When my daughter was in second grade, she wanted to be an almond for Halloween.
"An almond?" I asked her, smiling but sort of worried for her in the way of playground politics. "Yes," she said with knowing eyes. "An almond."
So we made a foam and corduroy sandwich board, and she slipped it over her head, sporting a brown turtleneck and black leggings. It reminded me of Scout in "To Kill a Mockingbird" dressed up like a ham. I had a kid like Scout. I was proud.
And I stood there watching the school pageant, girl after girl in Walt Disney costumes -- Belle, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella -- smiling and waving, regal, and there was my daughter, parading as a bona fide nut. At first she smiled her knowing smile, but little-by-little it dawned on her that she was not just a minority, but one of a kind. And she didn't like it one bit. When it was over, she came to me crying, innocence lost, red-faced and ripped-off: "Why are all the girls dressed as princesses?" like where are all the almonds of the world?
I didn't know what to say. I didn't want to tell her that being an almond was harder. That it took a certain moxie and confidence and resilience. I didn't want to tell her that society created and prized princesses. I didn't want to tell her that I'd almost been one.
You see, I hail from a demographic that lauded and honored the glorious gown, the high forehead, the pearls, the pedigree, debutantes, boarding school, society weddings -- our country's version of princesses. When I was the age my daughter is now, Lady Di and Prince Charles walked down the aisle, and every one of us dreamed of having a gown like that, and an aisle like that. And where I came from, for some of us, it was possible. Our mothers would make it possible. I was thankful, and I was lucky, and I was ready to embrace it all.
But by and by, I started to see that money didn't bring you happiness. It brought you comfort. And as I grew older and watched Diana and Fergie both fall from grace and bust through the myths they were procured to uphold, I related to them. I didn't have their crowns or their jewels or their royal pressure, but I did understand the pressures of society in the way of a well-heeled upbringing and what that meant the future should look like. I didn't know if I wanted that future. Not if it meant that I couldn't be myself, warts and all.
Mostly, I had questions: How could I be a feminist and parade in ball gowns in front of elite boy bluebloods, window-shopping for future society wives? How could I be an artist, channeling the human condition, in rooms so opulent, so exclusive? How could I, in good conscience, advocate against oppression from a view so high atop a "throne"?
My father was from homesteading and farm stock, and he told me over and over, "People are the same everywhere." In my heart I knew this was true. He'd put it to the test. I wanted to put it to the test, only in the reverse. So I left. Even though I loved that world. I needed to see what the rest of the world was made of and if my father was right.
So I became a writer, fell in love with a fellow journeyer, married, and eventually moved to rural Montana, where we had two children and have lived ever since. One of them is my almond daughter, now parading on the garden path of womanhood. She has a great head on her shoulders -- more than I did at her age. She still has that almond state of mind. She does things like cut her hair short because she's interested in just how much power long hair has when it comes to boys paying attention to you. Or not piercing her ears when all the other girls have. Or wearing braids and no makeup to a school dance. Or researching Abercrombie before she decides to be its walking billboard. I am still proud of her.
So you can imagine my surprise this morning on the way to school when they were talking about Kate Middleton, the soon-to-be princess, on NPR, and I asked my daughter: "Would you ever want to marry a prince?" I expected overt rejection, disdain, ridicule -- things she is known to express. "Of course!" she said, hungrily. "I'd love to be a princess."
I felt the need then to remind her how Princess Diana died. How she couldn't go to the grocery store, or the farmer's market, or to town with greasy hair, or do much of anything without having cameras in her face and the scrutiny of nations.
And with eyes as the windows-to-the-soul that they still are, my daughter said, "If I loved him and he loved me, then I don't see how it's any different. Princess or no princess, people are the same everywhere when it comes to love." My father's message in my daughter, on a windy country road in Montana.
And there was nothing I could say to that. Princesses can be almonds and vice versa. And mothers can learn from their daughters.
A version of this post originally appeared on iVillage.
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