A few nights ago, my daughter and I read the Disney storybook version of Cinderella for bedtime. Cinderella is one of her favorite Disney stories and we read the storybook on a pretty routine basis. We got through all the usual stuff – cruel stepmother, bratty stepsisters, endless chores and a party for which Cinderella has nothing suitable to wear. Fairy godmother shows up and temporarily fixes things with a killer dress, fancy hairstyle and some new shoes. Oh yeah, and she turns Cinderella’s only friends in the world into work horses.
That’s all fine. Cinderella gets to the party, dances with the prince and accidentally breaks curfew. She rushes home in a panic, leaving behind the prince who has fallen completely in love with her based on a few dances and exactly zero conversations. He is so smitten that he sends a servant out to find a woman with the same shoe size so he can marry that person. The shoe, of course, fits Cinderella so the prince is happy to marry her. We never learn what she thinks of the prince. Presumably, he is a good match. He is, after all, handsome. Being Disney, he is probably charming. Also, he appreciates nice shoes. Not a complete recipe for happiness but certainly an improvement on her current situation.
And so the story resolves with the very practical solution. Cinderella marries the prince to get out of her bad family situation, and they live happily ever after.
At the end of the story, my daughter says, “Dad, is it really true that if you wish hard enough your dreams will always come true?”
I resisted the urge to explain that plenty of girls besides Cinderella have used sudden, unplanned marriage as a way of getting out of bad situations and found that it didn’t really help them all that much. But, that wasn’t what she was asking and that isn’t really the moral of the story.
My daughter is five. I am always giving her advice for when she is twenty.
I struggled around for a bit and finally came up with this: “I believe that the things we want most in life can happen if we are patient; work very, very hard; understand our talents and use them appropriately.”
She considered this for a moment, shrugged and said, “I mean, can you be a princess and marry a handsome prince?”
It was my turn to consider, my turn to shrug. And then, the fatherly wisdom of last resort, “Maybe. Go to sleep.”