As we were lying in bed with Aura the other night, reading her some princess story or another, I couldn’t help but snort with derision. “Seriously?” I muttered to Adam. “Am I going to have to burn my bra before someone finally calls Gloria Steinem?” He shushed me and continued the tale, which, if I’m remembering correctly, involved frog kissing and Machiavellian family members and eventually a wedding attended by a variety of exceedingly friendly wildlife.  

That princess book was pretty much the only princess book Aura has ever chosen from the library. THANK GOD.     

This is how I feel about THAT ONE.

 Wait. It’s not just me, is it? There are others out there who hear princess stories and gag on the offensiveness and tiresomeness of it all, right? I mean, COME ON. Sure, pickings were slim in the Women’s Lifestyle Changes Department centuries ago, when most of these fairy tales were first penned.  But marrying well cannot possibly still count as true ambition, at least not in this day and age. You don’t find the quest for royal marriage in most of Disney’s “boy stories,” do you? Nope. In those stories,  talking cars win championship races and save floundering towns. I have yet to see one championship in a princess story, other than the breathless battle to get home by midnight without losing your other glass slipper. 

A GLASS SLIPPER, PEOPLE. Cinderella runs around in shoes made of GLASS. As in glass that SHATTERS and CUTS and MAIMS. Yet I’m the one going to jail if Aura rides her tricycle on the driveway without a helmet.    

ALSO. Real feet are not as small as a royal messenger's hand. I don't think. (I'm a size 9. So.)

Oddly, the princesses-are-always-beautful thing doesn’t really bother me. Of course I don’t think little girls should be obsessed with their appearance. But I enjoy an eyebrow wax and pedicure as much as the next girl, and I don’t think the unending global search for physical perfection is going to, well, end. (To clarify: I don’t actually enjoy waxing. As a matter of fact, I can think of approximately 472,000 things I’d rather do than have my eyebrows waxed. However, THIS IS WHAT SNOW WHITE TAUGHT ME.)   

There is no way those suckers got that way through simple plucking.

I guess all I’m saying is that when we’re auditioning for role models, maybe princesses shouldn’t be first in line. At least not until they bulk up their resumes. I for one am going to need something besides First twenty years of life: Scrubbed and cleaned; locked in room by evil stepmother/witch/absentee father; escaped through help of magic/woodland creatures/plot hole; found salvation in figurehead royalty. For pete’s sake, Rapunzel spent eons locked in that tower, doing nothing but growing hair. Couldn’t she have once thought, “Hey! You know what I’m doing when I get out of here? I’M GOING TO GET MY FREAKIN’ M.B.A.!”  

Perhaps I'm aiming a bit high in this case. If not the M.B.A., then at least a cosmetology license.

Recently, as we were running late for an appointment, Aura lingered in the hallway, trying to zip her jacket. “No, Mommy!” she cried out when I tried to help her, swatting my hands away. “I want to do it by myself!”

It was all I could do not to keep rushing her or tell her to forget zipping up altogether. Instead, for once, I forced myself to simply stand and wait. And after a couple of minutes, she did zip the jacket.

“Look, Mommy!” she exclaimed happily. “I did it all by myself!”

That? That right there is the only kind of princess story she needs. 

 

We’ve recently had a few days of really warm weather. What better way was there to enjoy the heat than to hit the Great Outdoors? Well, not Great Outdoors as in a hike around a Great Trail, or a trip to a Great Beach. Not even Great as in a nice brisk stroll around the Great Block. Nope. When this family hits the Great Outdoors, we drive to it. And by “it,” I mean a Great Carnival.

“Wait until you see the carnival!” I crowed to Aura, threading my way through the traffic gridlock in the parking lot. Digging deep within my own childhood memories, I waxed poetic. “The scent of fried food! The nauseating pull of the      Tilt-a-Whirl! The strange allure of heavily tattooed but most probably friendly carnival workers!”

Then we walked through the gates. MY, HOW TIMES HAVE CHANGED.

When the above poster is the first thing to greet you upon entering, you know that this is not the Carnival of Your Childhood. Apparently, this is the Carnival of the Magicians Who Have Bleached Their Teeth One Time Too Many. “Where are the heavily muscled but most probably friendly carnival acts?” I whispered to Adam. Alas, there was not a bearded lady or midget weightlifter in sight. Instead, there was this…Lance Gifford. Not to cast politically incorrect aspersions or anything, but Lance looked a little light in the loafers for my taste, with nary a muscle or tattoo.

