“I have to tell you something,” Andrew confessed to me the other night. It had been an eternity since I’d had that horrible heart-skipping sensation, anticipating horrible news. He went on to explain that he had locked himself in the bathroom the prior day and bawled like a child. And then we talked about why.
The day prior, Parker had sat mesmerized in front of the speaker while listening to Idina Menzel sing about fear, perfection, and letting go of the past. Every once in a while, she would peep out her own soft and enchanted “Let it go,” not quite in sync with Idina.
At first it was just a cute little scene of our girl listening to a cheesy pop song. But it morphed into “a moment”—a super emotional one. I cycled through: Amusement that this was happening to us, as un-Disney-like parents as you get. Pride, watching her concentrate so wholly. Adoration, for her pure fandom. And fascination: whose child was this?? Halfway through the song, my charmed grin started trembling and I swallowed back my own tears.
I know Let It Go and the whole Frozen phenomenon is hardly new territory for anyone who’s had a child in, oh, the past decade. The 2013 Disney feature is the highest-grossing animation, and the song earned an Academy Award and was the year’s fifth best-selling single. It’s since become an anthem for many including gays and trans; people with addictions and mental or physical disabilities.
And yet I was only peripherally aware of the song and had never seen the movie—never wanted to. I’m just not an animation film fan, much less into stories about princesses. With the implied submissiveness and frilliness, I cringe when friends or relatives refer to their girls as princesses.
In the sporadic times I had envisioned myself as a mother prior to Parker, it was always to a boy. My mother still likes to recount how she never had the thrill of dressing me up like a girl because I insisted on wearing the hand-me-down Garanimals and scuffed work boots that Chris wore. She now makes up for her long-lost fantasy by sending Parker packages of sparkly shoes, rainbow socks and bubblegum pink dresses. At her own house, she stocks clip-on earrings, dolls and strollers, big bows and magic wands for our visits.
I indulge my mom because Parker adores these things. She layers her tulle skirts under flowy dresses. Pairs glittery leggings with pink furry vests. She puts my own accessorizing to shame with the sheer variety and volume of bracelets and necklaces she layers on. Sometimes she puts stickers on her ears like diamonds. As the saying goes, “She’s all girl.”
For her fourth birthday, Parker asked Andrew’s parents for a princess dress. I smiled at this, not yet realizing a ‘princess dress’ is an actual thing. As in Belle, from Beauty and the Beast, the fifth in an official accounting of 11 Disney princesses. The yellow satin floor-length gown comes with matching gloves, a rhinestone tiara and golden wand. Parker tore into that package and has barely taken the dress off since. She was wearing it as she sat before the speaker in her “Let It Go” trance.
Other moms have reassured me that the message of Frozen is positive, bandying about the good old “empowering” label. I’m not entirely sold.
Frozen may have female heroines and focus on sisterly love, but the hopelessly outdated tropes remain: The swishing gowns, batting eyelashes, ridiculously proportioned bods, and clumsiness that accompanies any act of strength. And as much as I don’t want these images to shape Parker’s perspective or sense of identity, I realized by her raptness of the song and, later when we watched the movie, that I have little choice. It’s ingrained in her. She wants to be a princess.
“Why do you want to be a princess?” I asked as objectively as I could the second time she told me that’s what she wants to be when she grows up.
“Because they wear pretty dresses.”
“Mm-hmmm. Why else?”
“Because princesses are nice.”
“You know, you can wear pretty dresses and be nice no matter what you do.”
“Also, they can do magic.” I had to give her that.
The fact that Andrew and I never introduced or encouraged any form of princess fantasy is beside the point. She has discovered it on her own, and it lights up her life. I think that’s why the moment with Let It Go was so moving — it was seeing her as her own little person for the first time. It was herintroducing usto something that meant so much to her. Obvious and cliché, maybe, but also profound.
So I’m learning to “let it go”—my idea of Parker as a little woke four-year-old.
Of the idea that I can always control who and what she’ll gravitate towards. That I can convince her that there are better #lifegoals than twirling around in a pretty dress.
I’m also letting go of any judgements – from myself or other moms – that if she wears a tiara to school, I’m a failure at feminism.
In letting go of these things, I’m also trusting that this is a phase. And that by letting her live her best princess fantasies, I’m letting her try on the first of many personas. We are embracing all the things she might be and will do our best to guide her to a more modern happily ever after. Or maybe she’ll guide us.