I worried that I was going to burn her.
My Queen Karina was giving birth at home to our last child, Laela Grace. I held her hand as she lay moaning in the bathtub.
She asked me to help her to the bed, then asked me to bring her the hot towels she had had me prepare in the crockpot.
They were so hot I couldn’t hold them. But she begged me to put them on her lower back.
I marveled at the frame of reference, the tiny glimpse into what she was feeling — how bad must her pain have been if those scalding hot towels gave her relief?
I was too consumed in the moment to ponder this, but I ponder it now after more than a decade of marriage: Fairy tales are ridiculously incomplete and dangerously misleading.
What does “and they lived happily ever after” mean, exactly?
Has anyone who’s written that line ever screamed giving birth? Have they ever cleaned puke out of hair, beds, and carpets at 2:30 in the morning?
Does that take into consideration mountains of stinky diapers in trashcans and never-ending piles of dirty dishes in the sink?
Does that cute little cliché factor in anguish-filled, sleepless nights spent on the couch after hurting each other so bad you can’t stand to be in the same room with each other, let alone the same bed?
The fervent “I do’s” spoken and passionate kisses given at the altar always come at the end of fairy tales. But in real life, that’s when the story is just beginning.
In real-life marriages, happiness is not a given — it is earned, quite literally, through blood, sweat, and tears spilled over decades.
Real-life couples are not entitled to happiness — they must struggle and strive for it through years of changing diapers and doing laundry, saying “sorry” and “I forgive you” after harsh arguments, balancing checkbooks after bouncing checks.
I suppose the “happily ever after” line could be true — assuming a correct understanding of happiness.
If it means mere pleasure-seeking — with its warped perspective that suffering is unfair and that happiness is the absence of pain — then I give the Cinderellas and Snow Whites of the world five years before they’re divorced.
Don’t be deceived by magical fairy tales on movie screens or plastic fantasies on computer screens. Real joy doesn’t come from lounging ever after with perfect bodies in majestic castles any more than timeless truth comes from tabloids. Don’t gaze at the grass on the other side of the fence — water the grass at your feet.
Seven years ago, at the age of thirty, I wrote this poem for Queen Karina:
The oft-confusing awakening, the eager anticipation
of a date, the giddiness of a phone call or a note
from “the one.”
At 21, love is in the long, late hours
speaking dreamily of the envisioned future. The fervent hopes,
carefully-crafted plans, and naïve declarations of
“how it’s going to be.”
At 25, love is in the excitement of discovery…
…and getting past the disappointment of many
At 30, love is in the routine.
The day-in and day-out cooking and cleaning and working and
earning and spending and weighing and balancing and
juggling and striving and hurting and fighting and
forgiving and sinning and repenting and
laughing and crying and praying and
learning and growing and deciding
and regretting and hoping
It’s in my inability to write a poem uninterrupted
because you’re cooking dinner and the baby is crying
and the toddler peed her pants.
It’s in the reduced lovemaking
because the baby sleeps in our bed and there’s always
some child or some mess or some matter of business to attend to.
It’s in the dissatisfaction of extra pounds and a receding hairline
and the comforting knowledge that we look better to each other every day.
It’s in the stifling confinement of family movies and going to the park and library to cater to the kids and badly-needed vacations missed and earnestly-wanted clothes and amenities gone un-bought and cavities gone un-filled and living on rice and pancakes and living in a cramped basement with no TV and no money and estranged friends.
It’s in the getting up each and every day to do
it all over again when that’s the last thing
you want to do.
It’s in learning to cheerfully accept and love all of the above by
supporting and serving and compensating for one another.
It’s in the overwhelming boredom of the daily, mundane, repetitious ROUTINE.
And one day we’ll wake up contentedly and turn to each other and you’ll smile at me gracefully through your wrinkles and I’ll touch your face gently with arthritic, worn-out hands and say, “Wasn’t that the most exhilarating, fascinating, joyful, and fulfilling ride imaginable?” And a solitary tear will drip from your beautiful eyes as you nod in agreement and we’ll tenderly embrace with
the consummate love of survivors.
Yes, Queen Karina and I are living happily ever after. And it’s tougher — and therefore more rewarding — than any fairy tale writer could ever imagine.