Miami Beach, Florida, USA
October 08
The daughter of a Greek father and a Minnesotan mother, Eleni Gage has always been obsessed with cultural rituals and traditions. So it was an obvious decision for her to study Folklore and Mythology in college (although said parents hoped she’d choose something more practical…like English). Now a freelance writer and editor whose travel articles have appeared on the covers of Travel+Leisure, T, Budget Travel, and Town&Country Travel, Eleni has also contributed to Real Simple, Martha Stewart Weddings, the New York Times, Parade, and The American Scholar, and held staff positions at Allure, Elle, InStyle and People magazines. She is the author of the travel memoir North of Ithaka, which describes the year she spent living in a Greek mountain village overseeing the rebuilding of her grandparents house, and the upcoming Other Waters, which will be released by St. Martin’s Press in winter, 2011. Her first novel, Other Waters details the life of Maya Das, an Indian-American psychiatrist who thinks that her family has been cursed, as she strives to build one identity between two cultures. Eleni now lives in Miami Beach with her husband, a Nicaraguan coffee trader. She picked her wedding date a year before meeting him, with the help of an Indian astrologer who told her she’d marry a “soft-hearted businessman” on 10.10.10. This accurate prediction is one of the many events in Eleni’s life that have confirmed her belief that Folklore and Mythology, with its focus on ritual, tradition, and divination, is by far the most useful major she could have chosen.


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APRIL 28, 2011 8:53AM

Will Kate Middleton Eat My Daughter?

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That Royal Wedding, July 29, 1981, Getty Images / Fox Photos / Hulton Archive (borrowed from an page on Princess Diana's wedding photos).

This morning my mother apologized. It’s a rare occurrence, but what was even more remarkable was the topic about which she felt guilty. “I was reading somewhere a woman remembering her mother waking her up to watch Princess Diana get married 30 years ago, and now the writer is going to wake up her own daughters to watch the Royal Wedding on Friday,” she reported. “And I felt sort of bad I didn’t wake you girls up.”

I told Joanie not to worry, that I actually thought it was a good move not to teach her five-year-old daughter (not to mention my then two-year-old sister) to fetishize a 19-year-old girl marrying a laconic older man who was in love with someone else.  I didn’t watch that royal wedding and I didn’t grow up expecting to marry a prince, ride around in Cinderella carriages and grace the covers of magazines.

In fact, in light of the current culture of princess parties, and Disney domination (its darker sides are discussed in Peggy Orenstein’s bestselling book Cinderella Ate My Daughterand the fact that I’m due to give birth to a baby girl on August 19th, I’ve decided to try to keep my daughter in the dark about Disney princesses for as long as possible. I don’t want her wearing clothing or diapers that advertise a film franchise if I can help it, and I’m guessing that I’ll still be in charge of what she wears until she’s about three.

Does that sound naïve? Defensive? Hypocritical, given the fact that the bandaids in our house already have Elmo on them, in anticipation of the baby’s birth?

Portrait of Amalia of Greece, by Joseph Karl Stieler

The truth is, I have no issue with princesses, real or fictional. The name we’ve picked for our daughter, Amalia, was the name of the first queen of Greece. (I’m not a Royalist, I just like the way the name sounds, that you can say it in Greek, English and Spanish—Amalia’s key cultures–and I have very positive associations with the name, as it also belongs to a dear friend of mine.)

Baby aside, and back to Kate Middleton, I’m taking advantage of a local spa’s Royal Wedding special—half price manicure/pedicures all day, plus they’re serving tea and crumpets! And I am excited to see what Kate wears—I hope it will put to rest the 15 year tyranny of the strapless wedding dress, and offer future brides more interesting options.

But the whole Royal Wedding brouhaha, and my mother’s guilt over opting out of the first one, has got me thinking about motherhood, and how a mom starts feeling guilt and fear before the baby is even born. Part of this is biological I think….I can’t read aPeople magazine without worrying about bringing a child into a world filled with tsunamis and wars and sex traffickers.

But I think part of the motherhood guilt is cultural, given the way American doctors tell us not to let anyone know we’re pregnant for the first trimester (if something were to go wrong, I’d be devastated either way, plus I’d want the support of my family and close friends–so whose feelings was I safeguarding by staying mum?).  In my first trimester I was painfully aware that something could go wrong at any moment—and then I realized that I will never again be free of that fear—at 96 I’ll be worrying about my 60–year–old baby.

Then, there’s the American culture of blame when it comes to every single thing you put in your mouth. In England, Kate Middleton will be glad to know, food safety is so good pregnant women get to eat sushi and smoked salmon and turkey, whereas here undercooked fish and smoked or cured fish or meats are strictly off limits. A Greek friend’s doctor told her she should drink a glass of red wine a day for the antioxidants, whereas here we’re not even supposed to have feta cheese, much less booze. I think all these US rules are overcautious, Puritanical and just plain wrong (for all our rules, the US has a higher infant mortality rate than most industrialized countries), but of course I’m following them—I couldn’t handle the guilt if I didn’t and something went awry.

