You heard right.
The four year old asked me to play Cinderella with her and it was not a surprise. The entire platoon of Disney princesses had already stolen their way into our house last year via a single pirate gift copy of the Princess and the Frog, which I mistakenly thought might turn some of the old conventions on their heads. It did not, at least not in any kind of easy arms-in-the-air victory dance way. More importantly, I did not anticipate the game at the end, which features quick plot summaries of each of the other Disney princess classics, followed by a pop quiz to test the young disciple’s knowledge. My kid was a quick study, and was on a first-name basis with all of them within one afternoon.
So here’s the thing: I actually love fairy tales – the original, weird and wonderful ones, at least. And anyone who shares that love knows there’s no end to the geeky dissections that can be done of the traditional fairy tales as well as the Disney Princess Industrial Complex (my personal recent favourite – the Magical Disney Princess Chart, for a comparative overview of the life cycles of Disney princesses through the ages). Not to mention the millions of interesting ways they can and have been re-imagined for children and adults alike.
Spontaneously figuring out how to share this wildly complex terrain with a small child at the end of a long work-week and many, many accumulated sleepless nights? My better self told me, “You can turn your nose and lecture her on all the ways Disney’s Cinderella sucks, and she will remember that you were a sourpuss and never played with her. Or you can try to turn it around and make it worth your while.”
“Ok,” I said, putting my game face on. “Who do you want to be?” It was a no-brainer, of course. I mean, what girl doesn’t want to play at being a fantastically powerful flying fairy who appears and disappears at whim and brandishes a magic wand that can turn pumpkins and mice into transportation vehicles and rags into dapper duds? Ok, so maybe I’m also a little bewitched by the prospect of the wand wiping away all the house work with a single twitch, but really, that’s power. Right?
Wrong. She wanted, of course, to be Cinderella, and I wanted to protest, “You want to pretend to be a hapless and totally uninspired doormat who’s trapped in a patriarchal women-hating-on-women rat cage?”
But I bit it back. Instead I said, “Cool. So what’s your superpower?”
This threw her for a loop.
“What do you do?” I asked.
“I clean,” she said, looking a little uncertain. “Then I go to the ball.”
“Oh, wow, a ball! That sounds like fun, can I come?”
“Yes, but you don’t let me go. You’re my step-mother,” she added, gaining a bit of confidence. “You always make me clean everything.” Then, as the injustice of this dawned on her, she folded her arms and turned away, throwing in, “And I’m not going to clean for you ever again.”
“Huh. That’s really mean of me,” I mused.
“Yeah! Really mean! And I’m not going to do it any more!”
“OK. So what if we share the cleaning, and that way the house gets cleaned faster and we can all go to the ball?”
Needless to say, before long she and her little sister were buckling themselves into the back seats of the pumpkin carriage and we were headed to the ball, with a little pit-stop at Tim Hortons for cookies and juice. We had a great time dancing the night away, and it wasn’t until well into the festivities that she looked up and suddenly asked, “Where’s the prince?”
“Oh, he couldn’t make it,” I said breezily.
“Then who will we marry?” she asked curiously.
“I don’t think we’re getting married tonight,” I replied. “We decided to GO GET ICE CREAM INSTEAD! It’s going to be great!”
There were shouts of joy and a mad rush to the door. But before she got there, she turned back to me.
“You know, you used to be so mean,” she said. “You’re so much nicer now. I like you much better.”
Then she gave me a big hug, leaving me wondering why everything couldn’t be this easy.