So, the thing isÖ Ana is turning five years old.
The beauty of writing this column is that I only have to show my readers the best side of my parenting. But occasionally, in the interests of continuing this honest relationship we have, I have this desire to confess to all the times I have gone against my own standards and failed miserably. For example, right after I wrote the column about why I do not spank my children, I actually threatened Ana with a spanking for running away from me across a busy street. (Of course, I had to first explain to her what spanking IS Ėwhich would make a really funny story except that I was so traumatized that I canít really remember what I said.) I wrote about wanting to take Janeís pacifier away at age one and here she is, two-and-a-half, and she still has it in her crib. I wrote about how I abhor stage mothers and then found myself telling some stranger in Wal-Mart who had commented on Janeís advanced verbal skills, about my (then) three-year-old who was READING. Iíve already told you of my surrender (and subsequent psychotic break) over Barbie and although I always focused so completely on non-gender specific toys, we now have three Barbies. (No one but me (Barbara) is confused by the fact that they all have the same name.)
So, now I stand before you, red-faced and needing to confess once more.
I am giving Ana a princess party for her fifth birthday.
I know, I know! I know what I said. I said I hated those Disney princesses, all of whom get saved by handsome princes Ė who are smitten by the princessesí BEAUTY (gag me)-- and ride off to live happily ever after. Iíve ranted about the messages those fairy tales send about how women need to be rescued and how beauty is more important than character.
I knew I couldnít keep them from Ana forever, though. So I read her ďThe Paper-bag PrincessĒ and ďHappily Ever AfterĒ Ė two books aimed at dispelling the myths and grandeur of the life of your average princess. Nothing doing. As soon as Ana caught sight of that princess dress at Zany Brainy (50% off after the holidays) she was transfixed. She hasnít taken that dress off for two months now, except to go to school or bed. Iím ready to burn it.
I know that youíre wondering what is so wrong about a little girl pretending to be a princess? Well, nothing. I did it myself. And thereís nothing wrong with little girls playing with Barbies. Or having bedrooms filled with pink stuffed animals. There is nothing wrong with any of the stereotypical girly things, as long as the girls themselves CHOOSE them. But itís a hard distinction to make: what choices do our girls actually make for themselves and what choices do they make because they are getting messages about what they SHOULD do because they are female?
Okay, okay, so Iím a little over the top on this subject. Not as over-the-top as the friend of my friend Tanya who gave her daughter a Princess party and then stood in the back yelling, ďItís a LIE! Itís all a BIG LIE!Ē I just donít want Ana to ever get the idea that being female means being passive. That it means going to sleep until some prince comes along to break the evil spell. (And as long as Iím ranting, why is the evil spell caster always the stepmother? What does that say about the judgment of Dear Old Dad? And where IS he?)
I canít tell if Iím overreacting, although itís probably a good bet. This whole inherent sexism issue doesnít get much air. Itís like high-fructose corn syrup Ė itís in everything and itís slowly poisoning us all but no one seems very concerned.
Of course, since the Cosmos has a black sense of humor, lately Ana has gotten really interested in the whole girly side of herself. And frankly, hereís where the rubber meets the road. I feel like I encouraged her Astronaut Ana phase, and I encouraged her Thomas the Tank Engine phase and now, by God, I better support this new Pink Passion. So I bought the princess dress. She likes to wear it with these mod biker-chick boots she inherited from her older friend Jessie, which have just the hint of a higher heel. ďLadies ALWAYS wear high heels,Ē said Ana, staring at my Birkenstocks with disdain. (I can tell sheís tempted to take me aside to explain the whole concept of external feminity but then she realizes Iím a hopeless case.)
When all is said and done, I really do believe that Ana will get more of her ideas about what it means to be a woman from MY actions. I try to be careful about what I say and do. Itís one reason that I go running and that I have entered the few races I have. Itís one of the reasons I say that I am working when I am writing. I make sure I talk about myself in terms of being smart and being a good mother. I donít want my girls to see self-doubt, or preoccupation with losing ten pounds.
I guess I want them to have all the benefits of being women, without any of the downside. I just canít stand the thought of them limiting themselves based on cultural messages of what it means to be female. I canít stand the thought of them limiting themselves at all. I do realize that a five-year-oldís birthday party doesnít necessarily mean a life direction. This princess thing seems to be something of a rite of passage for girls about this age.
But, all of this aside, I have an even worse confession.
Iím so embarrassed.
The truth isÖ Iím kind of INTO this new phase. Itís sort of FUN, in a very non-PC way. Itís sweet and itís innocent and itís a long way from Christine Aguilar and Britney Spears and all that sex for sale. Ana asked me for a canopy bed the other day and I had to admit that Iíve always wanted one, too. (Still do, actually.) I think sheís beautiful in that princess dress. I love that she feels so graceful and feminine in her new dresses now that she refuses to wear anything else. I watch her practicing her regal posture and I think my heart may burst, I just love her so much. I canít believe sheís already five years old.
Every girl should feel like a princess at some point in her life. ItĎs not enough to get her through MIT but it just might be enough to get her through Kindergarten. I think being a princess is okay.
Plus, if SHEíS the princess, than I get to be the Queen Mum.
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Barbara Cooper 2003
Barbara Cooper is the mother of Ana (five years old tomorrow!) and Hurricane Jane (2.5). She lives in Austin, Texas and sheís been trying on hats lately.