When Petunia came into being, I -- with the typical arrogance of a new parent -- came up with a list of things I knew I'd do right. That list included never letting her play with Barbie dolls. Puh-leez -- Barbies?! Tall, tiny-waisted, big-breasted blonds as a toy for the daughter of a liberal, almost-short, brunette intellectual? No freakin' way. Instead, Petunia would build things that would empower her for a future in male-dominated engineering, should she choose that path. She'd learn how to tinker, how to cook, how to create. She wouldn't watch TV, would play the piano, and might be allowed one baby doll, someday.
And then she was born.
Some of my original fantasy held: she did have a toy workshop before she had a toy kitchen. She created a lot; we spent many days on our backyard patio with her in her birthday suit covered in fingerpaint, decorating the fence and the table as much as the paper. We made playdough. We made block towers. But ... we caved on TV early on. Did you know that one Baby Einstein video = one adult dinner at the table without screaming? Later, piano lessons didn't stick, but guitar ones did. Baby dolls became a collection of American Girls, and then, there were those Barbies.
To my credit, I did not buy Petunia her first Barbie doll; that came from a cousin who was a collector. But because we caved on TV, we soon caved on movies: Disney princess movies, to be precise. And there were Barbie-ish dolls that looked that these princesses. And she ended up with every last one, bought, mostly, by me. I loved how she loved those princess movies -- how I'd get home late at night from graduate school and wake up to her playing "voices" with her daddy, with him playing a prince to her favorite princess du jour, often acting out scenes from these movies. She had the dress-up clothes. We took her to Disneyland and Disney World. Pretty soon she was wearing all pink, all of the time, and, most often, dresses. It's what she loved, and what she wanted, and I forked over the cash that bought it. She was a girlie-girl, I reckoned. It is what it is. (And then later, when Dash was born, I had an all-boy, all-the-time kid. Maybe there are gender stereotypes for a reason... but I can't resolve that in one blog post.)
Anyhoo, that little (formerly) all-pink girlie-girl just received an award at her school for being a four-sport athlete. In her closet, there are still adorable, flowery dresses that she has picked out herself, hanging next to bin upon bin of Under Armour, tennis skirts, goalie shirts, basketball shorts, softball pants, and the like... and underneath that, she still keeps dress-up clothes. She still loves her American Girl dolls and her princess movies, but, in the back of my mind, I worry: does she think that's what life will be like? That she can be this incredible athlete, but the real "win" in life will be when she scores a handsome prince to carry her into happily-ever-after land, where she'll have her own little real-life baby dolls? I have friends raising kids without the princessses for this very reason -- friends whose kids can play with Barbies, but who can't ever see a princess movie because of their male-dependent "message." I wondered: did I get it wrong?
Well, that question got answered for me today, per this converation in the car:
Petunia: "Mom, you know what I wish? I wish Disney would make a princess movie where the prince wasn't a main character."
Me: "What about Mulan, or Pocahontas? They weren't so prince-dependent."
Petunia: "Yeah, but they still featured guys who might as well have been princes. It's like the girl had to have a guy. Hey, there's an idea: how about a princess movie where there are no guys? Just strong girls? I'd watch that!"
And there you have it. You can raise a daughter with Barbies, and princesses, and all-pink ... and soccer balls, and science kits, and workshops, and nature hikes ... and she will figure out herself what her priorities are. You can watch Miss Representation (which I did believe and enjoy, by the way) and wonder just how much your daughter is influenced by Barbie and the media and the handsome prince fairy tales ... and then you can watch your own daughter make up her own mind.
Not all daughters are like Petunia, sure, but hey -- as her mom, I know that I once had all of the answers, until she was born, and now, as she approaches adolescence, I feel I have none. And I fret and I worry and I second-guess sometimes, and then my kid? She shows me that she sees the world for what it is, sees through it all, and will make her own road just fine. Among the things she wants to be right now are a vet, an FBI detective, an environmental scientist, and an historian. Not a bad list for a girlie-girl who still plays with dolls and watches princess movies ... and my son? He's playing right alongside her, watching the movies (pretending not to like them, but watching just the same!) and receiving these "messages" in a different way. He reminded me today of his plan to adopt six sons and not have a wife. So much for the princess story!
Kids these days: they get it, they really do, despite our best attempts to know-it-all for them.