It was an enlightening day today. That doesn't mean it was a good day, or that I reached new heights in my yoga practice. It means I learned something about my four-year-old daughter and me, and how she views that precious mother and daughter relationship we share. What she said did not give comfort.
Ally called me her "maid."
I'll give some background. I'd asked Ally to remove her boots once inside. As any caregiver of young tots knows, this can be a back-breaking task that involves awkward tugging, whining (both by child and adult) and spaghetti stretched tights. No wonder Ally hates the job. However, I had become convinced that getting on and off her own footwear was a good skill to learn before college. She disagreed.
"Maid?" I said shocked. Who has a maid? We don't, even if Ally thinks we do in the form of me. I'm a single mother. Hasn't Ally read the income statistics?
I was indignant. "I'm not your maid. I'm your mother."
When the words left my mouth, I realized how pathetic I sounded. "Mother" and "maid," in Ally's mind, are the same. After I thought about it, I had to admit she wasn't far off the mark.
I cook for her; I clean up after her (after the regulation squawk about her doing it herself); I even bathe and dry her. There are those multiple cycles of laundry. Her dentist explained Ally doesn't have the dexterity to brush her teeth at four, so I do that too. I do more for her than any maid would. I am a combination personal attendant, housekeeper and emotional coach. But my daughter has fixated on the maid part. How did Ally catch onto this?
How could I have raised, in four short years, such an entitled, aristocratic kid, with so little tact? I wanted to know where I'd got lost on the parenting path. I was eager to blame someone other than myself for my child's repellent social attitudes. I didn't want to sound bitter and blame my ex. In an effort to pass the buck, I explained Ally's unfortunate attitudes about her mother and the work ethic generally on Disney and the ubiquitous Disney Princess cabal. There seems to be no harm in blaming cartoons. Okay, so Snow White swept and cooked for the Seven Dwarfs, and Cinderella cleaned for those dreadful stepsisters. But these skivvy roles were temporary and necessary for the plot, but only until Prince Charming arrived to whisk said princess from all that laundry. Sleeping Beauty and the Little Mermaid never had to clean for anyone before her prince arrived. Being kind and pretty were good enough. That's part of being a princess: You get a maid, a palace and a handsome prince, the last apparently with limited emotional depth or intellectual rigor, judging from the Disney versions. I hope Kate Middleton does better on that front.
I grew up on both the Disney and non-Disney versions of the fairy tales, but unlike my daughter, I didn't wear their images on my T-shirts, lunchbox, umbrellas and every second piece of apparel I owned. The World of Disney was not as encompassing in my childhood as it is in Ally's. I never called my mother a maid.
To counter her aristocratic leanings, I considered introducing some Marx (Karl, not Groucho), including commentary on class struggle and the dictatorship of the proletariat into Ally's bedtime reading. The idea was to counter all those fairy tales. When I looked up Karl Marx online to see what he could say to children about inequality and the working class, I learned he had seven children, and his first an illegitimate son whose mother was his wife's "maidservant." I concluded that Marx is not the solution to my daughter's champagne tastes or lofty sense of entitlement.
It's no surprise that Ally loved the reaction she provoked with her maid reference. What kid doesn't like to unhinge a parent? I'm told by experienced adults that my daughter's comment is a precursor to what I'll get in spades when Ally hits 14, if not before. I believe that before has arrived, and I've got a whole decade to deal with the fall out.
As of today, there is a new rule in this house, posted by management: Everyone removes her own boots and cleans up after herself.
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