petite anglaise

January 19, 2007


Filed under: Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaiseparis @ 12:01 pm

Tadpole’s most prized gift this Christmas was not one of the carefully selected educational toys I ordered from the wonderful Fnac Eveil et Jeux catalogue. Nor was it the Princess Barbie or the stable of my little Ponies she received from her French grandparents, or indeed anything from the sack of presents which awaited her in the UK (although the sack itself, it has to be said, was a great success).

No, Tadpole’s favourite new toy is a Little Mermaid Barbie, with glittering removable turquoise tail, a purple plastic strapless bikini top (which falls off, baring her breasts, approximately ten times a day) and a mass of unlikely, blood-red hair. She found “Ariel” on a recent visit to the bio-parents’ house, amongst a tangle of Barbies and Sindy dolls of all shapes and sizes which used to belong to my bio-cousins and, given that she had already seen the Disney cartoon of the same name, there was absolutely no way we could leave the premises mermaid-less.

The Little Mermaid used to be my favourite fairytale, once upon a time, never failing to make me shed a tear. I owned a dark red hardback collection of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales – sadly I have no idea where that book is now – and when the Disney version saw the light of day many years later, I refused to watch it with my little sister on the grounds that I objected to the making of a sanitised version with that obligatory happy ending.

My Little Mermaid had to make huge, painful sacrifices to walk on the land. Every step she took felt like walking on the sharpest knives. Her voice didn’t transmit itself to the wicked witch by means of a pretty ball of light flying from her throat; her tongue was brutally severed. And of course at the end of the story, when her prince marries another woman, she is given the opportunity to return to her life as a mermaid if she stabs him through the heart with a knife provided by the witch, a deed which she refuses to do, casting herself into the waves instead and becoming a spirit of the air, condemned to live in some sort of strange limbo for three hundred years, after which she will go to heaven.

That I remember all of this is a testament to how much I loved the original story, because in general I have a terrible memory for books. I’ve read too many, too impatiently quickly, and occasionally start a new one only to realise part way through that I have read it before.

Tadpole, however, is in love with the pain-free Disney version, in which the mermaid gets her prince and everyone lives happily ever after, and if I let her, she would watch it from start to finish every single day. At night, long after the lights are out, I hear her singing the Mermaid’s song, pausing to adopt the voice of the wicked octopus witch to boom “keep singing!”, then switching back to the sweet song of the mermaid once more. In the morning, when I wake her, she waves her legs together as if they were joined and says “mummy! Look at my tail!”

She’s got it bad.

Which is why I really shouldn’t have been surprised when she began using the Little Mermaid to get her own way.

“I can’t eat this dinner,” she said, as I placed a plate of fish fingers and vegetables on the table before her.

“Why not?” I asked in puzzlement. “Those are your favourites!”

“Because I’m a mermaid,” she said gravely. “And mermaids don’t eat other fishes.”

It took a few minutes of negotiation before I was able to overcome this hurdle. Suffice to say that mermaids apparently like nutella very much indeed and are willing to compromise their principles to obtain it.

As we walked home from school the next day, I quizzed Tadpole, as usual, about her day. I don’t usually obtain a very clear picture of what went on, but a few tidbits are enough to satisfy me. Those bruises on her knees, for example, were caused by Jules who pushes her over in the playground and apparently climbs on top of her, although she assures me it is a game and she doesn’t get hurt. The splotches of red on her t-shirt the other day came from the lasagne she had for lunch.

But on this day Tadpole was unusually silent.

“What on earth is the matter?” I said. “I’m asking you a question, it’s rude not to answer!”

Tadpole shook her head and gestured silently at her throat.

“You’ve got a sore throat? Shall we go see the doctor?”

Tadpole shook her head.

“Well what then? Come on, tell me what’s matter.” I came to an abrupt halt on the pavement and dropped to her level, refusing to go a single step further until she told me what was going on. With a sigh, she pulled back my long hair to expose my right ear and began to whisper.

“The wicked witch stole my voice!”

I’m starting to wonder if those éveil théâtral classes I was going to sign her up for next September are really such a good idea, after all.


