We have waited six long months for this time to come. I had pictured our trip to Disney as something of a going away party for the Princesses. A last hurrah. Sophie and the gals would sit around a table, share a few drinks, have a few laughs over the strangest places they had appeared in their gowns—grocery stores, dental offices, the JCC. Then, when the time had come to finally say goodbye, they would cry bitter crystalline tears as if their hearts would break. Woodland animals would gather and widen their eyes sympathetically. Handsome princes would appear suddenly, from behind dark red velvet curtains to rest one gloved hand gently on their shoulders and issue reassurances, “There, there.” And Sophie would put away these childish things in favor hot pants and tube tops, like a normal American 6-year-old.
There have been small signs that it is time. For one, Sophie announced one evening that her favorite color was no longer pink.
I think I might have gasped. Then, trying to be all nonchalant, I said, “Really? Why is that?”
This is what she said:
“You know how sometimes, someone makes a face and you think its funny. Then they make the face again, and it’s not funny anymore. “
“Yes, I know just what you mean.”
The second sign was the gradual disappearance of her Belle dress—the yellow confection I had bought for her a year ago for Halloween. The one that if she wasn’t wearing, she was begging to wear. The one that is shredded under the armpit, it’s yellow satin skirts edged with dirt. For months after she got it, like Mr. Rodgers, when she came home at the end of the day, she shed her school clothes and slipped on her gown. On the weekends, it would be on before breakfast Saturday, and there it would remain until I could finally peel it off her body Sunday evening.
Though I found her obsession somewhat disturbing. I kept hearing from others, “Enjoy it. This is a phase. There will come a time where she won’t be caught dead in a princess dress.” And I noted that her six-year-old friend Margo passed up a series of flouncy frocks in favor of her own snazzy skirt and boots. “She’s over it, ”her mother whispered to me, “she’s much more into what the older girls are wearing.”
And sure enough, her beloved Belle dress has been sitting crumpled in a corner of her closet, the detritus of childhood, items loved intensely and discarded: Baby Pink, a soft doll that rattled when she gave it a sound thrashing each morning when she woke in her crib, a series of boxes within boxes that I would build into towers she knocked over with glee, rubber puzzles, brittle with age, that we inherited from Kevin’s mother.
I had long wondered how Sophie would react to seeing her heroines in the flesh. Would she rush at them, a deranged fan, ready to snatch a bit of their silken locks, from their elaborately styled wigs? Would she freeze, paralyzed by an existential crisis—when your dreams come true, what else is there to do? Or was she already so old that she would walk the line between wonder and skepticism. “That’s not the real Belle, Mom….is it?”
The first sighting was of Merida, a.k.a. Brave, who as surrounded by velvet ropes and several Disney heavies. “Merida won’t be seeing anyone for another twenty minutes,” a woman with a clipboard chirped.
“That’s okay,” said, Sophie. “I can see her from here.”
If I wanted to ensure Sophie got to see a princess up close and personal, it was apparent that I’d have to “fastpass” one. So, when Sophie and Kevin were riding on something called the Barnstormer, I made an appointment to see Rapunzel, popping our thumbprint activated Disney pass cards into a machine that spit out three tickets for 6 pm.
We still had some time, so I suggested that we check out Belle’s Storybook Castle before it was time to see Rapunzel.
The concept was brilliant. Children who volunteer are assigned roles to act out a play with Belle and given a laminated prop. Part of the brilliance is that no one gets to be Belle, which might have caused a riot or a domino-like effect of one preschooler after another having an extreme meltdown. Sophie was very pleased to be the French feather duster, which had a non-speaking role, and, in the program, would have fallen under “ensemble.”
The parents sat in rows and watched their children take turns roaring (the Beast), or hopping (Ms. Potts and Chip), or doing nothing (the Feather Duster) at Belle’s side, while a photographer snapped a shot of each. For each pose, Belle stretched her menacingly red lips into a semblance of a smile, then gently pushed the child in the direction of another “cast member” who snatched the prop from the child.
