When my daughters were toddlers, my then-husband and I tried our best to resist the Disney princess phenomenon, but faced with the marketing juggernaut that is Disney, coupled with 5 sets of grandparents (you read that correctly), it was a losing battle from the outset. So we surrendered and decided to fight the battles we could win, like potty-training and eating food with utensils instead of fingers.
For those of you who have not raised daughters in the last 15 years or who did so while living under a rock, the Disney princesses reign supreme among preschool and early elementary girls. Their stories, songs, personalities, and clothes are committed to memory and little girls’ fascination with and loyalty to them eclipses anything witnessed during the Beatles or N*Sync crazes. The princesses are a pastel brigade to be reckoned with. Truly.
My ex-husband and I have spent countless hours correcting the values, norms, and expectations spoon-fed to my daughters by the Disney marketing division, and we ultimately agreed that surrounding them with strong, authentic, amazing women who lead lives that do not involve tiaras or talking animals was probably the best antidote to the Disney Kool-Aid. I still believe that, but there are times when I realize the dizzying power of the tulle and fairy godmother set.
Case in point:
On the way to the airport for our family vacation a couple of weeks ago, my 9-year-old daughter Bryn announced that she and her BFF, Amanda, Pete’s daughter, had decided that Pete and I should date now. Furthermore, she revealed, in order that she and Amanda could become sisters, we should also marry. This would, apparently, create no hardship on either Pete or me, because the girls had already planned the wedding. Nine-year-olds are selfless that way, I suppose. Unbeknownst to them, of course, Pete and I had already had our first date without any facilitation on their part. (Surprisingly enough, sometimes grown-ups manage this without the help of 4th-graders….)
Then earlier this week, Pete’s daughter Amanda asked why I was being invited to yet another family dinner. In his typical matter-of-fact way, Pete replied that it was because we were dating. Amanda made an “icky” face and that was the end of that. Or at least until after dinner, when we were parting ways and Pete, in full view of his parents and children, planted a sweet kiss goodbye on my lips. His 7-year-old daughter, Amber, squealed and commenced teasing him as I walked away, smiling to myself.
The following day, I received a phone call from my daughter Bryn, who is with her dad this week. She was breathless and so excited her voice reached pitches that surely only a dog could hear. She was, of course, calling for confirmation that Pete and I were dating, having heard the news from Amanda. I confirmed the news to her, and then experienced the ear-drum piercing scream that is unique to 9-year-old girls who are exceptionally happy. I allowed her to revel in her joy for a minute and then tried to remind her that dating is merely about two grown-ups trying to decide if they like each other in the way and to the degree that would cause them to want to a be a real couple. She acknowledged my words, but I could hear her mind already planning wedding gowns and horse-drawn carriages.
The next day, Bryn was at Pete’s house (again) playing with Amanda, and they treated to Pete to a performance of a hip-hop routine they’d composed called, appropriately enough, “My Mom and My Dad Are Dating.” Poor Pete. Thank goodness he’s not the kind of guy who gets scared off easily, or these two would have him in a dead sprint away from me for sure. Fortunately, I had warned him that this would happen, having been through it once with James. “Remember the Disney princesses,” I told him. “Right,” he replied, “they fall in love at the ball and get married the next day. Happily ever after.”
Once I get my kids back, I’ll remind them about my many lectures on dating and falling in love and choosing a mate. It will likely have little consequence at this juncture, but it certainly bears repeating. After all, I’m competing with years of animated bliss and immediate devotion. No amount of repetition is too much.
In all seriousness, though, one of the silver linings of being a divorced, dating mother, is the opportunity to show my girls first-hand the trials and tribulations of dating. Obviously, I don’t share the nitty-gritty details, but the general outlines of what dating is, how it plays out, the risks we take and why we take them — all of these things are useful lessons to young girls who will someday experience the same joys and heartbreaks they witness in me now. And, hopefully, their memories of my experiences will lend me a credibility when providing dating advice, guidance, and rules that I would be less likely to have were they to think I had met their father an eon ago across a crowded ballroom and married him the next day. Their friends are already more likely to confide in me their crushes than to tell their own mothers. Apparently my dating status assures them that I’ll better understand the fragile happiness and humiliation of crushes, and I honestly think I probably do.
So, while Bryn and Amanda are busy overseeing the animal menagerie that is creating my wedding dress and selecting the palace we shall all reside in after the happy day, Pete and I will continue to laugh about it and get to know each other the way real people do — one date a time. No glass slippers needed.