I take the term boyfriend seriously and have only handed it out to three people, two of whom I eventually married. Other men coveted the title, but I was stingy with my endowment. My daughter understood the significance of the title boyfriend. After all, until last year, my husband had been my boyfriend for ten years, five of them with her around.
Before my daughter was born, I espoused all sorts of anti-Princess, anti-Barbie, anti-Disney rhetoric. I never owned a Barbie and didn’t understand any value came from watching Cinderella. Somehow children are born programmed with personality and my daughter’s was nothing like mine and everything like my husband’s. They both wake up happy, enjoy being friendly and kind to everyone they meet, and live exactly 55% of their lives in their head, engaged in an imaginary life, competing with the one they share with us.
My kindergartener is a sponge for brainwashing and truly the epitome of Disney’s target audience. She inhaled those animated classics and instantly put herself into all of the princesses shoes. She twirled like Cinderella at the ball, cast frozen spells from her wand like Elsa, and used her high-pitched mermaid voice to save herself and Prince Eric from trouble. She didn’t idolize these princesses for their looks or their gorgeous gowns (although she wanted one of each, please, with coordinating shoes and tiara). She wanted to live through their adventures; zap into their mystical lands of fairies and magic dust. Who doesn’t want a Once upon a time, happily ever after?
The stories inspired imaginative play and lovely behavior as she emulated their “princess-like” characteristics. I was slowly won over but I let it steamroll all the morals and values out of me. One day she called me over to show me something she was practicing. She stood in front of the full-length mirror, with her arm outstretched and her other hand in front of her lips making a kiss face like Betty Boop. She was bending forward as if to accept something.
“What are you doing in that pose?” I asked.
“I am practicing how I will accept the diamond ring when my boyfriend proposes. Not now, of course. When I’m older.”
Pretty soon the boyfriend chatter grew louder. I didn’t take it too seriously because she was five and she always prided herself on having “several boyfriends.” I encouraged this because it’s helpful to juggle several gentlemen if you want to avoid falling too hard for just one. The kindergarten drama finally stepped outside my comfort zone. The day before winter break, my five-year-old says, a matter of factly, “You know Mike* is my boyfriend, right?”
“No, I didn’t realize it was Mike. You never mentioned him before. I thought you said you liked Jack.* And how about Marcus from Toronto?”
She clarified, “Well, I do like Jack, and Marcus is still my boyfriend, but, on the first day of school, Mike asked me if I rather kiss him or Kate.* I didn’t want to kiss Kate so I rather chose him.”
He duped her! I maintained composure and decided I would keep my eye on Mike; I invoked class mom privileges.
Before Valentine’s Day, a lime green flyer comes home selling “chocolate” (read: corn syrup) red roses, which children could arrange to send to one another. I hated this kind of program; I never received any of those shitty carnations in junior high school and it scarred me to this day. I crumbled the notice and threw it right into the garbage.
Hallmark Heart Holiday arrives and my daughter comes home with a large brown paper bag brimming with cards, pencils, and candy. She spilled the treasures out onto the couch and there I see them! Two red, corn syrup roses with a pink slip of paper stapled around the stem. “To Mackenzie, from Mike.*
“Oh, I didn’t see these there. How did they get here? He must have slipped them in when I was putting on my backpack.” She was blushing.
I asked her if any of the other children got roses. She said only the teachers received a few from the students. No other kids received them. Oh boy.
Yesterday I ran into a mom of a first grader at the school. I told her the rose story and she had a laugh. When I tell her his name is Mike*, she smiles and says, “We know Mike*. He was in my son’s class last year. He’s redoing kindergarten.”
Oh, that makes me feel better.
*names changed to protect the privacy of the minors.