It all started in our pediatrician’s office. My two oldest daughters and I were there for a well-check, waiting as one does in the small room for our turn. They were getting antsy, climbing all over the chairs, attempting to reach the counter from the checkup table, and occasionally screaming at the top of their lungs for the hell of it. You get the picture.
I noticed some books on a shelf — PERFECT. I grabbed a few and asked them to come over and pick a book for me to read to them. Without hesitation or disagreement, they swiftly chose the book with the pink princess cover and settled in for the story: Sleeping Beauty.
We are absolutely a Disney household, so while my then-five-year-old and four-year-old had seen numerous classics at that point, we somehow hadn’t gotten around to Princess Aurora just yet. I didn’t really stop to think why, I just opened the book and got started.
It didn’t take very long for me to remember why I don’t particularly care for Sleeping Beauty. Something about a young girl sleeping while a man kisses her just gives me the absolute creeps. I almost shut the book, attempting to come up with some sort of age-appropriate reason for the sudden ending, but I couldn’t come up with much at all. So I trudged on, thinking perhaps we would just read the story like everyone else does and pretend there was nothing ~creepy~ about it.
But if you know me at all, you know that is not how it went.
We finished the book, and before I could even bring it up myself, my oldest (G) piped up:
“Momma, we’re not supposed to hug or kiss someone else without asking first, right?”
Me, thankful she’s bringing this up and not me but also a bit taken aback: “Uh, yes! You’re right. We are supposed to ask before we give hugs and kisses. What made you think of that?”
“The Prince didn’t ask Princess Aurora before he kissed her!”
J, my middle daughter: “That’s ‘cuz she’s sleepin’! The kiss woke her up!”
G: “Oh that’s right, he had to kiss her, or else she wouldn’t wake up!”
I took a deep breath and dove right in. I had no idea what was going to come out of my mouth nor if I was handling it correctly, but everything in me hated hearing “he had to kiss her,” so I had to speak up.
“No, no he did not have to kiss Princess Aurora. No one ever has to do anything to someone else, especially without their ‘yes.”
G: “But MOM! She wasn’t going to wake up if he didn’t do that!”
Me: “Maybe, maybe not. Do you remember anyone telling the Prince a kiss would work?”
G, thinking a moment: “…no.”
Me: “Mmhmm. He had no idea if a kiss was going to wake her up. We don’t even know if he was trying to wake her, do we? The book doesn’t tell us much about him.”
G: “Yeah, but…she woke up! He saved her!”
Me: “It certainly *looks* that way, doesn’t it? But, do you have any ideas of what the Prince could have done instead of kissing her?”
G: “…maybe…maybe he could have poked her arm a bit? Or said her name REALLY loud?”
Me: “Those are great ideas! He could have tried those things first for sure. And if they didn’t work, then what do you think he could have done?”
G and J were both at a loss there, shrugging their shoulders.
“Well, what about Princess Aurora’s mommy and daddy? What about her fairy friends? Do you think maybe the Prince could have asked the people who love her and keep her safe if he could try to break the spell with a kiss? And then they could have stayed with her to make sure she was safe?”
G: “Yeah, but Mom — she couldn’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no;’ she was sleeping and wouldn’t wake up!”
This is where I knew she was hearing me, and understanding the lesson, so I went for it: “EXACTLY! You are SO RIGHT! Princess Aurora couldn’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ so what do you think the answer is if someone can’t say yes about their body?”
G and J simultaneously: “NO!”
I clapped my hands and excitedly told them how smart they are, and how right they are.
NO. The answer is always no.
“You are both so smart! The answer is ‘no’ when you or someone else can’t say ‘yes.’ So let’s go over some things real quick. Is it ever okay for someone, whether a grownup or a kid, to touch you without your ‘yes?'”
G & J: “No!”
“Is it ever okay for you to touch someone else without their ‘yes?'”
G & J: “No!”
“What should you do if someone doesn’t respect your ‘no?'”
G: “If it’s a friend, ask them nicely one time to please stop touching or hugging or kissing and then if they don’t stop, find you or Daddy or a safe person for help.”
“And if it’s a grownup?”
G: “I don’t ask nicely. Grownups don’t need me to be nice, and grownups know how to listen the first time. I yell loudly, ‘STOP TOUCHING ME!’ and find you or Daddy or safe person.”
I praised her and explained all of this all over again to my then-four-year-old, knowing/hoping one day she’d spit it all back to me the same way her sister did. The pediatrician walked in and we ended our conversation. We never really talked about Sleeping Beauty again, until recently when my now six-year-old daughter brought home a princess book from the library.
It was Sleeping Beauty, but a slightly different version where everyone but the Prince fell asleep, and it was under a different title. As we began to read, we realized what story this was, and G sighed: “Ugh. Mom hates this book!”
Me, pausing the story: “Well, I don’t like it very much, you’re right. But, I don’t hate it, actually, because it helps me teach you and your sisters about consent. Do you know what consent is?”
G: “That’s my ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ right?”
Me: “Exactly. Consent means you agree, or you say ‘yes,’ to something or someone. I may not like this story very much, but it is helpful, so I don’t mind reading it as long as you don’t mind me reminding you that what the Prince does isn’t okay.”
G, shrugging her shoulders: “It’s okay. I don’t mind. But what happens in this Sleeping Beauty? Her parents and friends are sleeping, too!”
“Well, I think unless the Prince knows for sure a kiss would wake Princess Aurora, he should probably…”
G: “…leave her alone. If she can’t answer, then the answer is ‘no.'”
If my five-year-old and four-year-old can understand the basics of consent, then so can grown adults. I’m sure your local library has plenty of copies of the classic Sleeping Beauty available if anyone requires assistance! Happy reading!