Friday, November 1, 2013

The Tale Of The Cherry Princess

This month, I’ll be jumping on the National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) bandwagon.  I’ll be linking up with BlogHer, where you can find tons of other bloggers who are crazy enough to attempt blogging every day for a month.  The theme for my writings this month will be “Messy Endings.”  Sometimes when I blog, I feel the need to make sure my endings are neat and tidy – problems solved, tricky situation navigated successfully, parenting challenge accomplished.  But that’s rarely how life is, and I’m looking forward to writing about more unfinished, in process, unresolved, confusing, and messy moments in my life.  The act of writing every day will, inevitably, entail messy endings.  No one writes brilliantly every day of their life, so in writing every day I am giving myself permission to write poorly sometimes.  I think I’m hoping that being a truth-teller, bearing witness to the messiness of life, will make me brave and maybe encourage a reader along the way.  Thanks for reading! 

A couple weeks before Halloween, Eden announced that she wanted to be a cherry for Halloween this year.  We were driving home from a friend’s ice cream birthday party, where Eden had ordered a cherry-vanilla cone and was reminded how much she loved cherries.  “They’re red, which is my favorite color, and they taste yummy, and I like when Auntie Jen shares them with us in the summer,” she explained. 

I was thrilled.  I tried not to make a big deal out of it, but inwardly I was so damn glad that my girl was creative and original and sheltered enough from marketers that she wanted to be a cherry.  A cherry.  How cool is that? 

So I waited the requisite amount of time to make sure she wasn’t going to change her mind, and then we figured out a plan for her costume.  She helped cut out her cherry pieces from the bright red posterboard, and then we fitted the green stem over her head.  She helped tape and staple and hole punch and tie and had the biggest smile on her face when she tried it on. 
The day of her school Halloween party came and when it was time, all the kids ran to their lockers to get their costumes.  They were told to put their costumes on and then sit on the mat.  I helped Eden with hers, and then she realized she couldn’t really sit down in it.  And then she started looking around…she saw Spidermen, Batmen, Ironmen, Luke Skywalker men, and princesses.  Of the five girls in her class, four were princesses.  And one was a cherry. 

A fire-breathing dragon near us asked Eden innocently, “what’s your costume made of?” as he reached over to touch it.  “Mine’s made of fabric.  Is yours paper?” 

Eden looked at her costume, and looked at her classmates.  She looked at me with, I think, fear in her eyes.  “Mine’s made of paper and theirs is made of fabric,” she whispered. 

I tried to smooth things over by being nonchalant.  It didn’t work.  Soon she was near tears.  Then she wanted her costume off, like, now.  Then she was terrified that she was going to have to walk in the parade and she did NOT want to walk in the parade.  Then she was sobbing, big gulping breaths and tears and tears.

I went back and forth between reassuring her, consoling her, encouraging her to wear her costume, telling her it didn’t matter if she wore her costume, fielding questions from her teachers, reassuring her confused classmates, and trying not to cry myself.  It was one of my superb mothering moments. 

The only thing I knew in that moment was that I was not going to put words in her mouth.  I had my suspicions as to what was going on, but I wasn’t going to ask leading questions and possibly add fuel to the fire. 

To help the students learn to pay attention to detail and identify things about themselves, Eden’s teacher asks kids who have certain characteristics to line up at the door.  So on Halloween she asked, “Will any friends in a superhero costume please line up?”  Every single boy, fire-breathing dragon and Luke Skywalker included, lined up.  It seems that every little boy considers himself a superhero.  I chuckled a little.  And then, “Will any friends in a princess costume please line up?”  And every girl except Eden lined up.  I winced a bit. 

My kid was different.  My kid felt different.  And it felt bad. 

To her, the difference was paper and fabric.  I was afraid she might have been embarrassed that she was the only girl not a princess, but she didn’t mention that.  I was afraid she might recognize that she was the only classmate not in a movie-character costume, but she didn’t mention that.  Later, on the way home, she said that she was afraid her classmates would laugh at her, because she was the only one with a costume made out of paper. 

Her costume was paper, and that was difference enough. 

It was so innocent.  No one was making fun of her, not in the slightest.  Her friends were asking her why she wasn’t wearing her cherry, telling her they liked it. 

She wanted to be like them, and she wasn’t, and she was afraid and embarrassed. 

I hate that.  I got mad at everybody that day.  First I was mad at the people who market movie character costumes to little kids, robbing them of their creativity and originality.  Then I was mad at “our entire culture” (you know you’re in trouble when you’re mad at something that vague and all-encompassing) for turning Halloween into just another consumerist junkyard.  I was even a little mad at Eden, that she lost her courage and spunk when she needed it most.  And I was mad at myself, for making her costume out of shabby paper.  I lashed myself with “shoulds” and “next-times.” 

And then I wasn’t mad anymore.  I was sad and mostly confused.  Because I understand wanting to be part of a community, wanting to be like everyone else.  I think that’s hardwired into us.  And as much as we talk about “embracing” and “celebrating” our uniqueness, sometimes at our core we just want to be the same.  It feels safer and easier, yes, but also comforting and homey and warm. 

As much as I want to encourage Eden’s creativity and originality, she’s now old enough and exposed enough to see that it’s not all sunshine and cherries to be different. 
She tried on her cherry costume to show a few family members, but then back in the corner it went.  She happily wore a “princess” dress to the rest of our Halloween festivities.  She’s a cherry.  And she’s a princess.  She’s my cherry princess.

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