My Left Brain Princess: 2013 365 Challenge #219

The movie I bought for my daughter (!)

The movie I bought for my daughter (!)

I bought Enchanted on DVD for my children today. Well I say for them but, as it has Dr McDreamy (Patrick Dempsey) in it, it might have been a tinsy bit for me too. I have seen it before I think, certainly the end, but the DVD wasn’t expensive and I thought my daughter would love it. I was wrong.

She’s possibly too young for a movie with violence (my son didn’t seem to mind though we did skip bits featuring the evil mother) but I thought the singing and the dress and all the things I love, like the happily ever after, would appeal to her too. Hmmm. Not so much.

I’m beginning to realise why I don’t always connect with my little girl. She has too much of my left brain and not enough of my right brain. Actually, I don’t know if that’s true. She is very creative, loves telling stories and creating masterpieces out of pipe-cleaners. But she is also extremely analytical and cuts through illusions with her razor-sharp questions. Maybe she is actually too much like me in all ways!

I love a happy ending, although I know they don’t often happen. I believe in a good world full of good people, though I know it isn’t always that easy to find. I am creative, with writing and art and photography, but I used to work as a number-cruncher and write analytical essays. When you get those charts saying, Left Brain or Right Brain? I am both.

I used to describe myself as a pessimistic optimist, expecting the best and fearing the worst. (Like the herd of young deer currently in the field to my left, warily keeping pace with us, although the dog thankfully hasn’t yet seen or heard them, lord knows how. They think they’ll be spotted but they’re hedging their bets. They should have stayed put or legged it as they’re actually following us up the field. Anyway I digress).

Twenty-First Century Princess

Twenty-First Century Princess

My daughter it seems is realist all the way. I already suspect her of seeing through my fairly pathetic Father Christmas lies. She’s four. When we talked about going to Disneyland, we first had to explain what it is (because I try not to let her watch TV adverts!). Once she’d grasped it, she said, “Mummy I think they’re probably people in costumes.” Oh dear. No magic dream there then.

I’ve always wanted to go to Disneyland, but only with a wide-eyed child to vicariously experience their awe and wonder. I suspect she’d rather we spent the four thousand pounds on a swimming pool. And she might have something there. Magic is all well and good, and the memories might last a lifetime with the right supporting evidence, but a pool’s a pool. We currently choose childcare and Mummy’s writing over an annual family holiday. I might write happy endings but I chose my husband on the Internet and as much with my head as my heart (you need to read Do You Like Jelly, if I ever get around to publishing my short stories!)

So, while I envied Giselle her magnificent ballgown and her dishy McDreamy, my daughter was asking me to play Guess Who. Like Patrick Dempsey’s character in Enchanted, I don’t want my daughter be so wrapped up in fairy tales that the real world disappoints her (like me with my ten-year search for my Georgette Heyer hero). But I’ve never discouraged her from reading Disney stories or watching the movies (okay, I edit out the bit in her fairytale book where the princess answers her marriage proposals with “Yes please.” I mean, really?) But somehow my practical, stripped bare, world view has rubbed off.

It makes me sad. I never intended or sought to take away the magic of being four. I wanted her to go to Disneyland and be wowed. Unfortunately this isn’t Miracle on 34th Street and Santa isn’t going to make her dreams come true. I’ll have to settle for writing HEAs and let my little princess carry on in her left brain world.

P.S. Daddy tells me she is starting to ask for girly stories at bedtime, so maybe I just need to wait a bit longer!

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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The cold air made Claire’s eyes water, as she waited, shivering, outside the hostel. A few paces away a cluster of people stood, giggling and shoving each other. They were a disparate crowd, although they all looked under twenty. Claire heard a range of accents, American, Irish, at least one that sounded Japanese. She wondered where they had met and formed such a close bond, and how they’d found time to come travelling together.

Feeling like she would give her left kidney for a hot coffee, Claire stared at her itinerary and tried to tune out the laughter and banter. It brought back too many unhappy memories. Why are youngsters so noisy? Don’t they know it’s before 7am? She glanced up at them, with their glowing, tanned, skin and happy smiles, and felt ancient.

I’m not even thirty, I’m not old. With a quick mental calculation she realised she was probably a decade older than most of the group.

They were probably all born in the nineties. Ugh.

