We got onto Marie Antoinette via Chewbacca.
I had agreed to get the younger a new backpack for school and the one she instantly settled upon was a Chewbacca backpack, which, admittedly, was 100 times cooler than any of the other backpacks because it basically amounted to carrying Chewbacca on your back.
That night at dinner we speculated about which part of his body would be the bit that could hold stuff (his stomach, I thought), and that led to a discussion of other characters that would make good bags.
I suggested, because of course I did, that there should be a Marie Antoinette bag and that the zipper should be along her neck and the bag’s cavity lined with red velvet.
The next day we were sitting on the sofa. I was reading the news on my phone and the younger was playing with her latest Ken fashionista doll, who has a man-bun and whom the younger has named Sven.
“Was that person who was guillotined Marie Antoinette?” she asked me.
I looked up from my phone.
“Yeah,” I replied.
“Why was she killed?” the younger asked.
I took a deep breath, the same kind of deep breath I’ve taken on earlier occasions prior to answering what feel like Big Stakes Questions, like, “What’s a period?”
“Well,” I say, “it was during something called the French Revolution. The people running France were very rich royal people—like Marie Antoinette—and all the other people thought it wasn’t fair that the rich people were telling them what to do and …. they wanted to change things but there wasn’t a way for the ordinary people to get into the government to change things and so … well, they killed the royal people who were running the country, and Marie Antoinette was one of them.”
Her eyes were wide.
She thought hard.
“Hmmm. I mean, if there was a bad person in charge today, like Marie Antoinette, or, or, or … or, like, Donald Trump, then it would kind of make sense to kill them, wouldn’t it?”
Reader, I hesitated.
“Well,” I said falteringly, “I mean ….. I mean, no. No, if you live somewhere where you can vote, then you should vote the bad person out of office …. rather than, uh, killing them. And we live somewhere where people can vote, so voting is the only way to get rid of Donald Trump,” I concluded weakly.
“Or he could be impeached,” she declared brightly.
“Umm, err, yeah … yeah, that’s right,” I mumbled.
“So, why didn’t they vote Marie Antoinette out?”
“Well, people couldn’t vote then.”
“What!” she exclaimed, aghast. “Voting, like, wasn’t even invented!?”
“Well, it was invented, but only for some people. So even places where you could vote, you had to be very rich and a man to vote.
“So then they really had to kill Marie-Antoinette?”
I squirmed and felt a rising sense of panic that I was explaining this all wrong and imagining some future exchange on the playground “ … well my Mom said that it is OK to kill people sometimes, like during the French Revolution.”
“No, I don’t think they had to kill her. I mean, she ….. probably wasn’t a very nice person, but I don’t think anyone deserves to be guillotined. But it is …. it is a difficult situation when people aren’t able to vote.”
She was silent for a few seconds while she adjusted Sven’s shirt.
“Mom, I saw on this show ‘Who was?’ that when Marie Antoinette had a party you weren’t allowed in unless your hair was … she gestured a foot above her head, THIS tall!”
“Yeah,” I said, vastly relieved that we had moved up and away from Marie Antoinette’s neck and onto the less vexed area of her unequivocally awesome hair, “that’s probably true! You know what century that was in?
“No …” …. She scrunched up her face suspiciously. “The eighteenth century?”
“Yes! It was fashionable to have very tall hair in the eighteenth century.”
“So we would have had to have tall hair?”
“To get into one of her parties? Yeah, but we would also have had to have fancy clothes … they probably wouldn’t have let us in wearing what we’re wearing—” I gestured to her jeans and t-shirt and to my leggings and t-shirt—“even if we had tall hair.”
The younger raised an eyebrow and cast an eye over me critically but not unkindly.
“I think they might not have let you in even if you were wearing your fanciest clothes, Mom.”
“Yeah,” I said. “You’re probably right.”
So there you have it. My daughter: political Jacobin, fashion tyrant.