11 September 2011

48 hours with Mohamed

I spend the weekend of September 11th sharing a hospital room with Mohamed. Mohamed is a 16-month-old boy who happened to be going through the same surgical procedure as Adrian, my one-year-old. Parents and sons checked in together and we greeted each other awkwardly, aware of the tiny space and intimate experience we would share for the next 48 hours. Within minutes, our boys were playing together. Mohamed's two older sisters grew fond of Adrian and presented him with toys while he ate his dinner. Both Mohamed's mom and I spent the night, hearing every whimper from both babies.

The next morning, Adrian was up first, followed closely by Mohamed. We watched both babies being prepped for surgery and then return, groggy, crying, and attached to IV drips. We comforted them and marveled at the speed of their recovery.

Hospital stays equal lots of spare time. The television offered an abundance of 9/11 coverage. We heard Dutch commentary about the attacks, and avoided eye contact. We smiled uncomfortably when Bin Laden's image was shown again and again. We grimaced when Australian comic Jim Jefferies blared from the TV: "I don't think I could be a Muslim because they can't eat bacon or drink beer...you take beer and bacon away from me and I'll fly a plane into a fuckin' building." Funny? Not so much when your roommate is wearing a hijab.

Mohamed's mom and I spend much of the second evening chatting away while our babies slept. With my stuttering Dutch and her patience, we talked about our families. She has lots of family in the Netherlands. She explained this is why her phone rang nonstop with concerned friends and relatives calling to see how Mohamed was doing. Her husband had come to the Netherlands the same year I had, in 2001. When she learned that Isidro was Spanish, she told me how they drive through Spain every year to visit his family in Morocco, and how much she enjoys the country. I found out that both the Spanish and the Moroccans say "¿QuĂ© pasa?" I was impressed with her strong character and her no nonsense attitude towards life. We agreed that motherhood is a wonderful thing, and SO much work.

A couple years ago I would have thought we'd have nothing in common. In fact, I'm ashamed to admit this is the first significant conversation I've had with a woman in a headscarf since I moved to the Netherlands. Despite our different realities, though, we had no problem bonding through our experience. We complained about the nurses and silently cheered behind the doctor's back after he finally showed up to discharge us.

Today is the 10 year anniversary of September 11th. For the past week we have been bombarded with reminders of that terrible day. It's a time when our differences are highlighted and we look at each other with renewed suspicion. But because of a twist of fate, two families from opposite ends of this media generated spectrum shared an important experience together. We spent the weekend watching our sons in teddy bear hospital gowns, waving at each other, their hands wrapped in identical bandages to cover the IV lines. Look how much we really have in common.


  1. Anonymous20:02

    Hi Janelle,

    Read this blog as a column in the Rochester Post Bulletin. AWESOME! I totally agree. My wife and I have two sons we adopted who are African American. We have discovered that there are more similarities than differences with us.

    I am a prodigy of the sixties and there is a great line in the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song "Wooden Ships". It goes, "If you smile at me I will understand, 'cause that is something everybody everywhere does in the same language."

  2. Thanks for the comment! What a great line. I'll remember that one. All the best to your family.