It made her want to get on the next plane home; to go back to a normal life, with a job and a car and her own circle of friends.

Except I don’t have any friends.

A large green coach pulled up outside the hostel as the dark thought flashed in her mind. Feeling like a four-year-old on her first day at school, Claire shuffled nearer to the bunch of people as they jostled and scuffled good-humouredly to be the first on the bus. They greeted the driver by name, and he gave one or two of them a high five.

Wait a minute. Isn’t this the first stop on the bus? How come they all know each other?

Now it really did feel like the first day of school, except this time it was high school, when her parents had taken her away from her friends and launched her into private education. All her new classmates had come through the junior school together and she hadn’t known a single person. Character building, her parents had said.

With a shudder, Claire presented her ticket to the driver without looking up.

“Claire Carleton. Hmmm.”

The man scanned his list for too long. Claire felt her stomach clench on the empty space where breakfast would have been if she could have managed it.

“Are you sure you’re booked on?” He looked again, then flicked the paper over. “Ah, yes, there you are. Alright, Claire, on you get. Leave the sack with the others.” He cast his eyes towards the mountain of luggage by the side of the coach and then looked behind her, dismissing her from his mind.

Claire hadn’t heard anyone else approaching and was surprised to hear a deep English voice wishing the driver good morning.

At least I’m not the only solo traveller.

She chanced a quick glance as she added her rucksack to the pile. The newcomer was a dark man in his forties she guessed, by the grey sprinkled through his hair. His voice, low and smooth, sounded like a cello cutting through the chattering violins in a Brahms concerto. It resonated deep in her gut. He seemed to feel her eyes on him, and turned to meet her gaze. She flinched at the electric shock that ran from her head to her groin.

For goodness sake, girl, you’re like a dog on heat. You’re here to write travel stories and come up with a plan for the future, not eye up every sexy stranger like a child in a sweet shop.

Hiding her blush with her curtain of hair, Claire scurried past the newcomer and the driver, and went in search of an empty seat. The bus must have been half full on arrival, as nearly every seat was taken. At last she located an empty one at the back, and sank to the seat, placing her handbag on the spare seat, lest anyone get any ideas.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw the man climb aboard and languidly scan the bus before sauntering up the aisle. He had the grace and power of a panther.

Claire felt her heartbeat quicken as he came further down the bus. Oh crap, he’s going to sit next to me. Please don’t. She turned to look out of the window, following his progress with her ears.

She heard his deep voice say, “Good morning, may I join you?” It sounded slightly further away than it should. Turning her head a fraction, she saw he had stopped two seats away and was talking to a pretty redhead, who giggled and patted the seat next to her.

Slumping back into her seat, Claire closed her eyes and tried to go back to sleep.

***

Disney’s Brave Merida Makeover: 2013 365 Challenge #137

The image that went with the petition

The image that went with the petition

I received a petition in my inbox last week, asking me to save Merida. For those who don’t know, Merida is the princess in Pixar’s Brave and the latest princess to be included in Disney’s official Princess Set (like some awful exclusive club!).

I haven’t seen the whole movie, but I’ve seen enough to know that Merida is awesome. She’s natural, with uncontrollable hair and normal features (no giant scary eyes for her). She’s a proper teenager who fights with her mum and thinks the world Is. Not. Fair. She wants to ride and shoot arrows and carve out her own future. She does not want to marry a prince. From the minute I learned of her existence I thought she was amazing and Pixar were brilliant for going even further than the great Rapunzel who, despite being a kick-ass Princess, still has unnatural features and the biggest eyes in the world.

So why did Merida need saving, and why did it warrant a petition? Normally the petitions I sign online are to do with Saving the NHS, or Saving Our Forests. Big causes. You wouldn’t think saving a cartoon princess – a bunch of colour pixels – would fall in the same category. But it does. Because this is what they wanted to do to Merida: They wanted to make her sexy and feminine in order to include her in the set of ‘official’ Disney Princesses.  Her already fairly curvy figure was enhanced and her waist narrowed. They tamed her hair, made her dress off-the-shoulder and dropped the bow and arrow.

