Ten years ago, my then three year old daughter and her best friend were sitting in front of the TV watching Cinderella. Both were dressed in their pink ballet costumes with matching pink slippers holding glittery wands in their hands. It was the perfect dress up for a girly movie. Of course, the girls were fascinated by the princess appearance and her long-hoped-for-prince. And just as it was getting really romantic with prince charming about to carry his princess away on his horse, the movie paused. No, there was no technical problem. In fact, it was my friend who had deliberately stopped the movie there. Looking at her in surprise, the girls and I watched her coming to the front, pointing at the paused scene of the movie and addressing the girls firmly she said: “Do you see this? Do you see him? This is prince charming on his white horse. And he is not real! There is no such thing as prince charming in real life. So don’t wait for him, because he won’t come. And please don’t be as stupid as Cinderella. You don’t need a man to rescue you. You can do it alone! And you know why? Because you are beautiful and you are unique. You don’t need a man to make you feel special! Don’t you ever forget that, ok?” The girls, obviously amazed by that speech yet not understanding a word of it, nodded in deep respect. “Ok, let’s continue then”. My friend pushed the play button and there we were again, watching Cinderella, mesmerized by her prince.
When my friend sat next to me on the sofa, I couldn’t hold back my giggling. Both of us were in the last trimester of our pregnancy. “What was that about?” I whispered. “Well, we can’t start early enough to teach our girls that things don’t work that way. We don’t want them growing up to be dependent and weak, waiting for a man to decide everything for them. Life is harsher than that. And I want them to be prepared. It’s that simple: life is not a fairytale!”. Back then we hadn’t known that her words were about to come true – we hadn’t known that reality would hit so hard! We both gave birth to two lovely girls and we seemed to live our own fairytale – safe and sound.
Two years later her husband died unexpectedly. Eighteen months ago I got divorced. Our elder girls have grown into beautiful and rebellious teenagers now. They have been through tough times already. They have learned at an early age that life’s promise of happiness expires in the blink of an eye and that it takes a lot of strength, hope and determination to pull yourself out of any misery. They have seen us cry without shame. We have taken them along on our strenuous journey that started from a different yet similar point. My friend and I never had the intention to toughen up and fill those shoes imposed on us despite being far too big. But sometimes you just don’t have a choice and it’s either rising to the challenge or hitting rock bottom. Yet, we never wish for our girls to experience what we have been through. We pray for them to always taste the sweet side of life. We will continue to raise them to become modern, independent, and educated young women with a voice to be heard.
Sometimes though, at night, we secretly dream of a prince charming on a white horse who will picture perfect their happiness.
Rasha El Sheikh is a teacher at DEO in Cairo. She has joined the Goldmund-Erzähler-Akademie in Munich for a 6 months course on the art of storytelling and is a certified storyteller. As a passionate writer she has started a blog in January 2013, in which she posts her stories written in German (www.tausendundeinegeschichte.wordpress.com)