By MIRANDA CIPKOWSKI
Special to The Times
The other night, just as my head was about to hit the pillow, I heard a sound I’ve always dreaded: The soft, aching sobs of a teenage girl in my own house.
I glanced casually over my left shoulder at my husband, Danny. He was sleeping soundly, which meant I was going on this high alert crisis management mission alone. I trekked up the stairs to our second floor (and those stairs are no joke, by the way; they were a bargaining chip in our favor during purchase negotiations), tapped on Nora’s door and walked in without waiting for an answer.
Instead of a phone or a TV remote, there was a novel in my child’s hands. She looked up at me with her sweet, sad eyes and said, “Mom this is so good … it’s awful!”
The novel had made her cry. As a teacher, I was so happy she had developed the ability to feel the power of the written word; as a mother, I was beyond relieved that no one had hurt her feelings; as a reformed, impressionable teenage girl, I found myself giving the entire situation an inward eye roll.
Some folks might disagree with my point of view, but as the mother of two girls, I’ve maintained a very open dialog on the topics of romance and fairy tales. Just like that story Nora had been feverishly reading for days, a fairy tale is merely that — a story.
A few days later, I was busy cleaning the kitchen while the girls were engrossed in a recent popular Disney movie. Admittedly, along with the dishes, I did a little harmless eavesdropping. There was banter back and forth between the two as to the validity of the movie’s story. According to my 10-year-old mini-me, Kennedy, “Romance is overrated.”
“Do people get married after one or two days?” she asked, already incredulous.
That gave me an odd sense of pride. My girls are smart enough not to buy into fairy tale nonsense. I have encouraged my children to follow their own path and passions. A partner should enrich one’s life, but not be the sole purpose for existing. As a young girl, I was under the mistaken impression that once I “fell in love” and got married, all the hurts of the past would just magically dissipate, and all the misguided beliefs I held so dear would instantly be set right. But really, marriage is about two people deciding to build a life because they are better people together than they are apart.
I continued to snoop as I loaded the dishwasher at a snail’s pace.
“True love like in the movies doesn’t exist,” Kennedy claimed, adamant in her belief.
Nora shot back, “Have you forgotten about Mom and Dad; that’s true love.”
Those words took me aback. I stood stock still and realized the hair on the back of my neck was standing up (in a good way). There are defining moments I’ve experience as a mother; this exchange between my two oldest children declaring the love between my husband and me as the “real deal,” has to be on my short list of such moments.
When we started a family, I prayed sincerely and consistently that I might be a good example to my children. I prayed that I would have the strength to make peace with my past and become the wife and mother I wanted to be and the person my growing family needed and deserved. When Nora told her sister that Danny and I epitomized true love and devotion, at least to her, I knew we had done something right in the confines of our marriage.
From watching my parents, my experience of romantic love was all-consuming. It was passionate, but downright toxic. The concept was quite confusing. When I began to date in high school and college, I was attracted to what was familiar. Needless to say, many of my romantic endeavors were short lived. Passionate, but most definitely dysfunctional.
I never once imagined I would fall for a video game-playing, Star Wars-loving, comic book-reading kind of guy. Daniel Cipkowski ended up being the big dose of stability I had needed in order to find myself. Because he was such a good husband, I became a better wife. The man I chose to marry waited tables, sold movie rentals to teenagers and cleaned parking lots in the dead of winter to ensure I got a college degree. No one had ever been that selfless on my behalf. We lived in an apartment with four rooms and struggled, at times, to pay the rent. Those were hard times, and I never want to go back there. But enduring those hardships cemented our commitment to each other.
Without any money to mask or decorate who I was, everything was stripped away. Slowly, a little each day, I became the person I always knew I could be. I’m not certain that transformation would have happened if I hadn’t chosen to spend my life with Danny, and him, me.
Sometimes the very choices we make are the very ones that end up making us. Love isn’t perfect. It has seen me at my very best, and held me accountable at my worst. Our disagreements can be intense. But love is the desire to work on things, not a fairy tale. In that way, happily ever after is a daily choice.