A different kind of ‘happily ever after’

Categorized as 05/25/09 Goshen News column

“…And they lived happily ever after.” This is how every good fairy tale from Cinderella to Sleeping Beauty to Snow White ends. After kissing too many frogs, the beauty finally finds her prince, and they ride off into the sunset on a white stallion.

Then, they set up house together in a golden palace and begin to fill it with a passel of beautiful children. The princess, of course, gets nary a stretch mark and never raises her voice. The halls ring with laughter, and the hills are alive with the sound of – well, you know.

Okay, so I made that last part up, but I’m pretty sure that’s how it would read.

When it comes to love and marriage, the “after” seldom looks like what you’d envisioned before. A young bride, for instance, is hopeful and expectant, anticipating endless hours of conversation with the man of her dreams. They will never tire of looking into each other’s eyes and sharing their dreams. Riveted by her beauty, he will shower her with affirmation, noting every new outfit and purse with approval.

In her dreams, the dashing groom will be home early every evening to spend quality time with their children before putting them to bed. Then, he will insist that she indulge in a long bubble bath while he runs the vacuum.

Oh, she can hardly wait for their “happily ever after” to begin.

The groom, on the other hand, has his own visions of what their fairy tale union will look like after the “I do’s” have been said and the rice has been thrown. After all, this lovely creature will be his lifelong cheerleader and encourager; he’s sure of it. She will applaud his hard work and note his every effort to provide, voicing her gratitude.

She will instinctively understand his need for a bit of quiet time when he gets home after a stressful day at work. Thus, she will gladly wait to use the back half of her daily 30,000-word allotment until he’s had a chance to unwind. And speaking of words, she will never ask him to take out the trash or do any other chore more than once. Other women may practice the “N” word, but not his girl.

In this most pleasant of daydreams, he’s the king, that’s his castle, and while he may not have the stallion, he does have a Barcalounger built for two. With his bride by his side and the flipper in his hand, his future awaits.

Fast forward several chapters, and you find a very different storyline. This one involves one or more small subjects, a mortgage, and car payments. Too, there are unexpected doctor bills and a lawn that needs mowing.

The sleepless nights run together, and they move through their days in a fog that doesn’t lift until the small heirs hit preschool. Many mornings, the young mother feels that if her starter doesn’t go kaput, her transmission will surely drop out onto the floor, so she stumbles for the coffee pot with a prayer for help on her lips.

She realizes now that the “no stretch marks” part of her daydream was wishful thinking (does that one look like I-70?), and that after sinking the equivalent of Uzbekistan’s GDP into Huggies, the finest dining they can afford is beneath the golden arches.

The babies grow up and become teenagers, veritable food furnaces who eat everything that’s not nailed down before rushing out the door to drive cars that burn gas and need insurance. There’s a pile of laundry the size of an Appalachian foothill and a whopping cell phone bill to “keep the family connected.”

In a rare quiet moment, the would-be princess reflects on that long-ago fantasy. There is certainly no stallion, no palace, and no long, idyllic hours of conversation, thanks to countless interruptions and a husband who is working late (again). The occasional romantic weekend getaways have dwindled, too, with the income flow now being rerouted to sports gear, letter jackets, senior pictures, and various colleges and universities.

What she does have, though, is the laughter in the halls and plenty of music. She has a faithful husband who comes home every night. She knows that the reasons for his late hours walk and sleep and live under his roof, and so she chooses gratitude when she’s tempted to complain. She’s grateful as well for his wisdom, and for employing the tact of a U.N. diplomat when she hits him with loaded questions like, “Does this make me look fat?”

He, too, has learned to overlook certain imperfections and pet peeves. He appreciates what she does, though he may forget to tell her at times. There are days when he’s too tired to talk, but he makes the effort anyway.

In the end, while she’s not Cinderella, he’s not the prince, and their life is no fairy tale, their “after” is pretty darn good.

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