Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Every Day Princess: noble, brave, and twice as quick

Persistence is in a hardcore princess phase. Jon and I are baffled by it. Where did it come from? Prior to her obsession (and believe me, it's an obsession) we had a very limited amount of princess stuff. Neither girl had ever expressed much interest in princesses, and we had no desire to push princess stuff, so...we lacked stock. We had maybe a few books, although not ones she read much. We don't watch any princess TV shows or own any princess movies. There were a few dress-up princess dresses Patience had gotten as gifts in years past, and maybe a doll.

I think school might be the genesis. At Halloween she wore a Georgie costume and every other little girl wore a princess costume. The following week, she was princess crazed. She wore one, or two, of her princess costumes every single day. I freshened the dresses as best I could, and changed out the base clothing underneath. I refused to let her go out of the house in the ridiculous clunky plastic shoes and we came to an agreement about her sneakers, which are now called Princess sneakers. Then, for Christmas, she got some sparkly little shoes that are simple flats and shoes she can actually wear out and about.

Every day she says to me, directly after breakfast, "Mama, we go upstairs now, I need-a get my Princess on."

I find that statement---how she says it, what she says---very telling.

It's not an outfit; it's a persona.

Recently, she's been broadening her definition of what constitutes Princess Attire. She began transitioning to regular dresses that she deemed fit for a princess (fancy dresses, past Easter dresses, etc.). I appreciated this expansion. It was getting a little difficult.

But as her clothing definition expanded, so did her obsession with all things princess. She now must drink from a "princess" cup, eat off of a "princess" plate, use "princess" flatware, read "princess" books and so on. Because we've never been big princess fans, we don't really have any specific princess stuff so we have to get creative to accommodate this. For eating, as long as the item has pink, we're okay. For reading, as long as the book has a castle, we're okay. There are a lot of rules for the mom and dad of a princess and sadly, no manual for reference.

Sometimes we make a mistake.

And that leads to a major meltdown.

This is when I lose my tolerance for princess. This is when I start thinking there is no underlying reason for princess...she just likes to play pretty and diva. This is when I feel manipulated and start feeling a tugging urge to clamp down and put an end to this princess nonsense. This is when I start questioning my open acceptance of my kids and their kid-driven development, and start wondering if the naysayers have a point. I worry they might be right and that my validation of my kids and their stages is actually spoiling.

But then there is a light: Persistence suddenly began incorporating ballet outfits in her princess repertoire.

The ballet outfits I understand a little better than the princess. She loves dancing.

I promised her dance lessons when she turned three, we do the Bella Dancerella dance DVD daily, and I have begun teaching her a few basics about movement. (Once upon a time, I taught two ballet classes: 3 and young 4, and 4 and 5 year olds.)

This phase had loosely begun a few weeks ago, but then we went to her oldest cousin's dance recital and interest blossomed into fascination.

Persistence loves her cousin and often copies her, just because she thinks everything her oldest cousin does is neat. We often joke that Persistence is "monkey see, monkey do." The ballet mimicry caught my attention, gave me pause and I think a little insight.

Is she emulating someone, or an aspect of someone, whom she greatly admires when she dresses in these costumes? Is she forming her personality? Is she feeling closer to that person by dressing in a way that captures the moment she felt was so important?

I'm not sure. It's more than just role-playing and dressing up for fun, though; it's a serious business.

So although I haven't quite figured out why she is so princess obsessed or what it's reflecting from within her, I am trying to understand it and I am indulging it. The part I do understand is that it is very important to her.

If she needs to dress like a princess and wear a tiara, more power to her.

I do think princesses can be powerful; what we make of the idea of princess is what counts. They don't need to be trapped in a tower, waiting for rescue. They can play with wooden trains on a track, run races, paint pictures, and bump foot-pedal cars with laughing abandon. She doesn't know that, as a princess, she is supposed to be any particular way. She makes it up as she goes along.

I'm pretty sure that in Persistence's mind, princesses are Large and In Charge.

And maybe right there is the exact explanation for my three year old's princess obsession.
But while they talked, above their heads I saw
The feudal warrior lady-clad; which brought
My book to mind: and opening this I read
Of old Sir Ralph a page or two that rang
With tilt and tourney; then the tale of her
That drove her foes with slaughter from her walls,
And much I praised her nobleness, and 'Where,'
Asked Walter, patting Lilia's head (she lay
Beside him) 'lives there such a woman now?'

Quick answered Lilia 'There are thousands now
Such women, but convention beats them down:
It is but bringing up; no more than that:
You men have done it: how I hate you all!
Ah, were I something great! I wish I were
Some might poetess, I would shame you then,
That love to keep us children! O I wish
That I were some great princess, I would build
Far off from men a college like a man's,
And I would teach them all that men are taught;
We are twice as quick!' And here she shook aside
The hand that played the patron with her curls.

