After swim we were walking to the car and Girl Powers said to me:
“Mommy! Did you know there are TWO Ariels!?”
At first, like with all preschooler non-sequitors, I had no earthly idea what she was talking about.
“What do you mean, sweetie? You know two people named Ariel?”
“Yeah! The other Ariel, instead of feet she has fins! And she keeps her legs close together like this!”
And then I got it. The only Ariel she knows is Bryan’s barber, a Russian guy who loves to talk American politics and sends lollipops home every time Bryan goes in for a haircut. So when her swim teacher assumed, as most do, that attaching a Disney Princess to the desired outcome would inspire drone-like compliance on the part of a three-year-old girl, it didn’t occur to her that Girl Powers would have no idea what she was talking about.
This is also funny because I just finished Peggy Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter so the Princesses were already top of mind. I know I can’t take credit for the fact that she is princess-oblivious any more than I’ll want to take the blame when she falls victim to whatever media marketing machine is next, but part of me was proud of her cluelessness (she made it to her third birthday without being able to identify a single Disney Princess by name – SCORE!). I love that she thinks Ariel is a Russian barber, and that when a rogue pair of princess underwear find their way out of the drawer she asks “who is that lady?”.
Then again, she’s already pop-culturally delayed, out of the loop with her peers and their licensed character mascots. She’s too little to feel self-conscious about it now, but soon enough she will notice the gap and start learning to cover ignorance with knowing nods, pretending she gets the references to shows she’s never seen and singers she’s never heard. I can relate; I grew up with very little screen time, protected from most popular TV shows and movies until I was deemed old enough to watch them, by which point Brenda and Brandon Walsh had already graduated from high school and I was woefully behind in the class of cool.
At three, she’s still mine to protect, and I admit the control I have over her media consumption is satisfying. I know it won’t last. Nor should it. But for now, I’d just as soon have her think Ariel is a Russian barber who is liberal with lollipops and not a prince-pining redhead with an impossibly tiny waist. Even if it makes for a sort of confusing swim lesson.