Last Saturday, my husband and I had a wonderful time taking our daughter for her ninth birthday on a pilgrimage to the American Girl store in New York.
It was a magical day. My daughter has been a fan of American Girl dolls since the age of five, and she loved being treated like the princess she has always known herself to be.
The dolls have been her faithful friends for years, and she adores playing with them. But even if she wasn’t a fan, I would have dragged her because to me the store is Mecca.
It’s the place I would have loved more than anywhere else when I was her age.
Being a girl in the 70s, a time when the women’s movement was in full swing, was not the ideal time to be a princess-in-waiting. I was born to parents who had the nerve to believe my sisters and I could be anything we wanted. They did not subscribe to stereotyped notions of femininity.
I had full access to microscopes, telescopes, craft kits, and art supplies. But what I really wanted was full access to all that was pink and frilly.
Before you strike up the violins, let me say that my childhood was not one of deprivation. Each year Santa brought me a doll, and I did have two Barbies. (Four if you count Ken and Skipper.) But I spent my childhood longing for a shrine to girldom: a pink canopy bed, frilly dresses, and long beautiful hair tied up in a bow.
My wish came true years later when I had my daughter. My princess has always gravitated to the most feminine styles. At less than two years old she refused to wear anything but dresses. She has always enjoyed the whole girl package.
Oddly enough it’s my parents who are more than happy to be her loyal subjects. Whereas my father’s nickname for my sisters and me was, “butch,” he has always lovingly called my daughter, “princess.” My mother, who never had much interest in dolls and frilly dresses, is only too happy to indulge my daughter in everything a princess would love.
They even go for weekly manicures!
I’m sure some of this turnaround is age and experience. My parents wanted us to have options that weren’t previously available to women. They were successful. My sisters and I are independent women who were able to make decisions about our careers and when to marry and start families. Their job is done.
But there’s another reason why it’s so easy to indulge my daughter’s love of all that is pink.
My daughter’s brain disorder affects every aspect of her development. It takes so much effort for her to be in this world. Processing sounds and expressing even the simplest of ideas takes so much effort for her.
Ironically, the language my daughter is fluent in is the one that I have always loved and wanted to speak, “girl.” When she is playing with her dolls or all dressed up in gowns and adorned in jewelry, we can reach her on a level she understands. It is effortless for her. She giggles and laughs and can connect with us.
Even her brothers know this. My oldest, who at 12 is too cool for all of us right now, will willingly play prince to her princess if he can get a few minutes to connect to the sister he adores. My five-year old, who would rather smash up cars or play with his trains will stop everything to join one of his sister’s tea-parties.
Maybe the sweetest thing for me to watch is how my husband has learned girl speak so he too can interact with his beloved daughter. He looked as involved and happy showing our daughter around the American Girl store as I’ve seen him playing ball with our sons.
Life has a funny way of taking us full circle.