This month, Misti fights back against the tyranny of Disney Princesses and encourages her daughter to follow a different kind of female role model. Luckily, roses provide an unexpected inspiration…
This World Book Day, my daughter’s school got genre specific. The children were told to dress up as historical figures. The examples given were Cleopatra and Erik the Red. We chose Jeanne d’Arc – or ‘John Dark’ as Helena pronounced it.
Before leaving the flat, she asked if she could tuck some of the limonium that had come with Freddie’s lilies that week into her belt. I obliged. She was so full of self-confidence and had such bounce in her step as I kissed her goodbye.
I asked her one last time, who are you today?
“I am Joan of Arc and she led the French against the English. And she said this: I am not afraid. I was born to do this.”
My husband said that once at school Helena went all quiet. Most of the girls in her class were dressed as princesses – exclusively Disney. Weeks later, I still can’t believe there wasn’t a Romanov, a Nefertiti, or a Grace Kelly among them.
I expected her to be in a mood when I picked her up at 3:15 so had planned a trip to the bakery for morale boosting cinnamon buns. Lo, when I entered the school gate she wasn’t sulky or sad but playing swords with another John Dark! On the walk home, she told me that she had a great day and that the teacher found a book about Joan of Arc that she read to the class.
We all know forbidden fruit’s the sweetest. This is why I haven’t outlawed princess paraphernalia in our home. That said, I did put a moratorium on Disney dresses last year. I had to.
Something strange happened at the playground, more than once. The moment Helena would slip into a princess dress, she’d slip out of herself and into a completely helpless persona. It was as distressing to me as it was for Rapunzel to be locked in that tower.
At home I told her she could wear whatever she wanted but only if her bravery remained in tact. First she threw a wobbly then she threw her dresses in the bin. Whilst recovering and refolding them, she said she understood and admitted that gowns weren’t very good for going up ladders. She even agreed that there is a time and place for costumes.
Like going to see Beauty and The Beast last weekend.
The following day, the most perfect red roses and limonium rode into our flat on a wave of eucalyptus (see picture, top).
Helena was convinced Freddie knew we’d seen the film, probably via enchanted mirror just like the Beast’s. She rubbed a velvety petal between her fingers. “When the last one falls, it dies. Right, mummy?”
I shook my head and took her to the windowsill in the living room where I’ve been trying to propagate the roses Freddie sent last September. After the blooms dropped off, I cut the stems and put them in water. Months later, new leaves have sprouted and roots that look like little hairs are starting to form. Helena looked at me like I was full of magic.
So I told her about the Rose of Hildesheim in Germany that’s been growing up a cathedral wall for more than 1,200 years. During World War II it was bombed heavily by the allies, and though every bit of the plant above ground was destroyed, the root managed to thrive. The bush still flowers today.
This is why I love roses so much–not only for their beauty but also their ability to endure.
Recently when Helena told me that she and her friends played princesses at school, I started poncing around and making helpless noises. She laughed and said “No! Not that kind of princess. Princess BUILDERS. We wear the dresses because they’re pretty but then we build things.”
Finally, a robust royal roleplay I can get behind.
Misti Traya fell in love with an Englishman and moved from Los Angeles to London in 2009. After her daughter was born, she began a blog called Chagrinnamon Toast that won the writing category at the 2014 Young British Foodies. She was also named runner-up for the Shiva Naipaul Prize. She has written for Gawker, Jezebel, Look, Mslexia, The Pool, The Spectator, and Stella Magazine.