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.
I 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?
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.