Last Halloween, my 3-year-old son wanted to be a princess. Assuming this was similar to his robot and rock star phases, I broached the subject again a few days after his initial declaration. “Bug, what do you want to be for Halloween?”
“A princess,” he said, his Spider-Man backpack bobbing as we walked hand-in-hand to school.
“Sure, but you know, usually princesses are girls and princes boys.” I paused. “Do you want to be a prince?”
“Noooo,” he said.
I was a liberated African-American woman. When my mother wanted to buy my firstborn, Solomon, clothes every shade of blue, I insisted, “Color has no gender!” After Bug was born, I joked he was the little girl I never had, since he was really chatty for his age, and I always imagined that’s how a little girl would be. Solomon’s speech was limited because of his autism, so talks with a child were new for me.
Our conversations were often about his favorite color, which was usually pink, although once during yoga class, he chose blue. (Yes, we both loved Parent and Pea yoga.) I laughed when Bug came downstairs one afternoon, draped in a rose-colored sheet, exclaiming, “Mommy, I’m a princess!”
I pictured Oct. 31: my handsome, sturdy brown-skinned son in a flowing wig and poofy dress, tiara sparkling atop his head. I saw us trick-or-treating in our New Jersey suburb, going from one colonial to the next, our neighbors asking “And what are you, uh, little girl?” as they dropped candy in his bag after a curious glance at me.
I could handle that. Like Bug, I didn’t mind going against the grain. Also, the simple fact that one of my sons could express himself was a blessing. If he wanted to be a princess, then darn it, he’d be a royal She.
But when I browsed for costumes, I felt uneasy. In the princess section, long wigs were the color of spun gold. Even Snow White’s silky tresses glistened through the cellophane, the opposite texture of my son’s coarse hair. Whether it was Cinderella or her fairy godmother, each package showed a picture of a smiling white woman who glowed. “You, too, can be me,” she beckoned, “for this one special day.”
I left the store in a panic. I didn’t care if my son wanted to be a princess. I just didn’t want him to want to be a white princess.