Bursting The Bubble - Guest Blog by Katie F. Ward, the Enthusiasm Enthusiast
Posted on 21 April 2016
As parents of girls, it's not easy to navigate the many messages out there. Today, we are excited to have the insightful and charming Katie Ward guest blogging on just this subject (hold onto your princess dress!)
You may know Katie from her podcast The Enthusiasm Enthusiast - if you don't, check it out...you'll thank me. (Spoiler alert: in this week's episode she gives out a code for 10% off your next order with us.)
Bursting The Bubble
– by Katie F. Ward
I find no matter the age, socio-economic status, religion, etc. of a person, everyone likes bubbles. They’re pretty. They float. They catch the light. They don’t hurt when they touch you. Bubbles are so magnificent that one of the most glamorous women in cinema, Glinda The Good Witch Of The North, used one for travel. I’ve been to almost 100 birthday parties in my parenting lifetime, and a $20 bubble machine is really all most kids age 5 and under want for the occasion. The impermanence of bubbles makes them extra special. You know you’ve only got a few moments of magic before they’re gone. Bubbles aren’t forever.
Speaking of bubbles. Boy had I created a strong one around my child as a toddler. I have one child, and I stay home with her when I’m not working as an actor. So, I’ve done all the “things” modern, uptight stay-at-home moms do. I carriered. I made my own organic pureed baby food. I played on the floor and took walks to the park. I did mommy-and-me arts class. I did mommy-and-me yoga. I even accidentally signed us up for a mommy-and me-dance class where the adults were expected to perform with the kids in the annual Spring Fling. I opted out of performing because I’m not down to Fling in public and pay for the honor of doing so thankyouverymuch. (At least, not without a few cocktails, which I think, is frowned upon in the mommy-and-me dance community.) I found my way into an amazing playgroup of both children and women I really like who share my values as parent and a person. The holy grail of bubbles!
When it came time, I did the whole intense and exhaustive research into our local preschools thing. We weighed the pros and cons. My husband and I toured. I toiled. We decided. We picked a school with a play-based education philosophy. I was excited that my kid, who’s fairly prim and proper, would have access and be encouraged to get totally covered in sand and paint and clay. This is all stuff that’s not happening inside my house, so I was glad she’d have a place to go bananas. I was highly amped for her first day of real preschool. The night before, I packed her bag with her name on it, and buzzed around the house like a bee looking for something to pollinate. I wasn’t worried about drop off. My kid was excited about school, so I knew she would be fine saying goodbye. What kept me up is that I would no longer be the driving force and filtration system of the messages she would receive. The bubble I created was one of empowerment, equality, and tenderness. My husband and I had, for the most part, protected her from people who would be hurtful or unkind to her, people who might tease or dismiss her, or even people who would patently disagree with the philosophy we were teaching her. As I read what I just wrote, we sound awful and precious, but here’s more. For years, I’d been making sure that the stories I read heavily featured female protagonists. I changed the lyrics of The Farmer In The Dell to “the farmer loves his wife,” because no farmer should just “take” a wife! That’s crazy. What about the wife’s decision? I hid all the Disney Princess books she’d been given as gifts by well-meaning loved ones. She’d never seen a Princess movie, and I was adamant about keeping it that way for as long as possible. Maybe I was a total maniac, but I loved crafting this bubble. I was really scared it would burst.
And guess what? All my pressuring worked. The bubble remained in tact. She was immune and impervious to any outside opinion. Ha! Just kidding. That’s not even close to what happened. The truth is - she quickly found a boy in her class who constantly told her girls weren’t as strong as boys. Or as fast. She would convey what he said in complete and utter shock because she’d never heard that stuff in her life. That’s not all. She also befriended the girl in class who was the most obsessed with Princesses. This girl had seen every Princess movie. She wore a Princess themed item of clothing every single day, and so, of course my daughter worshiped her. My tiny beloved started quoting movies she’d never seen, and grabbed a Princess dress EVERY DAY for dress up during playtime. And guess what else? The new friend wasn’t always nice to my daughter. She would threaten to withhold friendship if my daughter didn’t play what or how she wanted. The measure of my kid’s day was based entirely on this other child’s whim and mood. My daughter had found her first frenemy. Holy. Freaking. Bubble. Burst!
As best I could, I tried to fight off the Princess stuff. I talked about how unoriginal Princess Halloween costumes are and how it’s much better to dress as an exotic animal. I tried to change the subject EVERY DAY when she wanted me to explain the entire plot of Sleeping Beauty which both fascinated and terrified her. She would often say, “Well, at least you like Belle because she reads books.” I could tell she very much wanted me to approve of what she liked. There was this push and pull between us that I started to realize was unnecessary at least and could be detrimental at worst. I didn’t want to tell her what she liked was wrong, bad, or lame. Women and girls are constantly criticized for our likes and preferences. We’re constantly told what we’re into is stupid. If I had a son who wanted to wear Princess dresses, I’d never try to redirect him. Why was I doing that to my daughter?
Little by little, I gave in. Luckily, just as I began to concede, Frozen arrived on the scene, which was a story I could easily get behind. I finally let my daughter be as frilly and dainty as she wanted to be. It’s noticeably more fun to relax and enjoy what she’s enjoying. Of course I still provide context. I explain why The Little Mermaid giving up her voice for a man is totally insane, and this week we had to shut down a Barbie book she was reading because it talked about a character happily losing her “baby fat.” I can’t even.
I am, however, truly grateful for those first lessons we got during her time in preschool. I see so many parents hesitant to let their bubbles burst, and I get it. But it’s important to learn about people who see things differently from you or your family because that’s how life is. Three years old is a great time to test those waters. My daughter learned to stand up for herself much earlier than I expected she would. She convinced her male classmate that girls are indeed as strong as boys and certainly as fast. We often talked about religious and familial differences based on her preschool friends’ lives and beliefs. In parenting, there is always a surprise around every corner. In fact, not too long ago, my daughter said something I never thought I’d hear. “I don’t like Princesses any more mommy. They’re babyish.” POP! POP! POP!
Katie F. Ward is an actor, writer, and the host of The Enthusiasm Enthusiast podcast.