There are some parents who consciously limit their children's exposure to licensed characters. They argue that the companies that sell merchandise with licensed characters on them - and the companies who own the license - are exploiting young minds for financial gain. Or something like that. I don't think I know any of these people, but I've read about them in magazines and seen them interviewed on TV. Their main target is - no surprise - that grandaddy of mice of men, the Disney Company.
I, on the other hand, have no such convictions. Our son loves Cars and our daughter loves Princesses, but they both have a variety of interests and love to read and play outside and are curious and engaging, so I don't think it's stunted their development in the least. It's not necessarily something we encourage, but it's there. And so when my parents invited us to spend some time with them in Southern California this past month, it was going to include a trip to Disneyland. I *may* have been almost as excited as the children about visiting the land of Mickey Mouse.
It was so much fun. Sure, there were a couple of meltdowns and they probably won't remember much about it, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.
I was especially looking forward to Mia meeting a real-life "Princess".
Now, of all of the major reservations parents have with their child's obsession with Disney, the ones about Disney princesses inspiring a less-than-realistic version of love are the ones that I can relate to. I was reading a story about Sleeping Beauty to Mia the other night that went more or less like this:
Aurora pricked her finger and fell asleep. Then a Prince kissed her and saved her and they were in love forever and ever. The end.
I try to balance that by reading The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch to her. For those of you unfamiliar with that story, the gist of it is this:
Prince is kidnapped by dragon. Princess outwits dragon and rescues Prince, all while wearing nothing but a paper bag. Prince admonishes Princess for not looking like a real Princess. Princess says, "I am too good for you", and kicks Prince to the curb.
So yeah, I much prefer the Paper Bag Princess as a role model for my daughter than the traditional Disney fare, but I can't (and won't) deny them to my daughter. Both she and my son are much too young to stop believing in magic, and I really believe that's what Disney is to most kids. It's a magical world full of castles and cars that speak and a mouse whose best friends are a duck and some dogs. It's where toys come alive and there are endless possibilities to be discovered. (Wow, that was some Kool-Aid I drank, hey?)
To illustrate just how powerful this belief can be, let me tell you about what happened when Mia finally had a chance to meet a Princess. Up until this point, both Murray and I knew that there was a very strong possibility that Mia would not go up and actually meet a Princess. She is very hesitant around strangers, especially of the non-regular-human variety. Last Christmas we waited in line for more than half an hour to see Santa Claus but when it was our turn she refused to go anywhere near him. Likewise, the day before our Disneyland visit we were at Disney's California Adventure. There's a picture we have of all of us waiting to meet Goofy. Mia looks the most excited of all of us. The next picture is Gavin meeting Goofy by himself.
At Disneyland, if you want to meet a Princess you go to the Royal Fantasy Walk. You wait in a long line to walk into an alcove where around three of the Disney princesses will be waiting for your child. The entire 45 minutes we were waiting, we knew that this could be a total bust. We gave her the option to leave if she wanted to and received an emphatic No! When we turned the corner and saw Princess Tiana waiting, Mia mustered every ounce of courage that she had and walked, hesitantly, up to her and offered her autograph book and pen. Once the name had been signed, the Princess took Mia in for a hug. Mia did this two more times. Each time, hesitant. She's not smiling in any of the pictures, and anyone unfamiliar with the back story would think that we totally forced her to do something she didn't want. When we were leaving the Royal Walk area, you could almost see the tension leave her body.
I don't know what motivates people to overcome their fears like that, but it has to be good. My kids will have plenty of time to be cynical about the entire enterprise when they're older. Just not now. Not yet. Hopefully not ever.
And you? You just go have a magical day!