We continued down the midway. As Aura inspected the games, I found myself distracted by the booths’ decor. You know we’re in an economic downturn when Christmas gift bags are used for booth trimmings. In April. Though I suppose polar bears always need scarves, it being pretty cold in the Arctic Circle and all.

Dated decorations be damned, Aura found a game to play. And since this is supposedly a mommy blog, I shall now insert the obligatory cute-child photo. Even if the child shown is holding an entirely age-inappropriate sharp object. You can’t really tell from the photo, but the guy in charge of the game was totally protecting his genital area with his right hand. TOTALLY.

After Aura won a stuffed animal that looks like the love child of a tailless monkey and the universe’s most unfortunate alien, I felt a brief flicker of encouragement. Children still played and won games at carnivals! It WAS as I remembered, minus the blip that was Lance Gifford.

Then I saw the sign.

“Adam!” I hissed, gesturing toward the knock-over-the-cans booth. “Can you believe that sign?!?” Adam looked confused, and I sighed at having to spell out the obvious. “‘Win A iPod’? A iPod? It should be ‘an iPod’!” I think it was at this point that Adam took Aura firmly by the hand and disappeared. Undeterred, I briefly considered approaching the woman working the booth and requesting that she change the sign. Then I took a better look at her. I may be a stickler for grammar, but suicidal I am not.

Happily, some other things remained the same. For one, there was fried dough.

Unhappily, there was also this…station.

Since Adam and Aura were still pretending not to know me, I was left to face this intrusion of modern hygiene alone. “Clean hands? At a carnival?” I tsk-tsked to myself. What’s next, I ask you? Actual toilet paper in the Porta-Potties?

I meandered farther along the midway, checking out the sights as I tried to understand this paradoxical carnival, where hand sanitizer abounded yet no one knew enough to use the indefinite article an before a vowel sound. I soon caught sight of Aura, who was posing with Elmo. Well, perhaps “posing” is too strong a word. “Trying with all of her might to escape” might be more accurate.

You know, before that moment, I had never once taken note of Elmo’s dental situation. Not a tooth in his head, that one. And on this particular Elmo, it wasn’t a cute kind of toothless. It was more the I-completely-forgot-to-put-in-my-dentures kind of toothless.

Yet even Elmo looked snappy compared to Barney, who was also strolling the carnival in search of photo opportunities. I can’t be positive, but I’d put good money down on any bet that said ol’ Barn was wearing a colostomy bag under his costume. Either that or a hula hoop.

I scooted closer to Aura, intent on warning her to stay away from this suspiciously lumpy Barney. Then I realized the child was already surrounded by warnings. For example:

I’m curious as to whether this sign works. I don’t picture a drunk guy seeing the second warning, identifying himself as someone with an Alcohol or Drug Problem, and getting out of line for the Ferris wheel. Then again, I can be kind of judgmental.

I kind of enjoyed the other warning sign I saw. I rather like the idea that Heart Troubles are healed with a simple band-aid to the ticker. I’m especially heartened to see that even those with Recent Surgery or Illness are chipper souls, thermometer and hand bandages notwithstanding.

I know, I know. When you pair my enjoyment of warning signs with my distaste for grammatically incorrect carnival signs, you really want to hang out with me. Like REALLY, REALLY want to hang out with me. Right?

You’re in luck. The carnival returns next year.

In retrospect, I really should have known better.

Aura has inherited a great many things from her father, including a love of coffee-flavored foodstuffs and an inclination to snicker at me when I am at my most threatening. She also shares his tendency to become completely and utterly submerged in the lyrics of a song. New songs, songs that especially strike their fancy, songs with an unusual tempo—one note and both Adam and Aura are goners, listening and memorizing with a fierceness last witnessed in certain Nordic warriors. Their posture goes slack, their mouths gape a bit, and conversation (at least on their end) screeches to a halt.

Honestly, the trance can be a bit startling the first time you witness it. But once you get used to it, you find yourself almost impressed by such pure, unadulterated absorption. Seriously: I’ve mentioned rogue rocket ships and flying cows and free milkshakes, with zero response.  I did once snare Adam’s attention by yelling, “Look! Megan Fox is driving the car next to us, NAKED AND HANDING OUT BEER!” but later efforts proved that was a one-trick pony.

