Princesses and pageants: How I spent my non-youth sports vacation
It happens to many independent blogs — the sudden lull. In my case, my break was enforced by a busier real-job schedule, a busier kid schedule, and preparations for (and the actual taking of) a driving family vacation to Florida. If you have any children, much less the four I cart around, you’ll know that preparing for a family vacation is as intricate and difficult as Napoleon planning an attack of Russia, with similar horrible consequences if such preparation is not sufficient.
We did not go to Florida because one or all of our children had some event or tournament. Radical in some circles, we took an actual vacation just because we wanted to go somewhere. The closest any of my kids, so far, have gotten to travel sports is my 11-year-old daughter playing softball in the southwest Chicago suburbs over the summer. She didn’t care for it, so next July is free! So, all youth event shackles off, we could go to Orlando, Fla., with tourist stops in Atlanta on the way south and Birmingham, Ala., back north, for 10 days, staying in a rented house (which you can get much cheaper than a hotel these days, thanks to the lousy Florida economy) instead of having wondrous pre-winter weekends in Fort Wayne or Rockford crammed into a Ramada, waiting for the next game to start. I mean, those are lovely towns and all; I used to live in Fort Wayne, and my mother was born in Rockford. But I don’t think it’s 80 degrees in November there. (Not yet. Give global warming time.)
Now, I make the point about not having an event in Orlando because so many families who go there do — a tournament, mom or dad’s convention (we did that once with my oldest when he was a baby), a dying grandmother you need to butter up to ensure a prominent place in the will. And when we went to Disney World’s Magic Kingdom the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, we saw it was thick with girls competing in something called “Miss American Coed.”
How do I know this was going on? These girls, in town for the first day of a six-day extravaganza of going back to 1954, which I presume they were doing because of the retrograde use of “coed,” wore their tiaras and sashes the whole day, including when the tiniest contestants fell asleep in their umbrella strollers. I would have taken pictures to show you, except that a 40-year-old man taking candid shots of preteen girls he does not know tends to be looked upon as a bit of creep.
I learned a long time ago not to feel smug about sports as an activity and obsession compared with other pursuits, because the difference between parents and kids who go over the top about sports, and parents and kids who go over the top about pageants, is minimal. Plus, in both you get perverts attracted to the flower of budding childhood for all the wrong reasons.
As a matter of fact, I thought of intense travel sports parents when I saw the budding Miss American Coeds at Disney, because the girls looked like a lot of the girls my 11-year-old played travel softball with and against — as in, they looked like they weren’t enjoying themselves very much.
I’m coming to this conclusion from casual glances, because, again, a 40-year-old man staring too long at preteen girls he does not know tends to be looked upon as a bit of a creep. But I’m thinking of one preteen in particular when we were in line for lunch. My 11-year-old daughter, dressed in a T-shirt and shorts, was feeling free, grabbing the bars that marked the lines and swinging away like a monkey-in-training. Meanwhile, Miss American Coed in line was stuck wearing her pageant outfit, all without the little-girl pleasure of hanging out at Disney’s Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and pretending to be a Disney princess. The contestant, alone with her parents, looked at my daughter with what I detected was a bit of envy, that maybe she could be an 11-year-old, too, and swing on the lunch counter bars.
Like the stereotype of the sports parents who push hard to make up for their own childhood failures, every pageant family I saw had this makeup: attractive daughter, unattractive parents. Perhaps the parents were into this because, blessed with the luck of having a daughter not as hideous as they were, they wanted to take advantage. Or maybe the parents were attractive at one time, maybe even had pageant lives themselves, until THE GODDAMN KIDS DID THIS TO ME.
Maybe I’m reading too much into this. All I know is, everywhere we saw these girls, and everywhere they looked like they were celebrating Opposite Day at the Happiest Place on Earth. Sure, a lot of little girls were dressed as princesses, and didn’t look terribly comfortable being Cinderella in 80-degree weather in a crowded amusement park. But those Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutiquers did it because, presumably, they wanted to, and they could change if they wanted to. Not because they had to promote some stupid-ass contest and pose in front of grownup judges that, to me anyway, seem a little creepy for staring too long at 11-year-old girls they don’t know.
My wife and I have always told our children that we would be more than happen to support them in any activity or endeavor as long as they really wanted to do it. So if my daughters wanted to do pageants, we probably would say, OK. I’m sure that some of the Miss American Coeds I saw really, really wanted to be pageant queens, at least at some point in their lives.
Fortunately, because the thought of pageants makes me gag, my girls have not chosen this route. (Though they do choose activities I don’t always understand, which will be part two of my vacation diaries.) Anyway, I think my 5-year-old daughter has already shown me the meaning of being a true princess.
A true princess is not someone wearing a sash in a pageant. A true princess is one who, when confronted with a 45-minute line to see the Disney princesses she presumably came there to visit, declared the line too long and demanded to go somewhere more fun. That’s right — a real princess doesn’t spend 45 minutes in line waiting to see ANYBODY!