So, unbeknownst to me, the inevitable happened. But it happened so much sooner, and so much more quietly, than I ever expected possible. And it hurt even more than I knew it would. It dawned on me when Maysen said the words that I’ve been dreading for a while now.
“I guess I’m just over princesses now.”
Maysen was known in our old neighborhood as the streak of shimmering pink and purple that glittered down the street, giggling and squealing, pretty much any time of any day of the week. Strangers, friends and acquaintances alike commented to me nearly day about how cute and happy and carefree she was in her tiaras and tutus. She climbed trees in her princess dresses, she jumped on trampolines in her princess dresses, she did every thing she did in her princess dresses, every single day.
We lived on a street where we knew every neighbor, and kids ran around freely every day. Maysen was free to run and let her spirit shine, and was admired by kids and adults alike. Her infectious smile caused the elderly to fall in love with her, and the kids, mostly older than her, to follow her lead. Even the preteen boys agreed to play princess with her, as her charisma had them under her spell.
Over the last year we’ve been so stressed out. It was October of last year that our landlords told us that they planned to sell our house. Granted, it was a crappy little house, but we loved our neighborhood. I was pregnant with Ryenn, expecting her in January, so it was a time that we wanted to be nesting, not packing and moving. But the market was ridiculous in the Bay Area, and even though we put an absurd offer in on our house, it wasn’t accepted. The rental market was too high and we couldn’t afford to buy anything, so we had to move. In order to move, my husband had to find a new job. Months went by. The baby came on time in January, but instead of being able to just snuggle and enjoy our family of five, we had to think about what we were going to do. Not a day went by that Ronny and I didn’t try to craft a plan for our future. Not a day went by without stress and uncertainty. And a foreboding sense of time running out.
Finally, our deadline, March 22, arrived, but we didn’t yet have a new job or even the fuzzy beginnings of a plan. So Ronny decided to stay in the camper on his work property and keep on working and job hunting, and the girls and I all drove down to stay at Mom and Dad’s house. We expected it to be maybe a month until we figured something out. It was nice to have a place to land, and my parents were so good to help us with the kids and take us under their wings. We even put the kids in a small preschool for a bit, just to keep them busy. It was wonderful, but it was also unsettling being so unsettled. And to have our family apart.
After four months, we finally moved to one of the last places on earth that I would ever want to live: Texas. San Frickin’ Antonio. All I wanted was to stay near family, near friends, and/or near the ocean, but we all got dragged to San Antonio. With promise of a better family life, more space, more time for Ronny to be at home. We stayed at Ronny’s brother’s house north of Austin while Ronny trained out of town, and while we looked for a place to rent in San Antonio. Six kids under six all at the same time, with just me and my sister-in-law taking care of them, was pure hell. After three harrowing weeks, I was grateful to have Ronny back in town, and to find a rental.
And so we’re here, in San Antonio, where, for the first two months, it was over 100 degrees nearly every day. I felt suffocated. The kids felt suffocated, cranky and restless. I couldn’t even take them outside to play and burn off energy because it was so hot. Trying to unpack and organize with three little kids in ridiculous heat while my husband was at work was awful. I did breakfast lunch and dinner. I did bedtime. I did it all.
I don’t know anyone here. Our neighbors are all nice but elderly. And I had to get Maysen into kindergarten. And Avery into preschool. All of this fell on my shoulders while Ronny concentrated on his new job. All of these things, new job, new schools, new home, we were supposed to do in a place where we planned to live for several years. In a city where we could buy a house. But we’re in San Antonio, nowhere near the ocean, nowhere near my family, nowhere near anywhere that I want to be. I’m getting used to it, tolerating it, now that the heat has broken a bit, but I can’t say I’m happy. Not even close. Ronny’s promise of regular hours, 10-6, has so far been a joke. It’s rarer for him to come home by the kids’ bedtime than for him to come home at 2:30am. I feel like a single mother most of the time, and like my husband and I are the old “ships passing in the night” cliche.
But this is all beside the point. It’s just a little background information. I’ve been so stressed out and busy and miserable this whole time that I didn’t even make much more than a brief mental note that the dressup box goes untouched in the toy closet. I didn’t even notice, until just a couple of days ago, that the pink and purple sparkly streak had been M.I.A. for a while. That Avery is the only one interested in princesses, and barely, at that. Now it’s all about My Little Pony.
I engaged Maysen one day last week, as I drove her home from school, in a conversation about princesses. I asked, “Hey Maysen, I haven’t really seen you in your princess dresses lately.”
She merely shrugged and looked out the window, aloof and uninterested.
I kept at it. “You used to wear your princess dresses every day. What’s going on?”
“I guess I’m just over princesses now.”
Gasp. My heart sank. It sank quick and hard and heavy, that dense lump in my gut telling me that what I had been dreading for quite some time had actually happened, long before I expected it to.
“What? How can you be over princesses?” I asked, in a bit of a panic, wishing I could take back all of this time and go back to that little girl running and giggling down the street. How can she even know what “being over” something is?!? She’s only 5 1/2!
