Post 212.

Picture Paul-Keen’s Douglas’ script for “Party Nice”, with him insisting “is only a little ting we having”.

Ziya turns five next week. A birthday party is expected. If not by her then by my mother, who takes the memorability of the party personally, like Ziya’s public advocate on all things grandchildren rightfully deserve. For her part, Zi buffed me up for buying her dinosaur-themed party paraphernalia, asking me if I think her friends would want to go back home when they realize there were no princesses or little ponies. Who tell me buy dat?

I’ve spent the last two years emphasizing the coolness of dinosaurs, science and outer space, bought books with awesome paleontology facts, watched endless episodes of “Dinosaur Train’, drove to school on a morning letting her label every person we saw as a different kind of dinosaur. She has been genuinely into it. Not for her party. Here gender socialization, keeping up with friends, worry about fitting in and others’ approval prevail.

This seems inconsequential, but it highlights how narrow the options for girls remain, in their own peer circles and among parents, despite decades of women pushing the frontiers of femininity. This seems obvious from separate distribution of pink and camouflage-printed goods in toy store aisles. A few months ago, it had me poised between sets of Lego, in the ‘boys’ aisle defined by Jurassic Park and Minecraft, and, in the girls’ aisle, defined by limousines, make-up dressers complete with mirrors and lipstick, multiple kinds of hair styles, and leisure settings, like liming in a yacht. Eventually, I bought a submarine, with no girl figures in it, but satisfyingly complex, and neither about violence nor beauty.

It’s like Caribbean women’s rights is in a gendered war with Disney Corporation, and with Disney mass marketing across both media and merchandising, my messages of imagining a girl’s self beyond the most stereotypical are of little worth. If I had more time, I’d publish my own character, called Empress Sapodilla Sugarplum, whose series of stories I’ve already written in my head, and who imagines herself in backyard adventures as Jamaican warrior leader Nanny of the Maroons as much as she dresses up as Camille Alleyne, Trinidad and Tobago’s own awesome astronaut, up and away in a box with the sounds of a rocket launch streaming from Youtube. Thank goddess for Doc McStuffins, we reached a truce. As the mother of a brown sapodilla, who wishes for anything other than white mermaids and princesses, both Zi and I love this character, her message and music.

Good. Snacks. Cake. Drinks. I’m all like, you can invite five friends and we will play ‘pass the parcel’ and musical chairs. The child squinted up her eyes at my clearly last- generation idea of a party, unsurprisingly, for everyone else’s had a bouncy castle, and face painting. Indeed, I wondered if the handful of children I let her invite would all appear and stand around not knowing what to do with themselves.

“Is only a little ting we having” isn’t what parents put out at children’s parties anymore, and these are working middle-class people, with no businesses or trust funds. I’ve watched professional moms, in particular, turn up totally put together and triumphant, but completely exhausted, having baked, packaged, put up, handmade, ordered and organized everything, with it all costing about $5000, and me there, both awed and appreciative, but askance that the same might be expected of me.

I think Zi can have a big party when she has a job and can save for it herself. At this point, my mother prepares to look offended on her behalf, like Thelma when Keens-Douglas says, we go have the party, just buy some “cheeweez”. I don’t blame her, if I had my way, there would be a yard for kids to play, snacks, and the other parents, Stone and I would watch our children tire themselves out while we dressed back with drinks. US media dominance, middle-class pressures, working mom’s aspirations, and resilient gender stereotypes are all there to be managed even at such seemingly ideologically-innocent times. Whatever little ting she gets, Zi better end her birthday like Tantie Merle, only saying “party nice”.

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Post 169.

If you parent a little girl, the amount of time you spend with her can be scientifically measured by how many songs you know from the movie ‘Frozen’. Disney has merchandised childhood, meaning the making of local memories can barely be conceived beyond its corporate monopoly on everything from birth to birthdays.

Zi turned four on Saturday, and her little celebration was only missing the ‘Frozen’ Elsa outfit and bouncy castle. You can fight Disney, as I tried, insisting for the first two birthdays on cake and other decorations that were not marketed by US media to us in the Caribbean. But, you will find yourself alone in the wilderness of Santa Cruz while your mother google maps the country for Dora or Elsa icing designers, your mother in law invests in customary birthday paraphernalia, and no one else actually cares about the intersections of capitalism, post-colonialism and childhood.

After all, generations of Caribbean people inherited Disney characters as globalized symbols of play and joy, just as we once inherited British ones, identifying ourselves as world citizens this way.

And, it’s all done in Ziya’s name as if only a bad mother would deny her harmless normality, and deprive her of the chance to be like her friends with their own Disney themed birthdays. Indeed, little girls are astute observers of childhood status markers, and pre-school playgrounds feature complex conversation about gender socialization, class belonging, modernity and conspicuous consumption.

Thus, Ziya’s birthday cake icing comprised expertly made (and delicious) blond Elsa, blue icicles, silver snowflakes and Olaf the snowman, all proudly displayed on a humid, tropical afternoon. My mother requested a brown girl with black plaits be crafted from icing and placed next to Elsa in an attempt to mediate between Franz Fanon and ‘Frozen’, and I kept my politics to myself for family requires compromise, fantasies are part of childhood and I survived much Disney-defined fun, parties, toys and clothes with critical consciousness mostly intact.

I looked at it all thinking that this is why Ziya insists on being a princess when I explain the power of African empresses. I thought about the far fewer options for Caribbean-themed birthdays, with our own icons, myths and landscape, and how we repeat an old colonial familiarity with daffodils and practicing ‘proper’ English through the reading of British colloquialisms in books by Beatrix Potter. We celebrate escape to elsewhere, TV, overseas or other selves.

Teaching what we have learnt, survived and fondly remember, we establish the connections that craft our children’s sense of themselves and place, the lens from which they assess what is presented as who they are, and their practices of validating their own bodies, ecology and stories. It makes sense for bleaching creams to line Pennywise shelves, for government officials to defend a leisure complex, which turns its back on the existence of the coast whose mangrove it decimated, and for the meanings of development to be determined by FDI, or foreign direct imagination.

Feminism offered some future consolation. Disney is now stirring sprinkles of independence, fearlessness and sisterhood into tales such as Sleeping Beauty and Alice in Wonderland. In ‘Frozen’, the story doesn’t end with a prince, hapless damsel rescue or marriage as the happily ever after. Thank goddess.

This is how the world of a just-turned four, sapodilla-brown girl is defined by media, US corporate power, family, femininity, Caribbean feminism and more. Like Frozen’s Elsa, may Zi find the freedom to not hide who she has grown up to be. Like Anna, may she celebrate each year she grows into the hero of her own story.