When I came home from a meeting the other day, my daughter's nanny, Mary Poppins, reported that gym class had gone well, but that some other mothers had inquired about the well-being of my two-year-old's ceremonial fifth limb -- her Barney doll.
My heart sank like a cannonball into my stomach. "Oh, God. Please don't tell me Barney has gone missing," I moaned, envisioning the sleepless nights ahead and kicking myself for not trying to find a team of replacement lookalikes during better, Barney-filled days.
To the sound of "The Way We Were," I started playing a mental reel of all the good days we'd had with Barney, like how he'd been gleefully serenaded by everyone in music class, bounced merrily on the trampoline in gym, stubbornly insisted on occupying his own seat on airplanes, and hungrily shared meals and drinks with us just like a member of the family (if not a wee bit more important than all of us combined).
"No," Mary Poppins said. "She just didn't want to bring him. She brought Dora with her instead."
Ever since eyeing Barney at my parents' house early last year, my daughter has not spent a second apart from her stuffed purple dinosaur, except for the moments when we pry him from her little fingers and toss him in the washing machine. At those times, she sits patiently, albeit a bit nervously and tearfully, watching carefully until the spin cycle comes to a rest, the dryer renders him toasty warm, and then nods understandingly and talks for up to a week afterward about how Barney got a bath. It's as if she's reassuring everyone -- but mostly herself -- that Barney, like Mommy, always comes back.
Still, maybe it shouldn't have been as big a surprise as it was, especially considering that she's been requesting to watch "Cinderella" and "Snow White" in place of "Barney and Friends" over the past few weeks.
When I was pregnant, one of the first things I did was excitedly order DVDs of my favorite Disney movies. Up until now, though, she never showed any interest in watching anything longer than 28 minutes (otherwise known as the length of a Barney episode).
But when I pointed out the Madame Alexander Cinderella and Snow White dolls by name that sit on a shelf in her room recently, and then asked if she wanted to watch the movies, she finally said she did. And since then, it's been almost all Disney, all the time.
Instead of falling asleep with Barney tucked under her arm, she drifts off cuddling her Cinderella book. During waking hours she bejewels herself with the shiny plastic silver purse, bangle bracelets, clip-on earrings and necklace she received over the holidays and prances around in the accompanying "glass slippers" (which look suspiciously like plastic stripper shoes) while yelling, "Wait, don't go! Come back!" like the Prince shouts to Cinderella at the stroke of midnight.
Sometimes she disrobes down to her diaper, brings me her shirt and pants and asks to have them made into Cinderella's dress, so I wrap them around her torso and tie them in the back, which seems to make her feel even more princess-like (she evidently doesn't realize that her overall look is reminiscent of the film "Showgirls," and the way she actually walks in her heels is reminiscent of her late great-great-98-year-old aunt).
As much as I've been aching to dress her up in a tiara and gown since birth, I deliberately hadn't pushed the princess thing for a while. While I was into them as a kid, they weren't nearly the industry that they are today. Today, the Disney Princesses have the equivalent of their own Justice League of America: A bunch of larger than life Barbie-like figures who don't really belong in the same room, but who have been shoved together for no other reason than to seemingly convince little girls that they're part of a very exclusive and important team, and that they're much more powerful as a unit than they are individually, and there is endless merchandise available for sale to prove it. Still, I can't deny my kid looks cute waving a scepter like she's trying desperately to shake something off the tip.
As I read the Cinderella book to her over and over each day, I try to decide what she's actually learning. That despite drawing the short stick in life, Cinderella is painfully nice, bordering on being a doormat, to those who constantly mistreat her? She's also kind to animals, if not a little odd or delusional about her relationship with them. That she dances with someone for an hour or two and is immediately ready to devote her life to him, but is too ashamed to tell him that her dress is borrowed? And she inexplicably invites the people who enslaved her to her wedding. Although they were no-shows, it makes me feel better to think she might have seated them by the kitchen or the band.
After infinite choruses in our home of the "I Love You, You Love Me" song, I just never thought the day would come when I'd actually start thinking I might miss Barney and BJ. (I'll never miss Baby Bop. She can't become extinct -- again -- fast enough, as far as I'm concerned.)
However, the truth is that what I will miss is the innocence that Barney represents in my daughter's life. And this marks the first time she's starting to consciously eschew anything (if you don't count meat, particularly since she'll happily eat bacon), which I suppose means in some way that she's growing up, and I wasn't ready for that to happen until well into her 20s or 30s. After all, my dad is still waiting for it to happen to me.
Follow Meredith C. Carroll on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MCCarroll