I bought my daughters an obscene amount of princess toys for Hanukkah. No, not organic, hand-made, gender-neutral princess dolls who are engineers in their free time. I’m talking straight-up plastic, Disney, hot-off-the-shelves-of-the-big-box-store, probably-made-by-Taiwanese-orphans, useless-without-a-handsome-prince-to-save-them princesses.
Yes, I know the problems with these princesses. I really do. Their stories perpetuate gender-role stereotypes that I will likely spend the rest of my parenting life trying to dispel. Their slim little figures will probably give my girls eating disorders. The plastic they’re made out of is probably contributing to global warming or asthma or cancer or some other horrible malady yet to be discovered. They’re certainly contributing to the clutter problem in our house. I spent way more money than I should have—more than I usually spend on all of Hanukkah. Worst of all, I just gave that money to some corporate villain who will probably use it to pad their own pockets and pay fancy accountants to figure out new and innovative ways to avoid paying taxes.
I know. There is nothing good about these princesses.
Except my daughters LOVE them. Really really love them. As in, “No, Mommy, we don’t want to watch Daniel Tiger or read the Fancy Nancy Mermaid Ballerina book or the new Hanukkah book from PJ Library or take a bath or do any of those fun things we usually want to do because we want to sit on the couch and play with our princesses. And then when we’re done doing that, we want to do it some more. And then we want to take them to school and play with them there. And then we want to come home and play with them again.” The stories of Snow White, Belle, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Ariel (which we have read many, many times) have no part in their play; rather, the girls act out scenes about little girls looking for their mothers (trying not to read too much into that one) and going on play dates, hiding from monsters and swimming in the JCC pool.
I suppose there are a million ways to justify buying those toys. Clearly, they’re contributing to the girls’ imaginary play. The Duplos will encourage their nascent engineering skills. Besides, their other Hanukkah gifts are more practical: books and $1 socks from the sale bin at Target (yes, they’re Hello Kitty, but they’re still socks), and hooded towels for their swim lessons. I suppose there is a part of me that wants to be that mother who is always principled and thoughtful and always does the “right” thing. But there is also a part of me that remembers what it was like to be a kid and to really love a certain toy. I’m no girly-girl, so for me, it was Legos, She-Ra, He-Man, and mechanical pencils. I remember how great it was to get that toy–not a crappy knock off, or even a high quality “sensible” version–but the exact toy that I saw on the commercial or toy store shelf. There is something special and fancy about the whole experience–the surprise of actually getting just what I wanted, and the fun of playing with it. I remember that it made me happy. Really happy.
I remind myself on a regular basis that my job as a parent is to love my girls, keep them safe, and teach them important life skills such as how to manage their tempers and share with their friends. It’s my job to feed them a healthy diet and make sure they have clean clothes and get to preschool and bed on time each day. It’s my job to teach them about tzedakah and tikkun olam and Jewish holidays and culture.
It’s certainly not my job to make them happy. But sometimes I get tired of following the rules and always trying to do the right thing. Sometimes I want to do something for my girls for no other reason than it makes them happy. Because that makes me happy, too.