“Hmph,” she said, totally uninterested in the conversation, looking exhausted, bored, and a little sad.
“Princesses are still fun, aren’t they?” I was feeling desperate, like during all this chaos, my little baby girly-girl had disappeared and been replaced by an apathetic, uninterested teenager, too cool to care about the imagination she used to have. Too “over it” to even realize what she has lost.
“Nah,” she said, “I mean, like, Cinderella and Rapunzel and Elsa and The Princess and the Frog and stuff, I’m just kindof sick of them,” she said nonchalantly, kicking the back of the seat in front of her.
“But don’t you even like to dress up anymore?”
“Well, I guess I can be my own kind of princess, but I’m just tired of the other ones.”
At least there’s a little hope. She still wants to dress up as her own kind of princess.
I’ve been hoping to avoid this day for at least 18 months. I remember reading a mommy blog post a while back about how this 7 or 8 year old girl had broken her mom’s heart by bringing all of her princess dresses and accessories to her mom to ask her to donate them because she had just grown out of them. The blog post made tears well up in my eyes, and my breath caught for a minute. I wish I would have saved a link so I could read it now. Maysen was only 3 at the time, I think, and I made a mental note upon reading this blog that I would embrace my spirited daughter’s “princessness” for as long as I could, as I knew that a day would come when she would no longer want to belt “Let It Go” out as loud as she could, or run barefoot down the street with the glimmery hem of her Rapunzel dress fraying, the sun glinting off of the plastic jewels in her dollar store tiara, the passionate blue of her eager eyes outshining the blue of the California sky.
I’m afraid that all of this stress that we’ve been under, particularly my own personal depressed exhaustion, has snuffed the flame of my princess’s spirit, which I previously thought indomitable. Of course, as a mother, I blame myself, irrationally. She still runs and laughs and plays, but it’s just not the same. If “Let It Go” comes on the radio, she rolls her eyes and sighs like a teenager asked to accompany her mother bra shopping at Sears. She’s more prone to tantrums, pouting, and fighting with her sister. She’s been extra bratty and quick to fight and crumple into a hot mess of whining and angry tears. She’s just not the same. And my heart is broken.
I would do anything to be able to do the last year over, in a different situation, in a “normal” life. I don’t know anyone who has been under this much constant stress. People move, but they generally don’t move over and over and over again. With a 6 week old baby. Uprooting their lives to stay nearly 5 months in other peoples’ houses. I know it could be worse. Way worse things happen to people every day. But in my little world, I’m devastated that my little princess has grown up right in front of my face. I wasn’t even watching. I wasn’t even ready. I’m NOT even ready.
So now that my princess seems to be gone, how do I embrace the spirit that is left in her? How do I, who feels exhausted every moment of every day, encourage her free spirit to bloom and blossom? How do I help her to be happy? How do I not lose even more of my precious little baby?
I feel like I see evidence of my own depression in her. My depression has ruled my life. That’s a whole other story. But if it turns out that the joy of her life is dampened and smothered by the heavy, wet towel of depression like mine has always been, I will never overcome the guilt. Though I know it’s not my fault, really, I will never forgive myself. Depression has ruined my life, and I will be heartbroken if it ruins hers.
And just as I write this, Jon Mayer’s song, “Daughters,” comes on, and my eyes are filled with tears again.
Fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers, be good to your daughters too.
I feel like I haven’t been good to her lately. It’s been a constant cycle of motivating her to get dressed, get in the car, pick up after herself, eat, hurry up, do her homework, go to bed, stop fighting, stop whining, stop crying, stop making messes, stop screaming, stop throwing books, stop! stop! stop! Somewhere along the way, my happy baby has vanished.
Please, if you have a little princess of your own, I implore you to embrace every moment of it. Embrace her in all of her princessness. No matter if you are a feminist who wished your daughter would be a tomboy, or a scientist, or engineer or whatever. Or if you thought you and your kid would be too good for princesses. I never expected to have a princess myself. But, luckily, I got one, and I adore her. So embrace that little princess. Let her wear her shiniest princess costume out to dinner. Let her wear her tiara to church. Let her adorn herself in baubles, and ride her bike in shiny princess shoes. Let her climb her tree in her Belle dress, or swing at the playground in her Elsa dress. Let her bake cookies and make a huge mess in her Cinderella dress. Let her snuggle with you and watch Frozen in her Ana dress, and hug you tight in her tutu. Dance with her at the Mardi Gras Ball in your living room, for the 100th time that day.
Because one day, way sooner than you think, she may just hit you hard with the words, “I guess I’m just over princesses now.” Your heart will shatter, just like mine did. And you’ll wish you would have captured a video of her running down the street in her Rapunzel dress, with her pink scarf flowing behind her, singing “Let It Go” with the biggest smile, and no inhibitions, and no cares in the world, face turned up toward the sun, because you know that some day, the memory you’ve etched in your mind will most likely disappear, just like that innocent, spirited little princess of yours.