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All the World's a Stage: When the Princess Plays a Boy

All the World's a Stage: When the Princess Plays a Boy

When her child scores an unexpected part in the play, this mom learns a lesson about treating her daughter like a girly-girl.

 

My daughter, Amelia, had just let me know she won the part of Allana the mermaid in the fifth-grade production of Peter Pan. My congratulations was rolled in with a question.

“Oh that’s great—is it a nice costume?!”

She said that all the mermaids were getting the same costume. She didn’t know what it looked like.

“No, no, we’ll get you a proper outfit from that boutique in town—no daughter of mine is wearing a rag-tag getup pieced together in the lunchroom!” 

As I recount that now, it sounds so haughty. The fact that I am on a tight budget makes my attitude seem even more off key.

I was never like this with my son, Aden. Had he landed the role of Peter Pan, say, the school could have put him in one of those green recycling bags and that would have been fine with me.

Since the day she was born, though, I’ve been tenaciously…what’s the right phrase? Protective of her gender? Invested in her femininity? Birthday outfits for her are clip-to-toe ensembles costing I’m ashamed to say how much. After the age of 1, Aden wore sweats at his parties. He won’t be happy if he’s not comfortable, right? Now 15, he wears glasses. She does too, but I have an appointment with her eye doctor a week after her upcoming 11th birthday, the youngest age at which he’ll fit contacts.

Why does her appearance matter so much to me? All I’ve come up with is that it’s a mom thing, that I see her outward appearance as a reflection of me. Her dad, John, happily treats her like a petite version of her brother. He just shakes his head when the two of us put on yet another fashion show after a shopping spree. 

The standard-issue mermaid costume turned out to be quite glam, and Amelia was a natural on stage. So much so, we encouraged her to join a local kid’s theater group. Coincidentally, they were putting on Peter Pan. At the audition, she noted on her application that she was trying out for either Wendy or Tinkerbell. She belted out “You Can Fly” like nobody’s business, stunning me with her confidence in front of an auditorium of strangers. I overheard the director lean into her associate and say, “Oh, she already knows Peter Pan?” Between her killer audition, her recent experience, and the fact that she was one of the oldest trying out, we went home smelling victory.

My husband teased me. “What if she gets Wendy? Your daughter on stage in a plain white shapeless nightgown! Maybe we shouldn’t tell anyone. People might come and see her!”

Very funny, I allowed him. Though…maybe they’d let me provide the nightgown. Something ethereal and shimmery…maybe silver. Or gold? Yes, gold! That will really catch the light…with a satin sash and ruffled cap sleeves. I seriously doubt J.M. Barrie ever specified what kind of nightgown Wendy wore. 

Three days later my husband got the email listing the parts each child had been assigned. “Great news! Though I’m not sure Mommy will think so.”

“What? I didn’t get Wendy or Tinkerbell?” Amelia asked.

“Yes, what?!,” I asked impatiently. “Don’t tell me they made her a mermaid again…”

“No, she has a big part.” Then a pause. “Smee.”

Amelia sighed a quick little disappointed sigh, then, as she always does, moved seamlessly to the bright side.

“Really?! That’ll be so much fun. I’ll have so many lines I’ll get a microphone this time!”

“Who the heck is Smee? One of the fairies?” I asked.

“No, silly! Don’t you remember? Captain Hook’s funny assistant! Everyone laughs when he comes out!” Amelia explained.

What do you mean, HE?!”

John was saying something about not enough boys trying out, but I wasn’t really listening. I stormed out to the car to go the bank to put a stop-payment on the check I wrote at the audition.

I married a good guy. John followed me and sat down in the passenger seat. I didn’t give him a chance to say anything at first.

“On what planet is it okay to make a little girl sing her heart out, thinking she can be Tinkerbell, and then say You’d be the perfect fat, balding old pirate with a huge red nose? Who doesn’t even sing?!”

“He sort of sings.”

“What? Yo-ho-ho??”

“It’s called acting. Something our daughter really likes to do.”

“It’s a slap in the face is what it is. Would they cast a boy as Tinkerbell? Of course not! What’s the difference?”

“Don’t you remember when Sandy Duncan was Peter Pan on Broadway?”

“This isn’t Broadway! Nobody is paying her. I’m paying them! But not for long.” I started the car.

“STOP!” Is this what you want to teach her? If you don’t get exactly what you want, you quit?”

“No, but…”

“Then just stop. You were so busy freaking out you didn’t see her face. She wants you to be proud of her. And she thinks you’re not.”

“That’s ridiculous. She’s knows I’m proud of her.”

“So prove it. Go back inside.”

When I did, Amelia was having a sword fight with Aden using rolls of gift wrap. 

“Amelia, come here.” She dropped her wrap and came over, not knowing what to expect.

“I’m sorry I got all crazy. I just think you are so beautiful and I want the whole world to see it too, all the time.”

“I know, but I will be! Smee is beautiful because he makes people laugh.”

I sat down on the kitchen floor and pulled her into my lap, though she is way too big for lap-sitting. “Oh yeah? Like how?”

“Like when he says, ‘Have we been captained all this time by a codfish!?’ I can’t wait to say ‘codfish’ with Smee’s lisp. It’ll come out codfith!” she giggled.

“You are going to be the best Smee ever. I can’t wait to see you,” I said, and meant it.

She kissed my forehead, then smiled. “You know, Momma….I don’t think the director would mind if Smee wore blue sparkly nail polish to match his shirt.”

That’s my girl.

 

Christina Vercelletto, mom of three children, is Editor at Large for NYMetroParents and has written for Parenting, Scholastic Parent & Child, and Huffington Post. She lives on Long Island with her family.