  1. Tadpole has such a lovely imagination!

    I think the Little Mermaid (in whatever form) is goin to be around for generations to come.

    Comment by gerbil — January 19, 2007 @ 12:21 pm

  2. Well, without her voice she can’t become an actress I’m afraid. :-)

    Comment by alcessa — January 19, 2007 @ 12:29 pm

  3. Its also worth noting that mermaids don’t wear pants. I found this out when my daughter got given a Little Mermaid outfit.

    Comment by Brickbat — January 19, 2007 @ 12:34 pm

  4. Ah the Disney Little Mermaid – staple of my late night, just got in from the SU bar, video watching student days.

    I can still remember all the words to ‘under the sea’ (and my parents wonder why I didn’t get a 1st!)

    Comment by Howard — January 19, 2007 @ 12:46 pm

  5. I had that red book of HCA tales! And a matching blue one of Grimm’s as well. I still have them both, in storage with some of my other childhood favorites like the entire Little House on the Prairie series and some of the Beatrix Potter books. I used to love the gory versions of the fairytales – do you remember one where there were some princesses who snuck out every night to go dancing? I think they danced until they died or something. And the Cinderella tale had the stepsisters bleeding from their feet because they were wearing the too-small slipper.

    Comment by The Bold Soul — January 19, 2007 @ 12:55 pm

  6. P.S. I wanted to tell you that my niece starting play-acting scenes from Beauty and the Beast (Disney version) at age 2 and has had the acting bug ever since. She’s 14 now and still doing plays every chance she gets, and is intent on majoring in drama in college when she finishes high school. We all firmly believe she will have a career as an actress; she’s been training for it (informally) her whole life.

    Comment by The Bold Soul — January 19, 2007 @ 12:57 pm

  7. Of *course* mermaids eat fish. What else would they eat, underwater chickens? They can’t go on land, so they have to partake in the bounty of the sea — ie, fish.

    Comment by amy — January 19, 2007 @ 1:09 pm

  8. I am a bit concerned by Jules wanting to climb on top of Tadpole…!!

    Comment by Hannah Banana — January 19, 2007 @ 1:36 pm

  9. try her on sea cucumber.

    Comment by mad muthas — January 19, 2007 @ 1:58 pm

  10. Did you ask her how she could tell you the wicked witch had her voice, rather than by sign language? (sorry, I missed the point again didn’t I?)

    Comment by tomatopuree — January 19, 2007 @ 1:58 pm

  11. Do you remember an animated version of the Little Mermaid (from when we were kids) which was true to the HCA version ? – every step the Little Mermaid took with her new legs and feet on the sea shore felt like walking on sharp knives – it was a narrated version and I can still remember the music.

    Comment by gucci — January 19, 2007 @ 2:00 pm

  12. Amy,mermaids could be vegetarian and eat seaweed? or maybe seagulls?

    Comment by beks — January 19, 2007 @ 2:09 pm

  13. Mermaids eat dolphins.

    Comment by Parkin Pig — January 19, 2007 @ 2:13 pm

  14. Although it might get you spend your evenings sewing a lot of fancy costumes, hopefully “éveil théâtral” may introduce refreshing, enjoyable, singing, dancing, maybe carnivorous new characters in your walks.

    Comment by Mardo — January 19, 2007 @ 2:35 pm

  15. My four (and a half )year old, so I’m constantly reminded, Daughter has discovered the Little Mermaid over Christmas; she too is now mildly obsessed. She breaks spontaneously into “Part of Your world” from the back seat, whilst I drive. Luckily, this has not evolved into a full blown need for hourly baths; but I can see it coming. But be warned Petite! A double CD of the music has been released to coincide with the box set of the Little Mermaid 1 & 2. Two being about her Ariel’s daughter..gynaecology questions to be answered elsewhere . . Still loving the blog, and looking forward to the book.

    Comment by David — January 19, 2007 @ 3:07 pm

  16. What a gift to find a story that is so completely absorbing that you can escape to it readily throughout a mundane day. Tadpole is blessed to have the capacity to conjure such a compelling world through imagination. Let’s hope that the power to escape while remaining physically present doesn’t ebb with passing of years.

