Learning to Adapt: Lessons from Cinderella

Adapt: “To become adjusted to new conditions, to become habituated to change.”

Adaptation:The changes made by living systems in response to their environment.”



April 1975 

Meg Acts of Kindness 2.0“And the Prince’s guards scoured the land, in search for the beautiful girl who had danced with the Prince at the ball.”  It was past my bedtime, but I had pleaded with my Mommy to read Cinderella for the third night in a row, and I anxiously waited for my favorite part. I leaned my head on her, and couldn’t help but say, “But the glass slipper didn’t fit anyone, right?” I already knew the answer, but her reply made me feel glorious, despite my own physical deformities. “That’s right Meggie. Cinderella had the most beautiful, dainty, smallest feet in the land.” I grinned widely, feeling a new sense of pride about my small feet. At the age of two and a half, my younger brother Teddy’s feet were bigger than my own six-year old, one-toed feet. We both wore the same baby shoes as well.

Always encouraging, both my parents had often reminded me that girls were not  meant to have bigger feet than boys anyway, and small feet were actually something quite desirable for women in many countries and cultures. Although they had tried hard to help me accept my lot in life, and even consider that it had its positives, it wasn’t until we read Cinderella that I felt like they might have a point.   


February 2015

Cinderellapenguin3“And the Prince’s guards scoured the land, in search for the beautiful girl, Cinderella Penguin, who had danced with the Prince at the ball.” Savanna leaned herCinderpenguinfairygodmother head on my shoulder, smiled as if she realized something quite significant, and practically shouted, “Mommy! Cinderella Penguin has only one finger, she is beautiful just like you!” Immensely touched, it occurred to me that I wasn’t sure if Savanna and I had ever actually read the original story of Cinderella. “Well, honey.  You know I think we should go see the new Cinderella movie coming out next month. After all, as much as I like seeing all these penguins in the story that seem to have only one “finger,” this is only an adaptation.” I proceeded to explain what I meant.Cinderpenguinshoe


Cinderella2015Last weekend a close friend and I took our daughters out to lunch and to the new blockbuster, Cinderella. As we approached the theater, it seemed like every mom and her daughter had the same idea for how to spend the afternoon.  As much as the picture captured the original storyline, there were some differences.  For one, Cinderella and the Prince unexpectedly met in a field when she took off on a horse to clear her mind. He had been hunting with his subjects and, immediately captivated by Cinderella’s beauty, intelligence and charm, the Prince quickly decided to not reveal his royal roots. I was admittedly a blubbery mess throughout the film, for it tugged at my heartstrings on several levels.  Sure, as the guards wandered throughout the countryside in search of the young maiden with the smallest foot in the land, I couldn’t help glancing down at my own tiny foot, surely the smallest in size of anyone watching the film, including the little girls.   Savanna’s foot length has already surpassed my own when she reached five.

And later, when Cinderella questioned the Prince why he had hidden his true self when they first met, introducing himself  as “an apprentice,” his response resonated deeply. He Cinderella princeturned to her with complete sincerity, “I thought you might treat me differently if you knew.” And then, toward the end when the Prince finally found Cinderella and she worried that he wouldn’t want her now that he saw she was merely a commoner, and that people would judge them as a couple, his response to her particularly penetrated. “I will not live my life based on what other people want of it. Although the greatest risk is to be seen as we truly are, our lives are best told if we see the world not as is but as it could be.”

After the four of us walked out of the theater all together, and I mentioned how much I enjoyed this particular adaptation of the Cinderella story, I overheard Savanna’s friend asking her Mom, “What does adaptation mean?” I looked over at Savanna, wondering if she remembered our recent conversation after reading Cinderella Penguin.  The interesting thing about the word ‘adapt’ is that it presumes that someone is unaccustomed at first to something unexpected and then eventually can adjust.  My mind drifted further, to only a few days prior, where Savanna came up to my room and asked rather matter-of-factly if she could massage my feet.  It is hard to admit, but I first hesitated. In all my years, flaunting my feet has been much harder than freely showing my one-fingered hands. No one (and I mean no-one) had ever actually massaged my feet.  But at home, I walk around barefoot all the time, without a second thought.  And so, as our eight-year-old grabbed some nearby lotion and began to rub my feet.  For me, it was emotional and a bit overwhelming.  She was completely underwhelmed.

Back in town, as Savanna instinctively grabbed my one-fingered hand right before we all crossed the street to our respective cars, I noticed another person walking in the opposite direction, facing us. Although I know the man wasn’t trying to be obvious, I could tell he was staring at my small hand in Savanna’s.  But Savanna noticed him too, and purposefully squeezed my hand even tighter.

IMG_7264At the same moment, Savanna’s friend grabbed my other hand briefly, and smiled at me. I wasn’t in the least bit surprised, since I have known her since she was threeIMG_6918.  For her to take my hand came as naturally as for Savanna, because she too has always known me.  However, that is the exception. My life is mainly filled with people encountering me and if they get to know me, then they adjust.  In that sense, because people are eventually able to adapt to my difference, I am able not only to see my life experience as it is, but also as it could be.

Right before we departed, my friend realized she hadn’t replied to her daughter, and offered her something that has remained with me all week. “Sweetie, adaptation is when they decide to make something different…but by doing that, they’re making it better.”

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