Various issues of family politics have left me thinking about something I want to figure out. To do this, I have to tell a story about one of my family members, not out of malice or judgement but just because this story is the thing that is helping me to understand this knowledge I’m starting to think of as the imperfect fairy tale.
We all want the perfect fairy tale outcome—the princess with her kind and handsome husband and all those pretty gowns hanging in her castle’s closet. (Translate that to any modern convenience and setting you wish.) But it’s easy to forget that before the outcome the princess had to suffer. She slept on a pea, dwindled away to almost nothing but hair in the tower, underwent the beautiful queen’s attempts to kill her. The story isn’t in the happily ever after. The story—and the knowledge—is in the suffering.
This story belongs to my niece B. Her husband, J., is from Mexico, and about a year ago he had to leave the United States because of some immigration issues. He is trying to get the necessary documentation and legal stuff worked out so that he can come back to his family. Meanwhile, B. is trying to take care of her two small sons.
She’s waiting and wishing and yearning for her husband to come home. She’s sad that her husband won’t have memories of their little ones as little ones. She mourns about the lost time. And she looks forward to whatever day it is in the future when J. will come home.
Of course, anyone in her situation would feel the same. But she’s also simply waiting. She’s focused on when he gets back—looking forward. What they’ll do together when he gets home. She thinks about how things will be better when that happens. She writes about imagined moments they’ll have then, in the future, when things are right. When things are perfect.
She’s my niece and I love her but I also want to shake her. Every time she says "I’ll do that once J. is home" or "when J. is back I’m going to __________," the shaking urge is almost irresistible. Why wait? Why wait for the future perfect day? Why not do it now? I want her to know: right now is what matters. Right now is, really, all there is. I want her to look at what she can do, right now, on her own, to make things better for herself in this time and experience that she’s having. I want her to be able to see that sure, once he gets home, things will be different, but until then there is joy now. Whether J. is here or not, her sons are; whatever happens in the future they will never be this small again. I want her to be able to see whatever is good about her situation and build on that instead of waiting to be happy until the perfect day when her husband comes home and everything is right again.
Because when he comes home? It still won’t be perfect. That is not a criticism of either of them, but a simple reality. It’s never perfect. No one gets to the happily-ever-after we all wish for. (I think that even the people who seem to have the fairy tale still have goblins and dark corners and wicked stepmothers.) Everyone has disappointments and heartache; we all have something we wish we could fix but we can’t.
Of course, I can’t shake B. I can’t even say any of this to her, because of those family politics. All I can do is to let this knowledge about imperfect fairy tales settle into my own self. Because, of course I do this too. I wait. I think when things are better with ____________, that is when I’ll fix ________________. I let hope and wish influence my decisions rather than what truly is.
Plus, I am guilty of hanging out with my goblins instead of my fairies. It’s so easy to focus on what is dark and complicated, on what is wrong or hard; the goblins can grab every bit of my attention. But when I let them, I overlook the fairies—the bright, good, happy things that are still there, despite the goblins.
And honestly: I’m not certain there really is a happily ever after. Because once Cinderella gets her shoe back and moves into her castle, there will still be troubles. Her Prince Charming (am I messing up my fairy tales?) will some days simply annoy her. He might say something he means one way but feels like something completely different to her. Maybe the country will decide it wants a new king and just like that she'll be back to scrubbing floors and sleeping in the fireplace. Illness, war, sadness, argument, anger, accident, poverty: these happen every day even in happily ever after. Sometimes happiness itself seems like a fairy tale. She will have to learn that happiness isn’t a destination. It isn’t a combination of different types of perfection. It was something that was there along, in the tower or in the fireplace-bed or in the swamp with the frog.
That is what I want to do: make peace with my own imperfect fairy tale. Continue being hopeful, of course, and working for change to happen in the future. But not letting the goblins keep me from living my right now. I want to stop waiting for the perfect fairy tale to happen, sometime in the future, and start making my imperfect one more of what I hoped for—right now, without excuses.