Twenty-First Century Princess

Twenty-First Century Princess

Okay, maybe I get the bit about losing the bow and arrow. My father used to make bows for us as kids, with real arrows carved from ash trees. The neighbours were not impressed and many an argument was had over the inappropriate nature of a toy that could take a child’s eye out. I thought they were overly protective until I had my own kids, and now I know I wouldn’t welcome a bow and arrow as a toy. Although it’s no worse than a plastic sword! And at least it was the girl wielding it – so one to right the sexist imbalance in children’s toys.

My daughter loves dressing up as a Disney Princess, although I haven’t let her watch Cinderella, Snow White or Beauty and the Beast, partly because she isn’t interested, and partly because the women are a bit pathetic. I love the way the newer princesses have gone. And I don’t mind about the merchandising. My daughter looks fab in a Snow White dress, with her modern accessories of a mobile phone and laptop. Just as my son looks rather fetching as Spiderman in heels. But really, Disney, why go to the effort of creating the best Disney Princess ever only to ruin her for the sake of making her fit?

My Modern Princess

My Modern Princess

As I researched this post, it seems the old Merida is back and it was never intended to be a permanent change, only for some merchandising. In some images the changes aren’t as extreme, and maybe it was a storm in a tea cup: it’s hard to get a straight answer with Disney staying quiet.

Maybe Disney bowed to pressure, maybe it was a cynical marketing ploy to generate publicity, maybe it was an innocent mistake. Who knows? In the end it doesn’t much matter. What is important is the level of outrage it created (although, reading some of the comments as I researched this post, it seems many people think us mothers are going nutty over nothing. Deep breath. Count to ten.)

Hopefully, eventually, big companies like Disney will learn that it is not cool to take their duty so lightly. Millions of little girls look to Disney princesses as role models and, finally with Merida, they have someone who lives up to that responsibility. Use it wisely, Disney, use it well.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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“You have reached your destination.”

The satnav’s prim voice startled Claire out of her reverie. She looked out the window, not sure what to expect. She hadn’t studied the website for this hostel and so was arriving blind. Her heart pattered anxiously, remembering her arrival at Sheringham.

“Alright, Thurlby, let’s see what you have to offer. Please be nice.”

It seemed strange pulling up outside the hostel, alone in the Skoda. There had been too much time for thought, driving north with all the Sunday commuter traffic. There wasn’t even the novelty of new, as the area was close to where she had grown up. Signs for Burghley House and Rutland Water only reminded her of rare family trips out, sibling bickering and a desire to hide.

Claire climbed out of her car and gazed up at the building. Her soul soared like a Red Kite riding a thermal. Tall Georgian sash windows beamed from deep red brick as tree branches in early bud danced over her head. Two weeks of tension drained from her shoulders as she took in the idyllic surroundings.

I don’t know what surprises me more; that these places exist as hostels, where you can stay for a tenner a night, or that I never knew they existed before I started this assignment. It felt a betrayal to be glad of anything Carl had done to her, but at that moment she was conscious of a deep sense of gratitude that she could come and stay in a Georgian Manor. By myself, for free. I’ll take it. Even if it does mean I’ll have to cycle round Rutland Water and oo-ah at Burghley. Again.

                

Curled up on the sofa, once more immersed in the adventures of Katniss, Claire felt like something was missing. She glanced up at the empty room, and wondered where the strange sensation was coming from. Maybe I’m hungry. Dry cereal isn’t really dinner. That will teach me not to check whether it was a catering hostel or not. Her tummy gurgled in agreement, but still that didn’t seem to be it. She glanced round the room again, and then she knew. She missed Sky. How is that possible? This is the first time I’ve felt free in a fortnight. And it was good to be alone, without the endless worry and chatter. But still, the room seemed too silent, the night stretching out before her too long.

“Ah well,” she said, her voice echoing in the quiet. “It’ll wear off.”

***

The Zen of Cleaning: 2013 365 Challenge #102

Toddler Shirts: Fiddly to Iron

Toddler Shirts: Fiddly to Iron

Today witnessed another domestic day of calm which also started with a minor victory.

I decided to download reward charts for the children, for Going to Nursery with a Smile. We haven’t done reward charts before, partly because I think Aaron’s still a bit little and partly because I’m rubbish at that kind of structured parenting. The kids get stickers for good behaviour but it’s incident specific – some days they’ll get them for eating all their dinner, sometimes for washing their hair.

I’ve never wanted them to be always motivated by sticker rewards – I’m naively hopeful they’ll eat their dinner or go to bed because it needs to be done.

