Caroline's Prince

Inez Hollander Lake


My three-year-old daughter Caroline believes that people come in three categories: princesses, princes, and workhorses. Inevitably, I (her mother), fall in the workhorse category while she presides over the princess line. Minutes after she was born, her father carried her around the delivery room and to everybody's astonishment she held her head up high and looked around with the attitude of a Queen.

A platinum-blond princess, Caroline wears tiaras at breakfast, high heels for lunch, and ball gowns for dinner. Her six-year-old brother, William, who has tired of all the hoopla, has but one term for her, and that is "piece of work." Her second name is Cato (after her Dutch great-grandmother Catherine and her Norwegian great-grandfather Cato) but I am beginning to think that, in Caroline's case, the name Cato is closer to the Roman statesman Cato who was known for his wisdom and wit. Caroline's wisdom is the only one that counts and anyone who dissents falls out of grace and can expect a kick in the rear, whether Her Royal Highness is wearing high heels or not.

The three workhorses (her father, her brother, and I) are hardly worthy of her. However, aware of her noblesse oblige, she puts up with us as if we are a bunch of indentured but loyal and rapidly aging servants. Besides, for her throne to rise above her subjects, she needs losers like us to lean on.

Even at three she is conscious of the arts of affectation, grace, and elegance. Unfortunately, however, the finer sense of elocution leaves much to be desired. A booming voice may come with the territory but when Workhorse #1 took her to the bathroom of the Chinese restaurant to pat her on her regal bottom because she pitched a fork at a bald man's head in a fit of royal rage, Princess Caroline yelled so loud that the entire restaurant could hear her indignant retort: "How dare you hit me!"

Besides her voluminous voice, she is unabashedly uninhibited for an aristocrat. On a hot afternoon she threw off all her clothes and sported her naked body in front of her mortified grandfather.

"Wanna see my kagina?!" she proposed as if she were consulting him on a flower arrangement. Her grandfather had no desire to see any kaginas, and William, Workhorse #3, told his sister that even princesses have "vaginas," to which Her Majesty replied that she knew that, for she was, like Fat Bastard from the Austin Powers movies, a "sasky beast."

"Sexy beast," corrected Workhorse #3 quietly, to which Caroline turned up her royal ass in his direction and let out a princely pretend-fart. By the way, after Austin Powers, Shrek is her TV-idol and, on her more imaginative days, she will tell me that she will play Princess Fiona if I am prepared to turn green and play an ogre.

But an ogre is not the Prince Charming she has been waiting for. Her prince turned up in the guise of her swim instructor when she learned to swim this summer. Although we wondered why Princess Caroline should be bothered with swimming if she would have a royal yacht at her disposal in every harbor, when she laid eyes on Prince Kevin she was sold on the idea of getting wet.

Kevin, after all, was a prince in every way: he was dark (i.e. tan like a Californian surfer prince) and mysterious (Caroline still can't "read" him - when he walks by, oblivious of Caroline's hungry looks, she will tell me that he is "sooooooooooooooo funny!"). Furthermore, he was young (14, 15?) and handsome (he beat Austin Powers and Shrek in that department) as well as polite and courteous (even when Caroline opened her treasure trove of trivia to him, he patiently listened). Above all, if he were strong enough to drag all of Caroline's pudgy 50 pounds through the pool, he'd be strong enough to slay her dragon, too. (Workhorse #3 would disagree here and tell me that Caroline is the dragon)

All joking aside, after meeting Kevin, Caroline told me that Workhorse #2 (daddy) would no longer do as a potential hubby. She might consider dancing with Workhorse #2 at her wedding, but as a groom, he was completely out of the picture.

Since I had never seen a three-year-old falling head over heels for "a much older man," I decided to observe her tactics. They might come in handy if I were widowed young and needed to find myself an (older) "trophy husband" with gray hair and prostate problems.

This was her mating game: first there was coyness. She would avoid eye-contact by looking down at her toes or pretending to count the polka dots on what she calls her "ballerina" swimsuit (it had a little skirt in the back). I had never seen Princess Caroline this humble and civilized. But soon this kind of evasion and hiding behind the legs of Workhorse #1 gave way to open flirtation.