    Comment by Julie Cuccia — January 19, 2007 @ 3:14 pm

  17. Tadpole is so amusing.

    Comment by Diane — January 19, 2007 @ 3:31 pm

  18. I believe the Mermaids name was Langelinie. A friend has their house named after her.

    Comment by Norman — January 19, 2007 @ 3:46 pm

  19. What a coincidence, I had one of those little mermaid barbies as well when I was a bit younger! Actually it was my sister’s (hmmm), and we wouldn’t take a bath without it..

    Comment by lien — January 19, 2007 @ 4:13 pm

  20. Excellent post petite. I believe Tadpole must have caught your imaginative trait. I pictured everything you wrote about in this post, vividly. The sign of good writing.

    Have a nice weekend all

    Comment by JNH — January 19, 2007 @ 4:23 pm

  21. I want to know who the witch represents in Tadpole’s life. That’s how the whole picture will fall together.

    Comment by Sam — January 19, 2007 @ 5:08 pm

  22. Very cute, but I am afraid that I prefer Bette Midler’s mermaid sketch to Disney.

    Comment by Lost in France — January 19, 2007 @ 7:05 pm

  23. What a smashing post! It’s a lovely film and it’ll around for a bit yet…

    Best Wishes,


    Comment by Giving Voice — January 19, 2007 @ 8:35 pm

  24. i missed my son growing up i envy you, treasure every moment sparkle.

    Comment by danny — January 19, 2007 @ 9:02 pm

  25. Tadpole’s exploits never fail to bring a smile :) I was exactly the same with The Lion King as a kid.

    And it is true: Nutella is the ultimate bribe :) all stubborness can be overcome with nutella (unless someone had a nut allergy…hmmm…) lol

    Comment by localfreak — January 19, 2007 @ 9:56 pm

  26. I think she has amazing talent. Definitely let her do the acting lessons! With the ability to role play like that, she’ll be a leading light some day. Brilliant imagination.

    Comment by Sally Lomax — January 19, 2007 @ 9:58 pm

  27. Sam, maybe Jules is the witch.

    Comment by eric — January 19, 2007 @ 10:25 pm

  28. I loved fairy tales as a child (and beyond) – loved Grimm in many editions and even the darker Perrault, but I never could get on with Hans Andersen. His stories are the really sadistic ones.

    Having said which, it seems your little Tadpole is doing very well for herself with this one! The sweetie. Love the pic, too.

    Comment by Ms Baroque — January 19, 2007 @ 10:51 pm

  29. I love Tadpole.

    Moments like those remind me why I love being a teacher :)

    Comment by Kasey — January 19, 2007 @ 10:53 pm

  30. I had no idea that The Little Mermaid was such a…such an essentially cruel tale! Was it intended for children? Sounds more like adult fare.

    Comment by Mlle Smith — January 20, 2007 @ 1:20 am

  31. Oh that was really cute! About the mermaids eating fish…I was reminded of the restaurant scene in Splash (with Daryl Hanna & Tom Hanks) when she devours the lobster, shell and all, but there could be vegetarian mermaids I suppose. ;)

    Mmmmm…Nutella :)

    Comment by California Reader — January 20, 2007 @ 2:44 am

  32. How precious! Isn’t it amazing how Disney have become a part of their lives? Its so very real to them! My littlest one loves the Aristocats and purrs her way to bed almost everynight.

    Comment by Hope4Grace — January 20, 2007 @ 5:45 am

  33. Definitely a bit of thespian coming to the fore there. Maybe the roar of the greasepaint and smell of the crowd will attract her in future.

    Comment by AussieGil — January 20, 2007 @ 6:37 am

  34. When you think about it, the original fairy tales were all really pretty gruesome or scary- Hansel and Gretel with that witch fattening them up in a cage to eat and there were always wicked stepmothers. I think I remember reading, years ago, that the characters in the tales represented things people are subconsciously afraid of and it helps them to deal with them. I can’t remember anymore but I guess reading the original, unsantized versions didn’t hurt me.

