Over the summer, Alice took to sleeping under a tablecloth instead of a blanket. She called it her “flower blanket,” but it was not a blanket. It was a tablecloth, and I just couldn’t get my head around that, so I decided to take her shopping, figuring that she’d prefer a blanket to a tablecloth if she had picked the blanket out herself.

We stared at shelves full of quilts. I made suggestions. She shook her head “no.” Finally, she picked one with a cat motif. It wouldn’t have been my first choice, but it wouldn’t have been my last choice either, so I praised her selection and we went to find an open cash register.

Halfway there, she changed her mind. “I don’t want this one,” she said.

“You don’t want this one?”

“No. I don’t want this one.”

We went back to the shelves. She pointed at a fleecy blanket, hot pink and stamped with the faces of three Disney princesses. “The princess one.”

“Really? Are you sure you don’t want the cats?”

“The princess one.”

The heart wants what the heart wants, you know? And it offended nothing by my good taste, so we bought the princess one.

I don’t know how it started, but it has been a while since Alice began categorizing people as either “princesses” or “race cars.” It depends only on whether one is wearing a dress (princess) or pants (race car). And until recently, princesses and race cars have been equally desirable in her estimation.

More and more often, though, she has insisted on being a princess, which means wearing a dress. Sometimes she asks to be a “big princess,” which means a more elaborate and less practical dress. Something with tulle.

Again, it’s difficult to get my head around. I have nothing against princesses. Princesses are terrific. But I hate to think that anything – movies, books, the dress-up box at school – might limit her imagination. I want her to be a race car sometimes. To careen around the house in her firefighter’s hat, stomp around in her ladybug rain boots, roar like a dinosaur and cackle like a dolphin.

The other night at bedtime, David asked her what she wanted to be for Halloween.

In my head, I was screeching, “NOOOO! Don’t ask her what she wants to be!” I had my heart set on “flamenco dancer.”

Not a chance.

“A princess,” she said.

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