From my earliest memory, I have had a deep passion for all things pink, sparkly, and shiny.
But I was born to parents who never fully appreciated nor indulged my girlish ways, which is my proof that God has a great sense of humor.
My mother and father had the insane idea that my sisters and I should grow up feeling that we were more than just pretty objects to be taken care of and admired. We were raised to believe we could be anything we wanted to be.
The problem was that I wanted to be a princess.
My mother dressed us for days of exploring and getting dirty. Unlike the pink and frilly dresses my friends and cousins had, our dresses were simple, with more thought for comfort than show.
We had our share of dolls, but they weren’t the fancy ones that were made to sit on a bed or shelf that I coveted. Our dolls were made to be played with. We also had fishing poles, microscopes, and other toys that weren’t necessarily the norm for girls in the late 1960s and 70s.
Careers were discussed often, with the idea that we would start a life on our own before getting married and having a family. Choices my mother felt were not available to her when she was growing up during the 1940s and 50s.
I had dreams of a career on the stage and living in a New York City apartment on my own. But I also dreamt of being a mother and having a little girl who loved pink bows, frilly dresses, tutus, and princesses as much as I did.
As I got older and the possibility of children became a reality, I’d think of the type of mother I would be. I vowed to let my daughter be her own person. Even if that meant she would take after my sister and prefer playing with race cars and train tracks more than a Barbie Dream house — which for the record I never got.
Much to my surprise my first child was a boy. I wondered how a girly girl and princess wanna-be was going to connect with a son.
Thankfully my upbringing served me well. I saw Tom as a whole person, not limited by gender stereotypes. We played with stuffed animals, dolls, cars and trucks. Rough-and-tumble play felt natural to me because my sisters and I could roll on the floor with the best of them with no fear of being told it wasn’t lady-like. I fell head over heels in love with my son and motherhood. Life was good.
Three years later when I found myself pregnant with a daughter, I was thrilled.
By that point, I was old enough to realize how fortunate I was that my parents didn’t bombard me with outdated ideas of what it meant to be a girl. I did my best to curtail my love of pink and painted my daughter’s nursery yellow.
I played “Free to Be You and Me” on her CD player and read her stories like Curious George and Madeline. When I did read a fairy tale, I often changed the ending so that Cinderella or Snow White took their futures into their own hands instead of waiting for the handsome prince to save them.
Just like I did, my daughter had her own ideas of who she was. As soon as she was able to, Lizzy made it clear that she only wanted to wear dresses and bows. The frillier the better. She was only too happy to play in mud and run around with her brother as long as she could do it in a princess costume, tiara, and fairy wings.
As Lizzy got a bit older, it also became apparent that there was something very wrong with her development. Our life became a roller-coaster of specialists telling us of brain damage and significant delays. Some days we would have the joy of seeing her hit a milestone her doctors thought she would never reach. Other days I would cry when she would lose a skill or another symptom would present itself.
Through it all there was the relationship, or more precisely the painful feeling that I lacked one, with my daughter.
The truth is some days I have to work harder than a comic playing to a roomful of drunks just to get the smallest reaction from her. The one thing that bonds us is our mutual love of all things traditionally girly.
One of Lizzy’s first words was, “Chanel,” as in, “I want Chanel perfume.”
When I get her ready for school each day, she is often in her own world, complete with her own language. Yet if I ask her what necklace she wants to wear, or whether she wants lip gloss, she will pop into reality long enough to tell me.
Lizzy is constantly teaching me the true meaning of acceptance that goes so far beyond gender roles: Give your children the freedom to be who they’re supposed to be.
*This piece is a reworking of an essay that ran on the dishwasher, December 27, 2015, under the title, The Life of a Princess. It has been edited from the original.