During a big, extended family Thanksgiving dinner, someone noticed how quiet the kids had gotten. My kid, specifically. When I found her, my 2-year-old daughter, Devi, was standing agape in front of a television where her cousin had decided to put on a DVD of Disney’s Cinderella. I’m sure I was asked if she could watch it, but looking at her–so completely mesmerized by the spectacle of singing mice with speech impediments, helping Cinderelly get ready for the Ball–something switched in me.
That was it, I decided: there shall be no Disney princesses. Not yet, anyway. The “old” Disney princesses– the aforementioned Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty–are caricatures predicated on an old-fashioned belief that if a woman is beautiful and wholesome enough, she will be rescued (saved from a life of being single, forever) by a handsome prince (because who wants an ugly one?), even revived from near-death. Life skills requiring logic, intelligence, savvy, and just good ol’ common sense are of little importance; just be pretty and be able to sing your sweet little tush off. And be able to communicate with small, cute animals.
By Februrary, Devi was asking for a princess dress, with two stipulations: it had to be blue, and it had to look just like Cinderella’s. So off I went to Target, found precisely what she wanted, and brought it home for her. When she saw it, she wanted no part of it, so I happily obliged her and put it away.
Once in a while, she asks to see the dress, but will only put it on if she can strip down to her diaper first. I have since hemmed the dress to fit her, since all that remained at Target were the Cinderella dresses in 3T, which would be too long for her. Not that I know how to hem. Gus the mouse would be ashamed of me.
With the promise of spring came the official announcement that Prince William had proposed to Kate Middleton, and she (of course) accepted. (Can you imagine the shit storm she would have gotten from her parents if she hadn’t?)
I remember exactly where I was in 1981 when I watched Prince Charles and Lady Di wed (in Crystal Beach, Canada); I remember exactly where I was when I found out that Charles was cheating on her (college), and where I was when I found out that Diana was dead (walking with a roommate in Waltham, Mass., where we saw the headlines in The Boston Globe outside a coffee shop). I’m not British, but I have some interest in Royal lineage and history–you have to admit, some of those Kings were wildly promiscuous, impulsive, powerful… a little like watching old episodes of Dallas. So why do I care at all about William’s and Kate’s royal nuptials?
I didn’t find my prince-of-a-guy until I was 32. (He likes to say, but you found me, baby!) Not late, but I was no spring chicken, and had happily traveled the world, established a career in teaching (in two states), and had long established financial independence. Until we found each other, though, I was convinced that I’d dated every man between Boston and Rochester, and I was prepared to find a sperm donor and make a life on a single mothers’ commune in Brooklyn. The traditional happy ending didn’t have to apply to me, ’cause sistahs are doin’ it for themselves, and that was fine by me.
There’s that little part of me that loves a happy beginning. Charles’s and Di’s story didn’t turn out so well, but their kids seem to have, and maybe there’s some hope for those boys.
So when Devi woke up at 6 a.m. on Friday–which she never, ever does–I quietly peeked into her room and asked her if she wanted to see a real princess get married. She lifted her arms to be picked up before I finished my question.
In the dimness of the early, cloudy morning, we snuggled in our blanket, watching Kate (who Devi calls “Princess Cake”) step out of the car with her dress. My little daughter drew in a big breath. She looks sooo pretty, mommy, she said, her eyes like saucers. I agreed. Kate’s a lovely gal–dress or no dress. Dev watched the processional, and her main observations were that the priest’s eyebrows needed a haircut, that the “temple” was reaaallly big, and that there were lots of funny hats, one of which looked like rabbit ears.
What didn’t occur to my 2-year-old was that this wedding is a once-(or twice-) in-a-lifetime event, that the days of women finding their MRS degree at college are long gone (thank goodness), that not all weddings are this grandiose (my husband asked, does this have to be the first wedding she sees?), and not all of us find our soul mates in our 20’s… or our 30’s… or at all. Princes sometimes don’t turn out to be princely, happy endings sometimes don’t end happily.
But my weary-eyed toddler now has a sense of what a princess really looks like, and if Princess Cake does her job right, what a princess really does. She’s a rescuer herself: she helps people in need, she’s a humble diplomat, and uses her title and fortune for Tikkun Olam, improving the world. I suppose if Di’s legacy to Kate is this model, little girls everywhere–and Disney films–will be the better for it. And if I’m worried about my dance-happy, jewelry-loving, princess-loving girl getting too girly-girly before too long, I have to remember that she also loves dinosaurs, looking for snails in the dirt, and playing basketball. There’ll be plenty of time for dress-up later.
For more on the royal wedding, read about why this mama said girls shouldn’t watch it.