Last month, we invited readers to share their responses to a writing prompt inspired by Josie Glausiusz’s essay, Ned the Noodle-Eating Knight and Other Tales. We asked readers to tell us about a favorite story that helps teach their children about the kind of people they hope they’ll become. Below is Catherine Gentry’s response.
The Princess and the Pantsuit
by Catherine Gentry
Once upon a time, and yet not so very long ago, my four-year-old daughter experienced an acute case of “princess-itis,” an affliction common for her age and gender, in which the patient experiences an intense need to wear sparkly dresses and a crown at all hours. More worrisome, however, was that she had progressed to the next, more dangerous stage, in which the sufferer expects a rescue by Prince Charming to give her the happy ending she deserves.
All my life, I have relied on stories to help me through difficult times, to show me the way when it was not always clear. I knew that now was the time for my daughter to learn this lesson as well, so I chose to read her The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch. In the story, Princess Elizabeth watches the dragon burn down her castle and capture her beloved Prince Ronald. To add insult to injury, the dragon’s fiery breath reduces Elizabeth’s princess gown to ashes. Undeterred, she dons a paper bag and sets off to rescue Prince Ronald. She defeats the dragon with her intellect, expecting a joyful reunion with a grateful prince. Instead, he merely comments on her dirty appearance. Elizabeth rejects him, marching proudly off in her paper bag.
“Once upon a time” has ceased to be a magical incantation for my daughter, but now that she is 17 and a Homecoming Princess, this story has new resonance. I am a proud feminist, a 1990s-era female lawyer, filled with a yearning and a passion to overcome the obstacles that kept women down in the generations before me, determined to break through the glass ceiling, and, most of all, to show my daughter that what she needs for happiness comes from qualities she cultivates in herself through hard work, education, and perseverance.
As she steps onto the field to wear that crown, I know my Homecoming Princess heard my story. She is a strong, intelligent woman who likes sparkly dresses but would proudly wear that paper bag. She knows all about the DNA of dinosaurs. She can sing and play the cello and wield a hammer and a saw. She can tell you facts you didn’t know about ancient Egypt and Roman gladiators with gory details, and she is most comfortable in her green museum volunteer T-shirt. She does look fabulous in her new princess outfit, which I am proud to say is a pantsuit. But more importantly, I know she has incorporated all of the qualities of a princess that really matter. Her compassion and sense of humor, accompanied as they are by a fierce intelligence, make her a formidable force to be reckoned with. And that’s a good thing, because sooner or later she’s going to run into a dragon of her own, and when she does, she’ll be ready.
Catherine Gentry lives in Houston, Texas, and has two children in high school and one in college. She retired from practicing environmental law to raise her children and currently works as a writer and writing coach. Her essays have been featured in online publications including the “Voices” section of the Princeton Alumni Weekly and in The Houston Chronicle.