The police officers are going to like you, because you’re driving so slow.

I have nothing against princesses, or shopping malls. In fact, I like malls this time of year. All the people, and lines, and hustle and bustle. I suppose if I was actually trying to be productive and in a hurry, I might get irritable. But these days, if I am at a mall, it is with my children. And if I am with my children, then we are there to sight-see and adventure-seek, not be productive. So why were we at a mall to begin with?

Back to the beginning...

Apparently, December is bonus time. People who have bosses, and who do a good job, sometimes get bonuses at the end of the year. Pretty great thing, if you're the employee. Now, I'm the boss, but pretty much of only myself, so it's not the most productive thing for me to hand myself a bonus. My understanding of bonuses is also that they fall into one of two categories: Bonuses that are:

A. Really good, or

B. Really bad

Becca, my buxomous bride, has a boss. A pair of bosses. She is a dental hygienist, which means that she not only scales and polishes people's teeth, but also helps to educate them on good oral health in general. She is very proficient at it, and she smells good up close.

Do you know how her bosses do their bonuses? I'll tell you. It is very cool. It is this: on a Friday afternoon every year, they close up the office early. They give each of their staff an envelope, with money inside. Then they send them off to go shopping. There are two rules:

A. The money has to be spent that same afternoon, before everyone meets for dinner, and 

B. It has to be spent on yourself. No paying bills, or buying gifts for other people, or other behaviors smacking of altruism or common sense. The guilt is removed; the command is absolute. It must be spent on yourself.

So the children and I picked Becca up and traveled with her down to Clackamas, where she was to shop. The siren call of Great Harvest Bread Company was strong; we stopped in to enjoy a free slice of bread and smile at birds and strangers. Also, they serve Stumptown coffee. It was delicious.

A guy. Kid. Late teens, maybe ex-skater, broke stride as he passed the bistro table where I was bantering with Johannes. Smiled, head nod,

Really cute, he said to us.

Johannes, trademark Hanna Andersson aviator hat, glurgled a crumb-y smile to him.
Kid smiled back, flipped his hair, maybe a little embarrassed, and shoggled off.

Hey thanks!
I said.
Have a great afternoon! 

You too,
he called back.

It's just not that difficult to be a decent person. That kid could just have


 that to himself, but he didn't. He actually


it, aloud. And it was nice. A nice thing to say, and I appreciated it. It was a genuine compliment from a stranger that I will likely never see again, from someone that I wouldn't necessarily expect to be saying something of that sort...

I thought it might be a nice gesture to track him down to his automobile, nab his plate number, do some Internet sleuthing and figure out his address so we could show up at his door next week to surprise him with homemade sugar plumb cookies and an original Christmas carol, but Becca told me that wouldn't be a good idea, mainly because we haven't written an original Christmas song yet. 


“Daddy, the police officers are going to like you, because you're driving really slow. They don't like it when people drive fast, so they'll be really nice to you when they stop you because you're driving so slow.”

So Becca went to shop for something, and I took the children to the Town Center, which is a fancy name for a mall. Years ago, there was an ice skating rink, but it got replaced by a food court, which is the opposite of progress in my book. We entered the mall via Barnes & Noble, where both offspring ambushed my attempt to directly pass through by snatching books off the shelf, in the name of "looking for presents for people." Johannes immersed himself in Eragon and other dragon-looking books; Magdelana found a series that she was certain one of her aunts would just love.

I was just as certain they would not, and as I had the cash, we left empty-handed. What a Scrooge.

When I was a kid, I was really into G.I. Joes. I had a very convoluted relationship with them, because my mother, Confucius, was very against them. Mostly, because they were all about war and guns and violence, and my mom is very much not about those things. But her Solomonic pronouncement was this:

A. I could purchase G.I. Joe figurines with my own money, which meant that I would need to find a job. Which became my incentive to start mowing lawns, sell giftwrap door-to-door, collect cans for recycling, etc.

B. The G.I. Joe figurines I purchased could never actually fight, or ever point their guns at each other, or at any other living thing, which made it challenging to figure out what Sergeant Slaughter should be doing, as he had very antediluvian ideas about peaceful conflict resolution. Mostly, they went exploring together, and served more as NATO peacekeepers, but always with their weapons at the ready.

C. I couldn't actually watch G.I. Joe cartoons. Once, my mom said she would watch the show with me, but it wasn't fun watching people shoot each other with someone who didn't approve of people shooting each other. So basically, I had to kind of invent my own storylines, characters, and exposition about my G.I. Joe characters, as  I really knew next to nothing about them, at least the version that Mattel was selling.

So now I have a daughter, and We, meaning All of Us in Today's Society, are immersed in a princess world where it is expected that little girls will naturally go through a princess phase. And it may be mostly true, as many gender expectations and stereotypes have certain small truths built into them. But the princess world of today carries the baggage of so many values and traits that subtly reinforce a host of priorities that we, her parents, do not want prioritized or reinforced. At the

least, today's princess culture has a cookie-cutter aspect to it that is about passively accepting the manufacturer's idea of beauty and of play; it is not about original thought or story-creation; it is not about the open-ended process of play and character-creation; it is about having characters handed to children, complete with backstories, television tie-ins, and fashion accessories du jour.

It is about plastic aesthetics and hair products that mimic fleeting Top-40 icons; it is not about inventing, imagining, or creating scenarios for your characters. There's a blueprint handed out. A map, a.k.a. Twitter link and QR code;  a website for ordering additional accessories and Saturday morning showtimes. And it is pushed, it is pushed in a manner to make a child feel that if they don't have it, they are missing out. Missing out.

