She is teaching me how to make wishes on hot tub bubbles in between rounds of singing "Kiss the Girl." "You have to close your eyes and blow hard," she says. Purple popsicle smears the edges of her mouth as she demonstrates, holding up her cupped hands full of quickly dissipating bubbles.
"What do I wish for?"
"Either a princess crown or a princess dress," her words tote a tone of matter-of-factness.
"Well, why not a prince? Maybe I want a prince."
"You cannot wish for a prince. You are not a princess, Hannah. You are just a babysitter."
Audrey is a lover of princesses. Her heart does an enormous tap dance over Sleeping Beauty and Ariel. She has a pair of plastic pumps with the faces of each damsel adorned on the tops of them.
This summer I have gained a sense of sympathy for these princesses. In just three days of babysitting I managed to force an apple down Snow White’s throat seven times. I made Cinderella lose her slipper a good eight times. I will more than likely plop Jasmine down on a magic carpet three more times before the week finds its ending. The sympathy grows as I flip the pages of books with crippled bindings to tell Audrey the same story of Jasmine or Ariel six or seven times a day.
Each time I see her scooping up the romance, the prince and princess riding off into the sunset, the kiss that all little girls hinge their satisfaction on, and then she moves on. Onto the Next Story of the Next Princess with the Next Happy Ending.
One day she will grow up, plastic shoes will no longer fit her and she will gain her first glimpse of a love song that does not come accompanied by squirrels and birds as the percussionists. But I pray she won’t want to write off the fairy tales forever, for lying to her and leading her on.
We only need to look a bit further into the same stories of our childhoods to realize that adversity did exist in each and every one of them. The stories were not solely about love and princes. We just chose not to pay too close attention to this at the time.
My mom and I had an argument about this the other day. And she won. Yes, that is right Mom, you won.
"We are teaching young girls that if you leave a glass slipper behind then some prince will return it, or that some guy is going to save you when you are locked up in a castle. Little girls should be embracing their own happy endings, not relying on a guy to do it for them.” Yes, that would be me turning on my Raging Feminist side at the drop of Cinderella’s name.
"If you forgot Hannah, Cinderella was abused by her step mother and step sister. Snow White ran away from abuse as well, and she loved those little dwarves and they loved her." Touche, Mom. Those princesses did their best for the circumstances they were given, what is the point of criticizing their definition of a happy ending?
I know that at the age of seven I would not want to be lulled to sleep by a storybook about a broken heart and broken dishes leftover from a fight that took place at midnight. I would never want to read about the sound of a car door, how this time the sound was different, it was the sound of Leaving. Who knows, perhaps Snow White found cheating text messages from Prince, maybe he got bored with her and wanted to try out Ariel. For all we know, Jasmine may have fallen out of love with Aladdin but she deemed it better to tell a perfect love story, the one of a street rat meets princess, than to make things messy and make people talk. I don’t know. Either way, I think I like the stories I was made to believe better than a less than magical reality to fill my bedtime story time slot.
Some might say that we are naive to accept promises of “happy ever after”s and kisses that wake us up out of deep spells. But maybe it is best that we learn to believe in this kind of fairy tale magic at a young age, so that we remember to dream. And Believe That Our Dreams Can Come True.
I sometimes must beat down the urge to tell little Audrey that she does not need a prince to make her happy. But then I think about it, maybe she will grow up and pine for a great love story. Maybe that will make her completely happy, and who I am to stop her from that?
Hey Audrey, if you remember anything beyond the fact that my favorite princess is Snow White, remember this from your babysitter when you grow up: Not every story in your life has to be a love story. And trust me, not every occurrence will resemble a fairy tale. Adversity will be important. Hardships, Hard Times and Hard Lessons Learned will be just as essential as that kiss that might one day make your little heart melt.
Just remember to be happy. Have the courage to change a situation if it needs to be changed, whether that means employing the help of a fairy godmother or finding the resilience deep down inside of yourself. If it means running, then You Should Run. If it makes you happy to fall in love, then fall, baby, fall.
Don’t go out in the world to be the next Ariel, Jasmine, or Snow White. Be Audrey. Tell the world of a love story that only Audrey can tell.