Mesa Musings: Give your Princess the best memories

It was one of the smartest decisions of my life.

I speak of a resolution made years ago to turn my daughters into Indian Princesses. Honestly, though, I deserve little credit for the decision. My wife, Hedy, roped me into it.

One evening as I arrived home from work, she presented me with a flier that our middle daughter, Jade, had brought home from her kindergarten class. The flier advertised the YMCA's dads and daughters program, Indian Princesses.

"Thou shalt do this!" Hedy proclaimed, and then she signed us up.

I'm certain I would never have signed up on my own but 30 years later, as I reflect back, I realize how much I would have missed. In 1981, 5-year-old Jade became an Indian Princess, and I was along for one wild ride.

The program started in 1954. During my family's years of participation, it was called Indian Princesses. Today, the YMCA of Orange County employs the more politically correct Y-Princesses.

The Princesses program runs from kindergarten through fourth grade. After each of my girls and I completed the program, we advanced to the next level, called Trail Mates, and did that through junior high school.

Our group of dads and daughters became so tight-knit that we remained together unofficially after Trail Mates and continued adventure trips through high school.

Shortly after we joined Indian Princesses, Jade and I were confronted with the challenge of selecting our Indian names.

Jade chose the lilting and ethereal, Shooting Star.

I came up with what I felt was its masculine counterpart, Falling Planet.

We were members of the Choctaw Tribe of Newport-Mesa's Naranja Nation.

My youngest daughter, Melissa, joined the program three years later when she was in kindergarten.

We selected a different tribe so that she could establish herself as something other than "Jade's little sister."

We became members of the Arapaho Tribe. Melissa's name was Little Fawn. Though an obvious non sequitur, I remained Falling Planet.

I was involved in the program for more than a dozen years — and it changed my life. I like to believe that my daughters' lives were enhanced as well. They're now wives and mothers, but we still discuss the activities we enjoyed together so many moons ago.

We attended regular tribal meetings a couple of times a month, where we worked on crafts, told stories and chowed down on delicious refreshments supplied by the moms.

But the pinnacles of our Indian Princesses experiences were always the excursions. We went to Angels baseball games, and took part in weekend camping trips. We hiked and climbed sheer rock walls — the girls' moms never knew about this — to find isolated waterfalls.

We went on ski trips, spent weekends at a water park in Palm Desert, rode horses and learned rope tricks at a dude ranch, and took the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to the top of San Jacinto Peak to have memorable dad-and-daughter dinners. And — most fun of all — we rafted the rapids of the Kern River … on numerous occasions.

I remember my initial campout with Jade. She was 5, and had her very first encounter with an outhouse.

I recall getting up at 3 a.m. and accompanying her to the campground's rustic commode area. We were horrified when she accidentally let our flashlight slip into the abyss! We stumbled back to the tent in darkness.

During that campout, Jade and I bunked with another father and his daughter in their spacious tent because I didn't own one. He snored so loudly that we didn't get a moment's rest all weekend.

The following week I bought a $49.95 "pop-up" tent at Fedco that we used for the next 10 years.

It "popped up" like a charm when we arrived at a campsite, but on Sundays I could never get the danged thing to fold up.

I urge fathers of young daughters to consider joining the Y-Princesses. The memories you make will last a lifetime.

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Tuesdays.

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