It is maddening. Societal guilt over not providing your children access to the same toys all their peers have. And of course, that phrase "all their peers" carries the same validity as it does coming from a Jr. High student - in Junior High, it's commonplace to use absolutes such as 



No one

such as,

“No one I know likes that movie,” or

“Everyone says that teacher is really dumb.”

And it's that same mentality, that herd mentality that is pushed.

All of the other kids are getting this;

all of the other parents are doing this for their kids.

And you get pushed into it because it seems like the right thing, because...everyone is doing it.

So here we are, with a daughter whose awareness and interest in princesses grows by the day. We have no desire to remove ourselves from society; we are not going to "protect her" by inoculating her from all media or advertising (for the second consecutive post, I will use Sisyphean). 

I hate, hate how the verb "party" is used. As in,

"that person likes to party."

I hate the idea that the word "party" is automatically tied in with alcohol. Why? Why, and when did that association get locked in? I hate it. I want to reclaim the word. It should be freed to use in a context that is not ball-and-chained to booze. In a more imprecise sense, I would like to reclaim what the idea of being a



I want to devalue its usage as shorthand for a shallow, mirror-focused worldview. I'm not against pink and purple and wanting to look pretty. I like those colours, and I like to look...pretty handsome too. But I don't want my children, especially our daughter now, aggressively under pursuit and attack for her brand-loyalty, to be subsumed by ephemeral ideas of quality and character as being tangential.

Real princesses should know how to lace up their own Frye boots and forge their own glittery battle axes. Real princesses don't earn their princess identity because there's a prince on her arm.  

I don't want her to figure out the quickest way to get designer princess doll clothes is to beg Daddy's credit card; I want her learning to sew, to make, to create, to understand the value and the reward of playing with something that doesn't come with a receipt. I want her naming her own dolls; making their own stories; creating their own mythologies.

But you know what? That's what I want. Not gonna happen quite like that. And I'm okay.

Not okay in the sense of being resigned to losing the battle.

I'm okay in the parallel sense that my mom was okay with me and G.I. Joes.

Okay in the sense that my mom's concern for the values I was receiving from violent, war-based toys was important enough to talk about.

Not to completely shut down my interest, but to serve as a gateway to conversation and discussion. I still laugh, and sometimes poke fun at her abhorrence of all violence, but I respect and validate how she dealt with her concerns. She opened an ongoing dialogue with me about where my interest in military and guns came from. She made me articulate my reasons for those interests. She pushed me to


and to not just accept explanations and pre-packaged storylines.

Also, I love my dad.

design: Andrew Mace ©2006 

We are not passing along our carbon-copied preferences and philosophies to our children; we are trying to pass along the ability to

feel empathetically,
to think critically, and to
create imaginatively.

We will not let the bullies of the world, especially the ones with Madison Avenue ad budgets, smile and backslap their way to the front of our child's cultural radar.

Anyway. Mags, Johanni and I strolled around the mall. Got sucked into The Disney Store, the sugary Holy Grail palace for cutesy princesses. One thing, then another. Like a painting with no focal point for your eyes to finally rest on. Barrage of primary colours and pastels and talking animals;  Magdelana dancing from Princess Jasmine to Princess Mulan to Princess...oh wait, that's little Princess Johannes, following her every footstep, dismembering entire display cases in a matter of seconds.

We lit out of there, echoes of "can I get this?" followed by its twin. Sensory overload. Why choose one item when there's ten billion to choose from?

Meanwhile, Becca was not answering her cellular telephone, so we continued tromping around. Grabbed ourselves some limp burritos from the Taco Time that displaced the ice skating rink. Disgruntled, I watched as Johannes stomped from one table to another, banana in squeezed fist, waving hello and making himself the most adorable nuisance on the planet to all strangers within a 20-foot radius. There was a toy train charging $3.50 for a five-minute ride; instead, we elected to ride up and down the escalator multiple times (free).

After leaving the mall, we fought traffic up 205 North. Magdelana wrote a one-line Christmas song:

Up on the skylight, the snowflakes dropped down from above

So we hollered that out a billion times or so, then jumped onto Highway 14, eventually stopping in Camas for their annual Lighting of the Tree. We missed the actual lighting, but were pleasantly surprised to run into some good friends, with whom we spent a memorable hour together in a 'waiting for Santa' line. Magdelana asked to get a photograph with her friend Avery on Santa's lap. Johannes went ballistic when I tried setting him on Santa's knee. I hope he does not have latent feelings of betrayal over my attempt to deposit him on a fake-jolly big bearded white giant's knee.

It is late, and I am tired, but it was a good day, and Becca was successfully able to find something unnecessary and fun for herself, which I am glad for. She is a wonderful creature, and I am glad she has good bosses. I hope my boss gets me something nice for Christmas. I am hoping for universal peace (trying to one-up those world-peacers), or perhaps a plate of cookies that Becca will let me eat in bed while watching Ugly Betty, and fall asleep blissfully without flossing afterwards...

This weekend, I am going to write about my brother Jonny, because I need to write about him. I cannot speak of redefining what a particular word means without thinking of what he has done to redefine what the word uncle means.

Tiffany's is not just a jewelry store. Michael Jordan was not just a basketball player. A Mac is not just a computer, and Jonny is not just an uncle.

Because I know you will be reading this, dear little brother, good night, and please know how much I look up to you. Thank you for taking an hour out of your day to pick us up today. You are gargantua.

All I Want For Christmas / Matt Costa

Silent Night / Stevie Nicks

Singing Christmas songs in the automobile, Camas Downtown Lighting of the Tree, seeing our friends The Natiuks there