A random stranger wished my daughter luck today. What she was really saying as she made eye contact with my five-year-old instead of meeting my eyes was that she was sorry my daughter had the misfortune to be born to me instead of someone else.
Maybe a nice lady with a sense of humor who understood the nuances of a little girl’s imagination and forgave little indiscretions like purposefully ignoring strangers compliments on her beautiful curls or comments about whatever adorable princess outfit she has decided to wear out of the house on that particular day. But good luck is apparently needed and will be offered, no qualms about the judgement on my mothering that is handed along with it, because she was born to me and had the gall to be rude and ignore my fourth reminder that day that if she’s going to wear costumes in public, little old ladies are going to gush because that’s just the way things go.
What a pretty princess!
I’m NOT a princess. (Hands on hips.) I’m just pretending.
Oh. You are TOO a princess and with such beautiful curls.
Blink. Blink. Blink.
She is bored with the concept of having to explain to adults who should know better that she isn’t really royalty from an animated movie. She isn’t really a superhero ballerina in a tutu with a cape and cowboy boots. She’s just is who she is and that happens to be a little girl who really doesn’t give a flying fuck if you like her outfit or not because she chose to wear what she has on today because it makes her happy and that happy is being drained every time she has to explain to you peasants that she’s not really a princess but a five-year-old with an imagination and a sense of self so strong I applaud it just as much as I cry thinking about the hell I’m in for when she becomes a teenager.
So I take a deep breath to remind myself that I want to not beat this spirit out of her. To remind myself that I need to help focus her energies to recognize that there comes responsibility with stepping out into the public eye as a princess. Or a superhero. Or a superhero princess in a cape with a crown and mismatched socks and a wand to freeze the bad guys. Because a sense of self that strong, one in which the opinion of others has no bearing on what I decide to wear or how I act in certain situations or how I feel, is something I am still working daily to attain.
I’m jealous of her confidence because it’s the confidence that allows her to not care what you think now that makes me believe will help her avoid the path I took and the daily battle I fight every time I look in the mirror when she’s older. And, as her mother, I’m very aware that I can celebrate her confidence only if I’m making sure that respect for herself, her elders, and sweet strangers giving compliments are part of the package. Without respect and kindness, confidence is easily confused as just plain rude.
It’s my job to make sure she is as strong and self-assured as she is polite and understanding that a simple thank you will suffice. We’ve have this conversation countless times. But my child is bull-headed. While she may understand that she may stand out in public for her princess attire and cowboy boots, she’s also not sure why anyone else cares what she is wearing and feels the need to start up a conversation about it. This is when I explain that the lady at Walgreens doesn’t know that every single person she encountered today has tried having the exact same conversation with her and that even if she is bored with it, she is the one who made the choice to not blend in and must therefore learn to be patient and polite.
She rolls her eyes. I grit my teeth, take a deep breath, and explain to a five-year-old who is perfectly aware the she is being rude (again) that she is being rude (again).
Baby, remember what we talked about with Daddy? That when you wear your fun outfits, nice strangers are going to want to tell you how cute you look as a princess?
Yes.(She mumbles because it’s the fourth time today she’s heard this.)
And remember how we said if you are going to argue with every stranger that calls you a princess by telling them that are you not a princess when you are dressed like one that it’s just back to the regular clothes in your closet until you can learn to just smile and nod because arguing with nice old ladies is rude, baby?
Yes. (She mumbles again because she doesn’t really want to be bothered with having to apologize to this woman who is now openly staring at me and my defiant little girl who surpassed brat and became bitch long before I was ready for it. That’s my fault. The not being ready, I mean. There are mirrors. I own a few.)
I’ve been told often how I cloned myself when I gave birth. I use to tell people cloning probably would have been less painful, but then I forget that labor was temporary. This woman judging me for reprimanding my free-spirited child for countless missteps and purposeful rudeness and the failure to respect her elders by simply nodding and smiling and acknowledging their kindnesses…this is not. I somehow know, standing there at the Walgreens pharmacy that this woman is going to go home and tell her husband or her kids or her girlfriend and maybe all of her Facebook friends about this bitch at the store who told her five-year-old she couldn’t dress like a princess in public until she learned to mind her manners when gushed over by grandmothers and grandfathers alike.
I imagine her saying things like:
That poor kid hasn’t got a chance. She’s five. FIVE. How many five-year-olds actually say thank you for stupid shit like this. And in public, this mom makes her kid apologize to me for telling me she isn’t really a princess. Can you believe that? I mean, seriously. Kid needs all the luck she can get…
But I still haven’t gotten my prescription and that’s because the store is out of my Adderall for my severe ADHD but here’s the bottle for the Xanax to take the edge off of that anxiety. No one knows or cares — nor should they care – that I have gone three days without my full dose of Adderall to slow my brain and calm my nerves and help me breathe and think and be. And now, I have to wait until I get back into the truck with the princess who isn’t really a princess and drive an hour back into town to the closest store that can fill my prescription so I can take a pill and wait for it to work its way into my bloodstream. First, though, I tell the woman staring at me with contempt for having the nerve to expect my daughter to have manners when she’s going out of the way to draw attention to herself, thank you very much, that my daughter is five because that’s what I was just asked.
How old is she.
And the question isn’t really a question but more of a challenge and enunciated just so to let me know that she is judging me and has no problem making it known. It’s not a question but a challenge to not bully my kid because she’s five and for fuck’s sake woman, have a heart because she’s five.
Can you please apologize to the nice lady for not saying thank you when she complimented your dress?
But m-o-o-o-o-o-m. I’m not really a prince…
Say it one more time and you can donate all of your princess outfits to little girls who aren’t lucky enough to have a trunkful of dress up clothes and would love to be called a princess just once by a kind stranger. One. More. Time.
Ok. I’m sorry, mama.
Not to me, baby. Please apologize to the lady. And please say thank you, like you should have in the first place.
She looks a the woman who is looking back at her with pity. She apologizes for her rudeness and thanks the woman for the originally ignored compliment that started this whole mess, but only because she knows she has crossed the line in the sand.
I thank my child for listening and kiss her on the head and tell her that I love her and maybe when we get home we can watch a movie together or what book did she want me to read to her tonight because all is forgiven because she is five but I’ll be damned if she’s wearing a fucking costume out the house again until she learns to smile and nod because Punky Brewster is sassy and sweet and I know this and so does everyone else who knows my child which means thanks must be given for every compliment received by those who do not.
I am old-school Mexican-American in many way. Respect your elders. Please and thank you and you are welcome and Mande instead of Que when asked a question we need repeated because mande is the polite way to say what and que is just construed as rude by the adult asking the original question. I am a coconut in many others. Brown on the outside and white on the inside. I am English dominant. I have forgotten much of the Spanish that once was my primary language. My daughter knows more Chinese than Spanish because Kai Lan is less annoying than Dora. And while I might suck at teaching her the language I once thought in, I’m not raising a little girl who doesn’t know how what manners are.
Good luck, little one.
That’s the woman’s response to my daughter as their eyes meet and I am purposefully left out of the exchange because I am the one being apologized for by a stranger to the child I bore. Because I am the one being judged for the back story she will never know.
My daughter says nothing and squeezes my hand and I have the sense that she understands that something beyond her has just happened but she’s not going to ask and I’m not going to explain. Not yet.
We leave the store, judgement boring holes into my back.
** This piece was originally published in October of 2012 and was also posted on Girl Body Pride.