I’m all for reading to children and there’s nothing better than a classic fairytale to get the imagination flowing. But the problem with fairytales is that pesky happily ever after. Girl meets boy, boy isn’t a total waste of space. Birds sing, animals talk, cutlery dances and they all live happily ever after.
Meanwhile back in the real world…
In the blink of an eye, the little girl who read the fairytale grows up. She’s a dreamer, a romantic and a go-getter. She knows all about hard work, and she knows the course her life will take. She’ll travel around the world, get her dream job and meet her soulmate. They’ll get married, have a couple of children and they’ll all live happily ever after. Won’t they?
Er, no. Sorry. There’s no such thing as happily ever after. And do you know what? That’s just fine.
I was that little girl who read the fairytales and back then, they meant nothing. I didn’t want to be a princess, I certainly didn’t want to get married. And children? I didn’t even like those when I was one. And when my siblings came along, that was the last straw. Children were an inconvenience. Well okay, I was right about that.
But somewhere in the back of my mind, those fairytales must have made an impact. Because in my late teens and early twenties, I wanted it all. I got a degree, bought a house and applied for an exciting job. It all came together on one fateful day. In the morning I picked up the keys to my own home. Then I went to an interview for that dream job. After the interview, I put everything I owned into my car and drove to my new home. Then the phone rang. I’d got the job. This fairytale life was even easier than I’d imagined.
I had just enough time to fit in some travelling before throwing myself into grown up life. A whistle stop tour of Australia and New Zealand. Arriving home a few hours before starting my new career. And it was everything I’d hoped for. Exciting work, amazing colleagues and a role that suited my abilities and my life.
But over time, I wanted more. Promotion, a greater challenge and, quite frankly, being allowed to think for myself. It turned out my dream career was also a hotbed for old boys’ networks and misogyny. I fought it but I wasn’t willing to walk over others to further my dreams. And slowly, it became stale. Getting up for work each day was a chore and I knew this part of my fairytale was coming to an end.
And about that soulmate? Yep, he turned up eventually. I started a new job and within two days, I went on holiday to Venezuela. While I was there, I met someone who had based jumped off Angel Falls. No, of course he wasn’t the man I married, that would be too perfect. When I got back to the office, I started working with someone who I couldn’t stand. Hate’s a strong word but it was a close call.
Anyway, that was 2007. By the end of 2008 we were travelling around New Zealand together on a motorbike. We’ve been together for 9 years now and married for 5. Whoever said romance isn’t dead was lying, it’s been cremated in our house. And it turns out Mr Right is quite frequently wrong.
And what about that happily ever after?
I mean seriously, who is really happy all the time? I’m a mum, not a Buddhist monk. And am I happy? Well, sometimes. Against all the odds, I’ve got everything I ever wanted. My own (unreasonably messy) home, a (tolerable) husband and two (excessively noisy) children. But I think the main thing that has made me happy is adjusting my expectations.
When I was younger, happiness was wrapped up in external factors. The person I was with, the house I lived in, the clothes I wore. Being successful at work and having amazing holidays. These days, it has all changed. I’m with the least romantic man I’ve ever met and I’ve pretty much dropped out of the career rat race. I’ve got a roof over my head in a half-finished DIY disaster that is littered with children’s toys. Holidays are a tame affair involving less extreme sports and more buckets and spades.
And most of the time, I’m pretty happy. I’m happy with tea in my hand and children playing quietly together. Their little achievements make me smile, and that grin when they see me turning up to collect them from school or nursery – that’s the best. I’m happy when I’m drinking gin or out walking with the dogs. And I’m happy spending time with my long-suffering husband.
Life hasn’t been perfect. It turns out that after the fairytale wedding, you don’t get given a key to happiness. Instead, you get more obstacles thrown in your way. I still have ambitions but they’re different now. Bringing up two happy, well adjusted children. Continuing to work from home and eventually travelling frequently if not permanently. Perhaps I’ll even buy a boat. It’s good to have a dream.