07 July 2007

Of Princesses and Pretending

Curious Girl is quite taken with princesses, something I expected to have more angst about than it turns out I do. We've tried to expose her to a range of toys and games, including many gender-neutral games, but she likes playing dress-up in fairy and princess outfits. She looks adorable in them. Politica and I haven't bought her many--they've been gifts or hand-me-downs for the most part--but we have gotten a few Waldorf playsilks or pieces of cool material to go with them. Those are handy for playing wedding, it turns out, a game I find endlessly fascinating for what it reveals about Curious Girl's emotional needs and imagination.

Politica and I have been quite slow to supply her with princess narratives, however, and that's what makes her princess play so darn engaging (I think). Only in the past six months (she's recently turned 5) has she seen any of the D!sney movies (Snow White and Beauty and the Beast so far), and we've never read her any versions of the stories. She's had a princess dish set for a while, and that's contributed to her notion that Cinderella, Ariel, Snow White, Belle, and Aurora all live together in a castle, and somehow occupy the same social universe even now that she's aware that they have their own stories, friends, and partners. Last night, CG was Cinderella all during dinner, and this morning, she was Snow White. In the car, she was Belle ("Well, Snow White told me I must come visit you! Where's Curious Girl?" she said. I invented an imaginary CG to the right of her car seat and they had a nice little chat.). The Beast was busy ("He had a Beast meeting. He's really nice, you know. Maybe he can join us for dinner.") but Belle and I had a great time talking together, listening to 1776. Belle told me that she and the Beast love to dance, and that they had a party once with John and Abigail Adams. "They are so fun!" Belle declared. 'We danced all night."

So princesses, not so bad, when they're dancing with John and Abigail, talking about how things are on the Adams family farm during the Constitutional Convention (and as a side note, I realized today that CG's habit of saying "Incredible!" is likely a homage to JA in 1776). Curious Girl's princess play--although it is starting to encompass the romantic elements of the stories--focuses on friendships, kindness to animals, and relations between mother-figures (real or imaginary) and children (real or imaginary). Her pretend weddings involve getting animals dressed up to be family members and guests, and receptions at which everyone is dancing with their mothers. More frequently, she wants to play "let's pretend I just got married," which involves conversations about plans to have children (adopted or in the belly?) and relationships with mothers (who's coming to visit and when?) and sometimes adoption: the other day, she pretended to be my birthmother coming to visit me. She didn't want to say much while she was being my birthmother (other than that she was staying for a long time, wasn't it nice, and that my mother knew she was there), but Politica and I thought it was a pretty good move in her own pretend play.

Pretending is a way of making her own universe. I know she will grow beyond some of this, and I will miss the permeable relationship between reality and fantasy that swirls around us now. As an adoptee, CG will always have a fantasy past: we can't give her all the details I know she will want, and she will always have to balance her rational intellect and her imagination as she makes sense of her past. Just as she will always balance her intellect and her heart as she forges a future with me, Politica, and her friends. Playing princess, playing bride....she's playing her way to her grown-up self. I'm glad I get to play along, for now.


chichimama said...

A is also very taken with princesses, and has never seen a princess movie. Her friends have filled in all the details. And I too am not nearly as offended by the whole thing as I thought I would be, as she is so clear about how it all is "just pretend Mommy." And the stories that she makes up about them are just amazing.

susan said...

And the movies haven't really short-circuited her play--I mean, now she knows about the Beast, so she/Belle talks about him, but he does things like go to Beast meetings so she can have free time to play with other people. So she works the story lines into the rest of what she imagines.

When we read Charlotte's Web together last fall (by far the most complex book she's wanted to hear), I was crying at the last chapter, and she patted me and said, "Mama, it's OK. It's just a story." This from the girl who talks to salt shakers and won't stop nudging me until I help them talk back.

liz said...

I love that CG! Her play sounds both charming and sensible.

Scrivener said...

I've had a similar experience--both our kids like to play princess and did so before they'd watched the movies (well, at least before Ella had watched the movies--I guess Chloe saw them earlier than Ella did because Ella was watching them) and I expected that whole thing to be maddening but mostly it's not. Over the last few months, the two of them have gotten to wear dress-up is more about creating fairly elaborate sets than it is about costumes. Yesterday they pulled all the sheets off our bed and tied them to the curtains to create this huge sort of canopy-thing, and they piled pillows around, lined up stuffed animals, and had their own big stage.

Magpie said...

I love watching (and listening to) my child play make believe. She makes her animals talk in a falsetto voice and carries out elaborate scenarios. I've studiously avoided the princess movies, though she gets exposed to it at daycare - there's a pair of very Disneyfied twins. I'd just as soon it stays there and doesn't come home.

suszoz said...

Have you read this article by Peggy Orenstein about girls and princesses:
I like it (but I don't have a daughter so am just an interested observer.)