What do I tell the kids?

My children were born in the U.S., my wife and I were born in Iran. My wife and I were brought up in the “West” – the U.K. and U.S. and have stayed here out of necessity, because we cannot go back to Iran. I for one would likely get my head chopped off by the regime there, because I have been very vocal and public about my opposition to the “mullahs” in Iran.

All through my elementary education in the west, it was cool to be Iranian. All through my kids’ elementary, middle and now high school education it’s been strange for our kids to have Iranian names and Iranian heritage.

Things soured between our nations when there was a massive revolution in Iran with Iranians thirsty for freedom and democracy. And then things soured even more when not long after the revolution when the government in Iran took a group of US embassy employees’ hostage for 444 days. And things really soured, because on 9/11/01 a group of Islamic terrorists drove planes into some buildings in New York and Washington D.C. and for some reason, even though Iranians are not arabs and not connected at all with Al Qaeda, ordinary Americans somehow associate Iranians with Islamic terrorism. Since 2001, the U.S. has been in a state of constant war with Islamic militants in Afghanistan and Iraq; and it’s just not cool to be of Iranian heritage in the U.S. Iranian-Americans just don’t seem to get a break.

You can’t go around explaining to every American that the revolution in Iran happened because the Shah of Iran (the former dictator) was very close to Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter wanted to undermine the Republican Party. You can’t go around explaining to them Ronald Reagan’s campaign staff had secret meetings with the regime in Iran and made sure the embassy hostages where held through the presidential elections to humiliate Jimmy Carter!?? You can’t tell them that the Islamic regime in Iran (like the Taliban in Afghanistan) where “installed” as part of a grand strategy to break up the Soviet Union and defeat communism…that now seems to have blown back! You can’t even go around giving everyone a geography lesson on Iranians and Persians versus Arabs. Or lessons in common sense about the differences between the people that drove those planes into the World Trade Center – and a billion other ‘regular’ Muslims. You can’t go around telling everyone the reason we cannot go back to Iran (we have no choice), is not because of something we have done, but because of decisions and policies made right here in Washington. No one will believe you…many Americans couldn’t care less…and just won’t understand.

Irrespective of all this, every day we wake up and try our upmost as parents to give our kids confidence…and support them emotionally to engage with a world that is fundamentally hostile. Like most Iranians, the formula we give our kids for success is to study hard and get very good at everything they do. And sure they have their groups of friends, so do we as parents; but you can’t close your eyes to bad will indefinitely. But we try to present a world to them that is decent and all-embracing from great teachers at school to wonderful neighbors. And it has really helped that we have been able to afford great schools for them and live in a great neighborhood … that is until very recently.

And here-in are my neighbors. On one side we have a beautiful warm (religious) family; Kevin and Sue; and they are as decent as can be. They have grown kids, and two beautiful dogs, and have embraced us from the day we moved in. Sue made some chocolate covered strawberries for us on the day we moved in. We love them.

On the other side we had Howard, who was a retired government employee – a very decent (yet lonely man), who would sometimes cut our grass, and help shovel our driveway when it snowed. He sold his house to two elderly women a few years ago, who live together and are extremely quiet. We only just got to know them (after the storm, Irene) when we helped clean up the tree branches from our combined back yard.

Then we have two neighbors behind our home that we look at from our back porch. We live in a water front community, and our water view is effectively between the two neighbors’ homes. Fences are not allowed between lots, and water views are “supposed to be protected” by neighborhood covenants.

One of our rear neighbors, the one to the right behind our house, were a beautiful young couple with kids the same age as our kids …who moved out when they built their dream house on a lot they owned …who sold to a very quiet and secretive couple who work for the NSA (here in Maryland). We got to know them, although obviously they kept a healthy distance. We were Iranian after all and we all know NSA people need to fill out a whole bunch of forms every time they talk to Iranians. They recently sold their house, and just last week (after the storm) we met a wonderful new family Brian & co (I call them) who works for a telecom company traveling the world. Obviously he’s ‘worldly’.

The other neighbor was an elderly couple. The husband died some 4 years ago, and the lady who now lives there lives by herself. After the husband died, she had a tough time managing and maintaining the property. Her grass was poorly cut, by some contract landscaper and there were large patches of brown earth, I mean dead spots all over her yard. Her yard, by the way, is very large. You could put a soccer field across the grass.

The couple that worked for the NSA, approached her and asked her to do something with the yard. As part of the solution, she decided to put a bunch of bushes on some dead spots … far away from her house on the far end of the yard.

