One of the proudest moments in my parenting life so far was when E, perusing a giant catalog of Halloween costumes and given carte blanche to choose whatever she liked, decided to be a penguin.
A penguin. Not a fairy princess. Not Ariel, Belle, or Sleeping Beauty. Not Little Red Riding Hood or Wonder Woman (though I thought that one was sort of cute, myself.) She wanted to be a penguin. I gave her a full week to change her mind. She didn't. And so she was a penguin, and I was very proud.
As previously discussed on this blog, I hate pink. I warned all well-wishers during my pregnancy that any gift colored Pepto-Bismol or with an excess of ruffles, would be sneered at, mocked, and possibly discarded. I decorated E's nursery in lovely, gender-neutral primaries. Her first dress was navy blue.
Until very recently--and I promise I haven't denied her access to any of these things, just haven't pushed her in that direction, either--we've managed to steer clear of princesses, tutus, fairies, and ballerinas. E loves to sing and dance, she loves wearing leggings, and her favorites colors are brown and navy blue and gray. A girl after my own heart (except for the brown part. Ugh.)
An NPR interview with Cinderella Ate My Daughter author Peggy Orenstein instilled fear in my heart that I'd lose my uncommonly sensible, grounded toddler to the horrors of princess-worshiping classmates at preschool.Yet six months in, E still can't name a single princess, has never asked to wear a tiara, and her only interest in ballet is that she gets to twirl like crazy to good music, which is what she wants to do all the time, anyway.
Like Orenstein, to say I'm not down with the current trend of princess obsession is an understatement. I'd never deny E a chance to pursue her own interests. The last thing I want is for her to turn out just like me. But I'd also like to think her dreams came from a place inside her own soul, and not from the box of a Disney DVD.
Lately, things have been shifting,
On Monday, just as a test, I asked E what her favorite color was.
"Brown," she said, barely looking up from her crayons.
Then there's the tutu. A silly, frilly, heart-covered pink tutu that was hiding at the back of her closet, the gift of someone uninformed about my color/style preferences. She found it. She inspected it. And then she started racing into the house every day after school, stripping off her pants, and pulling it over her hips. We're on the eighth consecutive day of tutu-dom. No sign of the allure wearing off. Also, she'll only wear dresses. Gone are the days when I can coax her into skinny jeans. If it doesn't resemble a dress, she won't put it on. Many a morning has seen me chasing a crazed, underwear-clad toddler around the dining room table trying to wrangle her into a T-shirt. Prior to two weeks ago, we didn't even own any dresses in her size. What's happening here?
There was a carnival at school today. Bad mom that I am, I forgot all about it until yesterday afternoon at pickup, when a hand-lettered green sign on her classroom door reminded us to send the kids in costumes on Friday.
"E said she was going to be a penguin for the carnival," Teacher Debbie said as we were leaving,.
PHEW. My good, sweet, sensible child wanted to wear a costume we already had.
But in the car on the way home, E looked concerned. I asked her what was up.
"Mommy....I don't want to be a penguin for the carnival. (Long, painful pause.) Can I please be a butterfly?"
A butterfly? We didn't have a butterfly costume. We had a penguin costume. I panicked. I told E she had to be a penguin.
"Ok, Mommy," she said. But in the rearview mirror, arms folded across her chest, she looked so, so sad.
I always thought I'd be the mom that said no to these kinds of requests. The mom that said "You'll wear what we have, and that's final." The mom that would think this was an important opportunity for learning about the way life works--that sometimes we don't get what we want.
Then I thought of my own mom. What would she have done if I had made a similar request?
Simple. She'd have made butterfly wings. Out of wire hangers and tissue paper and fabric paint and sparkly stuff, all of which would be at home just waiting for her to create the world's most perfect pair of butterfly wings on a moment's notice. Problem solved, no extra expense, no running around like crazy.
I don't have tissue paper. I don't have sparkly stuff. I don't even have any wire hangers.
I am not my mother.
The thought of E going to the carnival, disappointed but stoic in her recycled Halloween costume, made me sad. Really sad. So sad, in fact, that I skipped yoga class and spent my precious two hours of babysitting calling every store in existence yesterday afternoon, and then driving all the way to Westwood (read: China) to buy her a pair of butterfly wings.
And now I'm that mom. The mom that drives all over town in crazy traffic to locate a pair of glittery rainbow sparkle wings so my daughter can be a butterfly at her preschool carnival. Worse? While I was there in the princess-y, tulle-smothered pink girly-girl shop, I lost all sanity and bought her another tutu.
When I got home, I didn't really expect her to get too excited.. She's still only two. She's fickle and forgets stuff easily. The magnitude of the journey I'd taken and the morals I'd squashed to get her those wings should still be WAY over her head. But the crazy thing is, she seemed to get it anyway. She literally held her breath when she saw the wings. Then she squealed. I've never before seen physical manifestation of the expression "couldn't believe her eyes." I thought she was going to faint.
30 minutes later, wings on, E interrupted her twirling madness on the living room carpet to come into the kitchen, where I was cooking dinner, and hurl herself into my arms.
"What's that for?" I asked her, as she clung to my legs with an iron grip long after the hug was over.
"For my butterfly wings, Mommy. THANK YOU for my butterfly wings. I love you."
(At least the new tutu's black...)