I first started thinking about this post in mid-September, as my four year old was settling into her new preschool. On the whole, I was awash with relief – it’s a co-op, and while there’s nothing overtly political about it, the teachers, parents and kids are relaxed and warm in a powerful contrast to our previous (Montessori) experience. They recycle! And compost! And do yoga! And music! And send Monarch butterflies to Mexico! And, and, and…
Have a dress-up chest.
That’s fine, right? It’s not like I’m so consumed with terror of all things commercially-gendered that a silly little thing like a dress-up chest would throw me into some kind of tailspin? I’m modern, open-minded, know all about third wave feminism?
Ok, so I’m kind of old-fashioned. And a little obdurate. Really, as far as feminism is concerned, I’m more of a 2.5-er. Or something. The point is, I’m so consumed with terror of all things commercially-gendered that a silly little thing like a dress-up chest throws me into a centrifuge of seismic proportions.
So of course, with characteristic, absurdly misdirected gusto, I began oh-so-casually drilling her every day on the way home from preschool. Something like this:
“How was school?”
“Who did you play with?”
“Marissa, Zoe, Pedro*…”
“And so, uh, did you do dress-up?”
“What did you dress up as?”
Of course she figured out within five seconds that there were right and wrong answers in this pathetic rigmarole, but really, the call to princesshood was too loud.
“How about Batman?” I occasionally thew out little morsels of soft-wristed irrelevance. “Don’t you want to be a fire-fighter, too?” I whined.
Such was our holding pattern, and it was almost getting comfortable. Then one day, the ground beneath us opened up to reveal an entirely new chasm of dark horror.
“Did you dress up as a princess today?”
“What else did you–”
“Actually, Mama, today was a really good day because I didn’t just get to wear any princess costume, I got to wear the Charlotte one.”
“Huh? Who’s Charlotte?”
“You know, Charlotte. In Princess and the Frog.”
I began to feel slightly warm.
“Um, sweetie, I don’t know any character called Charlotte in that movie. Are you sure you’re not thinking of something else?”
“No, Mama. Charlotte. The one with the pink dress. With the–”
“–yellow hair,” I finished her sentence for her flatly, narrowly missing side-swiping a parked car.
“Yeah, Mama! That one! She’s my favourite.”
“So let me get this straight,” I said very carefully. “You have been impersonating the fatuous, slightly swine-like, blonde hambone. Foil to the intelligent, independent, enterprising heroine. Who would rather run her own business than moon around pining for Prince Charming. And who happens to be Disney’s first black princess. You have pointedly ignored Tiana in favour of her simple-minded slapstick sidekick? WHO LOOKS NOTHING LIKE US?”
“Is that a bad thing?”
“No. It’s fine.”
And just like that, I let it go. I just about watched it fly right out the window. I reached over, and turned up the volume on Jambo Bwana, a Kenyan pop hit from 1982 which has been playing on repeat in our car for the past eight months, and we both immediately joined in at top volume.
Cue credits? Sanctimonious feminist mother gets comeuppance from four year old, and they live happyishly ever after in self-aware, politically-compromised comfort? Sees the folly of her own hubris, lets daughter try out for Toddlers & Tiaras, proudly watches her become child star, teen sensation, career princess? It would have been a standard confuddled non-resolution in 21st century, middle class (downwardly-mobile) North America.
Except, I’m gathering, my kid doesn’t so much do standard. Also, she’s teaching – and re-teaching – me that time keeps right on rolling, before the beginning and after the end. Because against all expectations, the princess fixation receded into the background. With such seamless silence, in fact, that I might never even have realized it, were it not for the blaring volume of the obsession that replaced it.
Yes, my daughter graduated from all things Princess.
To all things Poop.
As in, Pooh-pooh in your face! Pooh-pooh in your eye! Baa baa black sheep, have you any poop? HAHAHAHAHA!!!
My relief was palpable. Children being scatological. I can get my head around that. Praise the heavens.
And so, stealing glances left and right, I seized the moment and quickly declared it: