When you go to Disney, the princess thing is everywhere. Young women in sparkly full-length gowns, flashing plastic perfect smiles, pose with little girls and their families. The brothers tend to squirm, while the little girls go ga-ga over the images of beauty, perfection and innocence, and things I am not sure I can imagine. Princesses grab some part of our imagination. My granddaughters love any princess.
Which is why I took an interest in a book titled A Princess and Her Garden: Becoming the Queen of Yourself, published by a mother/daughter team out of Santa Barbara. As a fan of understanding our pasts to more artfully move into our chosen futures, I thank the authors, Pat Adson, the psychologist/coach mom, and Jennifer Van Homer, the executive coach daughter, for writing such a beautiful fable with real potential for helping any age of princess, and the princess in all of us. I am giving it to co-workers and family members now-it just came out Dec 1, 2011-as it has a rich feel and beautiful illustrations.
Here is what I like about the book. Fables appeal to the imagination. They are image-filled stories with a narrative that is only partly about the characters in the story, and much more about the reader and her state of mind. The identification little girls have with princesses at Disney is similar to the identification readers have with the images and metaphors of the fable. So reading A Princess and Her Garden is really an intelligent inner dialogue we can all have with ourselves about how we care for ourselves and tend to our own lives.
Adson, a wise and feisty 80-something who refuses to act her age, put in this way in an interview, "We all have a garden to tend to...our lives. And how we go about that is everything of course. So many princesses make the mistake of tending others' gardens and ignoring their own, or thinking they'll be happy tending the prince's garden while hers gets full of weeds. They don't learn about whom to invite in, or whether they need a wall around their garden. All kind of basic lessons on development that we must learn to be happy come through the fable form."
"And," she goes on, "we all have to find the right combinations of what to plant in our garden. What works for one princess won't work for another."
The book has a journal in the second half, with prompting questions that start with memories of your early garden, where you learned about tending. And then Adson and Van Homer bring the reader up to the present so that the reader can extend her imagination into the future. What does her garden of the future hold? This part of the book helps the reader play and imagine in her own images, not just those in the illustrations. And that is where the psychic energy is for all of us-the idiosyncratic collections of images that make up our history and that will make up our future.
I had an executive client tell me once about the tutu she had as a 5-year-old girl, and how she still remembers the feeling of beauty and grace that her outfit evoked in her. That is what this book is after, evoking the eternal qualities we carry in the particular time-bound set of images that are ours. And it is about bringing that beauty, grace and wisdom forward. The last prompt in the journal goes, "Write your own ending to the Princess story. What is possible for you in the future?"
Disney can do better with its princesses. Give them a garden to tend, and teach some lessons to all those admiring young fans.