My husband and I are seeing the beginnings of another pro-democracy movement. By now the signs are familiar: youth, empowered by technology, seeking the freedom to dissent against an authoritarian dictatorial regime. But unlike the recent events, this time the region of unrest is quite small: our family. And the number of rebels is limited to one: our daughter.
After 14 years under our rule, she has had enough. She's demanding universal values such as empowerment, liberties, democracy, equal rights, and the freedom to attend the parties of her choice.
So, supported by her mobile phone, 200 of her closest friends on Facebook who share her frustration against authority, and flexible thumbs for texting, she has begun protesting. Being a fan of Mahatma Gandhi, she has adopted and elaborated on his means of nonviolent protest: lack of movement, especially in connection with finishing homework; sometimes the silent treatment; sometimes talking to explain where her philosophy of life – particularly as it relates to the importance of cleaning up her room or approaching her studies in an organized manner – differs from ours; and sometimes the arched eyebrow, accompanied by the question, "Really Amma? Really?" Don't be fooled. It's a rhetorical question.
We, too, act in accordance with the script. We rant and rave. We offer the carrot. We display the stick. We insist that we are benevolent dictators with her best interests at heart – not oppressive tyrants. We see ourselves more as Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew and less as Egypt's Hosni Mubarak. We provide a supportive family, a comfortable home, good schooling, not to mention excellent health-care benefits. We also offer her opportunities for growth and advancement as and when we feel the time is right.
In return, we expect her to respect the things we do and live by our rules. We say she's not old or wise enough to know what's best. We warn that if she overthrows us, she will descend into chaos and what may replace us may have links to Al Qaeda.
In turn, she reaches into the arsenal of her well-read mind and throws out terms like "demagogues" and "helicopter parenting."
She, the ruled, has lost her patience; and we, the ruling elite, have lost the connection – but we'll never admit it. We still see her as the timid 4-year-old, afraid to go to school and clinging to our hand. She may have wanted our protection then, but now she just wants to step out from under our umbrella, come rain or come shine ... and we wonder why.
I feel like the delusional North African leader recently insisting in a press interview that he is still tight with his revolting populace: "No, no one against us. Against me for what? Because I am not president." Really Amma? Really?
But we love her and want to prepare her as best as we can for her life ahead. Our vision is long-term. We're trying to teach her life skills to prepare her for eventual and successful independence. She wants that independence now. She wants the freedom to choose, even if it's to choose to shoot herself in the foot. She wants the freedom to make her own mistakes.
Why make those mistakes, we ask, when we've made them already in the past and now we have the right answers to give her? She says our answers are not the same as hers and may not be right for her. We have lost credibility. She plays Supertramp's "The Logical Song" loudly to explain her position. And to think I once liked that song, too.
I don't think there will be a civil war. After all, we both want the same thing, right? Our side wants stability, security, and happiness for her. And I think her side wants that, too, only not in that order – plus burritos for supper today and to go to that party Saturday night.
Before she leaves for school, we pause hostilities briefly to hug and wish each other a good day. The intense summer heat has not yet begun and the flowers are blooming. She is youthful, energetic, optimistic, confident, and naive.
As she walks away, I sense her determination but also her fragility. And I smell a trace of jasmine in the air.