Of all the Disney princesses, my favorite is Ariel, from The Little Mermaid. Forget the classics - Snow White, Cinderella, the Sleeping Beauty. I much prefer that rebellious redhead to her more traditional royal friends.
And what, you may wonder, draws me to Ariel? Is it her strong-willed, headstrong nature? Her beautiful singing? Her willingness to follow her heart against the advice of her friends and family, against all odds? Or maybe it's her fearlessness, her audacity, her sense of adventure?
Nope. I mean, hey, those are qualities I'd like to encourage in my daughters and all, but that's not really why I love the Little Mermaid. It actually has more to do with Prince Eric. To be specific, it has to do with my PLAYING Prince Eric with my daughters. You see, Prince Eric just lies there. Unconscious. On a beach. Eyes closed. Resting. Sort of like some vacations I took before I had kids. Now THAT'S a role I can get onboard with!
Yes, that's why Ariel is my favorite princess of all. Forget noble reasons, like her bravery and loyalty. I love Ariel because when I get dragged into my daughters' version of The Little Mermaid, all I have to do is lie down on the floor with my eyes closed and let them take turns rescuing me.
Contrast that with playing Prince Charming. If the princess of the day is Cinderella, Aurora, or Snow White, I have to actually work. Slay a dragon, hack through 100 years of overgrowth, and escape from an evil fairy? Far too much work for Slacker Mom. Ride my white horse all over the kingdom searching for a dead chick in a glass coffin guarded by seven weird little men? No doubt I'll then have to remember all their names, too. (Dopey? Sneezy? Sleepy? Dirty? Smelly? Sleazy? Creepy?) Then I'll get down on the floor, kiss the princess awake, scoop her up, and carry her back to my castle. My back hurts just thinking of it. And don't get me started on Cinderella's prince. Dance all night, chase her down the stairs, scour the kingdom trying a plastic sparkly princess shoe on 83 different dolls and stuffed animals - then repeat with the other child. It's exhausting.
No, I'll take Prince Eric any day. Sit on my boat (the bed), fall into the ocean (a pile of blue blankets), lay on the beach (the playroom floor - hey, the carpet's beige, and there IS a lot of sand/glitter/unidentifiable "rocks"). It's perfect. The girls do all the work, and I get to close my eyes for a few precious moments.
Don't get me wrong. I love playing with my kids. I'll get out the play-doh, paint, and glitter, and not worry about the mess (and that's why the playroom floor makes a great beach, after all). I'll play house, restaurant, soccer, and Legos. I'll even teach them how to hula hoop, much to the amusement of the neighbors. Just don't ask me to play Barbies. I'm so sick of Barbie. (Maybe because I played with her until I was like 13? Who knows.) She has too many costume changes, too many friends to keep track of (Skipper? PJ? Teresa? Ken? Kelly? Prince Aidan? Elina?) and I can't remember who is who and how they're all related. Add in the Hannah Montana and High School Musical dolls and the Disney princess Barbies, and suddenly Oliver and Lilly are having pizza with Belle and Jasmine while Troy and Gabriella take Mulan and Ken for a ride in the beach cruiser...and I'm lecturing the girls on keeping everyone's original costumes in place so we don't lose anything and explaining that, to be historically accurate, Mulan lived before cars were invented - even though we just saw her on a mechanized float at Disneyland last week and we're talking about a fictionalized character here, anyway! Oops. So, yeah, I pretty much try to avoid Barbie. Better clothes, fewer chores - that girl just annoys me. (Although, come to think of it, she kind of reminds me of me in my pre-kid San Diego days. Skinny blonde, hangs out at the beach, drives a convertible. Hmmm. Maybe I'm just jealous.)
So when the kids demand, "MOMMY! Play with me!" is there anything wrong with just saying no? I don't think so. I think it's perfectly fine to limit the amount of time I spend being involved in the girls' play. I think it's OK to step away, let kids learn how to fill their own free time, to be unstructured, unrestrained by the boundaries of a parent's mind. I'm likely to have Barbie and her gang head out to the pool, but my girls may turn them into space explorers, cavemen, or mad scientists ala Doofenschmirtz Evil Incorporated. (Try saying it without singing it. Go ahead, just try it.) Without me around to direct the play, their little imaginations run wild.
Slacker Mom Says...playing with kids isn't always fun and games. Sometimes we need to say, "Time's up! Mommy's done. Play by yourselves." When parents join the play, we change it. We unwittingly bring our authority to the imaginary world of our children, and that doesn't leave them in control. When kids engage in creative play, they control the outcomes - something that rarely happens in their lives. So make a cup of tea, pick up a (non-parenting) magazine, turn on something other than Phineas and Ferb, and opt out of the kids' playtime. It's actually good for them.