    Comment by Linda — January 20, 2007 @ 8:19 am

  35. Lucky you! The doll Tadpole got doesn’t SING!! The sound of our daughter’s favorite “sirène” doll is driving us nuts!

    Comment by Biluche — January 20, 2007 @ 10:51 am

  36. Oh, i dunno. If one of my cacophonic brood offered to be silent for a few moments on any pretext, i think i’d play along for as long as possible; even if i had to become the evil witchipoo to do so.

    Comment by anan — January 20, 2007 @ 11:54 am

  37. I love Disney cartoons, but why can’t they either brew their own stories – or at least let us have the “warts and all” version of the original? HCA would turn in his grave!

    Comment by teewee — January 20, 2007 @ 2:23 pm

  38. I have an aversion to Disney, but I don’t think anyone could sell HCA to young children warts and all, so you can’t blame them, I suppose, for trying to reach the widest possible market and giving it the obligatory happy ending…

    I just wonder how Tadpole will react one day when she is older and I give her the original version.

    Comment by petite — January 20, 2007 @ 2:40 pm

  39. We also have a new Ariel, thanks to Little One’s father – he however does not have to shampoo & blow dry the damn thing’s hair, of which long strands inevitably turn up clogging the plughole.

    Comment by Kate — January 20, 2007 @ 6:36 pm

  40. How does one have sex with mermaid?
    Like hold on, all she’s capable in that department is a blow job. No point at all in getting the leg over!

    Comment by Carruthers — January 20, 2007 @ 6:37 pm

  41. The “éveil théâtrâl” couldn’t possibly be deprived of Tadpole; she’s a natural drama queen. Wonderful post!

    Comment by Blue — January 20, 2007 @ 8:13 pm

  42. …If Tadpole is still into mermaids when she gets older, you can let her watch the movie “Splash”.

    Comment by Johnny — January 20, 2007 @ 8:58 pm

  43. Can’t find any really decent mermaid jokes, so this is the best I can do.
    There are plenty of indecent ones, but this is family viewing.

    Comment by andrew — January 21, 2007 @ 2:04 am

  44. A doll with a detachable tail – that’s great – even a boy would like that doll.

    Now it just needs to be able to fly.

    I had forgotten about the original Little Mermaid story. I can’t help thinking that those earlier versions always had a strong message about taking responsibility for your own decisions and acting with integrity which the newer stories seem to lack – giving the impression, instead, that the world owes you a happy ending.

    Comment by Damian — January 21, 2007 @ 9:57 am

  45. I think HCA wrote books for the same reason Enid Blyton did – to keep kids out of they way! And also to scare them into being good!

    Comment by gerbil — January 21, 2007 @ 11:33 am

  46. You should tell Tadpole the truth about fish fingers: they are not really fishes fingers, just as foxgloves are not really used by foxes as gloves, it’s just a way of saying. They are made with some kind of underwater potato, and called fish fingers for fun. Everybody knows fishes don’t have fingers.

    Side note: I now know what I want next Christmas as a gift; exactly what’s on that pic you posted a link to in this post! And with the same wrapping, please.

    Comment by Géronimo — January 21, 2007 @ 12:56 pm

  47. For some reason, I am seeing your version of the Little Mermaid in the same bracket I might put the movie “Full Metal Jacket”…

    Comment by Jonathan — January 21, 2007 @ 2:17 pm

  48. try Japanese seaweed salad, good stuff!

    Splash is a great movie – especially love the part when she’s eating the lobster!

    Comment by f2b — January 21, 2007 @ 4:11 pm

  49. While Disney’s obligatory happy ending is annoying to an older audience, you have to admit their stories have a way with kids. And they are a lot better than pretty much everything else TV targets at that age group these days… moreover, Dora the Explorer is 100 times more annoying that even the most basic Disney stuff !

    Comment by ontario frog — January 21, 2007 @ 4:26 pm

  50. Don’t worry Petite – I have two daughters and they have had a total of six mermaids between them. The tails soon fall off (and try as you might to sellotape them back on as soon as they go back in the bath they fall off again!)She’ll be eating fish again soon.

