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Safe In Her Arms by Rabi Khan

Safe In Her Arms by Rabi Khan

Evan was born on an early day in March with both of his grandmothers watching. He is six now, and to this day, there is a lilt of expectation in his voice when he asks who he was named after. Evan knows the story well.


I am twenty-six and newly pregnant. A sunny morning, the sofa cushion is snug and warm around my shoulders. After sharing the news with my own mother, I dial my mother-in-law. Having known her for ten years—yet only one of those as her daughter-in-law—I am still navigating the mystery that is Maria.

“Mom, we have some wonderful news. You are going to be a Yiayia!” Yiayia is Greek for grandmother, and while I call her Mom she enjoys calling me Christinaki, the Greek diminutive of my name.

Before words, her muffled cries echo in my cheap cordless phone.

“Oh, Christinaki, I am so happy! So, so happy for you and for Peter! Congratulations! When are you due?” She sounds out of breath.

“The first week of March.”

“Christinaki?” She starts questions with my name when she’s uncertain of how to ask.

“Yes, Mom?” My eyes scan the room, but my mind is racing. What could it be?

“Well, have you thought about names?” These words enter the conversation like a hammer meeting a nail. I picture her rubbing her palms together, assessing me from under her eyebrows—even over the phone wires. I know where she is going with this question.

“Has Pete told you the Greek tradition?”

Of course he had. We’d dated since we were fifteen years old, and around age twenty-one, we entered into the marriage conversation. That’s when he shared the Greek tradition of naming the first-born child after one of the husband’s parents.

“Actually, yes. Why?”

“I just was curious . . . if you have a girl, you’ll name her Maria . . . right?”

“Of course, Mom.” I gnash my teeth and close my eyes. I want to say, You already have a namesake! Your first grandchild is named after you. Isn’t one enough? But I refrain. I am a good nifi, a good daughter-in-law.

“But what if you have a boy?” she asks.

Pete and I had already agreed that our son would not be named Harilaos or Harry, after my husband’s absent father.

“We don’t think we’ll name our son after Mr. Harry, but we haven’t decided on any boy names yet.”

“Hmm. Who then?” She pauses, the question hanging heavy in the space between us.

“Pete and I still have a lot of talking to do, and plenty of time.”

“Yes. You’re right. Anyway, I am so excited for you and Peter.”

Later that day, I am chopping salad greens in the kitchen. My husband sits at the table looking through the mail. “Your mom asked an interesting question after I told her the big news. She was very curious about boy names.”

My husband looks up. While he chooses to stay out of the tension between me and his mother he also is aware of when I need him to get involved. “Huh. I’m not surprised. Are you?” His eyebrows knit as he focuses somewhere beyond me. Thinking.

“Well, no, but it still feels intrusive. Like she’s part of our marriage and feels a right to be.”

“Well, she is my mom.”

This I know. A Greek woman with three grown sons, her youngest married to a white bread American girl. Of course she has concerns about how my husband’s heritage will find expression in our intercultural marriage.

I pause while peeling a carrot and study a cabinet handle at eye level. It is brass and I can see my own distorted reflection—I think it’s probably the way Maria sees me in real life.

“Honey, what boy names from my family do you like? Aside from my father’s, of course.” Pete says. “What about Steve, after my brother?”

“Hmm. No, I think I want something more unique.”

“What about my grandfather, Stratis? Evstratis? He was like a father to me, plus, his name means ‘heaven’s warrior.’”

He looks at me like I am supposed to get it. And I do. This is the name of Maria’s father, a man revered in his village for his integrity, generosity, and joyous spirit. In the place in my heart that knows my husband best, I realize we’ve come to our decision.

“Hmm, sounds like our son would be doomed to have the same trouble in school you did!” I tease. My husband’s Greek name is Panayiotis, the male version of “Mother Mary,” named after Maria’s mother-in-law, of course. He has told me stories of elementary school teachers mispronouncing his name and making him feel self-conscious. I will not have this for my own child.

“What if we use the first two letters ‘Ev.’ Maybe Evan?” he asks.

“Yeah, I like that.” And I really do.


It is three weeks to Evan’s due date. Pete and I are going out to dinner on a Saturday night for my birthday. While drying my hair, I notice that my reflection looks more like an amorphous black blob than a sweet birthday girl.

The phone rings

“How are you, Christinaki?” Maria asks.

“Good, Mom, good. I feel great and Evan is growing beautifully. Just a few weeks left now.”

“What are you up to today? Are you and Peter doing anything special tonight?”

“We’ve been ordered by our friends with kids not to let any Saturday nights be spent at home before Evan arrives. So, we’re going out to dinner!”

“Good . . . Christinaki?”

“Yes, Mom?”

“You know, I feel good about your baby name. It feels right.”

“Thanks, Mom. We’re happy, too.”


After Evan’s birth, Maria held Evan so close to her face I worried about them both. She murmured to him, kissed him, and hugged him tight. When she finally looked up after several minutes, tears glistened on her cheeks.

She caught me staring at her.
“I’m sorry, Christinaki, I am just so happy. He’s beautiful. And with a beautiful name . . . .” She returned her gaze to my new baby boy. “He’s going to have a good life. A happy life.”

All I could do was smile and take in this moment. There it was. Mutual understanding.

I knew that marrying my husband meant there were certain expectations, and first-born baby names were one of them. I’d come clear around to the Greek side of the fence: enrolling in Greek lessons, being baptized at twenty-two in her church, using my baptismal Greek name on our wedding invitations. Deferring to her culture was part of who I was. Or was it?

Making silent resolutions to understand her, within the intercultural context of my marriage, provided an opening for me to weave a kinship with Maria. Though, this did not always come easily. Our hardened skepticism of one another eventually gave way to mutual respect and understanding during our conversations about sensitive cultural decisions—which were many in those early days of my marriage. Over time, our relationship emerged as a beautiful, enriched experience for us both.

Now, after nine years of being her daughter-in-law, I am at peace with who she is and how she is. All she wants is to preserve her heritage and make sure it is present in her son’s life. In the place in my heart that knows Maria best, I realize it is out of respect for us and for our marriage. And I love her for it.


AUTHOR BIO: CHRISTINA MARIE SPEED taught overseas and in the US for several years before admitting to herself that she needed to give in and just write. She has written a short column for The Lahontan Valley News, and is currently a Literary Reflections Editorial Assistant at A full-time wife and stay at home mother, and part-time literacy coach for children, she writes creative non-fiction, poetry and books for children.

Contact Christina at

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