One Sunday afternoon, the old lady walked to our house and she had drawings in her hand. She sat with my wife and I and introduced herself. Her husband was a major industrialist who decided in his retirement to open a gun shop. She was now in charge of the gun shop and lived by herself. We sort of felt sorry for her. She told us that she needed to put bushes there because I just can’t get the grass to grow. She showed us some designs and said “I promise you I will put low growing bushes, and keep them trimmed to below 30” so your water view will not be affected”. What could we say? We were apprehensive, but wanted to be good neighbors.

The bushes were planted, and really for the first year or so, there was no issue. After a few years they got taller and taller …and where we once had water view sitting on our porch we now have bushes. One day my wife got so worked up about the bushes, she basically told me to talk to the “old lady”.

So I visited her gun shop. I told her that my wife was concerned about the height of the bushes and would it be possible for her to have her landscaper shorten them below 30”? She flat out said no. And told me she was unhappy living in the community and would likely move out soon…put her house on the market What was I going to do? She really wasn’t engaging or embracing any change. It was her way …

Then a year or so ago, I noticed her gun shop was shut down. I assumed the day was getting closer to when she might actually sell her house and leave the community. Maybe I might have better luck with the new owners!Earlier this summer, I saw the landscaper at work on the rear of her house and approached him to find out what was going on. I had not even seen her car come in and out of the garage. Is she still there? Oh yes, she’s there. And she’s moved her gun shop even further east …and he gave me her new phone number.

So again, I contacted her. Not by going to the store, but by phone. Would she be kind enough to instruct her landscaper to cut the bushes? No. Boom. I put my best salesman’s hat on, but she seemed pre-disposed to saying no. It just wasn’t going to happen.

I don’t want to pigeon hole people, but I don’t think it’s a far stretch to say … someone that sells guns for a living is not going to be a tree hugging, peace & love touting hippie … with zero support for the anti-immigrant, anti-gun control, anti-Obama crowd. Maybe to her, we’re “firners” who should not be living in the U.S. at all, and should be “f***ed” as much as possible. I don’t know. For the life of me I don’t understand why there is so much bad will… why there can’t be some sort of sensitivity to our concerns? Why we just can’t figure a way to do this? After all, these bushes are really meaningless in terms of landscaping around her house; they don’t add much value to her property either way. Why would someone want to be so belligerent, difficult and sew bad will? Where’s the problem?

Then the storm hit…hurricane Irene. There were tree branches everywhere. And we joined up with our other neighbors (Brian, Kevin …) and cleaned up all the back yards. She was not home, I think. Most of us stayed home during the storm, but many like her actually evacuated. I even sent my kids over to her yard to clean up branches on the ground and show some goodwill. Shame she wasn’t home to see it.

These past few weeks, we have had my father in law visiting. He loves to do landscaping. He has green fingers. Spends all his time working on our roses, and trees. He just lives in our yard. One day, while we were at work, my father in law went over to her yard and cut the bushes down…to 30”. He told me about it after wards. What could I say? I was hoping it would go unnoticed.

She must have noticed the ‘drop’ in the bushes when she came home, because this morning we saw two young men (I am assuming are her children) drive to the property and put up a no trespassing sign in front of the bushes facing our property. It feels somewhat offensive. But then what do you do? It’s as if they want to make us unhappy and angry. The question you have to ask is why?

Do I care about the bush heights? Yes. Do I care about the no trespassing sign facing our house? Yes. But ultimately, I know she will pass on and we’ll find a better neighbor. Despite all my ranting on this blog, I think I am realistic enough to know that nothing in Iran will change … I need to plan to die in this house. She is at least some 25 years older than me and I think I’ll have lots of time for a better neighbor to show up. I care, but it doesn’t grind me. We have 3 great neighbors and now her. She is definitely in the minority…

What really bothers me is what do I tell my kids about the bad will some Americans have towards us? How do I prepare them for the challenges of adulthood? What do I tell them about how to deal with people that have so much bad will towards us? Is ignoring her actions the right thing to do? Is that the right example to set for them…teach them to ignore and move on? Do I get an attorney and sue her for violations of the covenants? What would that teach them? Do I try again to talk to her?

Your rights are only as good as your willingness to stand up for them. Is every right worth defending vigorously? As meaningless as this is, isn’t what my neighbor is doing, some sort of mild form of terrorism …designed to hurt, annoy, bother …us? What do I do?

What do I tell the kids?

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