Thursday, August 8, 2013

Cinderella, Retold

My daughter has fallen in love with Disney’s Cinderella, and it’s all my fault. I introduced the movie to her a few months ago, mostly on a whim because I thought she might like it. Wow, was I right for once. She took to it immediately and it has eclipsed all her previous favorites (Muppets, Sesame Street). Not only is it what she wants to watch on TV, it is also what she focuses her pretend play around and what she wants me to tell stories about in the evening. At this point I’m getting kind of bored with the movie, although I have had fun noticing things about the Disney classic that I hadn’t picked up on before. For example, Cinderella has quite the sarcastic sense of humor in a few places and some of the animated facial expressions are wonderful.

Aside from the tedium of having the same story seen and discussed again and again, I have to admit to a few qualms about the whole adoring Cinderella thing. The story itself is a little challenging, for one thing, particularly as I have a stepmother and my daughter knows it. I've been at great pains to explain that my stepmother is a good and loving stepmother, not at all like Cinderella's mean stepmother. I'm relieved that my daughter hasn't asked yet about what dying is and hasn't seemed to clue in to the idea that Cinderella's daddy died. But mostly my qualms are about Cinderella herself and the overall message of the movie: that just believing in your dreams will make them come true, that if you are beautiful and passive people will help you, and that marrying a prince is a prize worth fighting for. Bleach. But regardless of my opinion, my daughter loves this movie.

I’m trying to take the very wise advice of a good friend, who many years ago when talking about her own daughter and how different her child is from herself observed “You have to parent the child you have.” I couldn’t agree more. I had, as most parents-to-be have, all kinds of ideas about who my daughter would be and how I would raise her. And I’ve learned, as most parents have, that some of those ideas have worked out, some have been worth fighting for, and many have fallen by the wayside because my daughter is who she is and my theories and fantasies weren't worth two pins. For example, over this past year I’ve come to realize my daughter is much more of a frilly, dressy girl than I ever was. I think that’s part of the appeal of Cinderella for her, to be honest – she loves the pretty dresses in the movie. My daughter herself preferentially wears dresses, has mostly reasonable ideas about what clothes match, and delivers clear opinions on her hairstyle. I don’t quite understand where that came from (my husband is color blind and I am clearly a comfort over style kind of gal) but that’s ok. We’ll go with it. I will buy her dresses and do her hair the way she wants and let her pick her clothes and rejoice in her being the person she is.

On the other hand, I don’t want her to think beauty is just pretty dresses or good looks. And I really don’t want her to imitate Cinderella by being passive and waiting for good things to happen and other people to rescue her. So I confess to utilizing some creative license in discussing the movie and retelling the story of Cinderella for my daughter when she asks. I emphasize how Cinderella keeps her temper when she’s mad as opposed to the stepsisters who forget to use their words and rip Cinderella’s dress instead. I talk about how Cinderella is very strong and good at solving problems and learning new things. I point out how hard Cinderella works. I talk about how Cinderella is beautiful on the inside and that’s what makes her beautiful on the outside. I talk about people liking Cinderella for her kindness and goodness, not for her clothing or pretty voice. I think my daughter is getting the point. She told me the other day “I’m a princess. I’m good at solving problems.”

I don’t really think a love of princesses is going to hurt my daughter. As my sister says – she’s not even three. She has plenty of time to develop the character traits I want her to have. As she gets older and better able to tolerate scary scenes I’ll introduce her to some of the other Disney princesses as well, like Merida and Mulan. And in the meantime I will make every effort to balance my teaching ethics and life skills with rejoicing in my daughter being herself, uniquely and preciously an individual.