There are things I can’t tell my family. Things they wouldn’t understand. They don’t know, for example, that elbow-length satin gloves make me warm and tingly inside. They’ve never noticed how my eyes go swirly-girly at the mention of glass slippers or fairy wings. They’re entirely ignorant of my impeccable “Little Mermaid” impression — a spot-on vocal triumph charting every sigh, giggle, and vibrato of the brilliant girl-power ballad “Part of Your World.”
You see, I’m the only female in my family of four. Where I grasp at magic wands, my husband and sons grab for laser guns. Where I dream of horse-drawn carriages, they drool over horse-powered muscle cars.
As I learned during a recent family excursion, nowhere is this disparity of passions more pronounced than at Disneyland.
A Southern California native, I spent an immoderate portion of my youth at the Happiest Place on Earth being merrily mesmerized by Disney’s feminist-infuriating princess stories and blithely buying into the seductive sales arm of the operation: the Sparkly Princess Aesthetic.
To this day I can’t park my car in the Pinocchio lot before my Pavlovian inner princess starts salivating: Tinker Bell tank tops? Hot pink tiaras? Dopey! Sneezy! Hold me back!
Like life, though, a trip to the Magic Kingdom is an entirely different tale when you’re surrounded by boys. Sleeping Beauty’s castle is merely that thing you have to tear through to get from the Astro Blasters, where you can shoot things, to the spinning teacups, where it’s fun to make vomit jokes and watch mom turn green.
We ride rocket ships. We buy swords. We watch an Indiana Jones look-alike beat the holy grail out of some swarthy, grunting bad guy.
And then I see it. Something new in the park: The Princess Fantasy Faire. We’re marching off toward some unsparkly treehouse or another when I spot a shady enclave where little girls are decorating crowns, dancing with knights, and curtsying before tiny-waisted Cinderella and big-haired Belle.
“Oh, GOD,” my husband announces. “Aren’t you glad we don’t have to wait in those lines?”
What I say is, “Phew. You’re tellin’ me.”
What I’m thinking is, “Remember that hour we spent at the Jedi Training Academy? That’s 60 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.”
What I’m singing in my head is, “What would I give if I could live out of these waters?… Wandering free, wish I could be part of that world.”
To be fair, there are advantages to mothering boys. Though I’ve had to abandon pre-parenthood fantasies of delicate tea parties and shopping expeditions for sequined sandals (not for lack of trying but because my sons won’t humor me), I maintain hope that some day my new-found ability to distinguish a backhoe from a front-end loader will prove wildly useful.
The best part of being the lone gal in a house full of guys is the sort of confused reverence with which you are viewed. As everything about me is different — my body, my talents, my passions — I’m seen as somewhat mysterious. Complicated. Special. For these fellows, surrounded on three sides by “he”-hood, I get to be the lone shore of “she”-hood. The very model of femininity. The fairest, in effect, of them all.
At the end of our Disneyland day, I drag my two-year-old to the princess-heavy Parade of Dreams, so I — rather, so he — can see doe-eyed damsels float by, waving their gloriously gloved fingers in that fluid, inhuman way.
He is bored and fidgety till his eyes lock onto Tinker Bell, flapping her fairy wings and flicking her pixie stick at the crowd. But the look on his face isn’t enchantment — it’s faint recognition.
He points at the life-size fairy and wrinkles his nose. “Is that Mommy?” he asks…
And we live happily ever after.