    Comment by Helena Frith Powell — January 21, 2007 @ 4:47 pm

  51. My little Natasha (same age as Tadpole) is enthralled with Ariel also. Her baths consist of her putting her head under water while on her tummy and holding her breath, coming up for air and saying, “Look Mummy, I’m Ariel, I can swim like her!” 50 or more times. Then she sings at the top of her lungs too (nice acoustics in the bathroom as we all know), re-enacts scenes and uses that nasty Octopus’s voice too! It amuses me no end. :-)

    Comment by Karma — January 21, 2007 @ 4:49 pm

  52. Are the three hundred years up yet?

    Comment by Estelle des Chevaliers — January 21, 2007 @ 6:16 pm

  53. This is what I love about stories. Little people like Tadpole and big people too can keep the stories alive.

    We read ourselves into the story and the story becomes ours and we even “use” the story to get our way or create our reality.

    Thanks for sharing…made my day to read.

    Kee creating,

    Comment by Michael Wagner — January 21, 2007 @ 6:47 pm

  54. Time to tell your daughter about a day in the life of plankton and the food chain of fishes.

    Still you haven’t sown her The Wizard of Oz yet where she can see a real witch, have you ?

    Comment by Voyager — January 21, 2007 @ 7:03 pm

  55. Wasn’t there something in the Da Vinci Code about the Little Mermaid and a portrait of the Penitent Magdalene? Can’t remember the significance, but Disney has GOT to be more sinister than we imagine. HCA never got involved with the Priory of Sion did he?!

    Comment by Paris Lights — January 21, 2007 @ 7:21 pm

  56. Your version of the little mermaid is so melancholy! lol

    Comment by Julie — January 21, 2007 @ 9:19 pm

  57. Re the cruelty and frightening endings to traditional fairy tales – children love them because like everyone else they have very aggressive and angry feelings tucked away inside them. If the world is always presented as sweet, kind, loving and happy they can become really frightened of being so different and of what they feel they might do. If aggression is accepted in fairy tales then they feel it is O.K. and they can express their own anger when appropriate. They also like role playing the frightening characters themselves. In this way they learn both to stand up for themselves and to control their own violent feelings. Making life too easy for children doesn’t really prepare them for the knocks that that may come their way later.

    Comment by Grannie D — January 22, 2007 @ 6:10 am

  58. Disney is more sinister than you imagine. It is far from wholesome and distorts far too many traditional stories and morality tales to its own sugar-coated ends. Those stories it “amends” had internal meaning and traditional aspects lost when disneyfied

    Comment by Voyager — January 22, 2007 @ 8:16 am

  59. I agree with Voyager, there’s something wrong with sanitising everything. I remember being shocked with the Lion King too, where it’s all a bit dodgy. The lion & lioness preening and kissing each other seemed like a subliminal message that beautiful, romantic and heterosexual was the perfect way to be – not that there’s anything wrong with that. But I felt the sexual undertones to be rather out of place in a fairy tale.

    Disney’s films are all about living the American dream. Look at Dumbo: learn independence from your parents, trust in others, and everything will come out just fine.

    I think a bit of harsh reality is missing from sanitised fairy tales. Children do have to learn that stuff doesn’t all end totally happily.


    Comment by fruey (Let's Have It) — January 22, 2007 @ 9:39 am

  60. Im sorry to say this.. but maybe you should rename your blog Tadpoles tip bits. Whilst im sure its fascinating for you to write about your child.. and I like to here occasionally there are just to many Tadpole posts.

    I feel your using her to deflect from you so you can lead a more private life, and are relying on the whole cute thing to save you.

    No one can criticize children, so it makes it impossible for people to honestly say.. its cute but just a little dull.

    Comment by Kerry — January 22, 2007 @ 12:34 pm

  61. Gosh Fruey!!

    What happened to romanticism and fairy tales to inspire imagination???…….

    Maybe life is full of warts and all – but surely that doesn’t have to be introduced at 2 or 3???

