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November 13, 2012

The Princess and the Poop



My thinking on the whole princess thing has evolved.  In the last four years, it's gone from, "Hell no--keep that shit out of my house," to "Well...just a little princess-play can't hurt," to "Let me introduce you to my daughters, Cinderella and Rapunzel."

I remember, months before the twins were born, we had accrued a mountain of pink, frilly hand-me-downs from friends and family.  As the due date got closer, my wife and I tried to organize the mound by separating it into bins based on size.  In doing so, we had a chance to cull the worn out, shit-stained, or just butt ugly clothes.

Most of the clothes were in good shape, and cute enough, so we didn't have to consign much to the rag bag.  But there was one rule I insisted on following: anything with the word "Princess" on it went to charity or to the "paint" section of the garage.

I know princess narratives have become more empowering to girls in the last few decades, but the message of the classic princess stories is "Be kind, graceful, selfless, patient, compliant, and--most importantly--beautiful, and all your dreams will come true."  Of course, "all your dreams" equals "having a handsome rich guy sweep you off of your feet and take care of you for the rest of your life. 

I want my girls to have bigger dreams than that.  Furthermore, it seems like when parents call their girls "Princess," those parents aren't necessarily encouraging them to be selfless and kind, but rather teaching them that they're entitled to whatever they want because they're cute and special.  And, although I believe that my own girls are cute and special and deserve everything, the last thing I want is to let them know it.

Yet somehow, despite my objections, the princess trope made its way into my kids' consciousness and into my house.  It started with party favors and gifts from well-meaning friends who, in most cases, weren't trying to totally undermine my feminist buzzkill convictions. 

Early on during this phase, I wouldn't even use the P-word around my kids.  I had them calling Belle, Aurora, Tiana, et al. "little ladies."  And when Amazon boxes containing size 3T dresses in crinoline, tulle, and glitter (which, by the way, becomes a permanent feature of the decor wherever these gowns are worn) started landing on our doorstep, I insisted that we call them "ball gowns" instead of "princess costumes."

Then the books started appearing, and eventually our iPad somehow spontaneously downloaded the original Disney Cinderella. 

And now it's full-on.  The girls wear their princess costumes about 50% of the time that they're awake and at home.  They stuff the ball gowns into their little backpacks and carry them around when we go out, and they often go to sleep at night clutching the silky bodices to their cheeks.  They recite lines from the Cinderella movie and various princess texts they've heard hundreds of times, in tiny falsettos they call their "princess voices."

I've gotten used to the princess worship, but I can't say that I love it.  It makes the girls happy, and it inspires them to engage in imaginative dress-up play for endless hours.  They're memorizing princess-based stories and songs, and making up their own. 

Still, there's something that's just plain un-American about princesses, and I'm always looking for other, more democratic, fictional characters to direct them toward.  So, in service of taking the shine off of princesses, if an opportunity opens up for me to take a passive-aggressive jab at one of their perfect little ladies, I'm all over it.

This morning, I may have stumbled upon the ultimate tool for demythologizing princesses.

At the age of three-and-change, my girls are finally housebroken.  Mostly.  They have the occasional accident, and they still sleep in diapers at night.  But old habits die hard, and one of the twins--let's call her "Cinderella," since that's what she calls herself--will drop a deuce in her diaper if I leave it on too long in the morning and she has the urge.  I guess there's something comforting or nostalgic about it, though I can't for the life of me see what advantages pooping in a diaper has over using the potty.

Anyway, she snuck off to a corner this morning, laid some cable in her diaper, and then explained to me, in diction befitting a child far too old to be loading her Pampers, that I should go ahead and change her.  

I decided to use this teachable moment to deploy some mild shame. 

"Why do you want to poop in your diaper?  Why don't you just use the potty?"  I asked, wiping up the carnage.

"I WANTED to poop in my diaper!" she replied.

"Big kids don't poop in their diapers," I rebutted.  "Just babies."

"And ME-EE!" she said.  "I LIKE pooping in my diaper."

"Princesses don't poop in their diapers," I said.  She paused for a beat.

"Princesses don't poop ANYWHERE or ANYTIME,"  she replied, her nostrils flaring.  I had hit a nerve.

"Oh, sure they do," I went on.  "Everybody poops.  Even princesses."  My daughter gave me the hardest stare a three-year old is capable of giving.  "But princesses use the big potty!" 

It's a rare moment when a bit of mindfuckery can so perfectly fit the situation.  If "Cinderella" believes that her namesake has the same bodily functions as her subjects, she must believe that the beautiful princess would never stoop to wallowing in her own feces, and that might make her rethink her affinity for pooping in her diaper.  At the same time, the inevitable image of Cinderella, perhaps surrounded by adoring birds and sycophantic mice, grimacing on her porcelain throne, should go some way toward humanizing princesses and making it clear that they're no more deserving of role model status than any commoner: that, in short, their shit stinks as much as everyone else's.




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