“But you were a princess, a Vampire princess!” That was father trying to wiggle his way out of a tough spot when Norah came back home from school the day of the carnival, a Halloween equivalent here. He was very influential in her final choice of costume: Dracula. But witnessing the disappointment on Norah’s face after the fact, he began to realize that we had only seen the tip of the mysterious iceberg that is a child’s psyche. And already, we were stupefied and dumbfound.
Ninety percent of the girls in the class came dressed up as princesses or some kind of princess derivative. Just as 90% of the boys came dressed up as soccer players. But father wouldn’t have any of that. He loathes anything pink, with bows or ruffles, heels, makeup and nail polish, i.e. all things that make a girl a girl. He is convinced that all that stuff impedes a girl’s intellectual development and limits creativity. Being a representative of the girl camp myself, I don’t have such a clear cut view on the issue of fairies and princesses. It also doesn’t help that my vision is often clouded by an inexplicable sporadic longing for long flowing dresses. At those moments I like to casually point out to him that no one feels the need to forbid soccer to boys and have them try something less cliché just to mix things up a bit, utterly satisfied with myself. Anyway, back to Dracula.
Norah did a lot of soul searching until she finally settled on pleasing daddy. Dracula it became. I went around the shops and assembled the pieces. We woke up 1/2 an hour early so I could do her makeup, which she found impressive. When the illusion was complete, gelled hair and all, we drove her proudly to school.
Her arrival aroused the desired impact and a steady stream of ‘Oooooooh’s and ‘Aaaaaaaaah’s. She was unrecognizable. Her classmates didn’t really know what to do with themselves having such an oddity in their midst. But judging by the approval on the teacher’s faces, I declared Operation Dracula a Grrrrreat Success, and was on my merry way. Until I saw her again.
When I came to pick her up at the school’s daycare, her makeup was as good as gone by now and her hair hung in hardened strands around her baby face. The first thing she said to me, as if continuing an ongoing conversation was: “But next year I want to be a princess…”
Hiding my disappointment in her baffling inability to appreciate individuality and uniqueness, I tried to point out that it had not all been in vain. The kids were genuinely frightened (although it was probably more of the fact that she was not a princess than of her dark demeanor). I also mentioned that the teachers were thoroughly impressed, and that she had really contributed to furthering the cause of true creativity and keeping the real spirit of carnival alive. Her school friends listened in attentively to my speech, trying desperately to understand, but mostly just smiling innocently, perfectly content in their princess uniforms. I gave up and dragged the sulky faced Norah home where the discussion continued, now with father defending his theory on what a 5-year-old girl should wear and feel.
In the end, if she ever manages to retain a memory of this day, it will go down as ‘the day I couldn’t be a princess’. Empathizing with her only after the fact, I felt really guilty for having robbed her of a classic little girl experience. Oh, yes, there’ll be other opportunities, and I’ll make sure we do right by her then. She can live out her princess fantasies until they reach their natural expiration date, for all I care. But would that be the right thing to do…
What is this little girl princess obsession anyway? Was it always this way? Did little girls dream of being princesses before the existence of fairy tales? Or are the brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen to blame for everything?
What is a princess, but the epitome of femininity, of what a woman can achieve according to our society rules. But does this still apply? In spite of all the progress we’ve made in securing equal rights for women, why do we still tell these tales to our children? And, more strangely, why does the princess archetype continue to carry such enormous appeal to the little ones and not so little ones?
Maybe because it’s a promise that there’ll always be someone out there to take care of you, even when your parents are gone. The fear of being left alone or orphaned is a hefty threat at any age, but especially to children. That’s why we teach boys to bypass loneliness by attracting a mate using his strength and wit. While we teach girls to be lovely, to cook and be humble.
But, in this day and age, aren’t there other ways we can ward off potential loneliness? There must be some other alternative archetypes we can explore. I think we are long overdue for a review of our lore and whether it’s helping us move forward or holding us back in the clutches of ignorance.
Some months later Norah was once again confronted with the Dracula affair, while I was reviewing the photographs taken by teachers throughout the year on the school’s website.
There she sat, right next to the princesses, positively bizarre and out of place, but absolutely stunning to me. She examined the photo in silence, with a barely there smile of satisfaction and just a hint of malice. And then I knew. I knew that maybe it had not all been as traumatic as I thought, and that it just might have had the right effect: to have her think, however briefly, out of the princess box.