Kitty was running around the lounge at high speed. She’d already brought me the invitation off the fridge at least twice and the directions to get to her friend N’s pirate birthday party a further three.
“It says please dress up – do you want to?” I asked. “You can be a pirate or it says you can be a princess if you’d rather?”
The bouncing stopped for a mere fraction of a second.
“Umm … I want to wear a dressing up dress!”
And following a detailed dissertation on the merits of the Snow White dress versus Cinderella, she made her decision; Cinderella has short sleeves but they’re scratchy although on the plus side Cinders could be an Elsa dress (her current dearest wish which may or may not be about to be fulfilled in about 10 days time), while Snow White has non scratchy sleeves, and a cape.
The cape won. And duly dressed in all her princess finery I started to look for the matching hairband. But Kitty had other ideas. Oh no, not for her the mere flim-flammery of a red bow for her hair. She was a princess, yes, but not the meek, mild and rather disappointingly passive Snow White of Disney’s classic, oh no. Kitty’s princess carries a sword. Pirates beware.
She went running into that party, blond hair and cape trailing behind her with barely a pause to wave as Pip and I joined the group of Mummies to chat about all things children and childcare for a couple of hours.
When I next saw her she’d acquired a faceprint pirate scar down one cheek, glittery sparkles about the eyes, a drawing of a pirate ship, and a half eaten chocolate coin, and was sat at the party tea table, hat askew, tucking into cucumber sticks and cream cheese and discussing sandwiches with the birthday boy.
How deep we go into the princess phase, and quite what life looks like when we come out the other side of it is one of those questions that run through my mind from time to time; are we letting the girls be over-exposed to influences that we don’t think make appropriat role models? Or are we overly restricting them and not trusting their own good sense? It’s a perpetual balancing act; I want to give them choice, I want to arm them now with tools to make good choices that will stand them in good stead when they’re older, and I also want to give them the freedom that comes naturally to childhood, without spoiling their enjoyment of playing dress up because they perceive a negative association with anything that’s overtly feminine and don’t want to be ‘girly’, or because they pick up too much on a correlation between worth and beauty.
But looking at my incredibly sugar-fuelled pirate princess twirling her sword at her balloon as we crossed the car park I’m certain that we’re going to be more than OK. If we can encourage and nurture that self confidence that has her take the best of both genres (I think that would be glitter from one and swords from the other) and mash it together into the fiercest fairest of the seven seas, she’ll do anything she wants to do, and be whoever she want to be.
Look out Nancy Blackett!