When I was young, I was never a “Princess” girl. I’m not sure if there was such a thing thirty years ago. (Ugh… I think I might have dated myself!) I wasn’t a tomboy by any stretch. I was a girl. I loved dress up and make up, my Mom’s high heeled shoes and her perfume. But I also loved playing in the mud and collecting caterpillars. I loved working in the yard with my Dad and cooking with my Mom. I loved common place things. The wind in my hair as I rolled down a hill on my bike with no hands. The scratch of tree bark as I climbed it. I was all of those things but I wasn’t a princess girl. I don’t think anyone in the 80s was.
Disney marketing hadn’t snatched us from our childhoods and shoved the princess party down our throats. There wasn’t an overload of Princess marketing everywhere we went. We didn’t have to have princess T-shirts and lunch boxes (although, I did have a Strawberry Shortcake lunch box that I was in love with…) and constantly singing the latest movie theme song. Luckily for our parents, they didn’t have to listen to Let It Go until they wanted to scratch their eyes out. Maybe I was just weird but I really don’t think so. I loved the princesses who were out on video tape (Cinderella, Snow White, Aurora), but I loved their stories and not their dresses. I loved the magical idea that they were just beleaguered girls who were nice that overcame all odds, found their princes and lived happily ever. Quite honestly, there were lots of other books that provided that same storyline, albeit not with princes and princesses, but love and the fairytale was attainable for girls on the pages of a book.
I was a book lover. My earliest dream was not to be a ballerina or a teacher, but a book store owner. I wanted to share books with people. I wanted to have a bookstore that had a roaring fire and chairs to sit and read in, cookies and coffee and always someone who could recommend the perfect book for you. I still am a book lover and I still love to share books with people, I just never got the bookstore. I would devour books at an astonishing speed and my nose always seemed to be inside of them. I think it was because my mother would take me to the local library and every week, we would bring home 10 books. Libraries are so important for early literacy. Kids need to be immersed in literature and language (…read… if you haven’t donated to the Hopkinton Library Foundation 1000 Homes fundraising initiative… you better get your butt on it…) I would listen to the stories that would come alive through friendly and lovable librarians. My mother read to me all the time and she was a “voice” person. Every character sounded different and the stories came alive through her. I was also an only child, so the characters were my friends when I was lonely. My kids think that is the saddest thing, but for me, it was wonderful. I wasn’t always the most “normal” type of girl. The preteen years were downright excruciating. I felt my difference and felt less than the rest. Reading was an escape. Reading wasn’t something you had to do for 15 minutes every night and log it for school. It was enjoyment. Somehow, reading for our kids has been pushed back in the list of important things behind copious amounts of homework and activities. For me, it was life. It was my way of interacting in a world that I didn’t think wanted to always interact with me.
When Beauty and the Beast came out in the theaters when I was young, it was magic. At first it was because of the incredible animation that none of us had ever seen before. We were dying to get to the theaters and see this new feet of animation genius. I was no different. I rarely went to the movies. They were expensive and only for special occasions. You knew a movie was important when you went to see it. My mother brought me. We had to sit near the front because it was so packed. I remember our seats clear as the day we sat in them. We were three rows back, right side, and we had to strain and look up at the screen. It didn’t matter. By the time Belle and the Beast took their swing around the dance floor and we swept around and into the magic and air, I was done. Hook line and sinker. Here was my girl. Her head was always in a book. Check! People thought she was a bit different. Check! She wanted to be understood and loved for who she was. Check! Instant love.
My Mom held my hand through the whole movie and I think she was drawn in, squeezing me during the scary scenes. Who wouldn’t. Belle was a relatable girl to everyone who became a princess. Her face was in awe of what was before her on the screen as I watched the colors flash on her skin. Tears stained her face when Belle thought she had lost the Beast before he was transformed.
Back in the car, we couldn’t stop talking about it. The colors, the way the characters moved across the screen, the story. It was all amazing.
After all this Disney business, my girls have never been enamored with Belle as much as the other “pretty” princesses. She got pushed aside with Mulan and Pocahontas. What is so exciting about a girl who reads books when there is a hidden princess who’s hair has magical properties or a princess who can create castles out of ice and snow??!! Needless to say, the live motion picture of Beauty and the Beast excited them, possibly because I had talked it up so much.
We waited in line for seats outside of the theater and I noticed the line was full of girls. Lots of girls… no men or boys to speak of. Why were all of them so taken with the idea of Beauty and the Beast. The beautiful part was there were a lot of women there alone, about my age. Clearly, ready to relive that awe inspiring moment from their childhoods. Maybe they needed a refresher in relatable girls can get the prince and live happily ever after.
The live action Beauty and the Beast was all I dreamed it would be. The clothes, the songs, the everything. I loved it.
But it wasn’t necessarily what was on the screen that moved me. It was my kids. It was that surreal moment of experiencing their joy and, watching as an outsider, as their world was opened. See, they weren’t blown away by all the excess. They loved the story. It wasn’t lost on them.
I have always firmly believed that my mother is with me at all times. I know she’s there from the butterflies that swarm my kids as they dance in the spring air. I know she’s there kicking sand at the beach. I feel her in the wind and in the warmth of the sun. She is all encompassing in my world. I have never lost the feeling of her by my side. When I particularly need her and ask for her, I can feel the weight of her arms wrapping around my shoulders from behind. I know she’s there. Call me cuckoo. Call me whatever, but I can physically feel her. She is there on the other side of a thin curtain that wraps around my life.
Sitting in that theater, she was there. I didn’t ask for her. She arrived. I know she was with us in that movie. She sat with me and took it in, just as we had done together before, but now, we were sharing it with her beloved granddaughters. The colors danced on their faces.
The warmth that I felt while watching that movie was indescribable. Time seemed to slow down. Breath and life took a moment as I took it all in. There is a feeling that always accompanies doing something with your children that was momentous for you as a child with your own parent. It is a continuation of history but most importantly, of love. To share something that you loved with your legacy is awe inspiring. I grasped both of their hands in that crowded moment, never wanting it to end, squeezing a little bit during the scary parts.
We talked about it non-stop in the car. We talked about the costumes and the characters and we talked about the fact that Belle was not a princess. She was who she was. She didn’t make any excuses for herself being different. She owned it. Girls are all so different yet we still continue to group them all into categories. We do the same with adults. My girls are no different. I am no different. I am a mom of five… can’t get much different from that in the real big world. Sometimes, even I need a reminder that ordinary girls who are all slightly different can and will find love when it is time. There will always be someone out there who loves and appreciates them. They/I am enough and deserving of love.
I hope that my girls will remember my awe at seeing Beauty and the Beast, just as I noticed when my mother watched it with me 30 years before. I hope that they will want to continue on the love affair with the idea that real girls can do extraordinary things, being loved for who they are and not what society wants them to be.
I hope that one day, they will feel me with them, as they share that love with their own children. That is the legacy I want to leave to them. We are enough, just the way that we are and we can share that with our girls through our own experiences in space and time.