My son was given a giant book of fairy tales for Christmas. I leafed through it the other night; curious to see what old classics they kept and what strange Brother’s Grimm stories they adapted and revamped (because some of them are seriously downright disturbing) and I found, true to form, pretty much every single one of them ended with:
And They Lived Happily Ever After…
I loved that when I was a kid. It was vague yet succinct enough to leave you with the comforting, warm and fuzzy knowledge that those guys were gonna be AOK, no matter what fate awaited them.
Looking at it now with the eyes of a somewhat cynical adult whose had her fairshare of let downs, break-ups and heart breaks, I can’t help but feel it’s a little cruel and misleading. Yes, its just a bedtime story, I KNOW. But isn’t it our job, as parents, to prepare our young ones for the brutality of reality? Of adulthood? Of bills, mortgages, marriage, responsibility and obligation? There’s no “Prince Charming; his crippling debt and four illegitimate children”, “Snow White and her Asshole Boss”, “Sleeping Beauty; her sleeping pill addiction and brutal custody battle”.
Perhaps they’re all a little severe, I’d certainly have my reservations about reading such stories to my three year old but surely you get my drift – teaching an adolescent (more specifically a young girl) that once they’ve met their significant other, been swept off their feet and rescued from their peril, that the rest of her life will turn out just tickity boo. It’s not realistic. Is it fair?
I am all for preserving innocence. It’s one of the most important aspects of my attitude towards how I parent my child; I wish him to remain innocent for as long as possible. I feel for many reasons my innocence evaporated at a very young, too young an age; therefore find it oh so important that children remain children for as long as possible. But I think that in itself has its limits. For instance, my son during my second trimester, pointed towards my growing stomach and said, “Where’s the baby going to come out?!” My partner took it upon himself to say “Mummy’s belly button.” I swiftly corrected this. Childbirth is a fact of life. Something most people in some way or another experience; its nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed by. I certainly don’t think its anything my son should be fearful of. I certainly don’t intend on having him in the delivery room with me just as his little brother is crowning but I’m not going to dance around the finer details of how his sibling comes to be – aside from anything else I don’t want him growing up a moron. I don’t feel I am robbing him of his innocence by speaking the truth about the means inwhich a baby exits its’ mother. In my mind, his innocence was still very much intact.
Death I struggle with. Thanks to other children, TV programs and no doubt over hearing certain not-so-subtle conversations, my son has recently become quite familar with the term “died”. I know he doesn’t know what it truly means. For him it’s gravity is limited to his avatar on the Lego Ninja game he’s recently started playing or the unfortunate (and truly harrowing) demise of Ellie in Pixar’s ‘Up’. The logistics and absoluteness of death I can say confidently he does not yet know. And when it comes to one day explaining that I really don’t know how to approach it. I have no religious beliefs and feel very strongly about not impressioning him with any; when he is mature enough to understand religion and possibly wishes to indeed practice one, I’ll be one hundred percent supportive, but until then no thankyou. So the notion of a ‘heaven’ is a no go. I agree it does its duty in preserving one’s innocence and providing comfort but, much like the damaging fairy tales in his book, it is not realistic. If when his Great-Grandfather passed away he were old enough to question his passing; I’d said “Well he’s died but never fear, he’s gone to a place in the sky among the clouds, along with all our other deceased loved ones and he’s waiting patiently for when you and I join him. We’ll be there together for all eternity – happily ever after.” I’d have felt like a massive con artist, a fraud, a phoney. A liar, essentially. Because I believe in my heart of hearts that that simply is not true. I think too, if he’s anything like me (and indeed his Father) he will reach an age where he too concludes that the notion of heaven is a ridiculous one. I consider myself too realistic and dare I say it, smart, to believe in the fantastical realm that is heaven. I believe he will be too.
So with that ruled out, where do I go? The cold, formal and at times very disturbing truth of death would be the epitome I think of jeopardising his innocence. You can’t explain the functionality of a heart just to follow it up with “And then for an assortment of reasons it one day just stops and your essence, what makes you you, essentially disappears but leaves behind your body which in time begins to rot and decompose. Whether that happens before or after you evacuate your bowels I’m not sure, but basically, you sleep. FOREVER.” It’s hard just writing it, how could I look into his enormous blue eyes and say that? No. Innocence stolen.
So there forms a grey area. How do I explain that doozy??
And here ties in my conundrum of whether or not, when we’ve finished reading one of these famous stories, do I say (like Carrie Bradshaw to Charlotte’s daughter, Lilly in my beloved Sex and The City), “You know that this is just a fairy tale right sweetheart? Things don’t always happen like this in real life?”
Innocence stolen or intact? At the very least I could be seriously disrupting his much loved bedtime routine. But would I, in the long run be doing him a favour? Cruel to be kind kinda thing? I’m torn.
