Watched Brave with the kids Saturday night. It’s a Disney/Pixar offering about a young Scottish princess named Merida (mair-eh-duh), who, though intelligent, independent, headstrong and an accomplished archer, is still expected to be married off to the first-born son of one of the other clans of the kingdom, in accordance with tradition.
Merida doesn’t take kindly to this, and though her father admires her conviction, he still sides with Merida’s mother, the Queen, who is determined to mold her daughter into a ‘proper’ princess and see the marriage carried out. In defiance, Merida seeks out the assistance of a local witch, who gives her a potion she assures will change Merida’s fate. And change it, it does, though of course not in any way foreseen.
What struck me as bloody wonderful about this film was that Merida, though learning important life lessons throughout, never undergoes the distasteful transformation that is the fate of so many female characters (Disney and otherwise), which is to say, she isn’t forced to compromise her true self to attain her goals.
Watching, I couldn’t help but regard my daughter. She overflows with a joyful glee, she dances with abandon, is extremely artistic and intelligent, a voracious reader, and possesses an uncanny ability to take a concept and transform it into a joke, or a song, or some keen witticism. She never fails to amaze me.
That said, I’ve noticed that her particular brand of precociousness sometimes comes with a price, that emotional development does not necessarily grow at the same rate as intelligence. My girl is the most willful little person I can ever hope to meet, and as an adversary, she packs way more punch than any adult I’ve encountered. She rages injustices, both real and imagined. She cries. She yells. She screams, occasionally. She stomps her little feet, and she slams doors (she reminds me of me, truth be told). And though I’ve had the occasional experience of going head to head with her, these behaviours become far more evident at school.
I suppose it stands to reason. At our school, it’s become apparent that her kind of ‘different‘ is not equated with ‘unique’ or ‘special,’ so much as ‘troublesome’ and ‘disruptive.’ And when a child spends six hours a day, five days a week in an environment that makes it abundantly clear they do not fit somehow, conflict is bound to occur. Though my daughter is a solid A-student, I’ve still spent three years combating those who insist that my girl needs a label (they like to imply ODD. I say she doesn’t suffer fools well). What she needs, truly, are educators who are capable and willing to look beyond the conventional rule books and tweak their approach. I’m not inferring the system needs to be overhauled (which is how the admin hears it), I’m talking about accepting that not all children learn in the same way, a concept established decades ago. Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” And Einstein posited that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I have quoted these to school administration more than once. And while by the end of Brave, Merida and her mother realize how change is intrinsically linked to growth, our school is evidently still sussing that one out. Happily, with some additional resources now in place, and a little girl maturing by the minute, I have high hopes for next year.
Through this process, I have learned that in order for my daughter to become her true self, I must not only guide her, but shield her from those who would insist she become a ‘proper’ princess. I myself have to ensure that I avoid becoming too Queen-y. I know that at times I have attempted to quell my little tempest, to rein her in, tell her too often to act a certain way, speak in a certain way, dress in a certain way. I am still learning about what it means to truly parent, ever seeking a balance of guidance and freedom.
Ultimately, I want to instill in my daughter the idea that anything is possible, that her kind of ‘different‘ is to be celebrated.
That her fate lies in her own hands.