This also meant that Kevin was no longer a distant prince but became an outright hunk. She bragged about Kevin's good looks and great talents as a swim instructor to Workhorse #3 who could not care less as he was deeply immersed in Pippi Longstocking.

It also meant that I no longer had to drag her into the water to where Kevin was sitting at the beginning of each lesson. Instead, she hopped and skipped toward him like a Playboy Bunny on steroids. She showed him how she could fold her outer ear up and stash it inside her ear canal and then she'd say "what?!" like a deaf granny as she could not hear Kevin's compliments regarding her ear acrobatics.

She would relish all the body contact she had with him: the way she draped her hands on his broad shoulders, practicing the breast stroke - the way his head touched hers when practicing the backstroke, the way she threw her voluptuous body at him, practicing diving, while she blew bubbles. She was in swim heaven and Kevin was key.

For years we had been trying to wash her goldilocks in the bathtub but she screamed bloody murder - until Kevin asked her to put her face in the water and she went under with a smile on her face. Heck, she'd stick her head down the toilet, if he asked.

Once Kevin had seen her with wet hair the degree of intimacy went up and Caroline began stalking him. One afternoon she saw his wet limbs come out of the water and her scenario planning went into full gear.

"What if," she told me, grabbing her pink bath towel, "I pull this towel over my head, walk up to him, throw off the towel and tell him that my dog's name is Smokey."

"Excellent plan, my darling," I replied, "and such an important piece of information."

Off she went, a pair of chubby legs underneath a pink towel. The towel with legs was seen all over the terrain, trailing Kevin. I think Kevin was embarrassed, for he kept walking away at the pivotal moment. So she came back, perspiring with disappointment. As she reported back to me, her glance hovered past my shoulder and a new plan popped up out of her little page-boy haircut. Showing off her dimple, she said connivingly, "Oh wait, he is walking to the canteen - if I go sit on the little bench over there, he'll see me when he comes out."

It would have been sheer genius, had Kevin not already walked away, passing behind the little bench. Caroline never noticed this, so she sat down on the bench, folded her hands in her lap, and waited. She sat and patted her hair, making sure it was all pretty. She sat and licked her lips - toddler lipstick. She sat and looked at her nails, regretting that the pink polish was wearing off and uneven. And she waited and waited. People started noticing her and someone finally asked her, "Who are you waiting for, little girl?"

With the composure of a princess, she batted her eye-lashes like Scarlett O'Hara and sighed with the passion of Miss Piggy. "Kevin ..."

The guy at the canteen overheard her, grabbed his mike, and called across the terrain:

"Can Kevin come to the canteen?"

At this point I walked up to her, but as soon as she saw me approach, she said "Shoo!" as if I were a bothersome and intrusive fly that needed to be chased away. When I did not get the hint, she yelled "Get lost mom!! Kevin is coming!!"

For a moment I had a flashback to when I was sixteen minding my own business on a Portuguese beach. A Portuguese Romeo with sideburns down to his jaw lay down next to me and told me that Northern European women were goddesses with their blond hair and fair skin. My mother witnessed this from her hotel-room balcony and marched in a beeline to the beach and told me to pack up and leave.

And here I was - I had become my own mother.

So Caroline had her little rendezvous with Kevin, telling him that she had a "Band-Aid on her knee, a dog named Smokey and a mother who said 'Fuck it All' when she was mad."

When she returned to me she was triumphant at having accomplished her mission. She was no longer 3. Now she was more like 13. I told Workhorse #2 (her dad) upon our return home that I was considering hiding birth control pills in her cereal the moment she started periods.

At bedtime, I tucked her in and put my face to her soft cheek and smelled her sweet innocence. Her clear blue eyes were fresh with youth and when she framed my face with her little hands, she told me she loved me. As always, it was the moment that made my day.

As I left the room and flipped the light switch, I looked back at her little round-bellied shape on the bed and told her, "Good night, sweet Caroline - I'm glad you've found your prince."


© Inez Hollander Lake

Besides checking her daughter Caroline's make up and hair on a daily basis, Inez Hollander Lake, Ph.D., is a freelance author who teaches writing (Lakelight Workshops) in Orinda, CA. She can be reached at inezlake@hotmail.com.


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