We emerged from the Storybook House just in time for our date with Rapunzel. At the Princess Fairytale Hall, we handed in our fast passes and hurried down miles of corridors designed for hours of waiting. Next to a velvet curtain stood Rapunzel, in yards of purple satin, with pounds of golden hair in a plait that hung heavily down her back. She beckoned to Sophie, a delicately boned hand indicating that they should stand together. Sophie uncharacteristically burrowed her face into my skirts. No amount of coaxing from Rapunzel would lure her away from me. Finally, I hobbled over next to Rapunzel, shrugged, and posed awkwardly for a picture of me, the princess, and Sophie cowering between my legs.
Next up was Snow White. She was good this one. Lots of affectation—placing her hand over her heart, touching her cheeks with both hands, then raising them both in the air in a pose of mock surprise. Sophie was drawn in. She pulled away from me and drifted towards the princess. Snow White bent down, cupped her ear, and proceeded to whisper, secretively, into it. Sophie smiled, nodded, and whispering back.
When she returned, I asked, “What was all that whispering about?”
“My missing tooth!”
But all of this was just foreplay for the main princess event. We had reserved three spots at a princess luncheon in Norway the last day of our vacation.
That morning, Sophie donned her yellow dress. I stared at the shredded armholes. “Soph,” let me fix your dress. Sophie eyed me warily.
“Trust me, when I’m done with it, it will look better, fit better and feel cooler.” She reluctantly handed it over to me. I ripped out the sleeves, sewed up the hems and handed it back. “Voila!” Sophie admired her doctored frocks, while I, feeling like a fairy godmother, sealed up the velcro closure in the back.
As we marched through Epcot, Sophie was repeatedly greeted as if she was Belle. “Hello Princess!” “It’s Belle! How are you today, Belle!” “What a beautiful dress, Princess.” Clearly they had been trained to do so. Disney was a system that reinforced the devout. Sophie recoiled from these overtures. I couldn’t tell if they embarrassed her, or if she mistrusted them somehow. Or maybe, just maybe, she was uncomfortable wearing her dress in public?
The Akershus Royal Banquet Hall was something to behold. It was designed to look like a Medieval castle: stone archways, cathedral ceilings, tapestries. As soon as we walked in, we were led over to Belle. “We have the same dress!” she exclaimed happily. They embraced for the photographer, and an imported Norwegian led us to our table.
As we finished our appetizer and then main course, with nary a princess in sight, I began to get suspicious, “Kevin. I think the princesses are ignoring us!”
“I’ve been watching them, “ he said, watching them, “We’re not in their flight pattern.”
The waitress came back to see if she should remove our plates. “We haven’t seen any princesses yet,” I told our waitress, sadly. She looked surprised.
“It’s probably because you came in early,” she scolded in her Norwegian accent. “I will make sure the princesses come visit you. Keep your plates, and I’ll hold off on bringing out dessert.”
Moments later, Alice was at our table. Not a princess, Sophie pointed out. “But probably a BFF,” I suggested. Sophie accepted this and posed daintily with Alice, mirroring her by holding out her skirt.
Each then arrived in turn. First Cinderella, who, with startled blue eyes, looked like she might have just lost her glass slipper. Then Aurora, with a severe, pinched look who, Kevin thought, was just a little too thin. Finally, Ariel arrived, appearing distracted as if she had a boat to catch. Each stood for a photo, before rushing off to the next table. Sophie was glowing. She eagerly stood for the princess procession and followed Cinderella throughout the castle in a parade of children, most of whom were too young to comprehend what was going on or to ever remember this moment.
This wasn’t feeling like closure to me.
I did Disney, and now, I was done. But was Sophie?
On our first day back, Sophie threw an outfit together, ripped leggings, a sparkly Hello Kitty shirt with a glittery headband to match, heart socks and sandals. It has been a very long time since Sophie volitionally donned anything but a dress.
“Rips in your pants are very fashionable,” she informed us, striking several poses before she ran across the street to show her friend her new look.