Thursday, February 23, 2012

On cruel children, individuality and craftiness.

Two days ago, on Tuesday at around noon right after I had finished my food and children and struggle post, I received a forwarded message.
It was a reminder from my stepdaughters school and while I wanted to spend some time scratching my brain what I had missed that this was a reminder and not just some announcement, my mind got too busy with the content of the message.

Character-for-a-Day was coming. "(…) select a book character that they have encountered through reading and dress as that character. Costumes should be simple, creative and homemade."
By the time I had less than 48 hours time to come up with something (after asking my stepdaughter who was still in school) because yes, Character for a day is today.
Talk about advance notice.
But nothing I could do about that. Just move on and hope the girl didn't want to be something as boring as a princess.
I have a deep rooted dislike against little girls dressed in generic pink dresses and calling it any random princess. It's cheap, not very creative and - 90% percent of the time - not homemade. It also fosters stereotypical thinking and promotes the wrong values (this is going into a fun direction, no?! I didn't know where all that feminism is coming from suddenly.). I grew up with Brothers Grimm fairytales too but that doesn't mean I find them aspiring or educational. On the contrary. Yesterday for story time before bed the kids and I read Rumpelstilskin together. I found it repulsive (from an educational and feminist point of view).*

Anyway. Enough with the fairytales.
Last week when the school asked to bring in the kids favorite story, my stepdaughter brought in a Dr. Seuss book we've been reading (it's been love at first sight between Dr. Seuss and us for half a year now and all started with the Arabic translation of "The Lorax" which is such a smart story. Her favorite story, though, was "I wish I had duck feet" which is about a boy coming up with the following features he would love to have:
- duck feet,
- antler,
- a trunk,
- a tail and
- a whale spout.
He dismisses each one for different reasons, considers having all of them at once and, in the end, decided he would rather be himself. It would be the best thing.
Talk about moral.

Loving how much my stepdaughter loves this character to choose it as her costume character for a day because it isn't some pink princess but how am I supposed to make antlers? And a spout? Let alone duck feet?!
(Here is a visual for you to imagine what the challenge was I hoped to be faced with.)

My stepdaughter immediately jumped to this story (I was unbiased aside from the fact that I insisted it wouldn't matter if the story was about a boy). So for the better part of yesterday, I sat on the couch, sewed a tail out of a cheetah print pillow case I never knew why I kept it (and stuffed cotton balls into it), stuffed a pantyhose with cotton balls and sewed grey felt around it (and wore it for a trial) and helped my stepdaughter make antlers out of a headband, aluminum and brown crepe paper.
And while I did this, my husband bought diving fins in her size and spray painted them yellow.

I was mighty pleased with myself and our effort. Our costume was simple, homemade and creative. At the same time, I spent most of last night laying awake worrying. What if the girls are all store brought princesses? What if someone makes fun of her because she isn't like the others? What if no one understands her costume? What if it alienates her from the little pink brats?

And while my stepdaughter loved her costume at home, that is exactly what happened. Half the girls were generic pink princesses or witches (is that the yuppy women's way of "recycling" Halloween costumes?!) while a lot of boys were football players - which story could that be?
In class she was greeted with countless "What are you?!", frowned brows and a mocking tone in her classmates voices and by the time I left her, unable to do anything about it or helping her, she was taking off her tail saying she hated her costume.
My husband to the rescue! He called the school, complained about the amount of unspecific Halloween costumes and explained my stepdaughters trouble. It worked he was told. They read part of the story, she was happy.

I hope this episode hasn't but a hold on her love for Dr. Seuss. I am not ready to go back to the fairytales.
It is hard to be different and unique especially when you're six going on seven in a society that only knows two ways: You're either in or you're out and there is no in-between.
Which is why I was so proud of her. I just hope she feels a little bit like that too.




*If you don't know Rumpelstilskin: A miller boasts about his daughters spinning skills saying she can make straw into gold. The king hears of it and tries her. She is desperate, clueless and doesn't want her father punished (who'd deserve it for lying and putting her in this position), but receives help from a little man for two nights in a row in return for all her jewelry. The greedy king wants more and more and, during the third and hopefully last night, Rumpelstilskin demands the girls firstborn in exchange for his help. She agrees in despair and he makes gold bundles happening again. Finally, the kings' greed is satisfied and he - ever so generous - offers the girl his hand in marriage (the nerve!). She accepts (why! Slave driver!) and soon the now-Queen gives birth to a boy. She's forgotten Rumpelstilskin but he comes and claims his promise. She begs. His offer: Guess my name in three days and you can keep your boy. She tries everything and every name but has no clue. On the last day she sends out her hunter who finds Rumpelstilskin dancing around a fire, saying his own name over and over again. In the third night, the queen reveals his name and Rumpelstilskin gets angry like only short men can get angry and is swallowed by the earth. The End.

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