Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Pretty Pretty Princess

Oh, Pretty Pretty Princess. Do you remember that game? There are some toys and games that define your life, and Pretty Pretty Princess was one of them. Along with the Skip It and roller skates and the original Pet Shop animals and American Girl dolls.

I didn't actually own Pretty Pretty Princess, and I'm not sure my parents even knew how much I wanted that game because part of me, even at age eight or so, thought princesses were stupid. The other part, of course, wanted to be a pretty freaking princess, dang it. So I would watch the commercial—with its promise of bracelets and earrings and crowns—longingly. What a genius concept! First to get dressed up as a princess WINS.

Then my friend got Pretty Pretty Princess for her birthday, and I kind of made it a goal everyday to get her to hang out with me so I could subtly suggest we play "that one princess game."

It was awesome! There were different colored jewelry sets, and I would always fight for blue, because, well, I couldn't go ALL girly. I remember a black ring that was, like, the KISS OF DEATH. You could not be the Pretty Pretty Princess if you had the black ring (Which, thinking about that now, sounds terrible!).

One day, we were playing this game, and I was close to winning. I had my ring and bracelet and necklace. The crown was in sight. I was almost to Pretty Pretty when my friend's father came in.

He scared me, always had. He wasn't around much, but when he was he always had a beer in hand. And he swore a lot in addition to being loud. For a little Mormon girl, it was an experience. Not that I was completely sheltered. I grew up in the Bay Area, for Pete's sake. My mom taught me to be prepared and aware. I'd been teased in school for my religion. I knew there were people who didn't like us, but I never saw this one coming.

"Hey!" he said. I may have been Mormon, but even then I knew what drunk sounded like. "You're that little Mormon girl, aren't you?"

"Yes." I fidgeted with my bracelet, the jewelry seeming far more stupid than pretty all of the sudden.

"How many wives does your dad have?"

I stared at him, completely confused. "What?"

"How many wives! Polygamy. You Mormons can marry more than one woman." He leaned on the doorjamb, smiling. "Man, that'd be great to have a few. One for cleaning, one for cooking, one for...you know."

I had no idea what he was talking about. The tears were right there, begging to pour out, but I sucked them in. "That's not true. My dad is married to my mom and that's it."

He laughed. "Well, you better watch out, because that could change."

He disappeared, but his words stayed. I had never heard about this. I didn't know a single Mormon person with more than one wife. He had to be wrong, but a little part of me wondered. Doubted. Because he was an adult, and I was a kid.

"I don't want to play anymore." I pulled the bracelet off, the necklace, the silly snap on earrings. I didn't feel pretty at all. I felt ugly and strange and possibly wrong about something I believed implicitly. I ran home, hot, angry tears streaming down my face. Someone would have told me about this if it were true, wouldn't they? I would have noticed at church. I wasn't a stupid child. I was observant, sometimes too observant for my own good.

I asked my mom, and because she's an amazing mother she told me the truth. She told me it wasn't true. She told me my dad wouldn't marry another woman. But she also told me that our church used to practice polygamy, like they did in the Bible's Old Testament. I didn't like the idea, honestly. It was the first of many trials of faith and quests for understanding.

But one thing I did know—I was never playing Pretty Pretty Princess again.


  1. It never ceases to amaze me how some adults just don't think before opening their stupid mouths.

  2. It's strange how experience can tack two things together in our minds forever, or how it can take something that was once wonderful and turn it ugly. People don't understand how what they say and do can impact a kid on into adulthood.

    I grew up in North Texas, in a dry city (an oddity in Texas, to be sure), and while I wasn't raised as a Mormon, we had a large Mormon church which many of my friends attended. I don't remember how old I was the first time I heard someone say something disparaging about the faith, but it came as a shock because these ideas I was hearing didn't fit with any of the people I knew. But that's how prejudice works. Take one, extreme, even non-applicable attribute of a given culture or belief system, decide that extreme is the norm, and then try and convince other "normal" people that it's no good having extremists around. And, of course, there's bonus points for pinning it on their kids.

    I have to wonder if your friend's dad was a despicable when he was sober. The sad fact of alcoholism is that some of the worst drunks can be wonderful people when they aren't under the influence.

    It makes you wonder how people have lasted as a species.