    I’ve read all sorts to my children over the years, and they have seen all the Disney stuff. To be honest though I’m not sure that they were very inspired by the original slightly nasty at times Hans Anderson or Beatrix Potter stuff. They have on balance prefered things like Dick King Smith, Roald Dahl and when they were younger Jill Murphy, when on the whole things do come out well – at least for the hero or heroine – in the end.

    Life is hard enough without finding out all the gruesome bits aged one to four! With well developed imaginations they may be able to cope with the tricky stuff later on in life…

    Comment by Sally Lomax — January 22, 2007 @ 2:07 pm

  62. Well Kerry, I’m sorry to say this but…

    This is my blog, my life, I happen to be a mother and the blog reflects the things on my mind. If it’s not interesting or entertaining for you, there are many millions of other blogs you could try, including some very good ones in my sidebar. As far as subject matter is concerned, I haven’t made a conscious decision not to post personal stuff, and you’ll see that the Tadpole category has always been the most frequent, but I am simply not in a relationship (my other pet subject in the past) and don’t like to gossip about my friends, or write about writing a book.

    Personally, after the rollercoaster year I had in 2006, quiet is good. I don’t intend to live through drama to satisfy readers’ needs, so perhaps you might prefer a soap opera?

    Comment by petite — January 22, 2007 @ 5:24 pm

  63. Well said Petite. (#62)

    It is your blog/life, and I really enjoy reading it. As I have a young daughter (nearly 2 years old )I atually enjoy the Tadpole rearing bits the most. You have had an interesting and challenging last year and I think you write about it in a very entertaining way.

    Keep up the excellent work !!

    Comment by Neil — January 22, 2007 @ 5:35 pm

  64. Hear, hear! (#62)

    Comment by Sparkle — January 22, 2007 @ 5:54 pm

  65. Beautifully written post, petite. I think most people can enjoy the tadpole posts, with apparently one curious exception, as we’ve all been children at one time!
    Mermaids seem to be a fascination for young girls, and your story reminded me of an amateur dramatics play my mother took me to. The plot was about a man who fell in love and married a mermaid, and in order to hide the fact to neighbours and friends that she was a mermaid, she was wheelchair bound with her tail covered by a blanket – this sounds bizarre I know, and I hope my memory serves me well. I spent the whole play praying that the blanket would slip and I would get a glimpse of the mermaid’s tail. Even at the curtain call, when the actress showed her 2 legs, I was still convinced that she was a mermaid with magical powers who could switch to a human whenever she wanted to.
    I have to add that my television fodder in those days was ‘I dream of Genie’, ‘Bewitched’ and a talking horse called ‘Mr Ed’ – yes, I’m positively ancient. But those shows had real people and real animals, not animated ones, so anything was possible for a 7 year old.

    Comment by Sarah — January 22, 2007 @ 7:11 pm

  66. Is it only me who had a feminist re-reading of the original Little Mermaid story once I grew up?

    I saw a clear message that women should shut up and endure pain even when the man they loved took up with someone else.

    Of course, before fairytales were published in collections by men like HCA and Grimm, they were tales told by women. The men usually replaced the wise old women with wicked witches. So by the time the Disney versions turn up the tale has been subverted twice.

    In Women Who Run With the Wolves, Clara Pinkola Estes compares the original versions with the published versions. Very interesting stuff!

    Comment by the_editter — January 22, 2007 @ 11:15 pm

  67. I used to love the Little Mermaid and i had a video of it (not cartoons) which i adored. It had the sad ending and i’ve been looking for it for ages. Does anyone know which one i am referring to?

    Comment by mel — January 24, 2007 @ 12:57 pm

  68. @Sally

    Life is hard enough without finding out all the gruesome bits aged one to four! With well developed imaginations they may be able to cope with the tricky stuff later on in life

    I wasn’t suggesting all doom and gloom, but I suppose that you grew up without strange family hardship when you were small? Kids need nice romantic stories, but they don’t necessarily need the American Dream shoved down their throats by Disney either…

    Comment by fruey (Let's Have It) — January 26, 2007 @ 1:13 pm

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