There’s a popular notion spoon fed to us by Barbie media … willingly embraced by the conservative woman, vehemently rejected by the liberal woman, yet, on some level, wrestled with by every woman. Open wide! The notion of “happily ever after.” A studly white knight on a horse who whisks us off to the land of eternal bliss. Rescues us from … reality? As Sex and the City’s most beloved princess, Charlotte, so shamelessly put it … “Women really just want to be rescued.” Now chew on that. According to princess pop culture and every wedding coordinator taxed with the job of creating happily ever after, women do indeed want the fairy tale. A Prince Charming who will sweep her off her feet, wed her in an over-the-top elaborate princess-style shindig her friends will never match, give her to-die-for genetically endowed cooing babies, and take care of her forevermore, forevermore … for nevermore?
This notion proves to be very enticing … that is, until the honeymoon is over, she ages, her Prince Charming drops the charm, her adorable grown “babies” are mouthing off to her, fighting, and turning her into a screaming referee with a “Your face is gonna get stuck like that!” complex. Add to this dwindling romance and escalating financial stress. And suddenly, she doesn’t feel so princess-esque anymore. In no happily ever after does mass media suggest the princess will later be spending her days cooking, cleaning, and refereeing while dragging the tired exhausted shadow of her formerly hot ass around the house in a sloppy pony tail and holey sweats! As if! Cinderella was rescued from her shabby clothes and household chores. Hmmm … now that she thinks about it, she’s not feeling so rescued after all. The media has patronized and misadvised her. What the hell happened to her fairy tale? Or was the fairy tale just … a tall tale?
From the moment we take our first step or utter our first syllable, we’re slammed with one fantasy of happily ever after after another. The Disney animated princess … Barbie … or better yet … the animated Princess Barbie! Blurs of blond-haired blue-eyed beauties winning over their prince with one flutter of their exaggerated eyelashes, one toss of their synthetic hair, and not one ambitious bone in their Made in China bodies. All hail the media! As little girls, we aspire to be pretty in pink princesses. Why? Because we’re encouraged to, of course. This parent trying to out-love that parent by indulging us in over-the-top princess birthday parties. And our parental crowning doesn’t stop there. In case the metaphorical crowning wasn’t enough, we’re encouraged to tan up, wig up, and dumb down to walk “beauty” pageant runways straight out of the womb. All in hopes of being adorned with the awe-inspiring symbol of beauty itself … the over-sized tiara … the bigger, the glitzier, the better. As we grow into young women, we aspire to find our handsome prince charming, become Mrs. Charming, and live happily ever after … replacing the tiara with a diamond ring intended to represent just how BIG he loves us. Finally, as newlyweds, the pressure is on to help populate our tragically under-populated planet. One baby, two, nineteen … and counting? It’s our privilege … our duty, no? (NIKE, NIKE! For the sake of vaginas everywhere … NIKE!)
When we do finally get word that the stork is circling overhead, we rejoice over the success of our dutiful whoopee. Baby on board! It’s at this moment that our fairy tale is complete. Or at least the one set in motion by June Cleaver and popularized by the mass media.
No sleep, dirty diapers, and non-existent sex life aside, there’s a flaw in Cinderella’s perfectly stitched gown of happily ever after. Ambition! Today’s woman goes to college, becomes educated, and adds successful career to her dreamy fairy-tale checklist. She dreams of all the things princess pop culture has washed her brains with. But princess pop culture has an elephant in the room … and that elephant is college educated and dreams of changing the world … one poopy diaper at a time. Apparently. She wants to marry the perfect man, raise the perfect children, and attain the perfect career. She can have it all, right? When she first embarks on this feat, she fails to see the practical conflict of her maternal and professional ambitions because she’s young … because she has no concept of “can’t” … and because no one warns her … no one exposes the fairy tale for the lying sham it is.
Happily ever after is a myth.
