I can’t sleep and I’m just thinking, of all things, about fairy tales. Yes, fairy tales. Why do we love them? Why do I love them? Why did I write my own version of one . . . twice? What is it about fairy tales that makes them timeless?
I’m no expert, but I’m just gonna throw this out there. I think the answer lies in the Happily Ever After part. Not just that there is a Happily Ever After, but that after all the struggles and pain and misunderstandings, there can still be a Happily Ever After.
But what is a Happily Ever After? Do any of us really live our own fairy tales? According to the magical version of fairy tales, I would guess that very few of us do. I mean, I don’t think any of my friends get help from birds and forest creatures to get the housework done. (And, if they truly call themselves friends, I would hope they’d share. Or else.) Also, most romances I’ve seen take more than a day or two to develop and become something real. Sometimes they even know each other’s names before they get married. Totally unromantic, I know.
Now I’m not saying that fairy tales are bad. I honestly think every childhood (and adulthood) should be filled with them. But I also think as we grow a little older, it may be wise, and even necessary, to change our definition of what fairy tales and Happily Ever Afters are, just a little bit. Otherwise, we’ll be running around searching for our proverbial fairy godmother, or even just an exceeding helpful mouse, and be sorely disappointed. Sorely, my friends.
A professor I had told a story I’ll never forget. He and his wife were on their honeymoon when they had their very first fight. It wasn’t pretty. There were tears and hurt feelings, finished off with a healthy dose of the silent treatment. When they started speaking again, they sat on the edge of the bed and cried. Why? Because they thought they had to get divorced. Surely people who loved each other and were “perfect” for each other would never fight. Right?? Well, after talking to a counselor (I’m not kidding) they realized that this was not true. Real life was a little different than the fairy tales. They were going to make it. They would choose to make it. And fifty years later, they still are.
I’ve been thinking about friends and family who have lost spouses, or who don’t have a spouse and want one, who have lost children, who are on their second and even third marriages, though they never wanted life to be that way. I think about things that have happened in my own life that, by definition, disqualify me for a fairy tale. It took my husband and me a year and a half to decide to get married. Waaayy more than two days. Sometimes—and don’t tell Cinderella this—we don’t always agree. I’ll wait while you gasp.
Are we doomed to live without our own fairy tale life? Our own Happily Ever After?? Is it something we just read about in books or watch in movies?
I truly, sincerely, indubitably believe that if we are living the best we can—even with the mistakes and pain and plain old garbage—we are all living our own fairy tale lives. We are all working toward, and even getting little tastes of, what Happily Ever After really means.
I am convinced that our own stories don’t have to be devoid of strife to be truly beautiful. Everything doesn’t have to be nicely wrapped and tied with a pretty bow to be breathtaking. It can sometimes be wrapped in a grocery bag and tied with a stretched-out rubber band.
The beauty and breathtakingness is in the realness. Yes, I said breathtakingness.
There is a song from “The Scarlet Pimpernel” musical that might be appropriate to throw in right about now. I’d sing it for you, but seeing as how there is a screen between us . . .
Anyway, Marguerite sings:
Come and wake me!
Come be the love I can hold now.
Storybook love leaves me cold now.
Show me the way to stop dreaming.
There is only one perfect storybook ending,
That is the end of pretending.
That is the moment I say, love me now!
What Marguerite is saying is that she wants something real. That the only one perfect storybook ending is the one that is her own, that is real. And then, she starts singing in French, which pretty much makes everything extra true.
So, here I am, sitting in my jammies, my feet too cold because they’re next to the vent, the dishwasher running but the sink is still full of dishes. In about an hour, one of my boys is going to sneak into my bed and somehow end up with his feet digging into my back. I can pretty much guarantee my kids will argue tomorrow and they will try their darnedest to reel me into it. The weeds I pulled this morning have already started growing back. And I will most likely drop something, like a can of green beans, on my toe. I do that.
But, I will also laugh. A lot. My husband will kiss me and tell me he loves me. I will read my kids a story, and make myself sit through an episode of Power Rangers (though I will beg for Word Girl, but I will probably lose) because it means so much to them when I just sit with them. My youngest will pretend he can’t walk in the morning and say, “Will you hold me?” and have me carry him down to breakfast. I’ll kiss his soft cheek, warm from sleeping on my pillow he stole, and love it. My oldest will tease me for being shorter than he is, and I’ll pretend to be “mad”, though I love that, too. I’ll catch my boys reading, and clap when they show me the song they made up on the piano. I’ll put a Band-Aid on one little boy’s finger and cheer on another at football try-outs.
I’ll go to bed and try not to think about all the things I didn’t get done, or the things I should have said and shouldn’t have said. And then, I’ll be asleep, and I’ll wish for the thousandth time that I could be just awake enough to feel sleep.
I’m choosing my real-life, sticky, dirty, fun, sweaty, backbreaking, heartbreaking, nail-biting, joyful, busy, dream-come-true fairy tale every single day. And that is what makes it magical.
And by the way, having our Happily Ever After doesn’t come at the end of our story. It doesn’t come when we die and we’ve done all our living. It comes when we know what we’re living for.