Tribe & Muse

A Disney Princess Retrofit

featured:maleficent-marc-davisI have a deep fear of Disney princesses. I know-don’t shoot the messenger-they’re just animated versions of fairy tales as old as time. As a young girl, however, they were delivered to me for the first time by Disney-so the association is indelible. As a child, I thought princesses were powerless girls who had lost their parents and were then poisoned or locked in a tower or placed in indentured servitude. YIKES!

In retrospect was it really any wonder my favorite Disney character was Sleeping Beauty’s Maleficent? People look at me sideways when I say that, but she wasn’t my favorite because I’m mean-spirited. She resonated because she was powerful and elegant with a tremendous voice that made perfectly clear she would take care of business on her own terms. Plus, in those days, female role models in popular culture were thin on the ground.

When I saw Frozen last year (inescapable even with a three-year-old boy), it sparked that old princess pang of fear in me again. There Elsa was-parents dead, locked in a dungeon, afraid of herself and her powers, misunderstood. There I was-no longer a little girl, married, middle-aged (gulp), a mum. I left my job and friends behind to follow my husband’s career trajectory around the globe. YIKES!

Now in my late thirties, I had to confront for the first time what it meant to be a mother and a wife and these two things only. I saw shades of Disney princesses at every turn. Maleficent would have turned herself into a dragon before she’d have followed my path. For all my strong feelings around this independent (albeit cartoon), character-my life felt more like Elsa’s after all.

This revelation spiralled me into a midlife crisis that mostly involved Lego-which is probably better than gin. The quiet moments spent with (or without) my four-year-old while we assembled and disassembled Lego created meditative space. Bits of advice to navigate my conflicted feelings at this precipice of middle age came from disparate sources. If it weren’t for the construction of the Lego Parisian Restaurant, these nuggets of wisdom may have passed me by.

From a dear friend:

“Take the word wife out of your vocabulary, it’s an outdated term. Be a partner instead.”

Ok. My husband works. I handle the more mundane, but ultimately fulfilling, aspects of child-rearing.

From another friend:

“You know, you can have it all-just maybe not all at the same time.”

This hadn’t occurred to me. I thought in fixed definitions. If you are one thing, you are not another thing. What you were in the past or will be in the future doesn’t count-but of course it does.

Then the pinnacle piece of wisdom came from my son on his first day of preschool:

“Are you excited for your first day of school,” I asked him.

“I’m excited,” he said, “and, I’m not excited. I’m both.”

I stared at him until I was sure he wasn’t Yoda-then I wrote down what he said and thought I’d needlepoint it on a pillow, maybe in purple.

I am both.

As if to back up this wisdom, the next day I stumbled on this quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald:

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

Well, if you say so Mr Fitzgerald.

So now, I try not to paint one picture anymore. I focus on my inner Maleficent and my inner Elsa. I (try to) embrace both. There are days I want to be alone to get back to my independent self and days I am overwhelmed with love in my husband and son’s company. There are days I am homesick and days I feel lucky to travel the world. There are days I pine for a career of my own-but more days I am thrilled to be home to read the bedtime stories.

This past Halloween-after Angelina Jolie’s portrayal of Maleficent-my Facebook page was awash in mothers, all my age, dressed as the feisty fairy. They posed in commanding fashions with arms around their little ones who were dressed as Elsa. Their costume choices confirmed my sneaking suspicion-I’m not the only woman who wants to embrace both.

published on Tribe&Muse

image: Maleficent-Marc Davis

for more essays click here