Bring it, princesses!

For a while, I actually believed I could stop the avalanche of Disney princess crap. I really did.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not anti-Disney. Far from it. I own a collection of Disney movies, love going to Disney World, and I look forward to someday taking the kids on one of their cruises. I’m just conflicted about the princesses. Specifically the classic Disney princesses, you know, before the days of Ariel and Belle, who finally grabbed the bull by the horns (Belle almost literally) and took the hero role.

I thought maybe, just maybe, Nica would just skip this phase. She didn’t seem at all interested in Disney films or Bedazzled polyester-and-tulle dress-up outfits. She enjoyed building with blocks! drawing and painting! playing with baby dolls! pretending to be a doctor! playing cards and board games!

And then she started preschool, and it all went to hell.

She was in constant contact with many girls who wanted to be princesses, fairies, mermaids and ballerinas. Now, I have nothing against fairies, mermaids or ballerinas. Because they actually do stuff. Being beautiful is just part of the story, and play is unscripted and open to anything the imagination can conjure. But the princesses most admired by the preschool set only want to be pretty and idle. If they’re feeling extra-energetic, they might sing or dance, or clean some mean person’s or dwarf’s house, but they’re otherwise in passive distress or just plain lying down, waiting to be kissed or have a shoe placed on their foot, ultimately to be carried off to be wed to a royal stranger. All this is OK for an older girl who has more of a sense of the world and the possibilities out there; she can put it all in perspective. But for someone as young and impressionable as a preschooler who doesn’t even care about romantic love yet? I feared that it would have a limiting effect or put age-inappropriate thoughts in Nica’s head.

She soon began to talk about princesses and wanting to dress like a princess. “Wouldn’t you rather be a queen?” I said. “At least a queen can rule.” But Nica did not want power. Just the thought of all that work seemed to make her feel faint. She just wanted to primp. I was dismayed. But I also began to fear that if I kept Nica from the princess experience, it would become all the more special and precious to her. And then she would end up like one of my college roommates, who hoarded candy and ate it by herself at night because all her childhood she had been forbidden to eat sweets. So, I decided to stop being so uptight and just let it happen, lest Nica turn into some weirdo Miss Havisham type.

The princess toys started to trickle in at birthday parties and Christmastime. Then one of Nica’s grandmas started buying princess stuff. A couple of friends here, an aunt there, a Disney gift certificate here, and suddenly we are knee-deep in princess dolls, princess accessories, princess stickers, princess shoes, princess handheld video games, princess pencils, princess dress-up pieces, princess playing sets and a princess learning laptop. And I know this is only the beginning.

For a couple of months, it was just as I feared. Nica only cared about being “pretty,” which to Nica and her cohorts meant “like a Disney princess.” She only wanted to play according to the fairy tales’ scripts. The ultimate goal in any game was the same:

 

But to my immense relief, Nica eventually began to move on. She still plays princess, but at least it’s all part of a larger repertoire of play options. And as I go through all the princess merch that Nica has acquired, I see that in the midst of the idiotic stuff there are some good, fun items too. More on that next time.

 

Owl Moon

Here is another book written in the first person, and a voice diametrically opposite to that of last week’s Pinkalicious.

 

The protagonist this time is an earnest girl with a poetic soul. She is going on her first owling expedition with her father. Her older brothers have had their first owling experiences, and now it’s her turn. She and her father venture out on a moonlit winter night in the hopes of catching a glimpse of an owl.

There’s evocative writing, beautiful art. You read this story, and it actually makes you feel something. I’ve seen some embarrassing, silly children’s books about fathers and daughters that diminish that special relationship to the most basic of stereotypes. But here, that bond is depicted elegantly. You can perceive that the girl trusts her father completely, and it’s this trust in him that carries her through the little discomforts of this journey. You can sense the history of their relationship.

This is a book that could grow with a child and hopefully inspire an awe of nature, an appreciation for quiet moments with a loved one, and an understanding that patience and faith have their rewards.

That said, in our house, this could take a while.

 

What becomes of a boy who has a big sister?

Like most little boys, Ham (18 mos) likes cars and trains and balls and sticks and dirt and anything that smells gross or makes a loud noise or can make a person exclaim in pain or surprise. But he idolizes his big sister and spends much of his time following her around and trying to do what she’s doing. And she is often doing very girlie things.

Yesterday, Nica (4) was showing him a booklet of stickers and trying to get him to speak and learn what she considers vital information:

Nica: “This is Cinderella. Can you say ‘Cinderella’?”
Ham: “Doh?”
N: “This is Cinderella, and this one is Ariel. Ariel is a mermaid. Mermaids have no legs. But it’s not sad, because they’re good at swimming.”
H: “….”
N: “This one is Snow White. I love Snow White, but I really don’t like her movie. You know why? There’s a witch that is soooo scary. You might not wanna watch that, Hammy. She is sooo scary. If you have to watch it and you get scared, you know what you do? You cover your eyes. And then go to Mommy. But you’ll bump into things, because your eyes are closed. That’s OK. If you fall, you’ll cry, and Mommy will come, and you’ll say, ‘Hey, I was looking for you!'”
H: “Mam.”
N: “This one is Aurora. That’s tough, right? Can you say ‘Aurora’?”
H: “Rowr.”
N: “No, Hammy! That’s a tiger sound!”
H: “Rowr!”
N: “If you like tigers, Hammy, maybe you’d like her. She’s Belle, and she’s friends with a… not a tiger, but a furry, um, bull-lion dog. He probably growls! Can you say ‘Belle’?”
H: “Tell.”
N: “Mommy, Mommy! Hammy said ‘tell’! He’s talking! I taught him! Can we get ice cream cake to celebrate?”

I often tell Ham that he’s lucky to have an older sister instead of an older brother, because, given Ham’s personality and ability to destroy, annoy and vex, an older brother would have resulted in Ham looking like this a lot:

But, as it is, he ends up like this:

I often wonder what long-term effects having an older sister, especially one as gentle and feminine as Nica, will have on Ham. I hope it will make him understand women better than most men do; and, if not understand them, at least learn when to stand by them and when to, let’s be honest, stay the hell away from them. I hope Nica’s influence will help him be respectful, patient and kind to other women in his life. Who knows, maybe he’ll go the extra mile and take an active part in his wife’s quest for fabulousness.