extension of everyone’s front yard.
But today, in the new, modern, vast and crowded Amman, that I love ever so dearly, how do I allow my kids to go off to the 7ara when I don’t even know my next door neighbors? That was not a question I took lightly, because whether I liked it or not; I knew there would come a day when my kids wouldn’t accept things the way they are. I saw it in their eyes, in their eager gazes as they saw other kids playing in the parking lot, or chattering away on the building stairs. I saw it in their shy smiles at other kids who smiled at them, and in their readiness to go fetch anything we forgot in the car hoping they would bump into one of the other kids their age.
I was an overprotective mother, and I knew it. I was still not ready to change.
Then it happened. One of the building boys asked my son to come and play with them, and my son was reluctant to even reply with a yes or a no. He blushed before refusing politely, and my heart sank! I knew he wanted to, but he didn’t find it in his heart to ask me in front of the other boys, knowing that I would probably say no. He knew where I stood on this, and was clever enough to keep face in front of his peers.
That night, I did not sleep.
I felt I was at a crossroads in my parenting strategy. I was either going to be the overprotective mom I had been so far, in my ten years of motherhood, and raise safe, but unexposed kids, or I was going to loosen up my leash, to allow my kids company and experience they so eagerly craved, while working on relaxing my fears of the other. After all, these are just kids and this is only our neighborhood, it’s not like I’m allowing them to socialize with the Big Bad wolf or sending them to run errands in the woods. Chill, I told myself, as I fought the urge to wake my husband up to discuss my worries.
My husband did not give me a straight answer on this one, but he sort of played down my fears, and told me it was bound to happen. He was not sure whether this is the right time but he knew it was only that, a matter of time.
And a matter of time it was.
As we were coming home from a shopping trip a few days later, the neighbors’ kids were gathered in the empty corner of the parking floor. You could see cheerful happy faces, boys and girls very close to my kids age, giggling, screaming and, jumping with excitement, and I knew I would want to be there with them if I were their age. My kids were shocked when I told them they could go and join, my daughter thought I might be kidding, but when I showered her with rules on how not to play on the street and how not to go further than the pavement in front of our building and how to take care of her younger brother and how not to be late, that was when she knew mom had come to her senses.
It goes without saying that I kept moving between the front window of my living room, that overlooks the street, to the kitchen balcony that overlooks the parking floor, for the next two hours. But my kids came back home, rosy cheeked, excited and full of life. They had just made new friends, and how easy that is when you’re young and innocent. Ever since that day, they have become great friends, they visit each other nearly every day to play with their Play Stations, they compete as to who is “al3ab” than the other, and boast of their achievements. When the weather is right, you can count on finding the whole pack outdoors playing about, teasing each other, and just being kids.
I did not send my kids off to the “7ara”. The “7ara” called for them, and when it did, they embraced it with open arms.