  3. First off, I love your blog, Natalie. I only discovered it recently (some other writing/publishing related blog linked to it...but now I can't remember which one) and I really enjoyed reading it thus far.

    My experience learning about polygamy probably wasn't as traumatic as yours, but it was still pretty memorable.

    In my 9th grade English class the teacher had a calendar that had a question/answer for each day. Every day he'd write the question for that day on the white board. Up to about when the bell rang to start class, we could go up to the front and write our response to the question on the blackboard. Usually the question was fairly innocent, and along the lines of 'who/what/when was ?

    Me, being the somewhat shy, introverted, red-headed and freckle-faced kid that I was, I rarely ever volunteered information on the blackboard.

    One day I walk into class and I see the question on the board:

    "Who are the Mormons?"

    This tickles me a bit. I walk up to the board and reply with "It's me! I'm one"

    After I get back to my desk, two of the girls in the class (one of whom I had a crush on at the time) get up and start writing ESSAYS on the blackboard about polygamy.

    I was stunned. I had no idea how to even reply to it.

    And then to top it all off, the calendar answer didn't even have the right information. It claimed that Brigham Young founded the Church in Utah.

    So I went home that day fairly distraught and confused. My mother, like yours, helped me to learn the truth of the matter.

    The next day in geometry class I was in my seat early and already started working on the homework for that night (as was typical for me, because I am a giant nerd). One of the girls in the class practically appeared out of nowhere right behind me, stuck her head over my shoulder and asked, "You're a Mormon, right?"


    "You're only going to have one wife, right?"


    She replied with a suddenly chipper, "OK!", and moved to the other side of the room to take her regular seat.

    The entire exchange seemed so surreal to me, especially since I considered myself to be generally invisible to my fellow classmates. Except suddenly I wasn't when it came to this one issue.

  4. What an unfortunate experience, and yet what a wonderfully written story. I think all our hearts broke a little bit for Little You -- that's the power of sharing something like this. Hopefully it will make us all think twice about stereotyping, and about what we say to children.

  5. I want to go and hug eight year old Natalie. It's horrible that something you enjoyed and longed for could be tainted in such a way. It's strange the power our memories and experiences hold over us.

  6. People are so ignorant. I mean, seriously. I just had an experience about an hour ago that just reaffirms the fact that some people should REALLY get educated before they open their mouths and accuse people of insane things!

  7. Very well written post. It just sucks that an adult, who should know better, would produce that kind of anxiety in a child and be so cavalier about something like that. I felt so sad when you said you felt ugly and strange and possibly wrong when it was so clear that none of that was the case! Why are grown-ups so awful to children sometimes?

  8. I once had a father-in-law (kept the hubby, but my MIL didn't keep hers) who made a point of criticizing Mormons every chance he got (not knowing my family was almost entirely of the faith).

    Ah, I still remember the list of problems: They didn't believe in electricity. They feared pictures of themselves would pull their souls out of their bodies. They still used a horse and buggy. They wore long black dresses and little white caps... and the list went on, usually until I burst out laughing.

    I wouldn't miss the Pretty Pretty Princess thing, though. Substance is what we long for, after all. The surface details don't matter, and your blog is proof that you have far more worth than any outside judgment could possibly understand.

  9. Oh, that's so sad. I loved Pretty, Pretty Princess growing up. I'm sorry a grown-up was so insulting to you.

  10. Pretty Pretty Princess missed my generation...we played at being Betty Crocker. But, that father was a monster. Iwonder what kind of father he was when there were no guests in the house? What a jerk.
    Bless your heart, and bless your wise mother.

  11. I never heard of that game, but I was called Buckwheat a lot at school. When I was younger, a lady at the shoe store asked why are my palms white and the rest of me brown.

  12. How could an adult do that to a kid? Every religion has dark spots in its past, it's ridiculously unfair to tease a Mormon child for something that was WAY before her time. Could you imagine someone saying to a Catholic child, "You lot still trying to take over Jerusalem by killing thousands of innocents?" I'm protestant, and I hope to God no one ever says to my (in the distant future) child, "How're the witch-hunts going?" I mean, that's horrible.
    On a brighter note, I never had the Pretty Pretty Princesses thing either, but I think I remember seeing commercials. I was more into Pokemon because that's what my older brothers did. :)

  13. Thanks for sharing, Natalie. There are definitely a lot of misconceptions about Mormons. I've had someone ask me if we celebrate Christmas :)

  14. What's totally awesome is that this happened to me THIS summer. My little sister came to nanny for me this summer. As I was talking to my neighbor she asked if I had a new sister wife. I laughed and explained the situation. The best part was that she didn't believe me until my sister went back to school.