Pomegranate--a lucky fruit--from

But I remember years ago, an Indian friend’s mother told me she ate a certain fruit or spice during each of her pregnancies, to ensure that her first child be handsome, her second joyful, her third brilliant. And I can’t help but think that is such a healthier, more positive attitude for mothers and babies—believing that by carefully choosing what you eat you can give your child blessings before they even greet the world, rather than fearing that if you put the wrong hors d’oeuvres in your mouth you are dooming your child to a lifetime of failure.

Once the baby’s born there’s the culture of competition—the race to the smuggest, to see who can feed (or diaper) their child more organically, shoe their baby’s tiny toes with the smallest carbon footprint. Before that there are so many loaded conversations about birth itself…I’m the only person in my prenatal pilates class giving birth in a hospital, and I have to admit that fact makes me feel wimpy.

The mother of Amalia the elder (not the Greek queen, but my BFF) likes to say that being a mom means being a punching bag—it’s part of the job description. And while right now I feel that quite literally—Amalia II likes to kick my hand off my stomach if I rest it there while watching TV—she means it figuratively; whatever choices you make as a mom, some of them will disappoint or hurt your children, and they’re sure to blame you. Just look at the first two lines of this blog for an example.

In the end, all you can do, I guess, is try to make the sanest, most loving choices possible, and forgive yourself for the times you fall short. And try not to judge other moms for not seeing parenting exactly as you do.

My non-royal, but rather princess-y carriage

So Joanie, thanks for not raising me expecting to become Princess Diana; it turns out she had a pretty hard row to hoe, despite the lovely tiara. And even though at 19 I was busily pursuing my degree in Folklore and Mythology and blaming my mom for making wait until I was 13 to get my ears pierced, although my younger sister got hers pierced the exact same day—what’s that about?—I’ve had plenty of princess moments in my day.  I did marry a prince among men, eventually.  And I rode to the first of our two wedding ceremonies in a horse-drawn carriage, because we wed on the island of Corfu and that’s how they roll.

As a commoner without a title (until she’s married), Kate Middleton will ride to Westminster Abbey in a Rolls Royce (although she gets to leave in a carriage). Nevertheless, I hope she is surrounded by just as much love and laughter on her wedding day as I was on mine. I hope the little girls who get up early to watch her wed never forget doing so, and that those who sleep right through it have pleasant dreams of futures that don’t depend on the man they will marry, even if those dreams involve them turning into mermaids or having mice and bluebirds or seven little dwarves sew them fabulous couture gowns—and even if those gowns are strapless. Maybe Kate will have a daughter less than a year after her wedding, too. And when our daughters grow up and blog about us—and they will—I hope they will be kind.

Author tags:

royal wedding, parenting

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This was a really great and imaginative piece, thanks for sharing!
I love this take on the royal wedding and I'm glad you had a mom who didn't wake you up. My mom would love a daughter she could get up with at 4am and watch the wedding. No. I am not that daughter and neither are my daughters. It is a myth and yet it is a choice too. If you want to be that princess and try to find a prince you can do that and I'm glad you found one. I never did but I kissed lots of nice frogs.
What an absolutely lovely piece. Grounded and wise, too. Rated.
I enjoyed your blog. I got myself up for Charles and Diana's wedding, but didn't get my boys up. I'm sure they'll be eternally grateful. I had to get up at 5 for work today and remembered to turn on the tv. Lovely bride, so much more low-key than William's mother's wedding. I loved it. I'm afraid that growing up in Canada with a very distant connection to the royal family I had those dreams of a fairytale meeting and romance and becoming a princess. It didn't work out that way, but I'm pretty satisfied with my life. I hope my granddaughters get to see some of the re-runs today, though, and have some of those dreams themselves. As long as you don't go overboard, they don't hurt anything and everyone needs some fantasy in their lives.
Hey ladies! I just discovered these comments (I'm new to this whole game!). Thanks for taking the time to write. Zanelle, I laughed out loud about your kissing frogs. I've kissed some, too!
I love this - and I'm happy I've just discovered you! This is such a well-written and thought provoking piece, with enough humor to keep a smile on my face. I've felt conflicted myself about princess culture, ad my now 4 year old has bitten it hard since she could distinguish the color pink above all others. I let her go - she is who she is - but I make sure to introduce mud, and music, and yes, frogs into her repertoire. You know, so she'll be well-rounded.
You daughter will probably beg you to be a princess. It is just that way. I loved to dress my daughters very girly and it worked for a while until they could pull the ribbons out of their hair. The best laid plans as they say.