a lady’s prerogative to change her mind

Before I became the mother of a little girl, I was certain about one thing:  my house would never explode into Pepto-Bismol pink. There would be no princess- ification of everything from a bath mat to a sippy cup. If I ever had a girl—which after two sons, seemed to me nearly impossible— my daughter would be, above all, an independent thinker.

When I took my two sons—then two and four—to the Magic Kingdom, and they got to meet Buzz Lightyear, I literally wept.  But all the little girls in their stiff polyester finery, and prom updos from the Bibbity-Bobbity-Boutique, just made me roll my eyes. First of all, it’s a little hot in Orlando for synthetic fabrics. But to me, these little girls didn’t even look cute. They looked mass-produced. Tacky. Boring.

I conceived my daughter two weeks after getting home from that trip to DisneyWorld. Before she was even born, I had named her Maggie, after the tough little heroine in The Mill on the Floss. But also after Maggie the Cat in Tennessee Williams, and Maggie the unrepentant spinster in this play I had done once. All this was insurance against my daughter loving pink and passivity. Anyone named “Maggie” would shout and jump and tomboy her way through life. She would be nobody’s princess.

Two-and-a-half years later, Maggie was the very definition of self-esteem, a force who did gymnastics all day long– not in the muted gray French jumpers I had chosen, but instead (without fail) in the fuchsia polka-dot bathing suit her babysitter had given her, paired with sparkly tights for your cooler temperatures. This early-Belinda-Carlisle look was not what I wanted my daughter to wear; but it was most unquestionably what she wanted.

Still, I had managed to keep princesses at bay. If she saw Snow White on a potty seat, she’d crow, “That you, Mommy!” “Yes,” I’d answer, “yes, that is me.”  But my hubris would soon have its comeuppance.

That summer I took Maggie to a swimming pool, and tossed on the chair next to us were a pair of Disney Princess pink plastic wedge high heels encrusted with statement jewels. The young owner of these shoes didn’t appear to be around, so I asked Maggie if she’d like me to help her try one on. The shoe fit her dainty foot perfectly, and in that moment my daughter became Cinderella, claiming what had been rightly hers all along.

And I? Became at peace with the inevitability of it all. If my daughter wanted a horrible, tragic Sleeping Beauty light-up backpack, if it made her feel confident and special, why did I care? I mean, I wanted her to choose cooler things so that I, as her curator, could seem hip and cool by association. But one Tinkerbell toothbrush does not a Honey Boo Boo make. Plus, it was just a phase. It would all be over soon.

This year Maggie turned five. One day she brought home Olivia and the Fairy Princesses from the school library.

booksI had always loved Olivia, the independent-minded piglette in robust red, and I looked forward to her wry take on the entire sub-genre of princesses who can ALSO fly around on tiny gossamer wings.

But this book was about how Olivia was soooo much cooler than all the other girls in her class, a bunch of vapid lemmings who just wanted to be princesses for Halloween. I read this to my daughter- four days after she *was* a princess for Halloween.

A week later Maggie was invited to her best friend’s princess dress-up birthday party. We were driving across town when Maggie announced from the back seat:

MAGGIE: Mommy. You know I don’t really like pink anymore, right? Now? I like just gold.

After another crosstown block’s journey:

MAGGIE: And I don’t really like princesses anymore either.

ME: What are you talking about?

MAGGIE: I’m too big to like princesses.

We stopped at a red light. I turned around to face her.

ME: Maggie, you DO like princesses, and that’s okay.

Green light. We drove another block.

MAGGIE: Mommy. You know my pink princess dress?

princess-dress-300x224

ME: …yes?

MAGGIE: We should give that to a baby.

The day was coming when my daughter would no longer value princesses or pink above all else. But she was telling me all this from her CAR SEAT. She is a baby.  What if she thinks she has to change who she is to meet some arbitrary notion of what’s acceptable? And what if being a princess was protecting her from that all along?