Given all of this, I really have no excuse for what happened a few days ago. In  my limited defense, it was a beautiful day and I had just picked up Aura from preschool and we had the car windows down, encouraging the spring breezes to mess up our hair. When a hip-hoppy R&B song came on, I just left it, and we car-danced, or at least I did. I knew the song wasn’t going to be age-appropriate, but she was distracted and we were happy and there might have even been a rainbow and some frolicking elves. It was that nice of an afternoon.

Then we parked. As I was releasing my seatbelt, Aura piped up, “Mommy, what does sex mean?” For a second, the whole thing was a bit like a paper cut, when the shock of the unexpected pain makes the world go momentarily silent. Still in the driver’s seat, I swooned as images of second-grade navel piercings and a prepubescent subscription to Cosmo flooded my brain.

Then I recovered, for that is what GOOD PARENTS DO.

After a few unsuccessful starts, I found an explanation that satisfied us both, at least temporarily. “Oh! Sex? Sex is just a silly way some people say the number six. Isn’t that SILLY?” Once I started, it was like I couldn’t stop. “Just like some people say foove for five! One, two, three, four, foove, sex! IT’S SO SILLY, ISN’T IT?”

Days later, I don’t know what scenario scares me most: that Aura sees through the deception and asks again, or that she presents her newfound counting schema at school. As much as the resulting preschool progress report will pain me, I’m rooting for scenario #2. So what if she gets an Unsatisfactory in the Number Identification category? Screw ’em. When she gets homes that day, I’m so going to give her a high foove.

(This is Mall Mishaps #2, not to be confused with Mall Mishaps #1, re:  the Whorehouse That is Build-a-Bear Workshop.)

Last week, desperate to look at anything besides the deluge that had quickly become the Great Flood of 2010, Aura and I headed over to the mall, that bastion of rainy-day escape. We spent a good chunk of time on the top level, peering down at the mall’s resident Easter Bunny from the safety of the second-floor railing. A raging debate ensued, covering everything from the probable friendliness of the bunny to the comfort level of his lap to how well he would hold up against the Other Bunny at the Other Mall, the one we have visited loyally for two years.

Aura considered the fact that this bunny wore glasses a particularly thorny issue. It was while we were weighing how the bunny’s bespectacled state might affect her willingness to take a picture with him when my attention began to wander. I let my eyes roam over other parts of the first floor: CVS, a kiosk selling smoothies, a Hallmark store, Sears.

And then I saw it.

Splayed out on one of those chairs with the face-holes, an elderly, rather corpulent man was getting a rubdown at a massage kiosk, the masseuse’s hands working away under his velour Members Only shirt. “EEEEEWWWW!” I exclaimed. “She’s not even wearing GLOVES!” I announced in horror to Aura, who remained unimpressed and instead expounded upon a new theory she had regarding bunny furriness and the consequent sit-ability potential.

I whipped out my camera, intent on documenting the grossness for a blog post that I initially imagined would be much, much better than this one is turning out to be. But as I was focusing, the man left, leaving only the woman and her massage chairs in the frame, as shown above. I decided to snap away anyway, not realizing until it was too late that the camera flash was kind of noticeable. Making eye contact with me as I lowered the camera, the woman bolted from her massage station, running along the first floor until she was directly below our spot at the railing. As she started waving her doubtlessly back-germ-covered hands up at us and muttering what I’m certain were obscenities in another language, I grabbed Aura. “TIME FOR LUNCH!” I declared, and we made a run for the food court.

One salad and an order of chicken nuggets later, I finally felt it was safe to leave the food court without being pelted with massage oil. Aura and I leisurely headed for the mall exit, lingering here and there to window shop. I kept yawning as we walked. “Excuse me!” I said to Aura after my tenth yawn in 45 seconds. “I don’t know why I’m so sleepy! I need to find a dose of energy!”

And then I saw it.

The in-mall massage storefront. Complete with open-to-public-viewing tables. Also, NO GLOVES IN SIGHT.

Disgusting as I found this, I was subsequently relieved to identify a possible explanation for my continuing exhaustion. All this time I thought I had fatigue. But as you can see from the red circling on the sign below, I have been a victim of something else entirely:

 

Patigue just makes so much more sense these days. Hell, I might make an appointment after all. Anyone want to come along? Moral support–and hand sanitizer–is always welcome.

(Alert! We have a winner for the Amazon gift card! The Random Number Generator has chosen Taryn, who also happens to write one of my favorite blogs, Inner Fat Girl. Congrats, Taryn! May many vampire-themed books find their way to you. Or George Michael biographies. I’ll allow those, too.)