The Princess, by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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30 comments:

the dragonfly said...

If I ever have a little girl she will very likely be into princesses. Not because I am, or because I'm any kind of girly-girl (I'm *really* not)...but because I've always loved fairy tales, and she'll probably hear a lot of them. My son will too, once he's older. But he's less likely to want to be a princess. :)

slouching mom said...

lucky persistence, to have such a wise mom.

and, fwiw, i was a wannabe princess child who was rarely allowed to indulge a passion so...frivolous. not to mention its potential to set the women's movement back. or so i was told.

and i'm still sad about it. truth.

jen said...

power to the princesses, indeed. M is going through something similar (yet not so hardcore) and i too am baffled and yet at the same time, am rolling with it b/c it seems so important to her.

kick ass princess power, that's what i need to muster.

Kyla said...

I think this generation of girls has the opportunity to incorporate feminism and feminity, and not in a lesser way...in a great way as long as their parents help facilitate it. Princesses of substance and strength. I also think that unfortunately a lot of them will fall to the wayside of the Bratz mentality, though. Bah.

I think kids play at things to try on different personalities, to see what fits them, to see where they fit. You do well with your girls.

Karen said...

you know, you are such a good mom and I think there should be no criticism of your tack here - she's just pretending and you are putting all the right limits for safety in place- so your boundaries are working and she's exploring this in the ways she needs to, for now. And, she's having fun! She's a kid! Hurray!

Mary-LUE said...

Developmentally, if I remember my Louise Bates Ames books properly is a tough year. Some of the more "difficult" aspects of this princess stuff you're talking about sound like typical three year old stuff. She'd probably be the same no matter what the obssession.

And I do think you are right, it is developmental. She is working out who she is, what she wants and how to go about getting it.

Good luck... I hope your princess is more gracious than some other royals from history... No "Off with her head!" I hope! ;)

kayak woman said...

I have two young 20-something daughters. At our house, three was the age of pretty pink sparkly clothes, tiaras and jewelry and Barbie dolls. But that was left behind long ago as they pursued an ever-evolving series of interests throughout their childhood. Neither of them turned into anything remotely resembling a diva and just try to get them to wear pink, sparkly stuff now.

We read the book "A Little Princess" when they were young. As the wikipedia article about the book says, Sara "strives to emulate the qualities of [a princess]: generosity, compassion and politeness." I think "noble, brave, and twice as quick" are wonderful traits to add that list!

Can little princesses grow up into real princesses? As I watch mine go forward into their adult lives, I have to say yes. In the best possible interpretation of the word and in spite of whatever advice or other drivel their old, tired mother ever tried to beat into their brains. ;-)

You are a thoughtful mom. Your kids will turn out fine. Don't listen to any naysayers.

Kayak Woman (Anne)

Rebecca said...

"This, too, shall pass."

My son, at age 4 (or so) insisted on wearing pink tights, a black mesh muscle shirt and black rubber boots. Painful for us as parents, but we let him do it. He's fine.

Kids express themselves and what they experience in all sorts of ways. As long as they are safe and well loved, I think we let them explore and experience all sorts of things.

Blessed be! Life is good.
Rebecca

Professor J said...

Wow! We just can't choose their obsessions, can we?

Can we? I'd like the opportunity.

Family Adventure said...

I can't say I know much about this, having boys...but I know it is so common. Allowing it I don't think is a matter of spoiling them, more so letting the girls to explore certain facets of their own personality.

And can I just say...she is mightily adorable in that picture!

Heidi :)

PS: Julie, about the travelling, we are taking advantage of doing so in Europe - so probably overdoing it a tad. But when else are we going to be able to hop on a flight and be in a different country within an hour or two? Bear with me...next year will be oh-so-boring :)

Aliki2006 said...

Oh, this was priceless. I think it's a universal phase. T. is in a modified Princess/mermaid/Care Bear/ballet phase and has been for some time. I wish she'd hurry up and get to the pony phase--I'd enjoy that one...

Gina Pintar said...

Free your inner princess biddy P! She has a look that can kill and makes a killer princess. I think the "new" princess is not of weakness and frailty but of strength and power. I hope she keeps that high self esteem. With a great mom like you, she surely can.

She is adorable in that dress. So was big P in the Christmas photos.

liv said...

I knew I loved that kid. Go, princess, go!

Lori at Spinning Yellow said...

Yep, totally princess mania here, too (at 3 and a half). I like your take on it and I do believe it is mostly just developmental, part of the role playing/gender modeling. They have NO idea why we get bent out of shape b/c to them, as you put it, being a princess is whatever they want it to be, NOT at all about waiting for a man or being helpless or whatever.

