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“PLAY ARIEL!” our
3-year-old scream-demands from her car seat as I drive her to preschool
three mornings a week. “The story, not the song, please!” So I press play—she
did say please, after all—fast
forward to Track 5 and allow the British narrator to begin his tale of
sunken treasures, underwater rescue and finding your soul mate. Toward the end, as wedding bells
ring for Ariel and Prince Eric, she and I always share a moment where I look
back at her, our eyes meet and we smile as she announces, “They’re married!
as deep as the blue sea and as pure as a young girl’s voice certainly
does sound nice. But break down the story a bit and the "Little Mermaid" is actually a "Little
dad only wants her to date mermen (homosapienphobe!)
2. Pressured to conform to society’s idea of
beauty, Ariel schedules an appointment with the sea witch equivalent of an
unscrupulous plastic surgeon who agrees to replace her tail with long, sinewy
legs. BOOM! she’s attractive to humans.
though she’s rendered the underwater equivalent of Jennifer Grey, the prince
puts a ring on it and Ariel lives happily ever after.
Is this a
moral we want to instill? Our toddler finds the story hopelessly romantic; she
can listen over and over without tiring. At 7 p.m., as my husband walks in from
work, she races to the door in her Ariel costume calling out, “Prince Eric!
You’re home!” But lately, both he and I have noticed she is starting to ask
about princes a lot. If a story
doesn’t have a prince (See: "Berenstein Bears"; "Clifford"), she wants to know where he is. When we explain there is
no prince, she needs to know why.
I wouldn’t kick Prince Adam (aka The Beast) outta bed. But I’m also trying to raise a confident, self-reliant daughter.
So I made
up my own prince-less princess story. It’s called "Rapunzel Goes to Medical School." Here it is in a nutshell:
is sick of sitting around, waiting for a prince to show up. She has plenty of
skills and realizes she could go to medical school and help people heal. She
applies, gets in and spends her days attending lectures and experimenting in the
science lab; at night she hits the books at the campus library.
One evening, a
boy approaches her and scoffs, “What are you doing here? Princesses can’t
become doctors!” At first, Rapunzel is bummed out, but soon that sadness turns
to anger and only motivates her to graduate at the top of her class. She opens
her own practice, and one day, as she enters a room to treat a patient with a
sore throat, she’s startled to see the boy from the library. He flunked out of
medical school and needs Amoxicillin for his Strep throat. Even though Rapunzel
could rub her success in the boy’s face, she remembers she took the Hippocratic
Oath to do no harm, so she writes him a script and sends him on his way. The
modern day fairy tale accomplishes a few things: 1) It’s terrific for her vocabulary;
she’s now doing things like grabbing her handyman tool kit and pretending to
walk out the door, announcing, “I’m going to start my own practice!” 2) It offers
her a new frame of reference for setting life goals. Women don’t need to just
sit around and wait to be rescued; we can go out and rescue ourselves. 3) It
proves to her that a story need not revolve around a prince to be interesting
not the Prince Nazi. Princes Eric, Philip and Charming are all welcome in our
home. I wouldn’t kick Prince Adam (aka The Beast) outta bed. But I’m also
trying to raise a confident, self-reliant daughter who will one day know how to
change a tire and be equipped to buy her own condo. And because I don’t want
her to think her parents will only be happy if she becomes a doctor, I have
also penned a few other original stories, including "Elsa and Anna Buy a Car," "Cinderella the Zookeeper," and "Wendy’s Babysitting Agency" (sequel to Peter Pan with a special guest
appearance by Gaston as Wendy’s administrative assistant).