Every night before bed I go to each of the kids’ rooms. I check on the boys first. I go into their bedroom, with their cribs six feet apart, and stare at them long enough to confirm that I see their chests moving. I don’t doubt they are breathing, but I appreciate visual validation. I don’t stay for too long because, while they can sleep through each other’s screaming, they tend to wake at the scent of my desperation for peace and quiet.
Then I go to Eva’s room, my only daughter and oldest. She sleeps in a pile of blankets and pillows on the floor, next to her toddler bed. Since we moved into our house nine months ago, she has refused to sleep in her bed. However, she won’t get rid of it, even though it appears to only be good for holding all of her stuff, which will someday be featured on a show I hope to produce called Toddlers and Hoarders.
Sometimes, after I locate her in her nest of stuffed animals and quilts, I walk over and kiss her forehead. The other night, I stayed in the doorway. I thought, she is such a big girl, in such a big girl’s room.
She is sleeping on a pink rug, Tinker Bell decorations hang from her ceiling, and a tiara and wand litter her dresser. A little over a year ago, I wrote an essay called Mom-Mom, The Princess, and the Hypocrite where I discussed my distaste for Disney princesses and stereotypical expectations based on gender. I vowed to never allow a tiara to grace the head of any of my children, unless it was on a son. I swore off Barbie. And I refused to buy frilly clothing.
And here I am now, tasting the hypocrisy of my words. If they could have flavor, they would be bubblegum and if they could have color, they would be pink and purple. Despite my attempts to keep over commercialized “girl” stuff away from my daughter, she seems to have a sampling of all of it. My attempts were based on the simple fact that I wanted her to be exposed to all toys, ideas, and colors a child should get to experience and not only the ones that society thinks she should have based on her gender.
But about six months ago, she developed a very strong desire to wear pink, princess stuff, and learn all of the names of the Disney Princesses. I don’t know all of their names, so one is called Pouchy. Don’t ask. She wanted pretty dress-up dresses from Santa and last month she wanted a Tinker Bell birthday cake. Her newest infatuation is the princess underwear she picked out at Costco. They also have Hello Kitty and Super Heroes if anyone is wondering.
I could have said no to all of it. But I didn’t. Why? Because she doesn’t ask for much. Because all of it makes her happy—I have never seen a kid so excited about underwear. And because on any given day she will want to wear her Wonder Woman costume instead of her princess dress.
While she has a fondness for stories and characters I can’t stand, she also loves my old Berenstain Bear books and building with blocks and Legos. She is creative and funny. She is a well-adjusted kid and turning into a solid little person.
I will credit this to nature, nurture, and my resistance to handing her gender biased things.
The other night while she was brushing her teeth, she looked at me and said, “Mama, am I pretty?”
After my heart broke a little bit, and after I fought the urge to do my best Aibileen impression and say, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important,” I quickly told her yes. Yes, she is pretty. And kind. And smart. And important. Seriously—if you haven’t read The Help, do it.
I don’t know where she got the notion to ask that question or what her definition of pretty is, but I don’t want it to be based on the packaged crap that is shoved in our daughters’ faces in commercials, books, and magazines.
Yes, I worry too much about this. But I believe it is worth worrying about. I realize that she is only three, but if I can provide a solid foundation of confidence and limitless possibilities, I will. And yes, I believe moderation and limitations to packaged girlhood is one way to do that.
I will say that having only one Barbie or one Tinker Bell makes Eva covet, if not appreciate, her contraband. At all times we know exactly where those things are and they are never taken for granted.
This subject is not the only one that has bent or broken my moral code and it won’t be the last. Parenting makes you do things you don’t always want to do and it forces you to compromise. It also gives you the opportunity to communicate through words and actions. I will continue to read her Disney stories about mermaids and princesses and I will continue to tell her she is beautiful, whether she is wearing a dress, a Super Hero costume, or nothing at all.