The plastic heel shoes really piss me off, though, and had I realized what they were before she got them as a gift, I would have thrown them out. She has higher heels than I do, for crissake!! And the worst part is that she prefers to wear those damn shoes and nothing else. Her dad is starting to worry that she might have a future as something a lot worse than a princess!

Mad Hatter said...

We're more of an Irish-dancing girlie/ballerina household with a strong attachment to all things elephant. I can hardly wait to see what we are next year or in five years. You're right, though; there's at least once a week that the whole thing makes me weak in the knees with self-doubt about my parenting choices but then her melt-down passes and she becomes a reasonable dancing girlie again.

Gunfighter said...

My daughter is a girlie girl, but never went through the Princess phase... but I'll tell you, anyone that quotes from Tennyson is alright in my book... which is not to say that you weren't beforehand.

painted maypole said...

the brain washing starts early, and my husband is convinced that all the princess stuff calls out in a frequency heard only by small girls... in a store she has never been in MQ can walk directly to the princess stuff. No lie.

read this book: The Paper Bag Princess

SciFi Dad said...

Now, you see, I am in awe of you being able to corral a group of toddlers into something resembling organized dancing.

It's a fine line to walk when it comes to these obsessions. We're knee-deep in Dora over here, and while there are upsides (the Spanish, the sequencing, etc) and limited actual downsides to her (the real issue with Dora, other than the yelling - that my daughter doesn't exhibit - is that she annoys the crap out of the parents) give little reason to limit it, somehow, like you mentioned, I feel like we're spoiling her but letting her accumulate stuff and watch the shows and what not.

But then I look at the Star Wars DVDs on my shelf and the action figures at my office, and I sit down and shut up.

Kids are into stuff just like their parents are. Just because you don't have a Blogger dinner plate doesn't mean your (not you, I'm talking in general) affection for blogging is that different from her princess thing or Dora thing.

But maybe that's just me.

Andrea said...

Frances never got into the princess thing, for which I am grateful. She has always loved her party dresses and party shoes but doesn't need them to be costumes.

But I do tell her Princess Frances stories at bedtime, sometimes; and when I do it always starts the same way: "Once upon a time there was a little girl who was very brave and strong, and her name was Princess Frances." Because that is what I want her to learn, and what she calls it just doesn't matter.

But I like this "noble, brave and twice as quick." That is good.

Sober Briquette said...

Julie, the same thing happened to us: it was the school Halloween party, age 3 1/2. Fiona was in a very small class of five, four girls and a boy. She wore a black cat costume that she absolutely loved up until that moment, and the other three girls were princesses. She was crushed to be the odd one out, and thus began the princess phase.

Blogversary said...

All hail to the princess power!

Hope said...

Ohhhh we are so there with you Julie. As I type, Jo is at the Nutcracker with her two cousins and grnadma in the front row decked out in all manner of tulle, satin and faux fur cape...I feel ya.

Michele said...

Zoe is too young, I think, to be in the Princess phase yet but a friend of ours has a 4 year old who is princess crazy. She even had a princess birthday party for her complete with white horse-drawn carriage. It's crazy how much princess stuff actually does exist out there.

jeanie said...

Oh my heart goes out to you - I have had a daughter go through the individualism squashed by "what the other girls are doing" at a young age. The fantastic news is that they bounce back!

I love the Lord Tennyson.

melissa said...

Got boys, so no princesses. But oh, we can be spies and "army guys". We have many things that are cammo.

But it's an important part of trying things on and finding out who they are.

Gwen said...

Second The Paper Bag Princess rec. We are big fans of Elizabeth in this house.

Try, if possible, to keep P out of Victoria's Secret, as she may decide, like Lucy did, that the teddies in there would make great "skating dresses." How mixed are those messages?

Cathy said...

It happened here too.

First it was the need to wear a dress everyday. Then things had to be pink or lavender or shimmery.

I say it's preK. Halloween was just as you described -- every girl in that room was in princess attire.

I'm not a fan either, but I figure it will pass.

I hope...

mommybytes.com said...

Oh yes, I know the princess phase well. Ours has lasted over a year since we bought the Little Mermaid DVD in October last year. I believe it is a healthy growth stage although I never went through it and it is pretty foreign to me as well. Just don't show Persistence the princess birthday cake I made for Dova (to be posted Friday for the photo hunt).

ewe are here said...

Awwwww...

I suspect I'm never going to have a little princess, no matter how irrational they can be from time to time. ;-)

You're so lucky. She's just lovely.

Mad Hatter said...

I also wanted to add that Miss M is not allowed to wear Princess outfits to day care. None of the kids are. Costumes on Hallowe'en only; that's their policy and I am quite grateful for it.