Reward charts for Smiling Faces

Reward charts for Smiling Faces

But the nursery thing has become a bad habit for all of us and I was scraping the bottom of my pot of parenting ideas. Now they get a sticker each time they don’t cry and after they have collected ten they can buy a toy. I think little man might get frustrated waiting the month it will take to earn ten stickers but at least I have a neutral point of discussion. I just need to make sure not to over-use it: I probably said ‘you won’t get a sticker’ a dozen times this morning. He still clung to me and wanted to cry when I dropped him off, but a timely reminder of the promised toy brought him round.

As a reward to myself I’ve been doing housework all day because a clean house is a calm house. It means my Claire post will be a little short but it’s a price worth paying. Three loads of laundry and a batch of spag bol later and I’m back in control, for now. If only little man hadn’t decided he wants to wear shirts like Daddy. I don’t do ironing, it’s practically in my marriage contract. But you can’t say no to a 2-year-old who wants to look smart. If I could also find his missing football top I might earn some major Mummy brownie points! In the meantime I am floating around my clean house in a zen bubble of peace, wiping stains off work-tops and picking up stray socks. It will last twenty-four hours – 48 hours at the most – so I’m enjoying it while I can.

A little aside about today’s post. It makes sense if you’ve seen Tangled (a frying pan; who knew right?) If you haven’t seen it I heartily recommend it.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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“Sky, come away from the edge, sweetheart. Sky? I said come away from the edge!” Claire ran forwards to catch hold of her niece as she leaned over the railings, her feet dangling a foot above the path. She peered down at the two-story drop and retreated to the middle of the walkway, swallowing bile. Honestly, I used to think Castles were a bit boring but I feel like I’ve been on the Big Dipper at Blackpool. She felt the sweat trickle down into her bra, despite the freezing wind whistling around the half-ruined castle walls.

On her right she could feel the view stretching into the distance. If she turned she knew she would see a lake and a glimpse of the village in the distance. If I’d been watching Sky instead of admiring the scenery my niece wouldn’t have nearly thrown herself twenty foot to her death. We should have stayed in Framlingham and had tea and scones, it would have been less stressful.

She turned the little girl to face her and squatted down to allow her to look directly into her eyes. Brushing away the wisps of hair that were escaping Sky’s ponytail, Claire inhaled deeply. “Sky, I know you want to explore, but you must listen to Auntie Claire. It’s very dangerous, leaning over the edge like that. What would your Mummy say if you fell and hurt yourself? Or worse?” Never mind what she’d do to me.

Sky hung her head. “Sorry, Auntie Claire. I’ve never been to a real castle before. I was pretending to be Rapunzel, trapped in the tower.” She shook her ponytail, which skimmed just below her shoulders. “I was letting down my hair. You know.”

It rang a bell in Claire’s mind, but she hadn’t read the story recently. A fact popped up. “Didn’t the prince fall and have his eyes poked out by a bramble bush?”

Sky stared at her, open mouthed, her eyes wide. Thinking that seemed a bit harsh for a children’s story, Claire shook her head to dismiss the image. “Ignore me; that must have been something else. So what happens when Rapunzel lets down her hair?” She stood and led the girl away from the yawning gap and back into the castle.

“She hits Flynn on the head with a frying pan and ties him to a chair.”

What? That’s definitely not the Brothers Grimm version I remember. Sounds much better though. So, Feminism reaches Disney? Probably not before time.

“Well, no hitting any boys on the head with frying pans when I’m around please.” She thought about her own bump to the head. A frying pan would have been a handy thing to have had in the dark lane when she was mugged. “Well, not unless they hurt you first at any rate.”

Feeling she had experienced enough of life trapped in a tower of stone, Claire waited until they were safely away from the railing before tilting her head and smiling at Sky. “Are you about ready for that chocolate cake?”

***

Marriage Proposals and 2013 365 Challenge Day #14

Tangled - A proper modern fairytale

Tangled – A proper modern fairytale

I had a glorious three hours at home by myself today, as Daddy took the children to the local Farm. Normally it’s my favourite place to go, and it was a lovely sunny day today, but the children decided they wanted Daddy to themselves and I had to admit that it was probably time to do a bit of cleaning. Spending my spare time writing about Claire is having an impact on the house!

