Sunday, November 27, 2011

I Surrender, Disney Princess

Christmas is a-coming, and not only are the geese getting fat, Charlotte is aware of what is going on, really for the first time. She might have been more into things last year, but the whole holiday was overshadowed for all of us by Lawson's birth, which made one too many babies to keep track of at Christmas for Charlotte (and for me if we are being honest). She was rather humbug about it, boycotting the Christmas tree trimming in favor of listening to her CD player and failing to run through the house screaming with excitement over the Fisher Price Little People Discovery Village (a whole village! can you handle it?) Santa brought for her. Maybe she had an inkling Santa bought it used on ebay.

So this year is really Charlotte's first Christmas, in which she is a conscious, active participant with memory that extends beyond a few weeks. This one she will remember, this one will set the stage for all to come, this is the year in which any action taken, no matter how thoughtless and foolish, runs the risk of becoming a Holiday Tradition to be repeated every year without fail for decades to come ("But Mommy, we ALWAYS make ornaments covered in glitter that clings to every surface in our house impervious to vacuum cleaning for every single teacher at school even the ones that work in my class only when needed on the third Wednesday in months starting with J!").

Most importantly, this is (or was, I should say, since the damage is already done) my opportunity to set expectations in terms of gifts. It was my firm intention to not fall prey to the big bad wolf of American commercialism, not to mention that wonderful American tradition of spoiled, entitled children. I was, after all, raised in Africa, as I believe i have mentioned. When I was 9 years old, I did not need Bono and Boy George to educate me about how African children didn't even know it was Christmastime at all, as if that was some great tragedy in the African context (although I do not mean any disrespect here to Bono, whom I of course worship. I'm sure that particular lyric was written by Wham! right after they penned Wake me up before you go-go/Don't leave me hangin on like a yo-yo and were too spent by the output of brilliance it required to come up with anything better). Kids without shoes, much less a Tickle Me Elmo doll, were a common sight for me. No, I was going to buy my kids a very few small, used toys for Christmas, teach them about Jesus's birth using the Fisher Price Little People manger scene Baba and Shosho got us, and decorate some sugar cookies. I would take them to volunteer at a homeless shelter, but at their ages, a visit from our family would probably have the residents reconsidering a park bench in sub-zero temperatures. I know how to be charitable to my fellow man, and I keep my kids home most of the time.

But my upbringing should have served not only as inspiration but warning for me, for American commercialism STILL infected me, even as I peered at shoeless African children and even as I lived with scant exposure to American media. Not only did we have no internet (gasp), we had no TV (gasp gasp gasp), except for the VHS tapes of random TV shows American church members sent to us, which endowed me with an incredibly spotty yet expert-in-places knowledge of 80s pop culture. While it is true, I have never seen an episode of Cheers (being set in a bar, this would have been taboo to send to Southern Baptist missionaries), I have seen probably every single episode of the short-lived sitcom Alf about a dozen times each (which I would not recommend; desperate times called for desperate measures). Piecing together information from the few commercials on these tapes and from one JC Penney Christmas catalog that somehow made its way across the ocean, I concluded that, in order to continue living, I absolutely had to obtain a Cabbage Patch Kid, just like every other little girl in American circa 1985. My Christmas wish finally did come true, not at Christmastime itself, but while my family was touring Europe and stopped in the BX at an Air Force base in Italy (my dad is retired military, thus our entree). I could have cared less about the Sistine Chapel ceiling--snoresville--but I was prepared to stage a lengthy sit-in on the floor of the BX if my parents did not buy for me one Willabella Charissa, which they had the good sense to do, as I can be quite stubborn as evidenced by my advanced age at the time of my potty-training.

And this is why, my friends, I caved early to the American Christmas. To fight it is a lost cause on par with Pickett's Charge. You will be mowed down in a grassy field by, in my case, Disney Princess so you might as well go ahead and lay down and get comfy. I hardly even put up a fight. Charlotte--whom I never take in a store and who only watches Nick Jr which has no commercials--probably could have been shielded for a little longer. On the other hand, she does have friends who have better access to information. Regardless of how the idea became implanted in her head, she strummed through the Target flier she plucked out of a mail pile and immediately honed in on the Disney Princess 7-doll set and proclaimed this to be her Christmas desire. Now, I have any number of objections to this. I think Disney Princesses teach girls they must be rescued by a man at which point their lives will be fairy tales (notice of course the story ends before the happy couple has children, a subject about which I have already commented at length). Then of course they are fashioned into Barbie Dolls, which teach girls that they must smile constantly, defy gravity with their chest size, and wear high-heels at all times in order to be beautiful. As everyone knows, Barbie condemns girls to low self-esteem, not to mention back trouble. But I imagined her opening her Disney Princess doll collection on Christmas and squealing with delight, and most of all I imagined her being so amused by it, she left me alone for maybe even an entire hour (which is probably delusional but i can dream on Christmas) so I bought it. Sue me.

I also bought the Disney Princess Dream Castle, which was definitely overkill. For the same cost, I probably could have bought shoes for the entire country of Burundi. But are shoed Burundian children going to keep my child entertained and save my sanity on a cold rainy day? I think not.

Merry Christmas!