Being the daughter of an insectologist, I grew up playing with butterflies, examining mosquitoes, and studying the morphology of unheard of flies under the microscope. One day my father got me a silk worm – as a pet. With lots of love, I watched my worm transform into a cocoon and I waited for the colorful butterfly to come out of its silk hiding. I woke up one morning to find a small opening in my cocoon. I watched the butterfly for several hours trying to get out of the hole, then I decided to help her; I proudly, yet lovingly, snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon with a pair of scissors. The butterfly then emerged easily but something was wrong with my pet; it had a swollen body and small wings. I waited for the moment when her wings would expand and she would fly. Neither happened! My baby pet spent the rest of her life crawling. My dad then explained to me that the butterfly’s struggle to get through the tiny opening was nature’s way of forcing fluid from her body into her wings so that it would be ready for flying once it was free from the restricted cocoon.
Today as I watch many of the young men and women that I come across at work or in my classes and workshops, the image of my poor pet comes back to mind. I flossed my brains trying to find out the mental connection between the two until it hit me one day; in their attempt to protect their kids, our mothers crippled them. “We want a revision” howled a 28 year old marketing student in my class, but I see the pattern of the ready-made-easy-to-cook attitude everywhere. Like my butterfly, they face the world with shriveled wings, limp bodies, porous bones, and hollow heads. They are neither equipped to deal with the heavy blows of fate nor the daily challenges of life. They have no sense of direction and a vague reason for existence. Following the “use it or lose it” rule of thumb, if they are not used, muscles turn to flab, brains turn to mush, and determination turns to lethargy. I loved my pet so much that I wanted to ease her way out of the cocoon but instead, I maimed her for life. According to Darwin, I turned what could have been powerful wings into a vestigial structure – like our degenerate tail bone and wisdom teeth. Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our life; if nature allowed us to go through life without any obstacles, it would cripple us.
When I moved out five years ago, my mother thought that I did not love her anymore; today she is still wondering what she did wrong to push me away, or what she did wrong to deserve a daughter like me. When my brother graduated she got him a job, when he wanted a car she gave him hers, and when he wanted to get married she got him a bride, a house, a wedding, and more. There were times when I felt that the boy wanted to be a man but with her over protectiveness she stifled all his attempts to grow up. My mom is no exception; like many mothers, she believes that it is her role to take care of her baby until – well, until forever! One day I questioned her and she said “After I am gone, I want him to remember how I loved him and how much I helped him. I wish I could spoon feed him all my experience to spare him pain and unnecessary frustration.” Then she looked at me with a smile and said “You are tougher by nature; I wish you were not so tough. Come let me braid your hair.”
Magda Abdel Wahab (55) has a soft spot for babies. “Their little hands and feet are just irresistible.” With Mohamed, her eldest son, Magda had a long list of forbidden fruits that covered visitation rules, playing hours, friends allow list, and places block list. “I wanted to keep an eye on him all the time; no matter how much he grew up, in my eyes he will always have little hands and little feet.” At the age of 42, Magda had Omar. “I loved to be a mother again but I was not getting any younger. I suddenly realized that my ways were not fault-free. I will not live forever and I needed to equip Omar with the tools that will see him through all the walks of life.” The forbidden fruits fell off the tree and a change of strategy was needed. “I would walk him to the arcades a few times, show him the signs on the way and back, explain the rules about strangers, and then I would let him go on his own. Every time he is out of my sight I feel my ribs closing on my heart and my worst nightmares turn into ominous deja-vues. I would only breathe again the moment he walks though the door and throws his little hands in mine as he tells me about the fun he had.”
On asking Jailan Gamil (35) about the 8 simple rules for dating her teenage daughter, she said “I teach my daughter, Sandra, the difference between right and wrong and I remind her that even when I am not there, God sees her all the time and that she should not upset Him. I spot check her online chats, her room, and her phone – I am just scared. I want to keep her safe from the crazy world out there. Dating is not a welcomed option.” Dalia El Rashidy (40) knows that her 15 year old Lara is no longer a little girl. “She grew up all of a sudden. Watching her adjust her belly ring, curl her hair, put on lip gloss, and wear perfume made me realize that I have to become more of a friend than a mother; she has to come to me with her stories and I have to show empathy while helping her straighten-up. I worry about her but I have to give her space to grow up.” Hoda Shafik (54) has three fine gentlemen. “I never worried about the girls they dated as long as they never married them. My boys are strong; they know how to discipline their women they never show their weakness. Men were created to rule and to be obeyed; that’s how I was brought up and that’s how I raised them.”
Claudia Venturini (39), living in Cairo, originally from Luxembourg, has an Italian father, a Belgian husband, and two daughters, has a very different way of thinking; “When it comes to kids, I believe that you have them as you make them; you sow what you reap. If I sow the seeds of inexperience, I will reap the fruits of disappointment. I make sure to let my girls, 7 and 4, choose, make mistakes, fall, get their hands dirty, and find their own answers. Over-sheltering them would be like killing their immune system.” On the issue of dating, Claudia said “Alex and I worry a lot about who the girls will bring home; being European does not make us loose, on the contrary, we are quite conservative. Just like Egyptians, we do not want our girls to get hurt or to end up with the wrong man. We just do it differently; we are always there to guide them and to give advice but we allow them to grow through their own experiences.”
I had to ask Claudia about her opinion on the discrimination between the way boys and girls are raised up in the Middle East, she honestly disapproved saying “those young boys and girls are the nucleus of society and if I corrupt the nucleus, I corrupt the society. I have lived in Egypt for the past 5 years and I have no plans of leaving soon, which raises the chances of my girls dating Egyptians. My girls were never bossed around and they will never allow anyone to do it. Federica and Alexia were brought up to express their thoughts and views, no matter who disagreed, as long as they abided by the basic courtesy codes. They are independent and strong from within. I wish the girls in this part of the world realized their potential and acted upon it; being a woman does not mean being submissive and needy. I also wish that the men would learn the essence of manhood; being a man does not mean being self-centered and disrespectful. I believe that mothers spoil the boys and oppress the girls and this destroys the chances of having a well-balanced family and a healthy productive society.” In three words Claudia summed the core of a man in being “respectful, responsible, and honest.” whereas, a woman is “graceful, intelligent, and powerful.”