It is an elusive Sasquatch creeping into our adolescent psyches touting its oversized existence, yet failing to produce cold, hard proof. But experience will educate her … reveal the truth. She can marry her prince charming. She can have 2.5 kids. She can have a reputable successful career. Disclaimer: The simultaneous combination of the three may cause spontaneous combustion! And extinguishing the problem will leave the Bigfoot supermom drowning in the puddle of despair she fears most … Failure.
The working mom tries to do it all. Rushes the kids to daycare, drags into work, tries to be all she can be professionally while juggling the disapproving sneer from her boss and phone calls about sick or misbehaving kids, scrambles to pick up the kids on time … and races home to complete homework, baths, dinner, laundry, dishes, bedtime, and sex like a Stepford wife on speed. A forced smile through it all. But behind that robotic smile lurks a bottomless pit of guilt, self-doubt, exhaustion, and a persistent sense of failure. For no matter how much she does … it’s never enough. So, she pushes herself to the brink of insanity, and then she dares to push a little more. As she continues to spread herself too thin, she begins to feel her world crumbling around her. She loses her bearings. She feels … lost. But lacks the me time to find her way out.
Maintaining a full-time successful career while trying to slay the child-rearing dragon is a feat that will eventually leave her charred and begging for mercy. Consequently, some modern moms are opting to put a career on hold, stay home, and take on the dragon full time. Seems the easier option … for now. But is the dragon’s head the only trophy she seeks? The reality: a stay home mom may slay the child-rearing dragon with ease … but it’s the demon in her own head that proves to take her down … the struggle between herself and her myth.
The college educated stay-home mom is riddled with unfulfilled professional ambition. Her own personal fairy-tale hell threatens to bring her sanity to its knees. On one hand, she weighs the commitment to her children … to be available whenever they need her as a nurturer, a teacher, a playmate, a friend. On the other, she weighs the desire to work, have an identity, make her own money, be successful, and make a difference in her corner of the world. All the while, the weight of both are relentlessly crushing her.
How does she do both … and do them well?
If she opts for the nine-to-five career, she sacrifices fleeting time with her kids. They miss out on parent-child events at school, afternoon soccer, baseball, dance, help with homework. They become latch-key kids. They see her for two chore-filled hours a day before they must sleep to prepare for the next day, another in which she will play a minor role. They act out because they feel last in her list of daily priorities. Guilt consumes her. However, if she stays home and forfeits her career, she sacrifices herself. Disappoints herself on a daily basis. Begins to drown in her own pity pool of missed opportunities. Watches the professional life she planned and dreamed of in college slink off into the night, robbing her of self-confidence and leaving her a stranger to herself. Mid-life looms … she wonders … “What now? Who wants to hire a mom who has been at home for so long…college degree or not. I have a resume filled with diaper duties and fending off cooties … and Dora the Explorer as a reference.” Her struggle continues.
Regardless of the choice she makes, her maternal side and her professional side remain in a perpetual tug of war.
Ambition proves to be her double-edged sword. She struggles daily not to disappoint the supposed “fairy tale” she’s created…and, at the same time, not to disappoint her me she’s yet to create. But at the end of the day, it’s her me she’s yet to create that seems to be falling by the wayside. She wants it all, damn it. A Prince Charming. Happy kids. Love and success for them all. But she also wants … HER. Her career. Her success. Her happiness. She wants to look in the mirror and recognize her once ambitious face. To be proud not only of her family, but of herself. To make a difference in the world she’s introducing to her children. To set a feminist example for her daughter … convince her she can do anything she sets her mind to. The sky is not her limit, for beyond her sky lies an unknown and unexplored universe. But a paradox presents itself. As she preaches unbridled ambition for the taking, she does so as a mother who has done the opposite …
Telling her daughter to take on the world and let nothing stand in her way, but showing her how to sacrifice it all to raise a family.
So she wonders … is she teaching her to be all she can be? Or is she simply perpetuating the fairy-tale hell?
How can she possibly teach her kids to raise their hands and reach for the stars when she’s tied her own hands behind her back? How can she manage to satisfy the dreams of both herself and her kids? How can any mother?
Mirror, mirror, on the wall …
What do women want? Do we want the fairy tale? Or does the fairy tale want us?