Friday, December 28, 2012

In Sickness and In Health

I have a bone to pick with Walt Disney - for a couple of reasons. 

1.  He has something against mommies.

From Bambie to Snow White, Aladdin to The Little Mermaid - Disney mommies are suspiciously absent or offed even before opening credits.  And replacement step-mothers all seem to fall firmly in the "evil" category.  I've been aware of this phenomenon for some time, but it wasn't until I became sick that my children began to hone in on it.  I realize these tales are told because nothing is more terrifying to a child than a mother leaving them forever.  But when the possibility of such a scenario became real for our family, there seemed no relief from threat - even in fairy tales.

There are very few of my children's questions I have ever hesitated answering.  "What did (insert character here)'s mommy die from?" is one of them.  For those conversations alone - I will always hold a grudge.

2.  Thanks to Mr. Disney, generations of "little princesses" grow up with a jaded view of marriage.

In fact, I believe Walt's influence may be a contributing factor to our nation's nearly 50% divorce rate - and here's why:

"Happily Ever After" leaves a lot to the imagination.

No Disney cartoon that I've ever seen (and as a mother of two young children, I've seen just about all of them) tackles the real issues of marriage - dirty socks on the staircase, grocery shopping and bills.  Prince Eric never loses his temper over the incessant talking sea creatures his wife takes up with and Ariel never wonders what her life would have been like if she had married the merman two coral reefs from Triton's castle. 

They certainly don't delve into what happens if Cinderella gets cancer. 

In November, my own Prince Charming and I marked 11 years of marriage.  With each other.  In a row.

We've beat out about half of Hollywood and we're still in our 30's.

This milestone was even more meaningful as we tested the limits of the "In sickness and in health" vow.  Nothing makes or breaks a couple like joking about life insurance policies - or literally pulling hair out over cancer treatments.

In fact, many couples faced with cancer do not make it to the other side (according to some studies, as many as 20% of marriages end after a cancer diagnosis) - and I can certainly see why.  This experience has been stressful.  And I am beyond thankful that we were somehow able to grow together instead of apart through our fears and frustrations.

I'd like to tell you that our time together has always been Disney-esque or that we've somehow stumbled on the secret to making marriage work. There is no secret.  No fairy godmothers. Over the years, there were days when I wasn't sure if we would make it through.  And days when I was certain we wouldn't. 

Thankfully, when it came down to that "till death do you part" bit, there was never any doubt.

I've learned that staying married requires primarily one thing - both partners deciding to continue being married.  Even when the glass slippers are gathering dust and the evil step-sisters invite themselves to Thanksgiving - again.  Or if your princess happens to be holed up in the bathroom for weeks on end. 

Also, a little luck never hurts.

In truth, I think Walt does a disservice by ending his tales with that first step over the castle threshold.  The reality of Happily Ever After - the imperfections, fights and forgiveness, the shared history of moving day memories, dirty diapers and inside jokes - is beautiful.  It is so much more precious than any ball one could attend. 

This year on our anniversary, Chris and I did what we do every year - we signed on for one more.  I'd gladly give him a hundred if I could.  Though I am certain we will face many more trying times in our future -  real life, it turns out, is far better than any Disney fairy tale ever written.  And real romance is less about fancy gowns and more about continuing to say "I do".

Even after the clock strikes midnight.