Because I certainly think had I not had the experience of being a child of divorce and subsequently growing up witnessing the formation and breaking up of MANY a couple around me; had I just been left alone with my TV programs, films and stories; I’d have developed into one of these hopeless romantics who genuinely believe their happy ever after is just around the corner and it rests upon the shoulders of a chivalrous and dashingly good looking knight in shining armour. As it happens, until recent events, I think I grew up on the complete opposite side of the scale where I was more, “Yeah, you just TRY and make me happy, I dare ya! You’ve got about a year until this relationship ultimately runs its course anyway and then I’ll just go about my life in the same bitter and pessimistic way that I always have. Good luck to you good sir.” Neither of which, I’ll admit, are a very healthy outlook on love or life.
But I still see it at the relatively ripe age of 26; there are many women around me who are still waiting, somewhat impatiently, for their happy ever after. Too much TV? Too many adult equivalents of children’s fairy tales; romance novels? One too many films with old Johnny Dicaprio Butler Depp Affleck picking up Jennifer Diaz Winslet Swank Bassinger and carrying her off to the nearest perfectly organised wedding to commence their marital and financially well off bliss?? Because there are plenty of them. I used to watch ‘She’s All That’ when I was a teenager and think the possibility that not only the most popular guy in school was also good looking, kind and intelligent was plausbile, but that he could genuinely develop an interest in the geeky, smart, shy introvert because, brace yourselves kids, she was beautiful on the inside. Hell I used to think it conceivable that Freddie Prinze Jnr himself could very well find me in humble old Threemilestone, whisk me off to Hollywood and we’d live the most perfect of lives together. That was until I witnessed my mother and detestable Step Father break up (and I am NOT exaggerating) for the 34th time and realised the chances of any of the above occurring were slim to none.
Sadly there are douche bags out there who believe a happy ending begins with a massage and ends with a generous tip but we won’t go there…
So should we ladies relinquish the thought that our happy ever afters are just on the horizon or should we pin our hopes and dreams on something a little more realistic? Because life and at the very least, my five year relationship with the father of my son and the relationship I am now in, has taught me – love is FAR from perfect. Its actually downright ugly sometimes. It’s overdue loan repayments, passive aggressive comments, obligatory kisses, nightmare in-laws, placentas and making dinner when you truly can’t be assed. It’s knowing when to hold your tongue, knowing when to give them what-for; finding the right balance between letting them make their own choices but indirectly shaping their decisions so that it properly and sufficiently benefits you both as a couple. Its teamwork, squeezing spots, early mornings, tag-teaming nappy time, holding each other during the depths of their despair when there truly is nothing you can do to fix what hurts them at that moment in time. None of that involves a pumpkin carriage, really really long hair, castle turrets and a bewitching spell to break.
But when you do find that person who makes all that worth doing and putting up with, like I have – maybe that is the happy ending? Maybe its not even an ending its just a happy knowledge that you’ve found the person who you’re not only willing to go through all the shit with but who you know without a shadow of a doubt, is truly worth it. The person who when they’re shouting at you just because they’re tired or getting jealous because your friend is remarkably attractive or is feeling extremely territorial because the dreaded ex is dining at the same restaurant, doesn’t ever consider severing all ties and running for the hills because NOTHING is a good enough reason to give up on what you two have. Could that be the happy ending?
I’ll admit, I’ve been waiting for that new car smell to disappear from this relationship. My partner and I had what I’d describe as the best first date ever and have more or less been inseparable ever since; to the point where it actually made me nervous and uneasy. Its gotta go tits up at some point. How many toes does he have? When’s he going to admit that he’s actually a serial killer. Or worse; a Tory.
But it kinda never did. And I don’t think it will. I think the impulsive way inwhich I hopped on a train to where he lived on his day off and the easy and carefree hours we spent chatting, drinking and playing ping pong followed by a camp fire and spontaneous midnight swim on a deserted beach surrounded by summer moonlight and phosphorescence (I know right, where was Steven Spielberg and his crew?) and later on what I’m not too prude to admit was mind blowing sex; set the precedent for the rest of our lives together. Nothing too flashy but nothing short of amazing, new and somewhat lovely. We’ve argued, had an unexpected pregnancy and moved house, all of which were at times very stressful but none of it has dulled the shine of our togetherness… Oh god, happy ever after???
So should we hold out for these things?
What I think we should hold out for is perfect imperfection. Know that there will be times of laboriousness, times of frustration, times of dullness and times of unadulterated rage. But bear in mind too there will be times of passion, uncontrollable laughter, a tingly sensation at the end of your fingertips when they smile at you and falling asleep spooning each other, that will cancel out all the crappiness or at the very least, make it all worth while.
And if who you’re with doesn’t give you the confidence that your forever will be spent together but instead makes you fell that all the shit is just that; SHIT, no joyful consellation prize, then maybe its time to search for that greener grass.
I hear Prince Charming is single, you know…