By Ginger M. Sullivan.
Long before we ever have children, we have fantasies of what they will be like. When I was a childless twenty-something, my future daughter was unencumbered. She could choose her heart’s desire. At full range. Unlike me, she would not have to fight to be her true self. As part of the first female generation in my family line to not follow a traditional course, I had crossed the threshold. I had broken the glass ceiling. College beyond the Mason-Dixon line, a respectable intellectually-based career with my own salary, athletic accomplishments written up in the newspaper – these were now possibilities for my daughter, as opposed to being oddities for me. My daughter could bask in the endless possibilities I had hard-won. She wouldn’t have to like pink. She could run and play without stopping to always be the nurturing one. She could discover her talents without the risk of disappointing the holders of the mold of “what a girl should be.” She would be free to explore all of who she is without the subtle and not-so-subtle messages of limitation. The world was her oyster and I was happy to be the beacon of such opportunity for her.
Or so I thought.
When my daughter was five, she was as coordinated and as smart as they come, yet pink pervaded me. Everything was pink this or pink that. (Wouldn’t my grandmother be pleased?!) We did Barbies and princesses. We bought magic fairy wands and read stories that end with “… and they lived happily ever after.” We got our nails painted. We talked shop, girl-shop.
There were days I looked in the mirror and asked, “is this me?” “Is this my daughter?” Without even trying, encouraging or force-feeding – there it was. The princess resides naturally in the x chromosome. I guess I could do the same thing that was done to me, only in reverse. I could refuse her her choices and “make” her be what I want her to be. I could tell her what she likes and doesn’t like to make her into my image. But I can’t do that. I won’t do that. I know the fit of those shoes and I have spent way too much time and money on the couch to cram her toes into those babies.
So, I bought pink and entered (kicking and screaming, mind you!) into the fantasy of being a Princess in fairyland. Which brings me to another point. How long do I let this go on? The myth of life turning out happily ever after? My life hasn’t unfolded like that nor has it been for anyone else I know. So, either I’m in with the wrong crowd or my data collection accurately reflects reality – that princes don’t come, that things don’t always turn out happily ever after, that wands aren’t magical and sometimes the shoe just doesn’t fit.
So, do I really want my daughter buying into this lie? Do I really want to set her up for the biggest disappointment of her life by colluding with this magical but delusional fantasy day-in and day-out? Can I really swallow this delusion enough to pretend gleefully?
Perhaps, the writers of timeless fairy tales weren’t thinking about the psychological development and the preparedness of real-life expectations for pre-pubescent little girls. Or were they? Perhaps, they did know the harshness of life and they were encouraging the prospect of dreams anyways. That in spite of wicked step-mothers and sadistic witches who cast long sleeping spells, hope prevails. Forces of evil can be overcome and love wins over pain every time.
So, I guess, from that vantage point, I don’t have the heart. I can’t be the one to tell her at a tender young age that life is about suffering, that dreams sometimes falter, that grief and loss are inevitable, that nothing lasts forever. I will get up tomorrow, the next day and the next perpetuating the fantasy of Cinderella at the ball in her gorgeous Size 2 gown, wearing glass slippers, dancing the night with the dapper Prince.
And before I can bat an eye, my daughter will be fifteen and the fantasies of fairyland will have faltered on their own accord in the school of life’s hard knocks. And she will be coming to me in the fullness of her teenage angst and woes telling me how hard life really is. And at that point, it will be my turn to hold the fantasy – or the reality – that life also holds the good. That miracles can occur, love does come in unexpected ways at unexpected times, that it really is worth keeping one’s dreams alive.
As a parent, we all want to give our children more than was given to us. For me, I guess that means that, for today, I play Barbie and buy pink, knowing that tomorrow she may well choose to wear black and be in a rock band. I guess I need the emotional flexibility for her to be both, all of that, whatever she might need to for herself in that moment. It also engenders in me a clinging to both sides of life’s experience – that I uphold the hopeful and the good, that I’m here for the inevitable let down, and that I am still willing and available to put my heart out there once again and wish upon a star.
Ginger M. Sullivan practices psychotherapy to pay the bills but her real joys are her two children, her pug and her writing. As a self-proclaimed fumbling human being, she expounds on the underbelly of life – all things raw and real – that others might continue on their journey to become their highest, best self.