Princess stuff that doesn’t depress me

Two items:

1) Vtech’s Disney Princess Magical Learning Laptop.

 

I’m torn as to how I feel about this laptop’s looks. On one hand, zoikes! Sensory overload! Tack-o-meter will self-destruct in 5, 4, 3, 2…. On the other, wow, that’s kind of fabulous. Why can’t adults’ laptops be heart-shaped? I wouldn’t mind a mousepad that looked like a big gem.

 

Nica (4) went gaga over the secret compartment (heart-shaped, bien sûr!) that you open with an attached key. Can you actually fit anything in it? Not much. Maybe a couple of small, flat objects. But this feature definitely appeals to that part of a little girl’s soul that relishes keeping secrets.

There are three major modes: Be a Princess, Princess Activities and Princess Explore. Within those three modes there are games or exercises. Most unfavorite feature: I cringe every time the perky narrator says “Do you dream about being a princess?” In my brain, that gets translated to “Are you a total airhead?” (This only happens when you first press the Be a Princess mode button—but Nica presses it A LOT.) Another annoying feature is the volume control. The designers of this laptop were kind enough to place the volume adjustment underneath the toy (so that your kid isn’t constantly messing with it), but the choices are basically Loud, Louder and Unbearably Loud.

But there are some very good features too. If you go to Princess Activities, you can choose a princess (Cinderella, Belle, Snow White or Aurora). Each princess presents three choices of exercises—letter order, number order, picture match, missing letter, counting, manners (learning appropriate greetings and such), etc. And then, if you choose Princess Aurora, the same voice that said “Do you dream about being a princess?” says “Answer the equation for Aurora.” Equation? Damn, Aurora, I guess you’re the valedictorian of the bunch. So, even though this laptop looks like it would only give you some dumbed-down versions of lessons, it really doesn’t. The lessons range in difficulty from basic letters and numbers (in Princess Explore) to addition and subtraction presented as equations (plus graphics to help out). And the Be a Princess mode mixes it up and gives you an assortment of mini-exercises.

2) This has got to be the ultimate princess sticker book: the Disney Princess Sticker Activity Pad with Play Scenes.

 

We love stickers around here. Had I gotten this when I was a kid, I would’ve swooned. It is awesome. Pages and pages of stickers, all the Disney princesses in different poses, different outfits, and, in Ariel’s case, different bodies (Ariel with a tail! Ariel with legs!). Plus all the supporting characters of all the princess films. The truly awesome part, though, is the blank play-scene pages. Each page shows a different set (the ballroom from Beauty and the Beast, the forest from Snow White, etc., etc.), and you can create your own unique scene using any stickers you want. Hours of fun. Perfect for Grandma’s house so that Grandma doesn’t have to run around, or when you need your little princess-worshiper to stay quiet for half an hour. Well, maybe not quiet. But occupied.

 

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.