Tag Archives: weddings

Being a Princess

A word on being a princess for iVillage. I invite you to go there to comment. Thanks!

Princess by Laura Munson

When my daughter was in second grade, she wanted to be an almond for Halloween.
“An almond?” I asked her, smiling but sort of worried for her in the way of playground politics.
“Yes,” she said with knowing eyes. “An almond.”
So we made a foam and corduroy sandwich board, and she slipped it over her head, sporting a brown turtleneck and black leggings. It reminded me of Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird” dressed up like a ham. I had a kid like Scout. I was proud.
And I stood there watching the school pageant, girl after girl in Walt Disney costumes– Belle, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella… smiling and waving, regal, and there was my daughter, parading as a bona fide nut. At first she smiled her knowing smile, but little-by-little it dawned on her that she was not just a minority, but one of a kind. And she didn’t like it one bit. When it was over, she came to me crying, innocence lost, red faced and ripped off: “Why are all the girls dressed as princesses?” like where are all the almonds of the world?
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to tell her that being an almond was harder. That it took a certain moxie and confidence and resilience. I didn’t want to tell her that society created and prized princesses. I didn’t want to tell her that I’d almost been one.
You see, I hail from a demographic that lauded and honored the glorious gown, the high forehead, the pearls, the pedigree, debutantes, boarding school, society weddings—our country’s version of princesses. When I was my daughter’s age, Lady Di and Prince Charles walked down the aisle and every one of us dreamed of having a gown like that, and an aisle like that. And where I came from, for some of us, it was possible. Our mothers would make it possible. I was thankful and I was lucky and I was ready to embrace it all.
But by and by, I started to see that money didn’t bring you happiness. It brought you comfort. And as I grew older, and watched Diana and Fergie both fall from grace and bust through the myths they were procured to uphold, I related with them. I didn’t have their crowns or their jewels or their royal pressure, but I did understand the pressures of society in the way of a well-heeled upbringing and what that meant the future should look like. I didn’t know if I wanted that future. Not if it meant that I couldn’t be myself, warts and all.
Mostly, I had questions: How could I be a feminist and parade in ball gowns in front of elite boy blue bloods, window shopping for future society wives? How could I be an artist, channeling the human condition, in rooms so opulent, so exclusive? How could I, in good conscience, advocate against oppression from a view so high atop a “throne?”
My father was from homesteading and farm stock and he told me over and over “People are the same everywhere.” In my heart I knew this was true. He’d put it to the test. I wanted to put it to the test, only in the reverse. So I left. Even though I loved that world. I needed to see what the rest of the world was made of and if my father was right.
So I became a writer, fell in love with a fellow journeyer, married, and eventually moved to rural Montana where we had two children and have lived ever since. One of them is my almond daughter, now parading on the garden path of womanhood. She has a great head on her shoulders—more than I did at her age. She still has that almond state of mind. She does things like cut her hair short because she’s interested in just how much power long hair has when it comes to boys paying attention to you. Or not piercing her ears when all the other girls have. Or wearing braids and no make up to a school dance. Or researching Abercrombie before she decides to be its walking billboard. I am still proud of her.
So you can imagine my surprise this morning on the way to school when they were talking about Kate Middleton, the soon to be princess, on NPR, and I asked my daughter: “Would you ever want to marry a prince?” I expected overt rejection, disdain, ridicule– things she is known to express.
“Of course!” she said, hungrily. “I’d LOVE to be a princess.”
I felt the need then to remind her how Princess Diana died. How she couldn’t go to the grocery store, or the farmer’s market, or to town with greasy hair, or do much of anything without having cameras in her face and the scrutiny of nations.
And with eyes as the windows-to-the-soul that they still are, my daughter said, “If I loved him and he loved me…then I don’t see how it’s any different. Princess or no princess. People are the same everywhere when it comes to love.” My father’s message in my daughter, on a windy country road in Montana.
And there was nothing I could say to that. Princesses can be almonds and vice versa. And mothers can learn from their daughters.

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What's Not Said

I love this photograph. I found it recently and lifted it from my mother’s house. (Sorry, Mom. Will send back soon. I’ve never done that before, I swear.) Here’s what I love: it’s a moment between moments. Two sets of parents at the wedding of their only children, from two very different backgrounds and social demographics, aligned for the rest of their lives through the lovely young man and woman at center. The moment between things, where looks are being delivered in the raised-eyebrow packages that they are. Proverbial ribs are being elbowed. Dreams are being re-charged and debunked. I wish I had a bubble over each of their heads. What is my mother saying to my father out of the side of her bridely mouth? What is my father’s father communicating to my mother’s father with that over-the-spectacle look? Is the whole iconic experience of their only child’s wedding not as they had dreamed after all those months of planning? Is myth in the end just that? Is there talk about virginity about to be lost? Dowry content? Does someone have to go to the bathroom? Or do they feel like MGM Hollywood greats for a day? Superstars. Alabaster sculptures. These are my elders– all such ladies and gentlemen. But here, to me they look like kids. I love this picture for that.

Do you remember the exact moment when you realized that your parents weren’t just parents, but that they were human beings with needs and weaknesses and fears and dashed dreams? That they were young like you once? Looking at photos like this help. It didn’t make it into the wedding album, where everybody’s lips and teeth and arms are in the “right” place. But still it wasn’t ripped up and thrown away either. Something about it was worth saving. The heart doesn’t want things all lined up. It speaks a different language– the language that is being spoken here. And so it doesn’t really matter then what they were saying. Only that they were saying it, and that one generation gets to be let in on the heart language of another.

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