I’m an Israeli-American lawyer, Jewish, married to a Palestinian resident of Ramallah, and author of the Hebrew-language book “Maqluba – Upside-Down Love,” which describes how we met and fell in love. This blog is about raising our two children, 7-year-old Forat and 4-year-old Adam, in the West Bank and more recently in the United States, where we’re spending a sabbatical year.
We are trying to lead ordinary lives in an extraordinary and unforgiving reality, one that I will share with you. I have changed people’s names to protect their privacy. My real name is Sari Bashi, and I’ve been writing this blog since 2019 under the pen name Umm Forat, which means Mother of Forat in Arabic. I invite you to visit my website: www.ummforat.com.
Seven-year-old Forat was reading a book. After a difficult adjustment to the educational system in North Carolina, our temporary home for my partner Osama’s sabbatical year, her English reading has flourished. Every Sunday we visit the public library and return with a stack of books about fairies and mermaids, which she devours throughout the week.
“Ima, are fairies real?” she asked.
“Not really,” I said, chopping lettuce for a salad.
“How do you know?”
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“I don’t know. But I think they exist only in books.”
“What about the Tooth Fairy?” she asked, using her finger to wiggle her loose tooth.
“That’s an interesting question,” I said, and didn’t expand further. This wasn’t the first time that Forat had expressed interest in learning the truth about the Tooth Fairy. Each time, she had accepted my evasive answers, perhaps out of a desire to avoid a thorough investigation of the issue. But this time she insisted.
“What, Ima?” Forat asked, her voice becoming increasingly high-pitched. “How can fairies not be real, if the Tooth Fairy brings me presents?” I turned my back to chop tomatoes.
I made eye contact with her. I thought about the nights when Forat hid her tooth under the pillow, flooded with anticipation of the Fairy’s visit, engaging me in long discussions about the logistics of her gift delivery system. I believe in being honest with Forat and her little brother Adam; but when it came to baby teeth falling out, I adjusted the truth to make it appropriate for her age, an age when the line between reality and imagination is still blurred. I enjoyed cultivating the image of the Tooth Fairy as a strong, sly and generous female heroine. Forat has to deal with so many grown-up issues – I wanted to preserve a space where she could still cling to the magic of childhood. But as she gazed at me with suspicion and worry, I felt ashamed.
“Do you really want to know?” I asked.
“The Tooth Fairy is not real,” I said.
“Then who brings me the presents? Who takes the teeth?”
I pointed to myself.
“Sweetheart, I though that you –“
She threw her plate on the floor, screamed and banged on the table. I tried to embrace her but she pushed me away and burst into tears. Osama entered the room, and she allowed him to hug her.
Forat will soon celebrate her eighth birthday. She will take one more step toward the late, clear-eyed stages of childhood – when she will learn to decipher the world and be exposed to its disappointments. I felt sorrow for her pain and the loss of our sweet moments together, on those select mornings when she would jump out of bed, her face radiant and laughing, and proudly show me the note that the Tooth Fairy had written to her.
Bad rules vs. freedom
After dinner, I sat with Osama in the living room. Four year-old Adam was playing a game in which he ran from corner to corner, dressed in a Spiderman cape, and charged at the lions hiding under the armchairs. Osama and I were talking about a report that a colleague of mine had written about the closure of girls’ schools in Afghanistan after the Taliban came to power, an issue of concern to the human rights organization where I work.
“My heart aches for them,” Osama said. “They’re stuck between foreign occupation and local oppression.”
As usual, Forat listened to the conversation and periodically interrupted and asked for Hebrew translations of everything I said to Osama, with whom I speak in English. Forat understands English perfectly, but that’s her way of asking me to make grown-up subjects accessible to her.
“Why don’t they let girls go to school?” she asked.
“There’s a new government, and they made bad rules,” I told her.
Forat nodded and touched her loose tooth, trying to dislodge it from her gum.
“Ima, if my tooth falls out today, I want you to buy me a yo-yo,” she said. “And also chewing gum, but not mint-flavored. Strawberry or watermelon.” Her disappointment over discovering the truth about the Tooth Fairy had morphed into excitement over the possibility of ordering the presents she wanted directly from me.
“Forat, your tooth is not allowed to fall out tonight,” I said. “The shops are closed.”
“OK,” she said, and then, abruptly, she added: “Ima, is it better to have good rules, but to force them on the people, or is it better to have freedom but bad rules?”
Osama and I looked at her, shocked.
“What are you talking about, sweetheart?” I asked her.
“What you and Baba said, about the girls they won’t allow in school. I think that people don’t want to have rules pushed on them – but bad rules aren’t really freedom either,” she explained.
I sat next to her on the floor and drew her close to me.
“Do you know that you’re becoming a really big girl?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said, and suddenly broke free of my embrace, stuck her finger in her mouth and cried out in joy: “My tooth fell out!”