I blame you, Olivia. But I blame myself too. When my daughter said she didn’t like princesses anymore, I think it’s because we made her feel like she kind of had to say that.  And all along: all those years of bedtime fairy tales had been warning me: be careful what you wish for.

Maggie and I got to that princess party. She hung close to me for a few minutes, hesitating, unsure what the properly restrained response of a five-year-old should be. Only when she saw this place was magical, was safe, my daughter chose a gown in her new favorite color—just gold– and dangly earrings, and for ninety minutes more, she was a beautiful, baby-bellied princess.

And anyone who wants to take the power of that sparkly scepter away from her? Is gonna have to go through me.

 

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Adventures In Babywearing November 12, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Oh wow, we’ve experienced a similar path, especially with all boys before my daughter. I thought there would be no pink (she has a pink room) and no Disney princesses (um, ha) and yet I think I assumed if there was all that there would be none of the other awesome things she likes and is. I don’t know why I thought that, but I did- maybe because of seeing so many people against princesses in general, I let it shame me into thinking that. She’s 4 and still into princesses but also asking to play zombie games on my iPhone. I’m pushing the princesses as long as I can.

Steph

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Leslie Esneault November 12, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Loved this!!! And I can relate!! I tell my daughter, “Once a Princess, always a Princess!!!”

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Nana November 12, 2012 at 3:18 pm

I am happy to note that while Maggie is dressed in gold, there are touches of pink. May she always enjoy a little princess flair!

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Taking Off the Cape November 12, 2012 at 3:32 pm

I have a distinct memory of my older brother shaming me out of liking my baby doll. I threw the doll across the room, saying loudly, “dolls are for babies,” and then, as soon as he was out of sight and earshot, I retrieved her and ran into my bedroom closet. I sat on the floor, crying and rocking my dolly and smoothing her hair and telling her I didn’t mean any of it, and that I still did and always would love her. That memory makes me cry still today. Even though I have three boys, I still have my dolly – and, believe it or not, she sits on a shelf in my room – mainly to remind me that childhood is SO short, and so fleeting, and to never ever allow anyone to shame my children out of loving something they hold so dear.

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Missy November 13, 2012 at 3:51 pm

What gets me – aside from the obvious heartbreak at seeing our kids grow up at breakneck speed – is that children are regularly shamed into liking/not liking something. I still feel some regret at a few times I gave in to peer pressure as a kid, and want badly to steel my boys against that. But how? What are the magic words? Do they believe me when I tell them who they are is more than enough?

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Kathy at kissing the frog November 13, 2012 at 7:28 pm

She is just darling! I appreciate this post. I don’t have girls, so I can’t speak to the princess thing, but I think it’s like anything that has been overdone in our society. The media and marketers and whoever “they” are, take an idea and run like crazy with it. In your case, it would be princesses, thus creating the backlash of the very thing that they wanted to emphasize in the first place. If our society could just let kids be kids and people be people and allow us to like whatever we want without shoving it into our faces and then trying to backpeddle, we’d all be a lot happier.
Plus, it is hard to see them grow up, isn’t it? 🙂

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Heather November 14, 2012 at 12:12 pm

I understand many peoples’ hesitancy and the newer movement away from the princess stuff. Because the princesses of old were really just women who did as they are told, little girls don’t see it that way though. They see a pretty woman, especially with Kate Middleton just becoming one, I can see how they would love to be a princess. I have a family member that doesn’t allow their two girls ot like princesses, they have taught them not to, and I wanted to go that direction just so that their family wouldn’t look at me like less of a mother. Now, I really don’t give a damn what my daughter likes just as long as it is inspiring and makes her happy I am happy. 🙂

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Courtney November 15, 2012 at 4:01 pm

I experienced a similar first reaction when my daughter became interested in princesses (she’s almost 4). But I let my own feelings about it go. She still loves pretending to be a princess, and now I love them:) She says princesses can’t be rude, and don’t pinch or hit their little brothers- Princesses are kind and nice to EVERYONE. If this is what my child is learning from pretending to be a princess, I hope she is a princess forever!

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