  15. Oh. My. Land.

    Un-bleeping-believable. His thoughtlessness was astounding. Like Tina said, I wish I could go hug sweet 8 yr old Natalie. And I can't help but think that alcohol played a role in his callous comment. Confidence found in a bottle is the worst sort; completely false.
    ((hugs Natalie))
    p.s. Somehow in Georgia we missed the Pretty Princess phenom. We were too busy wearing our jelly shoes and breaking out our Bonnie Bell lip smackers. :D

  16. I don't think I'll ever look at pretty pretty princess the same.

  17. Wow. I love you're retelling of what was obviously a horrific experience for you as a child.

  18. This story made my insides squirm. I don't really no what else to say.

  19. Growing up Mormon in the Deep South was . . . interesting. And probably the main reason I've been able to stick it out for that last twenty years, in a really strange way. Thick skin, etc.

  20. I really hate when adults do stupid things around kids. I'm not the best Mom ever, I'm not even the best Mom on the east coast of Barbados, but there are certain things I won't do in front of mine (or other kids). Drinking more than a few (even though I don't get drunk- although I do it here, because alcohol and drunkenness is just as normal as sleeping in Japan, it's weird). I don't curse. I don't talk about anything sexual. And I hate it when other adults do these things in front of kids. Especially smoking.

  21. There are a number of heavy drinkers in my family. I've seen people put away a bottle of whiskey in an evening, or be visibly drunk at 11am. I've seen people act in ways they really shouldn't around children. That kind of behaviour leaves a mark on you, and I've been uncomfortable around certain family members all my life as a result.

    Despite the sterotype of Irish culture being a drinking culture, we could still stand to learn a lot about responsible behaviour, I think.

    Thankfully, my parents raised me to respect alcohol. While I do drink, I'm aware of how much, and where and when it is appropriate to drink. I'm much more comfortable sharing a bottle of wine with my wife while watching a movie, or around the dinner table with some friends, than I am drinking out in a pub. And once children are around, I think it's every adult's responsibility to act responsibly, because even the smallest thing can have a huge emotional effect.

    I'm so sorry you had to go through that, Natalie.

  22. Two thoughts come to mind, besides feeling so awful for the little girl you.

    One - my heart goes out to your little friend who had to grow up in that household. What an awful father.

    Two - I remember my daughter playing that game with her father and uncle. I have pictures of those men in their earrings and bracelets and crowns. It's adorable!

  23. I echo Storylady to say I really feel for the girl who had to grow up with that abomination of a father, and hope she's ok now. How DARE he address little you like that? OK, rant over. And virtual hugs to little-girl you. This goes to show what thoughtless words can do to a child, and kudos to your mom for being present and telling the truth. I look back on classmates of mine who were religious minorities of any kind and can only imagine what they went through, trying to defend themselves against judgments.

  24. That's awful! I used to love that game...my dad and grandpa would play it with me.

    I'm sorry you had to go through that. :(

  25. What a heartbreaking story. It may sound strange to say this, but it's evidence of how wonderful of a writer you are. I felt as if I were you sitting on the floor playing that game.

  26. Wow... that guy goes into the waste of oxygen category.

    As has been said in the comments, some drunks are really, really mean drunks. And unfortunately, who they really are comes out in what they say. If he'd been sober, he'd keep his nastiness under wraps.

  27. What a touching post. Thank you for sharing this heartfelt story!

  28. I totally sympathize. I grew up in Portland, a very liberal culture that was skeptical of Christians, not to mention Mormons. It was hard for me when everyone around me disagreed with all of my beliefs. I think every minority has a story like yours to tell... though we can't all tell it as well as you can.

    The thing that gets me about ignorant people is you'd think they'd hear something crazy like "all Mormons are polygamists" and think, "Huh. That sounds made up. I should go to this computer thingy I have and find out if it's true." But I think such people like to talk more than they like to listen (or read).