I did manage to hoover the bedrooms but what I spent most of my time doing was watching Tangled (I am still poorly!) We recorded it at Christmas for the kids but I hadn’t managed to see it and it was a delight to become absorbed in it without a dozen “what’s she doing?” every minute. I have always enjoyed Disney movies but this is the first princess one I’ve seen for a while. I must say, it isn’t my intention to analyse it here (though I could) but I thought it was very well done.

Generally I don’t mind my daughter watching Disney movies (not that she’s seen many – they are so expensive!) but I do have an Usborne fairytale book that I try not to read if possible for the simple reason that, at the end of every story, when the prince asks the girl to marry him she always replies “yes please”.

I mean, what?

Have a happy ending, that’s fine, I happen to be an advocate of marriage. But not “yes please“.

[Deep breath, avoid ranting.]

Phew. Anyway I liked Tangled because we see the man’s journey as well as the woman’s and at the end he jokes about her asking him to marry her. It’s nice to see the man have a character arc too instead of being a dummy in a suit.

Sorry, that was a total digression, but I thought I’d add it so I could put a nice picture from the movie as my page picture (taken from the television, Disney, before you try to sue!) and it was in my mind after reading the two articles I’ve listed below, from the Ubiquitous. Quotidiant. blog that I have recently discovered (worth a look).

It is slightly relevant to my story-writing as well because this novel is only from Claire’s POV (so far) whereas usually I like to write from the male and female protagonist’s perspectives. I haven’t decided yet whether there is going to be a significant male in this story but we may find one coming in later.

On to Claire….

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Claire parked around the corner from her parents’ house and turned to contemplate the rucksack on the back seat. Taking it in with her was going to raise questions, but leaving it in the Skoda was tantamount to putting a sign on it saying “Steal Me”. Even in this part of Cambridge there were bound to be people handy enough with a wire coat-hanger to break in.

She pulled the tiny silver handle to open the door. I could probably break in myself if the need arose. Maybe I should start carrying a piece of wire in my handbag. I’m bound to lock my keys in at some point.

She pushed down the lock and checked she was holding the keys before slamming the door shut. One of the quirks of this particular car was that it wouldn’t lock from the outside. I miss my beep-beep button already and it’s only been a day.

Claire opened the front door to her family home only after ringing the bell to see whether anyone was in. She wasn’t surprised to find the house empty. The journey had taken much longer than expected and her mother was probably already at her WI meeting. Her father was rarely in during the week. Despite taking retirement he kept himself busy during normal working hours, as if the groove made by fifty years of work was so deep he could do nothing but run along the same path.

She looked around the hallway and lounge, trying to tell if anything had changed. It was unlikely. If her father’s groove was created by time spent in a suit and tie her mother’s ran between her charities and the WI. Home decoration and interior design had never been her thing. Claire supposed a house of magnolia and pine was better than frills and flowers everywhere but it did make the place feel cold. When they were little there had been a few photographs of her and her siblings around the place, the odd painting tacked to the wall. Now the pictures were as bland as the furniture.

Claire shivered, cursing herself for forgetting to unpack a cashmere from the rucksack. The house was always several degrees colder than was comfortable. Another quick yell confirmed that the house was empty. Walking through to the kitchen, Claire headed for the kettle, hoping her mum had thought to put some semi-skimmed milk on the sign for the milkman. There was a note by the kettle. Mum does at least know me that well, Claire thought with a smile.

“I bumped into Kim at the supermarket and mentioned you were coming home for a few days. She said to call her if you fancied a drink.”

The note was written in beautiful curling handwriting on a piece of pink paper torn from a notebook. Claire stared at it, wondering if she was feeling strong enough for a night out with her oldest friend. Nothing cuts through your life to the core like an hour spent with someone who has known you since you were five.

Claire poured steaming water into a large mug and gave the teabag a prod, watching the rich red-brown colour spread out like spilt blood. She was conscious of a strong pulling sensation somewhere in her chest. It was the lure of the Maldives; of empty sandy beaches and no one having any idea where she was.

***

Related Articles:

How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Disney Princesses: Ubiquitous. Quotidian (http://rmbenson.wordpress.com)

Fairytale Fact Check: Do Dreams Really Come True? Ubiquitous. Quotidian (http://rmbenson.wordpress.com)