Last week, on Thursday, in case you were unaware, was the Jewish holiday of Purim.
Purim is known for a lot of things: from the drunken debauchery to the Megillah (old school scroll) reading where we yell every time we hear the bad guy’s name (think: “Hitler”… “BOOOO!”).
Then there’s also the other thing, the reason people often associate Purim with Halloween (sillies): the dressing up in costumes.
If you’re curious, which I have a clown hat that I just wear every year. I’m not a big costume guy.
Now, the thing is, that used to not be such a big deal. No need to deal with costumes. Your wife does her thing, you do your’s.
But then you have a daughter. And another. And at first your wife dresses them up (“Oh she’s a duck, isn’t that so cuuuuute? (It really is, actually)) and you (I) move on with your life because who really cares.
Last year my wife chose a costume for our eldest, two years old at the time, a princess costume.
Now, I know I said I don’t care about these things, but being the lazy husband in this situation, I still felt the right (Nay! The obligation!) to feel uncomfortable with this choice.
I’m not a big fan of “princess culture” in America. It kind of implies this entitlement, this idea that girls deserve, just by virtue of how freaking cute they are, to be treated like royalty. A princess, at least in all the fantasy books I ever read, has no responsibilities, no job. She flirts with boys, if she’s in a Disney movie she refuses their advances until she finds the “right” one, but at the end of the day, she’s a one-dimensional taker. And, worst of all, she always needs a man to save her.
That’s part of why I love the Jewish conception of a woman: she is not a princess. She is a queen. She has responsibility. Nobility. She’s been through some crap, but she holds her head high and makes the world a better place through the power of that freaking beauty all women have.
That’s what the story of Purim is all about: Queen Esther saving the freaking entire Jewish people. Okay, that guy Mordechai had a role and the dudes will try and talk about him, but the Megillah is really called Megillas Esther so let’s be real: the hero is the queen.
As far as I’m aware, there are very few stories about princesses in the Jewish lexicon. I love that. Screw princesses, with their entitlement issues and their flirting and their taking. And, of course, the effect that princess culture has had on our modern society: one in which people in general believe their “job” is to be happy, not to transform the world the way a queen would.
So, all those thoughts were running through my brain as I judged the outfit my wife had bought because I was too lazy to be involved from the beginning. A part of me realized it would be better to shut up, though. My queen had made her decision, and she’s got that Queen Esther strength to remind you you’re just a figurehead trying to make it look like you’ve got a real job. So, as king, I graciously muttered something about princess culture, she smiled and shrugged, and we moved on.
All was good. My daughter was two years old, after all. Do they even retain memories at that point? She’d move on. Next year, she’d be a queen or a rock star or doctor or a president or whatever else my newly-developed Jewish-father brain was starting to project onto her.
But this is the thing: as the year went on after that Purim, my daughter kept trying to find opportunities to wear that costume. That princess (Imagine spit coming out of my mouth as I say that with utter disdain) costume.
At first, again, no big deal. She wanted to tap into Purim again. I got that. It was okay. Lazy father mode activated. Take a step back. Drink a beer. Move on.
But then, sooner than I was ready for, it was suddenly Purim again. I was/am thirty years old, a man, you see, who has to do more than sit back when the big decisions are made (who am I kidding?), and my daughter was three.
Three years old is a woman. A big girl, you see, as she reminds me quite often. The Rebbe had those girl light candles too, do you know that? They’re big. They’ve developed beyond what you could possibly imagine at two years old. They can tell you things they like and don’t like. They can say things like, “You have so many muscles” (I loved that one) and “What are you watching on your phone?” (Jewish educational stuff, I swear). They can retain memories.
And, more importantly, they can make their own choices. They are these self-realized chunks of sweetness who know what they want and demand their way. With strength, with hubris, with cuteness, they tell you how it’s going to be.
And so our daughter, no longer allowing my wife to just let her pick out a costume, knew before Purim even came what she would be wearing: the princess costume.
The princess costume.
It was tattered and didn’t fit her perfectly because it was a year old, for gosh sake’s, but she insisted. Princess it was.
Now, to be clear, this isn’t just only some feminist agenda that bothered me. It was the fact that daughter really isn’t a princess. She’s hardcore. She has this strong energy, the energy of an “ayshis chayil”, a “woman of valor” who fights for her rights when she needs to, isn’t afraid to ask a child at the playground to come over sometime, who doesn’t exude that “me, me” attitude that I think of princess culture as possessing. The emptiness, the powerlessness.
I don’t see her as a princess. I didn’t, at least. It bothered that lazy father part of me that wasn’t going to stop her but who was making judgments and accusations in his brain.
I remember seeing pictures of her the day before at school, with all the other girls dressed as princesses. Is this who I had raised? This false image of femininity, one of powerlessness, in which the prince always comes to the rescue? No, it couldn’t be.
My princess in action
Then we took her to a megillah reading (the one where you yell at Hitler), at her child’s school. Men and women divided. On the men’s side, boys in cowboy outfits and knights and whatever else. The girls’ side: princesses as far as the eye could see. Bah.
When the megillah reading was over, I walked over to get food with my wife and daughters, and I watched this little girl, this little princess who had betrayed me and my ideals and her own personalty with her choices, and I had a beer and relaxed with the family a bit.
I watched her, that girl, because I love her, even as a princess, G-d I love her.
And something interesting happened. Up until now, all I saw were pictures. I didn’t see my girl in action in that costume, really. Now was my first taste.
She was giving out “shalach manos”, gifts of candy, to the other kids. She walked with this confident stride. This gait of strength. But she was feminine too. Walking like I wasn’t used to seeing her walking. With a little lightness to her step. A little gentleness. Something I’m not used to because of the hardcoreness she usually exhibits.
There was this thing happening, and through my beer-hazed mind it started to connect and grow a new understanding of what was happening with my little girl.
She was walking up to every kid with that same confidence she does in the museum when she invites over random kids to her home. Despite the stream of kids, parents, and psychotic version of both (high on candy or beer), she was not afraid, not holding back.
She was giving out that candy like a friggin’ boss.
But she was also gentle. She was also sweet. She was also a princess.
When parents are silly
There’s this thing I’ve realized that parents do: we like to impose our preconceived notions of reality on our children. We like to think that our judgments of society, all the “revolutionary” ideas we have, somehow apply to a pure being of light without the crap most of our own brains are filled with.
My daughter loves being a princess because she’s a girl, and because she recognizes the beauty of femininity. She loves being a princess because she doesn’t see a conflict between being a sweet, cute, gentle girl and being hardcore, strong, and confident.
Maybe society does see those as in conflict. Maybe I do too. Maybe that’s the problem.
My daughter, I think, has a much more balanced vision of what it means to be a woman than her lazy father ever could possibly have.
Now I just have to make sure I remember to stay out of the way and let her unfettered vision of true femininity blossom in the way it’s meant to.