By Barbara Falconer Newhall, The Oakland Tribune, February 26, 1989
“I want to scrub the floor,” said Christina.
“I want to scrub the floor.”
There was no getting around it. Christina, who is 51/2, intended to wash our kitchen floor.
She had been studying her “Cinderella” videotape for weeks, and now she wanted nothing more than to scrub.
Where had I gone wrong?
When she was 4, Christina liked to wash dishes. When she was 2, she asked Santa to bring her a broom for Christmas.
I arranged for a little broom and dustpan to appear under the tree that year. But I was worried.
Can a woman who actually likes to clean house be taken seriously? Can she get elected chairman of the board if she has to get home to do the dishes? Can she discover a cure for Alzheimer’s if her mind is on the furniture polish and the oven cleaner?
When Christina’s godmother saw the little broom, she, too, was nonplussed. “Barbara, you’re a terrible mother.”
Nancy was laughing, but she wasn’t kidding. Her own daughter, Liz is only 11. She can play the trumpet, speak Spanish, and has plans for a career in veterinary medicine. Liz will never be stuck with the dishes.
But Christina was born to clean. When she was 15 months, old, she emptied out the contents of her big brother’s sock drawer, like any normal toddler.
Trouble is, she then painstakingly restored every last sock to the drawer, while I looked on in dismay.
And now, at 5 ½, Christina is ready to move on to scrubbing floors.
Where will it all end? At 28, will she wind up in the suburbs with three kids and an adoring husband who showers her with diamonds and Maytags?
My feminist friends and I used to call it the Cinderella fantasy. As we saw it, the woman who entertains the Cinderella fantasy hopes to get by in life by winning the love of a man of means and living happily – and affluently – ever after.
That fantasy might have worked in the ’50s, but it is pretty much obsolete in the ’80s.
Three kids and a Maytag are easy enough to acquire. But husbands who can afford diamonds, let alone devoted full-time wives, are in short supply.
A woman can still get a husband if she is so inclined, but she also will need to get a job.
How do I break the news to Christina? How do I prepare her for the realities of the year 2003?
Christina has been watching that “Cinderella” tape day in and day out. She has learned all the songs and memorized the details of Cinderella’s ball gown and Cinderella’s rags outfit.
And now Christina was standing there in our kitchen, looking up at me wistfully. Just back from the dress-up trunk, she had a lacy skirt tied around her waist and a second frothy thing tied around her bodice.
Clearly, she was in Cinderella mode.
“Well,” I sighed. “If you’re going to wash floors, you will need to take off your ball gown. I don’t think Cinderella would do her cleaning in her best dress.”
“Oh, right. Of course,” enthused Christina. She raced off to her bedchamber to put away the royal finery.
Later, I made a beeline for my bookcase and my Bruno Bettelheim. Ah, yes. There it was, “The Uses of Enchantment” – a psychoanalytic treatment of sleeping beauties and knights in shining armor.
Inside, everyone was there. Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks, the Three Little Pigs – and Cinderella.
Christina, if I was reading my Bettelheim correctly, was in the midst of a phase-specific psychosocial crisis.
She was not, it turned out, moving toward a life of passivity and treacly femininity as I had feared. On the contrary. With the help of Cinderella, my little Christina was resolving her Oedipal conflicts, accepting her femininity and addressing the issue of sibling rivalry.
She was moving out from Mommy. She was seeking a place for herself in the real world.
But as a scrub woman?
We got out the rag mop and the bucket. Together, in our Cinderella rags, we sloshed around the kitchen floor. Soaping and rinsing. Soaping and rinsing. Finally, the floor was clean.
Hey, this was fun.
Like the man said, sometimes a dirty floor is just a dirty floor.
Reprinted by permission of The Oakland Tribune
Note: Christina is 26 years old now, and there is neither a husband nor a floor mop in her life. I’ve finally figured out what all that Cinderella role playing was about. My daughter is a storyteller. At 26, she wants nothing more than to concoct stories for television.
For a story about the grown-up and very independent Christina, go to “How to Overmother a Twenty-Something.”