My friends and I were so cool in school that we formed an extremely exclusive club, the NBK. Invite only, you had to meet certain criteria to become a member. Ok, there was really only one criteria: we had never been kissed.
It wasn’t for lack of effort. I had my first crush in kindergarten, another in third grade, and so on and so forth over the course of my education. I even wrote a note to a boy in middle school: “Do you like me? Circle yes or no.” He had no hesitation when he circled no.
I was friendly and smart, but I wasn’t obviously cute like the popular girls. The popular crowd was perfectly petite, styled in short skirts, and successful at applying the Britney Spears’ iconic blue eye shadow look. I tried the eye shadow myself, but it made my big blue eyes look like a character from A Bugs Life, not MTV.
If I’m being honest, I was also a bit of a nerd. Nerds were not cool in the early 00s. Clad in bifocals and sporting a perm that did not suit my features, boys looked right past me. It didn’t help that my head was always buried behind a book, causing my classmates to nickname me “Reading Rainbow.” (In retrospect, this nickname was definitely a win.)
I’m the oldest of four girls, and we grew up during the peak of the Disney princess era. My fairy tale favorite was Cinderella, and I was obsessed with Brandy’s version. I vividly remember watching the debut on TV, bowl of popcorn in hand, room full of sisters at my side. Brandy was pretty and petite, her voice like an angel, and I wanted nothing more than to dance across the screen and into the arms of Prince Charming.
As I watched the movie, I sadly realized that I didn’t relate to her. She was delicate and soft spoken, I was strong and loud. She was graceful and well-mannered, I was so rough around the edges that my Dad enrolled me in an etiquette class.
I more clearly connected with two other characters on screen: the stepsisters. They had quirks, so did I. They were awkward with the fellas, so was I. Plus, the stepsisters sing the most hilarious duet, called “Stepsister’s Lament,” in which they artfully articulate the woes of attracting the opposite sex.
Here’s a snippet:
Oh why would a fellow want a girl like her
So obviously unusual?
Why can’t a fellow ever once prefer
A usual girl like me?…
Her neck is no wider than a swan’s
She’s only as dainty as a daisy
She’s only as graceful as a bird
So why is the fellow going crazy?
Oh why would a fellow want a girl like her
A girl who’s merely lovely?
Why can’t a fellow ever once prefer
A girl who’s merely me?
Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote the most ridiculous shout out to the majority of us usual, solid, and flawed ladies. My awkward teenage self was relieved to hear that I was not alone. We simply cannot all be Cinderella.
I’m proud to say that I was eventually kicked out of the NBK club, though many years later. I met my match during junior year of college, in the student ministry at my church. At the time, he was sporting the beard of a lumber jack and dressed to impress absolutely no one. He called his stylistic approach “planned improvement.” His theory was that if he looked disheveled for long enough, then when he tidied up, the ladies would come running. Little did he know, I had given up on looking for Prince Charming, so his appearance did nothing to dissuade me. In fact, it only aded to my curiosity. What type of 20 year old city dweller maintains a beard from old westerns and allows his peers to hide Cheetos in it? Apparently the type of man I would marry.
Since we were still in school, we waited three years before finally saying, “I do.” This allotted me ample time to dream up a fairy tale wedding. All I needed was a fairy godmother to wave her wand and work some magic on the big day.
I never did meet my fairy godmother, but I did meet a skilled beautician at a salon who expertly styled my hair and makeup. Once I put on the side-ruched, A-line, ivory wedding gown, my transformation was complete. I felt every bit as beautiful and graceful as Brandy. When my Dad saw me for the first time, he teared up, likely relieved that the etiquette class had paid off. I could almost hear Whitney Houston whispering in my ear, “Impossible things are happening every day.” Perhaps, just this once, I could be Cinderella.
Our wedding was on a hot July evening in 2011. As bride-to-be, I hardly registered the heat, delighted that my dreams were finally coming true. I vaguely remember the bridal party carrying around cloths to dab at the sweat drops marring their makeup. I recall passing around water bottles, thankful that the event coordinator had a never-ending supply. What I remember most is that the ceremony was warm. Really warm. When it came time for my husband to place the ring on my finger, it got stuck at the knuckle, my fingers slightly swollen after group pictures in the sun. We actually made a joke about it to our guests, and the congregation laughed out loud.
There was not as much laughter at the end of the ceremony. Precisely as my pastor was saying the words, “It is my pleasure to pronounce…” I heard a loud thud from behind and a bridesmaid yell out some choice words. Another one of my bridesmaids had collapsed from the heat, seconds before my husband and I were to kiss for the first time as husband and wife.
My entire fairy tale day came to an abrupt halt. Once again I was reminded that I am not Cinderella, and my life is not nearly as magical as a movie.
If a dream is a wish your heart makes, then my dreams have come true, perhaps not overnight, but over many years of marriage. Sitting on a picnic blanket in the middle of a nearby vineyard, my husband and I recently celebrated our ten year wedding anniversary. We have three children now, and a life full of love and laughter and loudness. As I listened to the band serenading us and breathed in the warm July air, I felt at peace. It was partially due to the absence of our children, who were with a sitter, sound asleep in the home we’ve made for ourselves. It was also the calm and quiet of a night alone with the one my heart still desires.
There were no expectations for this evening. It was slow-paced and simple. We were alone in our patch of grass, no one close enough to interrupt our conversation or demand our attention. Our anniversary was the complete opposite of our wedding exactly ten years ago, with one exception: our vows.
My husband pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket, and he recited new vows that he prays will carry us through the next decade. These vows reach deeper than those we read at our wedding, because we now have a fuller understanding of better and worse, richer and poorer, sickness and health. Ours is not the flimsy, love at first sight, fairy tale sort of love from my dreams or our early days of dating. It is a steadfast love that remains resilient and unified during sleepless nights. It is a patient love that prepares us for tag-teaming toddlers and trading off when tempers flare. It is a forgiving love that leads us to offer apologies and affection, enabling us to grow together when a lesser love might lead us apart.
The stepsisters’ duet may have provided me with a hearty laugh as a teenager, but it is the duet between Cinderella and the prince that speaks to my heart now, as a seasoned wife and mother. The young lovers ask the questions to which I now know the answers:
Do I want you because you’re wonderful,
Or are you wonderful, because I want you?
Are you the sweet invention of a lover’s dream
Or are you really as beautiful as you seem?
The answer to all of these questions is a resounding yes. Perhaps I am a bit like Cinderella after all.
This post is part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to view the next post in the series “Lyrical”.